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11.29 pm

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): We have always maintained that any settlement in Northern Ireland is entirely dependent on the triple lock. The first part of the triple lock was achieved on Good Friday, when a majority of the parties in both communities signed the Belfast agreement. Now it is essential that we have the second part of the triple lock, which means the people of Northern Ireland expressing their view by way of a referendum. If the outcome is positive, the third part of the triple lock--a vote in both Houses of this Parliament--will be necessary. Therefore, we have absolutely no hesitation in supporting the orders.

11.30 pm

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East): The House should pause for a moment before taking a decision that I think it will regret.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North): Why?

Mr. Robinson: I shall tell the hon. Gentleman why. He can be sure that before I sit down, he will know why.

The Government are asking the people of Northern Ireland, who have faced a quarter of a century and more of terrorism, to watch while those who have oppressed them, those who have perpetrated violence against them, and those who have stopped them having a normal life are elevated and rewarded.

The agreement, which is to be put to the people of Northern Ireland in a referendum, is an agreement that puts into the very Government of Northern Ireland

22 Apr 1998 : Column 932

representatives of the Provisional IRA's army council--Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. Under the agreement, once they are in that Government, they will hold full ministerial portfolios which will be exercised in a more wide-ranging way than is the case in the rest of the United Kingdom.

All that the Cabinet--if it can be called that--does is to work out its annual policy programme, and, within that broad policy programme, Ministers can do almost what they want. So, we shall have two Sinn Fein-IRA Ministers, in an elevated position and gentrified by the agreement, running around Northern Ireland, exercising control over the very people whom they have oppressed for a generation.

Mr. Frank Cook: Many of us can understand why the hon. Gentleman is opposed to the orders, but I personally cannot understand why he is against the people of Northern Ireland expressing an opinion.

Mr. Robinson: The hon. Gentleman should have waited before intervening. I have not said that I am against the people of Northern Ireland expressing an opinion. Indeed, if he knew a bit more about the subject, he would be aware that it was my party which asked for a referendum. We want the people of Northern Ireland to have their say, but I am entitled to explain to the House what the House is asking the people of Northern Ireland to vote on. The only choice that the House is giving the people of Northern Ireland is to vote for or against the agreement--there are to be no alternatives on the ballot paper.

The first thing that the agreement will do is put into the Government IRA army council members and give them full executive authority to operate key Departments in Northern Ireland. Secondly, it gives a veto to nationalists within the assembly. I can remember campaigning with colleagues in the UUP and the then Vanguard Unionist party against the Sunningdale agreement back in the early 1970s. We were Unionists, and we saw the Sunningdale agreement as a process that led to a united Ireland.

What did the Sunningdale agreement do? It put Gerry Fitt, now Lord Fitt, in government in Northern Ireland. The people who stood shoulder to shoulder with us--people such as the leader of the Ulster Unionist party, Reginald Empey of the Ulster Unionist party and the deputy leader of the Ulster Unionist party--who opposed having Gerry Fitt in government are now saying, "Let's have Gerry Adams instead." I am not sure that the people of Northern Ireland will feel that their judgment has improved over the years.

At least the Sunningdale agreement allowed decisions to be taken by simple majority voting. Under the proposed system, as the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) pointed out, decisions will be taken by consensus. They require not a simple vote within the assembly, but a majority of one section of the community and at least 40 per cent. of the other. So there is a minority veto within the assembly.

The agreement sets up an all-Ireland body with full executive power and implementing bodies attached to it. They can take decisions and implement them--a process recognised by Sinn Fein-IRA as an advancement towards

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its goal of a united Ireland. Will Unionists recommend that to the people of Northern Ireland? If that were not bad enough--[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Conversations are breaking out generally throughout the Chamber. I would be grateful if hon. Members would listen to the hon. Gentleman who is addressing the House.

Mr. Robinson: That is the very last thing that hon. Members want to do. To listen might lead to their being convinced and that might cause them considerable problems with their Whips, so they close their ears rather than hear the truth.

Apart from the structural issues contained within the agreement and the referendum, there is a prospect that, within two years, the worst criminals from both sections of the community will be released onto the streets. No one will remain in gaol if he belongs to a pro-agreement paramilitary organisation. The judge's recommendation might have been that such a criminal should be locked up for 35 years or should never see daylight again, but in two years' time he will be walking down the street again. Walking down the same street, perhaps in the other direction, might be a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary--the very man who put him in gaol--and he would laugh at him.

Although the agreement does not require paramilitary organisations to decommission, there are clear indications that the RUC will be required to disarm. Indeed, an international body of so-called experts is to be established to examine the future of the RUC, with the specific remit to consider a new policing structure and a new police service for Northern Ireland that has to be satisfactory to both sections of the community.

We know the view of the SDLP in respect of a new police service. They want a root and branch change. Sinn Fein goes a step further. It wants a completely new police service and has indicated that it would like a two-tier police service with a community input. That is a clear sign that the RUC will effectively be destroyed.

All the issues show that the winners in the process are the pan-nationalist front. As the SDLP said earlier this evening, it has been pushing for this agenda for 25 years and now it has it. The SDLP has admitted that it is a nationalist agenda--one which it has sought for 25 years. Is not it disgraceful that it should achieve its goal because Unionists signed up to it? I cannot understand how those who opposed Sunningdale and the Anglo-Irish Agreement can support something that is worse--not for nationalists, but for Unionists.

Mr. Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East): What is the hon. Gentleman's alternative?

Mr. Robinson: The hon. Gentleman asks me what my alternative is--he has clearly not read Democratic Unionist party documents, which have offered alternative after alternative. If he wants to offer me an alternative, I will take what Scotland has--I should be happy for Northern Ireland to have the same structures that the House was content to give to Scotland. Scotland was not asked to give away its sovereignty and join some foreign country, so why should that be required of us?

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Many alternatives would be satisfactory to the Unionist community. Democracy would be a nice alternative--democratic rule instead of Dublin rule. Indeed, I would rather have direct rule than Dublin rule. The Unionist community has plenty of alternatives, but we shall never accept a process that leads inevitably to a united Ireland.

I hope that, on 22 May, the people of Northern Ireland will not be sold the lie that the agreement will produce peace. It will not produce peace. It rewards terrorism. It says to the men of violence, "Your bombing and shooting have succeeded in getting you a place, not only at the negotiating table, but in government. Your shooting and bombing have succeeded in opening the prisons." The agreement is a charter for more terrorism. Terrorists learn that, if their terrorism brings success, more terrorism will lead to greater success. The agreement will not wipe away violence. The one certainty is that the Provisional IRA will pocket every concession that it is given and start to push for more.

The IRA sees the agreement as a transitional phase towards its goal, which it will not give up. Northern Ireland has been put in transit from its position in the United Kingdom; it has been moved into a different axis, which points it to the Republic of Ireland. Its day-to-day political life has to be in tandem with the Irish Republic, and we are less and less to look to the east-west axis.

Many hon. Members may think that that is good--from a nationalist point of view, they are entitled to believe that it is good. However, I will not allow the Unionist community in Northern Ireland to believe that the Union is more secure today than it was when the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) sat down at the table.

How can the Union be more secure with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness in government, with a nationalist veto in an assembly and with an all-Ireland body with full executive powers? How can the Union be more secure when terrorists are not required to decommission weapons, when our police force is to be destroyed and when the gates of the prisons are to be swung open so that terrorists can walk free?

I shall be asking people to vote no when they have the opportunity on 22 May, and I hope that the Government recognise that they need more than 50 per cent. plus one to support the agreement. By its nature, the agreement requires consensus. To give a veto to nationalists, the Government have, inadvertently but necessarily, given a veto to Unionists, as nothing can go through the assembly without the support of a majority of the Unionist community as well. Because a majority of nationalists and Unionists is required, the Government need more than 70 per cent. of the electorate to vote in favour of the agreement.

I have fought many elections--something like 26--and have a fair idea of the way the political wind blows in Northern Ireland.

If anyone believes the opinion polls that are tampered with and doctored by the Northern Ireland Office, they will have a big surprise. [Laughter.] Hon. Members laugh: perhaps they have not seen the document that was leaked from the Northern Ireland Office--it was written by Tom Kelly, previously of the BBC and now the director of communications in the Northern Ireland Office--expressly stating how the people of Northern Ireland were to be deceived about opinion polls.

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The fact came out that the Government intended to line up all the movers and shakers, including Archbishop Eames, and to time all the press statements to come out one after the other to get the people of Northern Ireland to believe that there was a real bandwagon going for the agreement. It was all laid out in the leaked document, which mentioned how the opinion polls were to be made to bolster the Government's position.

I speak to people and get their opinions. Outside the leadership of the Ulster Unionist party, I am still looking for the first Unionist who supports the agreement. I have been in the streets and in my advice centres, which I attend much more often than do any Labour Members. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] Oh, yes. I wonder how many days a week you sit in your advice centres and how many appointments you take every--

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