HC Deb 13 July 1999 vol 335 cc232-47

'Where the Secretary of State has made a suspension under section 1 of this Act, he shall also make an order under section 16 of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 suspending the operation of sections 3 and 10 of that Act.'.—[Mr. MacKay.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

8.7 pm

Mr. MacKay

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Second Deputy Chairman

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 2—Prisoner releases— 'Where section 1 applies the Secretary of State shall specify under section 3 of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 any organisation in respect of which the Decommissioning Commission has reported under section 1.'.

[The Second Deputy Chairman]

Amendment No. 10, in clause 1, clause 1, page 1, line 24, at end insert— '(ba) the operation of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 shall be suspended and all releases so far made under that Act shall be revoked.'.

Amendment No. 12, in clause 1, page 2, line 2, at end insert— '(ca) the release of prisoners under the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 shall be suspended in accordance with the powers available in section 8 of that Act; and'.

Amendment No. 29, in title, line 2, after 'Ireland' insert ', the release of prisoners under the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998'.

Mr. MacKay

I shall speak specifically to new clause 1 and to amendments Nos. 12 and 29. I note that this debate—[Interruption.]

The Second Deputy Chairman

Order. Will hon. Members who do not wish to stay for the debate please leave quickly and quietly?

Mr. MacKay

I note that this debate will be truncated, and that there are only just over 50 minutes in which to hold it. I shall therefore keep my remarks brief, as I covered many of the points that I wish to make on Second Reading.

My main point is simple: there have to be safeguards, the most important of which has to be that the paramilitaries go ahead and decommission on time. The Provisional IRA, which the Prime Minister has said is inextricably linked to Sinn Fein, should have a real incentive to decommission on time. If it does not, Sinn Fein will—if my amendment is accepted later—be expelled from the Executive. If the Ulster Volunteer Force, which has a direct link with the Progressive Unionist party that is represented in the Assembly, fails to decommission, the Assembly will be suspended. In the right circumstances, I believe that the PUP could be removed from the Assembly.

However, the real problem is that other republican and loyalist paramilitary groups have no incentive whatsoever to decommission. They will have no political partners in the Executive or the Assembly. To ensure that they decommission, the Government must say—by accepting our new clause—that there will be an immediate halt to early release of their terrorist prisoners if these groups fail to comply with the decommissioning timetable. To do less would discourage them from decommissioning.

I have already asked the Secretary of State to consider the position of the republican community, particularly that of the Provisional IRA. The Minister and I want the IRA to decommission all its illegally held arms and explosives between now and next May. But if the IRA were here tonight, its representatives would argue that to decommission or disarm when loyalist paramilitaries were retaining their arms would make their communities vulnerable. If the PIRA is to decommission, it is essential to ensure that everyone else must decommission too.

The Minister is responsible for security in Northern Ireland, and he does not need me to tell him that there is an overwhelming desire in paramilitary communities—loyalist and republican—to get the boys out of prison.

Every time the Government and the Prime Minister put a terrorist prisoner back on the streets of Belfast by releasing him early, they throw away a trump card. Some 277 trump cards have been thrown away to date, and only 120 or so terrorist prisoners remain for release.

If decommissioning does not happen, it will be essential to halt terrorist releases. The people of Northern Ireland deserve nothing less. Only by halting releases can we provide the copper-bottomed failsafes that the Prime Minister has promised the people of Northern Ireland and the House of Commons.

I urge the Minister to accept our new clauses and amendments, or to agree to produce his own. I readily admit that his amendments might be better drafted than ours, which we were able to draft only yesterday evening. Including new clause 1 and amendments Nos. 12 and 29 in the Bill would go a long way towards satisfying the Unionist community and democratic opinion that there are real safeguards against, and proper penalties for, all paramilitary groups if decommissioning does not occur.

New clause 1 is precise in that only those paramilitaries who fail to decommission would be penalised. No one would be penalised for the faults of those who failed to fulfil their obligations. That is essential to the proper working of the Bill and to ensuring that Ministers are appointed to the Executive to provide proper devolved government for Northern Ireland.

Mr. Trimble

I agree with the general thrust of the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay), and I do not intend to rehearse in detail all the arguments that we have heard about prisoner release during the past year. I shall discuss instead the Bill's focus only on default by Sinn Fein and its lack of any effective provision regarding default by other paramilitary organisations. The Bill is seriously defective as it must provide for dealings with other paramilitary organisations. It is unrealistic to apply a sanction only to Sinn Fein, when the sanction can be applied to other groups only through prisoner release.

8.15 pm

I drafted new clause 2, and it will be no surprise to anyone to learn that I prefer my own drafting. I focused on section 3 of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998. Subsection (9) directs the Secretary of State to take into account a number of factors, the fourth of which is whether an organisation is co-operating fully with any Commission … implementing the Decommissioning section of the agreement reached at multi-party talks on Northern Ireland set out in Command Paper 3833. That touches precisely on the point that we are discussing. Suspension would arise only in the event of someone's having failed to carry out commitments entered into.

Subsection (9) directs the Secretary of State to take into account a number of factors, which gives her a discretion but, if the Bill becomes law and the Government's hopes for it are realised, the situation contemplated in the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 will have changed. Some decommissioning would be happening, and the onus on other paramilitary organisations to co-operate would have to be greater than it has been during the past 15 months. It seems right to raise the standard relating to what the Secretary of State should do.

The Northern Ireland Bill provides for automatic action, and it seems appropriate to apply the same standard to sentencing. We should bring the provisions of the 1998 Act into line with the Bill that we are debating tonight. That would be consistent. I urge the Minister to contemplate new clause 2 very carefully.

Mr. Öpik

I am about to prove that at least one person—namely, me—listens to debates in the House. Until 7.55 pm, I was fairly convinced that it would be hard to connect decommissioning and prisoner release, but one Minister of State strongly implied in his Second Reading speech that a linkage could be made. I hope that the other Minister of State can clarify matters when he deals with the new clauses.

I believe that it is difficult to connect the terms of the Good Friday agreement, including those on decommissioning, with prisoner release. The right hon. Members for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) and for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) have given their views, but I should be glad if the Minister clarified the position, to help us to understand whether we can expect some movement towards slowing down prisoner releases without the need for the amendments.

I have two specific questions for the Minister. What is the Government's view of the new clauses in the context of the Good Friday agreement? Will he explain, following the comments of his fellow Minister, whether, even if they do not accept the new clauses, the Government are considering some linkage with prisoner release?

Rev. Ian Paisley

I wish to comment briefly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) and I tabled amendment No. 10, which is in this group.

I feel strongly about this matter because the only real barrier that we have to make the paramilitaries and armed gangsters understand that the Government and this Parliament mean business is prisoner release. If those concerned have left violence and do not intend to go back to it, they should be prepared for decommissioning to take place. If it does not take place, we can be assured that they intend to keep their weaponry so that one day, at some time in the future, they can do what one of their spokesmen in the Assembly said that they would do—go back to doing what they were "best at". That was that spokesman's public statement. If that is so, the deterrent is necessary and it has to go farther than merely stopping the releases. They must be revoked. After all, if we are going to go back, we have to go back to where we started.

There is now a strong argument to the effect that those prisoners who have got out have gone back to violence. Time will declare it. I have been seeking information from the police on this matter. We do not know what will be revealed in the days ahead, but I am sure that it will be revealed that some of them have already done so.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe)

My understanding of the trend of the hon. Gentleman's remarks is that he opposes prisoner release, even for organisations that are willing to decommission. Given that he is opposed to the releases in any case, is a sincere reservation behind the amendment?

Rev. Ian Paisley

The hon. Gentleman should question the motivation of the terrorists, not my motivation. None of the people who are tied up with terrorism has said that they will decommission—none of them represented in the Assembly and none of them represented at the talks. The only people who have decommissioned are the Loyalist Volunteer Force, which was not in the talks and is not represented in the Assembly. The hon. Gentleman should get his facts right before he attacks my motivation.

I am certainly not happy with armed gangsters being released on the streets when I see their attitude when they come out of prison, what they say and do, and the people with whom they associate. If the hon. Gentleman's mother or children had been murdered by one of those people, as has happened to my constituents, he would not want them to be walking about the streets. That is even more the case now when the organisations to which they belong are saying that they will not decommission. If they have given up violence for good, surely they should give up their weaponry and then they cannot return to violence. As I said, however, they tell us that they will go back to what they are best at. The time has come for the Government to call a halt to the whole charade of what is going on with those prisoners.

Dr. Palmer

The hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) continues his fundamental opposition to the whole process. Clearly, if one is opposed in principle to the Good Friday agreement, one naturally also opposes prisoner release, for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman outlined.

I have more difficulty with the position of the Opposition, which appears to be that they are in favour of the Good Friday agreement which, as several hon. Members have said, allows for the possibility that a failure to decommission will have consequences for prisoner release and other benefits that arise out of the agreement. However, the Conservative party has for some time now opposed prisoner releases, which are an essential part of the agreement. As I understand it, the amendment would harden the agreement as regards such releases.

Mr. MacKay

I may be able to help the hon. Gentleman, as he might not have been here for my speech on Second Reading when I explained this matter fully. The situation is simply this: the Belfast agreement stated that prisoners would be released over a two-year period from the enactment last July of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998. It also stated that paramilitaries who signed up to the agreement would decommission all their illegally held arms and explosives during a two-year period, which concludes in May next year.

The hon. Gentleman will realise that we are now 14 months into the two-year period for decommissioning and not one gun or ounce of Semtex has been handed in. He is a reasonable person. He must think it unreasonable that there has not been any decommissioning. At the same time, the Government have shown their good will by releasing 277 terrorist prisoners—loyalist and republican—back on to the streets of Belfast. That is not a fair deal and is therefore not comparable.

Dr. Palmer

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention. None the less, the amendment would appear to seek to harden the terms of an agreement that was negotiated with great difficulty and under considerable stress. If we take a step back from the present fraught situation, we will see what ordinary people in Northern Ireland and Britain see clearly, which is that we are at a juncture where it is possible to take a chance for peace, or to go back to the eternal circle of haggling, renegotiating and redefining.

Mr. Robert McCartney

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman appreciates the fact that the Prime Minister himself encouraged the pro-Union people and their representatives to believe that, if they said yes in a referendum, there would be a nexus or connection between the release of prisoners and decommissioning.

Dr. Palmer

The hon. and learned Gentleman is perfectly correct. The Prime Minister has stated on many occasions that decommissioning is an integral part of the process. However, the hon. and learned Gentleman must also be aware that every survey in Northern Ireland as well as in Britain shows that, for the sake of the people of Northern Ireland, people want the current proposals to be given a chance.

The difficulty that I and many other Back Benchers have with attempts to tinker with the Good Friday agreement and to harden certain aspects of it is that we detect a certain begrudging attitude to the leap of faith that is needed by both sides to give the agreement a chance.

Most of us have been reticent in speaking on the issue because we are reluctant to rock the boat and to intervene when we are aware that Front-Bench Members of all the parties are working hard to reach an agreed settlement. However, the overwhelming majority not only of the parliamentary Labour party but of the British people will be alienated, if, at this stage of the process, those on any side stand back and say that they are not willing to make that leap of faith to try to achieve the settlement—including decommissioning—for which we have all worked over the past 18 months. If we say that that is not possible because we want tinkering here or there, we must accept that it will be concluded that, as a people, we are not serious about peace.

8.30 pm
Mr. Field

Is there not is a real danger in thinking that we can interpret the public mood? It is probable that there is an equally strong view in the country that, at this crucial point, people would expect some decommissioning at the next stage. Of course, the Ulster Unionists are unhappy with what was originally signed, in that there was no clear link between the whole process of prisoner release and decommissioning. However, the best interpretation that one can put on that is that there was a cock-up and that people did not notice.

I think that the Ulster Unionists have taken the debate further today and are putting that behind them; they are assuming that the Bill will be enacted, and that, if people do not begin decommissioning within the timetable laid down by the commission, the prisoner release scheme will be reconsidered. They are not trying to renegotiate the original terms of the agreement—although they might feel that they were foolish not to have spotted the absence of a link—but the assumption behind the amendments is that the Bill will be enacted and that, if it quickly appears that, at some stage, there will be no decommissioning, those who do not decommission will be punished, not only by the review—

The Second Deputy Chairman

Order. The right hon. Gentleman's intervention is gently turning into a speech. He must finish his intervention briefly.

Mr. Field

I shall just finish the sentence. We are debating whether, in the new situation, there should be a link; the old debate is now being put aside. Does my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) not support the fact that there should be some link, and that those who do not disarm should not get their prisoners out?

Dr. Palmer

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that courteous intervention. We would all accept that prisoner release may well depend on decommissioning as part of a general pattern of behaviour. However, the Good Friday agreement set up a delicate system of checks and balances—including not only decommissioning, but the ceasefire, co-operation with Northern Ireland and cross-border institutions, and other elements.

We know the conflicting parties well enough to expect that each change in the process will trigger another change. If we say that the failure to decommission will have the concrete and guaranteed effect of suspending prisoner releases, we can expect that other aspects of the agreement will be called into question—especially the ceasefire. I think—as indeed do the great majority of people in the United Kingdom—that the achievement of the ceasefire has been worth all the concessions that have been made until now.

Mr. Donaldson

In relation to prisoner releases, I point out, with all due respect to the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer), that public opinion in Great Britain is changing. Public opinion in Great Britain is becoming impatient that people such as Patrick Magee—a man who tried to destroy the British Government with a bomb—are being released, but the organisation to which he belongs has not decommissioned a single bullet. The hon. Gentleman should reconsider the issue of public opinion in Great Britain. May I recommend to him an article by John Lloyd in the current edition of the New Statesman, which I think that he will find edifying?

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

In relation to the claims that public opinion is against any of the changes, is it not remarkable that more and more people from England are phoning and writing to us, telling us to stand fast because it is wrong to give way to terrorism? Will my hon. Friend persuade those who might not be in this place, and who regularly accuse Ulster Unionist Members of dealing with only one aspect of terrorism, that the amendments deal with all aspects of terrorism?

Mr. Donaldson

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. That is precisely the point. As only one terrorist organisation in Northern Ireland will benefit from having seats in the Executive—that is Sinn Fein-IRA—we must find some means of urging the other terrorist organisations to decommission. There must be some penalty if that does not happen.

The hon. Member for Broxtowe talks about balance, but we have had 14 months of the agreement and the problem is that there is no balance. He talks about the ceasefires but the ceasefires have been breached, whether or not the Government care to acknowledge that. There have been murders on the streets of Northern Ireland committed by all the terrorist organisations benefiting from prisoner releases. They have all breached their ceasefires, yet the Government have chosen to disregard that in relation to the legislative provision in the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998, which places on the Secretary of State the responsibility to review on a regular basis whether the organisations benefiting from prisoner releases should continue to benefit in that way. With all due respect, I have to point out that there is a link between decommissioning and prisoner releases—it is in the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act and it was put there by the Government. The link is there.

The problem is that, under the proposals in "The Way Forward" document, the penalties that will be applied if parties are in default will not apply to all the parties, since not all the terrorist organisations are represented in the Assembly, let alone in the Executive. The hon. Member for Broxtowe says that we cannot tinker with the agreement, but I put it to him that "The Way Forward" does exactly that. It sets new deadlines for the institutions that are not in the agreement, and new timetables that are not in the agreement. Would we need "The Way Forward" if the agreement were delivering on all those aspects? Of course not. If it is right to tinker with the agreement on devolution, why should it not be right to tinker with it on prisoner releases? Surely the hon. Gentleman concedes that point.

Mr. Robert McCartney

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, in the House, in the debate on prisoner releases, the Prime Minister indicated that, if the prisoner releases were to be stopped or curtailed in any way, it would mean a return to violence? Therefore, terror is dictating the terms on which the whole process moves forward.

Mr. Donaldson

I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for that intervention. Throughout this debate, I have heard Government Members give the warning that, if we do not do this and we do not do that, there will be a return to violence—yet the agreement requires all the parties to be committed to "exclusively … peaceful means". Surely such a commitment means that, in all circumstances, one takes the democratic and peaceful path, yet the hon. Member for Broxtowe warns us that, if we do not take the leap, there will be a return to violence. Is that a commitment to exclusively peaceful means? I do not think so.

That commitment was required of Sinn Fein-IRA and the loyalist paramilitaries when they signed up to the agreement. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that they are about to breach their commitment if they do not get their way? What guarantee will the Unionist members of the Executive have? If, at some time in the future, we come up against a decision that has to be taken on an issue of government in Northern Ireland and the Republicans disagree with our position, are we to expect that, once again, whispered in the ear of the First Minister will be the dark mutterings, "If you don't do it our way, the boys might have to go back to doing what they do best"? That is what is being asked of us.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman is stating most effectively, in summary form, the arguments that are being advanced by Government Members. Do not those arguments, in effect, amount to: "You'd better believe the IRA have given up violence because, if you don't, they will use violence again."?

Mr. Donaldson

I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his intervention—of course that is what we are being told by Government Members. It is almost as if a gun is being put to our head, accompanied by the threat, "Sign up, or else." I know about threats—I have received them, as have my right hon. and hon. Friends. Some of us have had attempts made on our lives by paramilitaries, but not once have we raised a finger in retaliation against them. I chose the democratic and peaceful path when I entered politics, and I will not be deviated from that path, because I am committed to exclusively peaceful means.

Mr. Trimble

My hon. Friend is criticising, very correctly, the comments made by the hon. Member for Broxtowe. Those comments clearly demonstrated that the hon. Gentleman does not believe that there is, at present, a genuine commitment to peaceful means. He believes that, unless one acts in accordance with what are perceived to be the interests of the public, there will be a return to violence, but that is indicative only of his state of mind, and we must not regard his state of mind as being decisive in what will actually happen.

Mr. Donaldson

I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention. That is the reality with which Unionist Members are faced.

I support the amendments on prisoner releases because people in Northern Ireland believe that there should be a balance, and the process should not be a one-way street. The hon. Member for Broxtowe said that the concessions had been worth while, but giving concessions meant anticipation that there would be a response, which included the decommissioning of illegal terrorist weapons.

Dr. Palmer

The hon. Gentleman sways back and forth between using the Good Friday agreement, which he opposed at the time, in his arguments, and opposing the content of the agreement. It is not at all clear how he has the nerve to oppose an agreement and then use its contents to criticise parties which supported it and made a commitment to peace—a commitment that he, by his opposition, has not made.

Mr. Donaldson

With all due respect, that is a disgraceful remark. My family have suffered at the hands of terrorists, and I have buried members of my family. I joined the Ulster Defence Regiment, which is a legal organisation, to fight terrorism of all kinds, and I am committed to peace. How dare the hon. Gentleman make such a ridiculous, disgraceful accusation? If there is any honour left in him, he should withdraw that remark. I shall, however, deal with the point that he made.

I have the nerve to oppose the agreement because I am a democrat. In a democratic society, I am entitled to vote against the agreement, but that does not mean that I do not accept the will of the people who voted for it. In this House, it is my duty to ensure that the people whom I represent get the best deal and that, where the agreement refers to decommissioning, decommissioning is delivered. When prisoners are being released, it is my duty to ensure that the people who suffered at the hands of those prisoners get the best deal in the form of commitments from those terrorists and the decommissioning of their weapons.

I shall leave the hon. Gentleman with the following thought. Mr. Bernard McGinn is an IRA murderer who was recently sentenced to 490 years in prison. The Belfast Telegraph reported: IRA killer Bernard McGinn laughed as he was handed three life sentences and a 490-year prison term yesterday—knowing that he would soon be released. I want to wipe the smile off Mr. McGinn's face because I want him to know that he will be released only if the organisation that he belongs to gives up violence for good and decommissions its illegal weapons. if it does not do so, Mr. McGinn should remain where he belongs—behind bars—for a long time.

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire)

We do not have much time so I shall be as brief as possible.

Accusations have been made during the debate that our amendments are outside the Belfast agreement and seek to wreck it. We state categorically that our amendments are within the confines of the agreement and the legislation that will emanate from that agreement.

New clause 1 does two things. It calls on legislation that is already on the statute book—the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998—and it follows through, clearly and logically, assurances given by the Prime Minister on more than one occasion.

8.45 pm

I refer particularly to the Prime Minister's keynote speech at the Balmoral showground in Belfast on 14 May, in which he set out the terms on which parties linked with terrorist organisations would be eligible for prisoner release. The key was that those organisations would have been maintaining a "complete and unequivocal ceasefire". In determining what constituted that, one of the key factors was full co-operation with the Independent Commission on Decommissioning, which of course implements the provisions of the agreement.

New clause 2 refers to the Secretary of State, at the time of suspension, specifying organisations, as defined in section 3 of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998, which deals with prisoner eligibility for release. A condition of such eligibility is that the prisoner is not a supporter of a specified organisation. In subsection (8), a specified organisation is clearly defined as an organisation specified by order of the Secretary of State; and he shall specify any organisation which he believes— (a) is concerned in terrorism connected with the affairs of Northern Ireland … (b) has not established or is not maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire. Subsection (9) states that the Secretary of State shall take into account, when coming to that decision, that the organisation (a) is committed to the use now and in the future of only democratic and peaceful means to achieve its objectives; (b) has ceased to be involved in any acts of violence or of preparation for violence; (c) is directing or promoting acts of violence by other organisations". That is the link between Sinn Fein and the IRA, which the Prime Minister still contends is inextricable—although the Taoiseach, Mr. Ahern, says that the two are separate. Subsection (9)(d)—this is the key point because it links legislation passed in this House to the Belfast agreement—states that the organisation is co-operating fully with any Commission of the kind referred to in section 7 of the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997 in implementing the Decommissioning section of the agreement reached at multi-party talks". We would maintain that there is a clear link and that legislation is already on the statute book for the Secretary of State and the Government to act.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Ingram)

We have a very few minutes to deal with this matter. A certain amount of heat has been generated in the debate so it is right, for a moment, to reflect on some of the sensitive issues with which we are dealing.

The sensitivity of this issue of course impacts greatly on the victims—those who have suffered over the past 30 years. As the Minister with responsibility for victims, I have probably met more, either in groups or as individuals, than anyone else in the House, with the possible exception of one or two Northern Ireland Members. I understand only too well the hurt and grief that they have suffered. Some of them are speaking up for the first time about events that go back 10, 15 or 20 years.

Much of that has been brought to the surface by the process of the release of prisoners—early or otherwise. It is not just the early release of prisoners that can impact on those who have suffered most. We as a Government have had to deal with that. I make the point again that, effectively, we inherited a blank sheet from the previous Administration on the issue. That is why there was recognition in the Good Friday agreement of this very important issue, which no one had addressed and which we had to pick up and take forward.

At the same time, we had to take on board the other commitment that was placed on the Government—the one on the early release of terrorist prisoners. Everyone who was party to the agreement signed up to such an commitment. I accept that the hon. Members for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) and for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) do not support the Belfast agreement. We do not know whether they support some of it or none of it—in a sense, they have never quite specified—but we know that they do not want it to succeed. Given that, they cannot cherry-pick; they cannot say, "We like this bit, but we don't like that bit." They must understand the complexities that the two Governments and those who are engaged in the process must take on board. Prisoner releases are a critical aspect of that.

After moving forward and implementation, we must consider what that means and how we interpret and judge whether groups are on complete and unequivocal ceasefire, and that is what the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 sets out. I accept that many Opposition Members did not accept the principles of that legislation although they were in line with what was set out in the Good Friday agreement. Many of those who defended the agreement voted against what became the 1998 Act, thereby cherry-picking and more or less leaving it to the Government to proceed with an undoubtedly vexed and difficult issue, primarily because of the impact that it has within the wider community.

There is no direct linkage between prisoner releases and any other part of the agreement, including the political institutions. There are no linkages and no pre-conditions. We are talking of a totality and of everything being part of a whole.

The hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) spelled out the purport of new clause 1. He explained that the intention behind it was to suspend section 3 of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998, which sets out prisoners' eligibility for release, and section 10, which deals with accelerated release arrangements. That is a clear proposition. That is what the official Opposition want to happen, while saying that they still support the Good Friday agreement. There is an inherent contradiction in that position.

Mr. Moss

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Ingram

No. There are only three minutes left to me.

The right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) talked about important linkages in terms of republican terrorists who could be judged as somehow failing to meet their commitments under the agreement, and those of loyalists. We must recognise the importance of loyalist decommissioning alongside that of republican decommissioning. The right hon. Gentleman was right to raise the matter. There are some loyalist and republican groups which do not have linked parties even in the Assembly, let alone the Executive. However, all groups on ceasefire have a common interest in achieving decommissioning on a mutual and reciprocal basis. That is why they have a ceasefire in the first place. They find themselves being committed to the principle of the Good Friday agreement because movement is taking place. We are moving into a new political environment within Northern Ireland and so they sign up to that very principle.

I suggest that loyalists know that there will not be republican disarmament without loyalists giving up guns at the same time, and vice versa. They each watch and study the other in trying to understand what the other is seeking to do. It is right that some groups will not be directly affected by suspension. However, the main purpose of suspension is to give the parties time and space to allow them to agree on how to deal with any breach of commitments, including sanctions on which they may agree. The suspension process involves those who are actually dealing with the issue—those who conceived the Good Friday process in the first place and those who have signed up to it. The issue returns to their agenda and they must deal with it.

Mr. Öpik

Will the Minister state unequivocally, yes or no, whether the clauses contravene the Good Friday agreement?

Mr. Ingram

The 1998 Act sets out the ways in which the Secretary of State would judge whether a group is on a complete and unequivocal ceasefire and whether it would be subject to that Act. We are dealing with complex issues and trying to make judgments. We are putting in place, through the failsafe, a new proposal that allows a judgment to be made by a body that everyone respects. We are allowing that process to be considered and—

It being five hours after the commencement of proceedings on consideration of the Bill, THE CHAIRMAN, pursuant to Order [this day], put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 147, Noes 349.

Division No. 235] [8.55 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Grieve, Dominic
Amess, David Gummer, Rt Hon John
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Hague, Rt Hon William
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Hammond, Philip
Baldry, Tony Hawkins, Nick
Beggs, Roy Heathcoat—Amory, Rt Hon David
Bercow, John Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Beresford, Sir Paul Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Blunt, Crispin Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Boswell, Tim Hunter, Andrew
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Brazier, Julian Jenkin, Bernard
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Browning, Mrs Angela
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Key, Robert
Butterfill, John King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Cash, William Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Lansley, Andrew
Leigh, Edward
Chope, Christopher Letwin, Oliver
Clappison, James Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Lidington, David
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Loughton, Tim
Collins, Tim Luff, Peter
Colvin, Michael Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Cormack, Sir Patrick McCartney, Robert (N Down)
Cran, James MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Curry, Rt Hon David MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Madel, Sir David
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Malins, Humfrey
Donaldson, Jeffrey Mates, Michael
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Duncan, Alan Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Duncan Smith, Iain May, Mrs Theresa
Evans, Nigel Moss, Malcolm
Faber, David Nicholls, Patrick
Fabricant, Michael Ottaway, Richard
Fallon, Michael Page, Richard
Flight, Howard Paice, James
Forsythe, Clifford Paisley, Rev Ian
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Pickles, Eric
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Prior, David
Fox, Dr Liam Randall, John
Fraser, Christopher Redwood, Rt Hon John
Gale, Roger Robathan, Andrew
Garnier, Edward Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Gibb, Nick Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Gill, Christopher Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Gray, James Ruffley, David
Green, Damian St Aubyn, Nick
Greenway, John Sayeed, Jonathan
Shepherd, Richard Trimble, Rt Hon David
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk) Tyrie, Andrew
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S) Viggers, Peter
Soames, Nicholas Walter, Robert
Spelman, Mrs Caroline Wardle, Charles
Spicer, Sir Michael Waterson, Nigel
Spring, Richard Wells, Bowen
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Whitney, Sir Raymond
Steen, Anthony Whittingdale, John
Streeter, Gary Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Swayne, Desmond Wilkinson, John
Syms, Robert Willetts, David
Tapsell, Sir Peter Wilshire, David
Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton) Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangford) Woodward, Shaun
Taylor, John M (Solihull) Yeo, Tim
Taylor, Sir Teddy Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Thompson, William
Townend, John Tellers for the Ayes:
Tredinnick, David Mrs. Eleanor Laing and
Trend, Michael Mr. Stephen Day.
Abbott, Ms Diane Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Alexander, Douglas Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Allan, Richard Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Allen, Graham Clelland, David
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Clwyd, Ann
Ashton, Joe Coaker, Vernon
Atkins, Charlotte Coffey, Ms Ann
Austin, John Cohen, Harry
Banks, Tony Coleman, Iain
Barnes, Harry Colman, Tony
Barron, Kevin Connarty, Michael
Battle, John Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Beard, Nigel Corbett, Robin
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Corbyn, Jeremy
Begg, Miss Anne Corston, Ms Jean
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Cousins, Jim
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Cox, Tom
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Cranston, Ross
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield) Crausby, David
Bennett, Andrew F Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Bermingham, Gerald Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Berry, Roger Cummings, John
Best, Harold Cunliffe, Lawrence
Betts, Clive Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack(Copeland)
Blackman, Liz
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Boateng, Paul Dalyell, Tam
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Darvill, Keith
Breed, Colin Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Brinton, Mrs Helen Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Dawson, Hilton
Browne, Desmond Dean, Mrs Janet
Burden, Richard Dismore, Andrew
Burstow, Paul Dobbin, Jim
Butler, Mrs Christine Donohoe, Brian H
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen Doran, Frank
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Dowd, Jim
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Campbell-Savours, Dale Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Cann, Jamie Edwards, Huw
Caplin, Ivor Efford, Clive
Casale, Roger Ellman, Mrs Louise
Caton, Martin Ennis, Jeff
Cawsey, Ian Etherington, Bill
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Fearn, Ronnie
Chaytor, David Fisher, Mark
Chisholm, Malcolm Fitzsimons, Lorna
Clapham, Michael Flint, Caroline
Flynn, Paul Khabra, Piara S
Follett, Barbara Kidney, David
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Kilfoyle, Peter
Foster, Don (Bath) King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) Kumar, Dr Ashok
Fyfe, Maria Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Galloway, George Laxton, Bob
Gapes, Mike Leslie, Christopher
Gardiner, Barry Levitt, Tom
George, Andrew (St Ives) Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
George, Bruce (Walsall S) Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen
Gibson, Dr Ian Linton, Martin
Gilroy, Mrs Linda Llwyd, Elfyn
Godman, Dr Norman A Lock, David
Godsiff, Roger Love, Andrew
Golding, Mrs Llin McAllion, John
Gordon, Mrs Eileen McAvoy, Thomas
Gorrie, Donald McCabe, Steve
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) McCafferty, Ms Chris
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Grocott, Bruce McDonagh, Siobhain
Grogan, John Macdonald, Calum
Gunnell, John McDonnell, John
Hain, Peter McFall, John
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) McGrady, Eddie
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) McGuire, Mrs Anne
Hancock, Mike McIsaac, Shona
Hanson, David McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet Mackinlay, Andrew
Heal, Mrs Sylvia McNamara, Kevin
Healey, John McNulty, Tony
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) MacShane, Denis
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N) Mactaggart, Fiona
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) McWalter, Tony
Hepburn, Stephen McWilliam, John
Heppell, John Mahon, Mrs Alice
Hesford, Stephen Mallaber, Judy
Hewitt, Ms Patricia Mallon, Seamus
Hill, Keith Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter
Hodge, Ms Margaret Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Hoey, Kate Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Home Robertson, John Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Hood, Jimmy Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Hoon, Geoffrey Martlew, Eric
Hopkins, Kelvin Maxton, John
Howarth, Alan (Newport E) Meale, Alan
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Merron, Gillian
Howells, Dr Kim Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Hoyle, Lindsay Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford) Milburn, Rt Hon Alan
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Mitchell, Austin
Hume, John Moffatt, Laura
Hutton, John Moonie, Dr Lewis
Illsley, Eric Moran, Ms Margaret
Ingram, Rt Hon Adam Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead) Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Morley, Elliot
Jamieson, David Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie
Jenkins, Brian Mudie, George
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle) Mullin, Chris
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn) Naysmith, Dr Doug
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark) O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW) O'Hara, Eddie
Olner, Bill
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) O'Neill, Martin
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Öpik, Lembit
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) Organ, Mrs Diana
Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa Osborne, Ms Sandra
Keeble, Ms Sally Palmer, Dr Nick
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Pearson, Ian
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Pendry, Tom
Perham, Ms Linda Squire, Ms Rachel
Pickthall, Colin Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Pike, Peter L Steinberg, Gerry
Plaskitt, James Stevenson, George
Pollard, Kerry Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Pond, Chris Stinchcombe, Paul
Pope, Greg Stoate, Dr Howard
Pound, Stephen Stott, Roger
Powell, Sir Raymond Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Stringer, Graham
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Stuart, Ms Gisela
Prescott, Rt Hon John Sutcliffe, Gerry
Primarolo, Dawn Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Ken Taylor, Ms Dart (Stockton S)
Quinn, Lawrie Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Rammell, Bill Temple-Morris, Peter
Rapson, Syd Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Raynsford, Nick Tipping, Paddy
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough) Todd, Mark
Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S) Touhig, Don
Trickett, Jon
Roche, Mrs Barbara Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Rooker, Jeff Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Rooney, Terry Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Rowlands, Ted Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Roy, Frank Tyler, Paul
Ruane, Chris vaz, Keith
Ruddock, Joan Vis, Dr Rudi
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Wareing, Robert N
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Webb, Steve
Ryan, Ms Joan Welsh, Andrew
Salter, Martin White, Brian
Sanders, Adrian Whitehead, Dr Alan
Sarwar, Mohammad Wicks, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Barry Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Short, Rt Hon Clare Willis, Phil
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S) Winnick, David
Singh, Marsha Wise, Audrey
Skinner, Dennis Wood, Mike
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E) Worthington, Tony
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch) Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Smith, John (Glamorgan) Wyatt, Derek
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns) Tellers for the Noes:
Soley, Clive Mr. Mike Hall and
Southworth, Ms Helen Jane Kennedy.

Question accordingly negatived.

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