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Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): I thank the Secretary of State for coming so quickly to the House to make the statement. In the circumstances, I fully understand why I did not get the draft of the statement very far in advance.

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This is a sad day for the people of Northern Ireland, because it is clear from what the Secretary of State said that a devolved, inclusive Administration for the people of Northern Ireland is sadly still some way off. Will she confirm again that the real stumbling block to progress was non-decommissioning? Will she lay the blame fairly and squarely--[Hon. Members: "Oh."] Can I ask the Secretary of State to lay the blame fairly and squarely with the paramilitaries, loyalist and republican, who have failed to fulfil their obligations under the Good Friday agreement by not decommissioning any of their illegally held arms and explosives? They are entirely to blame for the process not proceeding.

I endorse the Secretary of State's commendation of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), who has just resigned as Deputy First Minister designate. Will the right hon. Lady also place on record the outstanding contribution of the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), the First Minister designate? At all times he has behaved not only honourably but with great courage in trying to move the process forward.

May I ask the Secretary of State to confirm that the amendments that were much trumpeted and much spun by Downing Street yesterday, but never laid before Parliament, did not include any of the essential failsafes that the Unionists and I would have required to ensure that Ministers were appointed to the Executive? Let me remind the Secretary of State of the essential failsafes that we required. First, we required a tight, transparent timetable for decommissioning. Our second requirement was that, if any of the paramilitaries, republican or loyalist, failed to decommission, their terrorist prisoner releases would be halted. Our third requirement was that, if the IRA failed to decommission, Sinn Fein would be immediately excluded from the Executive.

May I also ask the Secretary of State to promise the House, as the paramilitaries are failing in their obligation to decommission their illegally held arms and explosives, that she will immediately halt the early release of terrorist prisoners back on to the streets of Belfast?

I entirely agree with the Secretary of State that the Good Friday agreement is still the best way forward, and I think it right and proper for a review of its workings to be carried out now. Will the Secretary of State confirm what I have heard her say before--that the Belfast agreement must be implemented in all its parts, not cherry-picked? The part that is not being conformed to at the moment is the requirement for decommissioning of illegally held weapons.

Marjorie Mowlam: Let me begin with the right hon. Gentleman's last question. We firmly believe that the Good Friday agreement should be implemented in full.

The hon. Gentleman raised another point about something that is not part of the Good Friday agreement. It is crucial for people to understand that the question of prisoner releases is part of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998, and that suspension is related to the ending of the ceasefire, not to decommissioning. The right hon. Gentleman keeps repeating that there is such a relationship, but it does not exist.

On prisoner releases, I have made it clear--I have said this from the Dispatch Box on numerous occasions--that I, like the hon. Gentleman, desperately want to be sure that the commitment to a ceasefire is not broken.

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As Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, said 10 days ago, I have not--by default, or by actions that I have taken--done anything contrary to the advice that he has given me.

As for evidence on prisoners, I will not shirk that. I will act if I have to--we have twice excluded parties--but I will not act on the basis of hearsay or allegations that keep being brought up. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we will act; but there is no point in asking for the halting of accelerated release of prisoners. Yes, that was part of the Good Friday agreement, but it was not tied to the conditions that the right hon. Gentleman wants to be imposed.

Opposition members must understand that we cannot cherry-pick. We cannot suddenly say, "I think that I will stop this". That would guarantee the end of the Good Friday agreement.

As for the amendments proposed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in relation to the speech by the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) on Tuesday, they are there. They were not tabled last night, but they are there ready to go. As I said in my statement, we will continue with the legislation, because there may well be a chance for it to be used in future; but we will not force the Bill through on an emergency timetable when there is clearly no longer an emergency. I assure the House that the amendments are there, ready for tabling. We attempted to respond to the points made by the right hon. Member for Huntingdon and others, and we believe that we have done so.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the outstanding contributions of the leaders in Northern Ireland, and mentioned in particular the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). Let me say categorically that I believe the leaders of every party in Northern Ireland have tried hard--all of them. I condemn none of them because I believe that they have all tried with determination and courage to make progress. It is just very sad that we have not been able to do that today.

In response to the right hon. Gentleman's first statement, I do not want to indulge in blame and recriminations because that is the one way to guarantee that the whole process will unravel again. That is why it is crucial that, if we go backwards--

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): Why don't you blame the terrorists?

Marjorie Mowlam: I blame terrorists who murder people. It is appalling. It is outrageous. It is disgusting. But I am here implementing the Good Friday agreement and the agreement is inclusive.

People have tried desperately in the past 18 months and, as I have said, sadly, we have not made it by today, but we will not make progress and we will not hold the fragile ceasefires that we have at the moment, if we start a whole exercise in the House today of saying who we think was to blame.

We all carry responsibility--everyone. As a result, everyone should do all they can to move the process forward, rather than try to unpick it. The basic problem that we experienced, as was clear in the House

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on Tuesday, was one of trust and confidence. We must all work to try to rebuild that over the summer because the Good Friday agreement is not lost; neither is the peace.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde): May I say first how deeply I regret the resignation of our hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon). It has always been my view that both he and our hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) stand head and shoulders above most of those involved in politics.

We always knew that the negotiations would be protracted and cumbersome, but they have been deeply harmed by the intransigence of the hardliners in the Unionist parties and, indeed, among the republicans. This is a setback, but that is all it is. Matters have improved enormously in Northern Ireland over the past 20 years. We have to remember that. We have a peace of sorts, but it could help if General de Chastelain--not that he can be influenced by anyone, let alone a Back Bencher such as me--could come up with a definite timetable concerning the process of decommissioning over the next several months.

Marjorie Mowlam: I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution. I respect what he personally has done in relation to Northern Ireland. I say that just before I disagree with him, because I do not think that it helps at this point, sad though we all are at the loss of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh from the process, to begin to do what I have just said to Opposition Members we should not do, which is boost some Members above others. Yes, everyone in Northern Ireland has to take risks. Yes, everyone has to change and that goes for hon. Members and for the two Governments. Unless that happens, it will be tougher to make progress.

I accept that there are hardliners on both sides who do not help the process. It is equally not helped by those who oppose the Good Friday agreement, but opposition to the agreement is Opposition Members' democratic right, which we have never denied. The real difficulty in the weeks and months ahead will come from those on either extreme who have not given up violence. They are there with the intent purpose of trying to destroy the agreement. What will be tough and difficult in the weeks and months ahead will be to ensure that they do not succeed in bringing down what can potentially again be built on.

In response to the final point on de Chastelain and a definite timetable, that is one of the things that was discussed yesterday. I hope that, when the review gets going, it is discussed again, but, as is patently clear from what is happening in Northern Ireland at the moment, it is the parties who will decide whether that is crucial, not us.

Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): May I also say that we understand the very important reasons that led to the late arrival of the information that came to us before the statement--indeed, I applaud the Secretary of State for doing her best to keep us posted at all.

May I first ask the Secretary of State to note some slight concern about the effect that the very late arrival of the new Standing Order that she determined this morning had on the proceedings in Northern Ireland? Perhaps she could explain why it was sent so late.

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Secondly, will the Secretary of State confirm that, according to the regulations, the resignation of the Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister creates a vacancy also for First Minister--although the current First Minister would be entitled to continue as acting First Minister for up to six weeks, by which time an election must be called?

Thirdly, does the Secretary of State agree that, although it may now be difficult to move forward, that is no excuse for moving back? Do we not have to recognise that the failure to choose the current process will do nothing to provide an alternative to what has come before us?

Fourthly, does the Secretary of State also realise that--despite protestations of it all being fair and square by the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) on behalf of the official Opposition--when something of such gravity is occurring in Northern Ireland, this is not the time to try to score party political points? Does she agree that it sounds to many Northern Ireland people as though some mainland politicians have forgotten that we are here in the Province's interests, not our own? Does she also agree that trying to justify some of the comments made in the Chamber has made it exceedingly difficult for Northern Ireland politicians who desperately want to make progress to do so?

Finally, does the Minister agree that there will have to come a time when all sides show some faith, even if that involves risk? Without that faith, the Province can have little faith in the future.


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