HC Deb 01 May 2002 vol 384 cc935-7
2. Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale)

If he will make a statement on decommissioning. [51668]]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Dr. John Reid)

The second act of IRA decommissioning, reported on by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning on 8 April 2002, needs to be part of a process that involves all paramilitary groups. Paramilitary groups must end all forms of terrorist activity and dismantle the apparatus of terrorism.

Mr. Duncan

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. I welcome the recent decommissioning, but what reassurance can he give to the House and to the wider community in the United Kingdom that decommissioning remains a positive process? In particular, can he reassure us that, in his opinion, more arms are being decommissioned than are currently being purchased?

Dr. Reid

I think that even the most sceptical Member of the House would accept that the first and second acts of decommissioning were historic in their own terms, given the problems we face. If the hon. Gentleman is asking me whether we have a huge way to go on this issue, as on all others connected with the Belfast agreement, the answer is yes.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

As long as there is a large quantity of arms in Northern Ireland that are available to paramilitaries to use, people will live in fear. That includes people who have been placed in exile, such as Joseph McCloskey, whom I recently took to see the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. As America has had some impact on the two acts of decommissioning that have so far taken place, might it not be a good idea for Joseph McCloskey also to visit the Administration in Washington? He might receive as good a reception as he did from my hon. Friend.

Dr. Reid

Yes. My hon. Friend will be aware that the Under-Secretary recently met Mr. McCloskey and his family. He gave them an assurance that, when reviewing the position of victims, the Maranatha community, with which he was also associated, will be fully involved.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

Does the Secretary of State agree with me that the confidence generated by the welcome second act of decommissioning has now been totally dissipated by the flurry of paramilitary activity, of which Castlereagh is merely a part? Although I appreciate what the Secretary of State has in mind, does he not think that it is a little mealy mouthed to say that we all need to have a sense that the war is over? Would it not be much better to say to the IRA and to all the other paramilitary organisations that it is long past time they said clearly that the war is over, and moreover that eight years after the first ceasefire it is about time they started to disband?

Dr. Reid

I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman's suggestions and what I said are mutually exclusive. In a tactical sense, my reading of history suggests that the one way to ensure that something does not happen is for a British Secretary of State to demand that it does. Having said that, the thrust of the right hon. Gentleman's comments is true. If there is to be sustained confidence in this whole process, people need to be assured and have the perception that there has been not only cessation of firing—which has been the case for years, and is a major step forward—but cessation of the preparation for firing at some future stage. That, I think, is the kernel of the present lack of confidence. We must all take account of it, including the leaders of the republican community. I believe they are committed to the process, but they must understand that the question of cessation is beginning to have a serious effect on people's confidence in that process.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

What progress is being made in persuading loyalist paramilitaries that they too must decommission?

Dr. Reid

We are making every effort to ensure that loyalist groups are encouraged to proceed to a ceasefire and engage with the international commission, as some have been doing. Some are not currently on ceasefire, although we keep that under review as well. At the beginning of the year there was a significant reduction in indiscriminate terrorist violence in the cause of loyalism.

My hon. Friend is right, however: not only is such action wrong and destabilising, and not only has it no role in a modern Northern Ireland, but it provides those on the other side of the community with a spurious justification for hanging on to their arms and continuing their preparations for violent activity.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

The Secretary of State has helpfully distinguished between the Chief Constable's judgments about the IRA ceasefire and the question of other paramilitary activities, including targeting. Tomorrow, the Prime Minister will go to Northern Ireland. Is the Secretary of State saying that, in terms of the criteria laid down by the Prime Minister at the Balmoral showground on 14 May 1998, the IRA ceasefire no longer holds?

Dr. Reid

I have already made it plain that although I keep all these ceasefires under constant review, I rely on the counsel of, among others, my security advisers. The acting Chief Constable has made his view public over the last week, but the important point, which I have already made, is completely in line with what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said at Balmoral some years ago. He said then that, if the process was to continue and if people's confidence was to be retained, a ceasefire was not sufficient; the preparations and apparatus for terrorism must be run down. If that was true some years ago, it is even more true today. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who is to go to Northern Ireland in partnership with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, will reinforce that message.