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Mr. Ross: Of course. If that can be done for one measure, it can be done for another. The fact that the authorities have footled around for the past 10 years is a clear indication that no one wants to be the one to do it, as Sinn Fein-IRA benefits most from the fraud that is taking place.

I am also greatly concerned that, despite all the claims that are being made that the Maryfield secretariat is to disappear, it will remain, but in a different room. It is backed up by the ability to create cross-border bodies, regardless of the existence of the assembly, via a mechanism set up in the context of the British-Irish council and the British-Irish intergovernmental conference.

I am a sceptic, and that is how I am described in the Unionist party at the moment. I have heard the term before and have always been proud to wear that label. To me, a sceptic means someone who looks at what the Government are doing and says, "I see their words, but what the blazes are they really up to?" Whenever I ask that question I often do not like the answer. Nor do Ministers like me asking the question.

I have concerns about the legislation and about the power of the Secretary of State in the schedules to the Bill. In my view, the measure has been rushed. We shall return to the amendments later and the legislation will be rammed down the throats of the people of Northern Ireland who will reap the misery that will be caused by this whole miserable affair.

6.37 pm

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde): It is always interesting to listen to the deeply sceptical speeches by the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross). Earlier he spoke about Unionism and the United Kingdom. In a wider context, with regard to the multinational state that we call the United Kingdom, we

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are taking part in what can be described only as profound and radical constitutional change. What is taking place in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales will reshape the United Kingdom. I offered that point to the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), at the time of the framework document. I said that two or three paragraphs in that document referring to a Northern Ireland assembly represented the beginnings of constitutional change.

Speaking as a federalist, I also said in the company of the then Prime Minister at a meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee in Dumfries in June 1996, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin), now Deputy Speaker, that in my view with regard to constitutional change in the United Kingdom, within 20 years Scotland would be either an independent nation or a constituent nation in a federal Britain. As a federalist, I think that we are heading down the federal road.

I shall be brief, as I know that many hon. Members are anxious to speak. Last week, in an article that I wrote on the peace talks for my local paper, the Greenock Telegraph, I said that I had prayed on Good Friday that the participants would reach a tolerable accommodation--I have no doubt that I was in a large congregation in my prayers on that day.

Many of my constituents--I need hardly say this to the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) or the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley)--have deep family ties with the people from both traditions in Northern Ireland, and I know that some of the Unionist Members are regular visitors to my constituency.

We have other ties with Northern Ireland. Not so long ago, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), I came across a platoon of young Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders down on the border. I had the good sense not to talk to them, as I could see that they were nervous--I speak as someone who served his national service with the Royal Military Police. At a guess, Mr. Deputy Speaker, several of those 20 or so young lads would have come from our constituencies, as the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders recruit widely in Glasgow and Renfrewshire.

Incidentally, a local Orangeman--Unionist Members will confirm that there are a few Orangemen in Greenock and Inverclyde--reminded me of the words of the Ulster poet, the late John Hewitt, who wrote in one of his poems:

I see some of the Unionist Members nodding. He also said:

    "This is my country. If my people came from England four centuries ago, the only trace that is left is in my name."

That is something which hon. Members who represent mainland Britain constituencies should remember. I have heard absurd people on the extreme left of British politics talk about white settlers in Northern Ireland. I find that disgraceful--the family of one of my best friends in Belfast moved from Scotland in 1612, so has been there a lot longer than many Irish Americans have been in America.

I welcome the Bill, although I have a couple of concerns. On clause 3, I believe that any vacancies in the assembly can be filled only through a by-election--that is

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the right and proper way in which to fill vacancies in any assembly or Parliament. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), who is sitting immediately in front of me, has some reservations about that, but a by-election is the only truly democratic way in which to fill a vacancy created by the death or retirement--or, dare I say, the imprisonment--of a Member. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will take note of that.

Rev. Martin Smyth: I agree with the hon. Gentleman in so far as what he says applies to single-Member constituencies, but does he recognise that, under the single transferable vote system, that approach may distort the concept of democracy?

Dr. Godman: I am not so sure about that. I recall that there were two recent by-elections in the Irish Republic, in Limerick and in Dublin. They were won, I am pleased to say--

Mr. Stott: By Labour.

Dr. Godman: By the Irish Labour party--my hon. Friend should be a little more accurate. That may cause problems in the Dail for the Taoiseach, but I do not think that filling vacancies in such a democratic way would cause problems, and I cannot believe that the hon. Member for Belfast, South is arguing that they should be filled in any other way.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): Order. The hon. Gentleman should not labour that point, which is the subject of an amendment that the Chairman of Ways and Means has selected. The House will be able to consider it in greater detail in Committee.

Dr. Godman: I always abide by your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker--some would call it your instruction.

I was not being facetious when I suggested to the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), that we consider holding an international architectural competition for the design of a new assembly. I am delighted that the Minister of State, my hon. and old Friend the Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram), is here, as he may recall that when I suggested a similar idea some six years ago for the design of a Scottish Parliament, my Scottish parliamentary colleagues laughed me out of the building. However, some 90 firms of architects from throughout the world are now keen to secure that commission.

I assure the House that I shall return to this question. I am conscious of the cost of such a project in Northern Ireland, but similar concerns were raised in the House about the design and building of a new Scottish Parliament. I believe that such a project should be seriously considered, to attract the very best international architects. I should be delighted if an architect from Northern Ireland won the competition, but we should throw it wide open, as we did for the design of the national museum of Scotland and the Scottish Parliament. A new assembly in Northern Ireland--

Mr. Peter Robinson: We have already got one.

Dr. Godman: I know there is one already; I am suggesting a new building.

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I believe that a substantial yes vote north and south of the border would offer a remarkable future for the people of all of these islands. I have some reservations--I say this as a friend of the people of the Irish Republic--about the fact that two referendums will be held on the same day south of the border, which may cause problems. I cannot believe that Sinn Fein will argue yes in the north and no in the south--that is utterly illogical. Whatever Sinn Fein's reservations, I do not think that it will argue for a no vote in the south.

As I said, we are experiencing a dramatic constitutional change to our multinational state--I say that as some Opposition Members refer to our multinational state as "this country"--and I sincerely hope that we shall end up with a federal system that incorporates Northern Ireland. I believe that the Bill is good; it will open the door to what could be a remarkable, peaceful and stable future for the people of these islands.

6.48 pm

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim): I am informed that this debate will end at 8.13 pm, so I shall be as brief as possible. If the hand of history is so heavy upon us, as the Prime Minister said, it is strange that the leaders of the Social Democratic and Labour party and of the Ulster Unionist party are not present. If it is such an important debate, it is strange that those who did so much to get us where we are today are not here to hear and respond to our objections. They should have been here.

It is wrong to say that the ordinary people of Northern Ireland are cherry-picking or nit-picking. Perhaps hon. Members do not care, because they have not been in the midst of the sorrows, as some of us have. I believe not only in sensitivity but in reality.

When considering a document that promises the release of all prisoners, no matter what murders or other crimes they have committed or what sentences they are supposed to serve, it is best for us to mention those who committed crimes on this side of the water, because I know that republicans tell us that there is no justice in the courts of Northern Ireland and they wave aside sentences by saying that there was no jury.

Take Patrick Magee, an IRA bomber who was behind the audacious terrorist outrage in Britain when the Tory conference in Brighton was bombed. His target was the Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher. She escaped, but five people were killed and many were injured. The trial judge handed down eight life sentences and described Magee, now 47, as a man of exceptional cruelty and inhumanity, but in two years he will be out. That is what the document asks us to agree to.

Take Paul Kavanagh, part of the IRA active service unit that targeted London in the month-long campaign in 1981. He was involved in the bombing of Chelsea barracks, in which two people died. When he was convicted in 1985, he was told by the trial judge:

Now 42, he is serving five life sentences and was expected to serve at least 35 years; but in two years he, too, will walk the streets free.

The murderers are not only on one side of the fence: Johnny Adair, believed to have organised the shooting of up to 20 people, was gaoled for 16 years in 1995 for being

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a commander of the Ulster Freedom Fighters. A Belfast court was told that Adair, 33, was sinister, manipulative and dedicated to the cause of naked sectarianism, with a hatred of those whom he regarded as militant republicans. In two years he, too, will walk the streets free.

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