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7.26 pm

Ms Helen Southworth (Warrington, South): It is a privilege to speak in this debate, and to bring the voice of my constituents here today, but above all it is a joy to see the Bill brought before the House. It is a significant step forward into a new future for people in Northern Ireland.

People in my constituency have a special relationship with the people in Northern Ireland. They have a special reason to share the desire of so many Northern Irish people for a democratic and lasting peace, which this debate represents. The Belfast agreement states:

I ask the House to take a moment to remember Tim Parry and Jonathan Ball--two young boys from my constituency. In March 1993, Tim and Jonathan were killed at the hands of the IRA. The IRA had placed bombs in Bridge street in our town centre. The terror of that bombing and the shock and pain of those two deaths had a terrible impact on our local community. The families of Tim and Jonathan still live every day with that pain.

Last month, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State came to Warrington to join the children's families and many other local people. They wanted to remember as well as to look forward. I know that she noticed the grief that many people there still feel. My constituents know that, for the past 30 years, people in Northern Ireland have faced that terror and pain day after day. More than 3,200 people have been killed in those decades. Their families feel the loss, day in and day out.

The agreement clearly states:

That is what I am here to say today on behalf of my constituents. The voice of the victims and the desire of people for peace is being heard in the House this evening, and it will be heard again on 22 May in the referendum. I am confident, because I hear it from my constituents, that the voice will say, "Peace will be a living memorial. We want no more deaths."

My constituents strongly welcome the reaching of an agreement. We in Warrington are already working to play our part and to make a positive contribution to the success of the peace process. We are building an international peace centre, where young people from the north and south of Ireland and the north-west of England can work together in an atmosphere of tolerance and understanding. Reconciliation is part of our responsibility in Warrington, in the north-west and in England. We recognise that, and we accept it.

The Bill begins the implementation of the agreement--the implementation of the steps towards a lasting and democratic peace. It is a radical step forward--an assertion of the power of the ballot box over the bullet and the bomb--and it has not come before time. It offers the people of Northern Ireland the opportunity of a new future for which they have all worked. On behalf of my constituents, especially on behalf of Tim and Jonathan's families, I support the process within the Bill whole- heartedly, and I hope that the whole House will do so.

7.30 pm

Mr. William Thompson (West Tyrone): I can remember as a boy sitting at home listening to the coronation of our Queen. I can remember the words

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coming over the radio: "This is London." I was glad that I belonged to a nation like that. I felt proud that I was a member of that nation. I thought that this was a nation that believed in democracy and law and order, and that it would defend its citizens. Like many other people in Northern Ireland, I felt that we were loyal members of the Union.

Then the IRA and violence came along, and I received a rude awakening, because I discovered that the Government and the people I thought would defend Northern Ireland against terrorism were not prepared to do it. Many men and women in Northern Ireland thought, like me, that they should join the security forces and seek to serve in the fight against terrorism. Many of them gave their lives, but we discovered that successive British Governments did not care tuppence about them, and that, at the end of the day, they were only numbers.

The British Government were not prepared to defeat terrorists. Ministers came to the Dispatch Box and said that terrorists would never succeed, that they would always defend us against terrorism, and that those who murdered and killed would be brought to justice; but, at the end of the day, that was nonsense. At the end of the day, they were more concerned about what Europe thought, about what southern Ireland--the Republic of Ireland--thought, and about what America thought. They were far more concerned about that than about the people of Northern Ireland. When the Government found that they were under all that pressure and discovered that they had not the will to defeat terrorism, at the end of the day they negotiated with the terrorists.

That is what happened in Northern Ireland. The Government failed to defeat terrorism, so they decided to appease the terrorists and to talk to them. What we have seen at Stormont in the past few months has been not a peace process, but an appeasement process. Those who were responsible for terrorism have been rewarded.

We have heard all the arguments about decommissioning, but not one weapon has been decommissioned; we have heard all the arguments about how parties must give a commitment to peace, but no commitment has been given. We now find that those who murdered the people of Northern Ireland will be able to get into an assembly and an executive, and use that position to further their aim of a united Ireland. No matter what the Government say, those are the facts of life.

I have over the years been disappointed in the Conservative party--the party which was supposed to be a Unionist party and the party of law and order, but which started the talks. Because the Conservatives started the process, they cannot say anything against it now it has been completed. That is why we have heard the shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay), agreeing with it tonight. They started it, so they have to agree with it.

I thought that I was a full citizen of the United Kingdom, but I have discovered in the agreement document that I am no longer a full citizen of the United Kingdom. I find that the Government have conceded the self-determination of the people of all the island of Ireland. That is the reality, albeit that I, for a little while, because it is legitimate, because it is my present wish and because it would be wrong to go against it, will simply be allowed to stay in the United Kingdom.

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That is a poor Union. I thought that the Union was a family of people sharing common interests, but I now discover that I shall be treated like a scorned wife and got rid of as soon as possible. The agreement shows that the Secretary of State, whoever that will be, will look at every election and dissect every poll so as to determine, as quickly as possible, whether a referendum can be held to put me out of the United Kingdom. That is the situation we face as a result of the agreement.

I am glad that I had nothing to do with the agreement. I am glad to see that the majority of Members of Parliament for the Ulster Unionist party will vote no in the referendum, as will a majority of Unionist Members of Parliament of all parties. Not only that, but I am glad that the Secretary of State has done a good thing in sending the document to every person and home in Northern Ireland--

Mr. Beggs: Almost every one.

Mr. Thompson: --almost every one. The more they read the document, the more they see how little the United Kingdom is mentioned in it, and the more they see how green the document is, the less easily they will be persuaded to vote yes in the referendum.

I trust that the day will come when the people of this land and the Members of this Parliament will recognise that they will never get peace in Northern Ireland through such stupidity. Governments have been trying this sort of stupidity for 25 years, and every time it has been a failure. There is only one way to get peace in Northern Ireland, and that is, first, to treat every citizen of Northern Ireland as an equal citizen within the United Kingdom, and, secondly, to defeat terrorism, wherever it comes from--

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): Including the Loyalist Volunteer Force.

Mr. Beggs: Yes, the LVF, too.

Mr. Thompson: Whether it comes from the LVF, the UVF, the UDF any other "F", it is only by defeating terrorism that we will ever have peace in Northern Ireland--when those who have bombs and bullets no longer have the capability to use them to kill and maim.

Last week, the president of Sinn Fein thanked the IRA for its contribution to the peace process. He said: "This is but a phase; it is but another step towards our ultimate aim of a united Ireland." Now this document puts the IRA in power, and enables its members to continue to pursue their devious paths to take Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom. I hope that that aim will be defeated, and that the people of Northern Ireland will again profess that they are full citizens of the United Kingdom, not second-class citizens.

Mr. Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East): I speak as someone who grew up in Ulster and wants to support the Union. Do you not realise that comments such as those that were made earlier, and that you are making, do more to undermine the Union than the actions of Sinn Fein? Such comments will undermine support for the

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Union. You are being counter-productive. You will not achieve the objective that you have set yourself. You are doing the people of Northern Ireland a disservice.

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