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Marjorie Mowlam: The Standing Order was determined this morning because--last night, and until the early hours of this morning--it was unclear whether the Ulster Unionist party would be able to include someone in the process. That was clarified only when the UUP announced from Glengall street in Belfast that it would not field a nomination in the d'Hondt procedure. I had made a commitment, as had the Prime Minister, to run d'Hondt, and we had to give the Assembly 24 hours' notice before doing so. The process was therefore inevitably taking its course.

Subsequently, it became clear to me that if the UUP and the Ulster Democratic Unionist party would not make nominations, we would end up with an Executive composed of 10 nationalists. The spirit and words of the Good Friday agreement have always been that movement would have to be on a cross-community basis.

I apologise to the parties that were in the Chamber in Northern Ireland at lunch time, but I could not pull d'Hondt. Equally, if only one community had participated in it, it would not have worked or been cross-community. The Standing Order was drafted, therefore, when the situation became clear, at about 9.30 am to 10.00 am, so that we could have it in the Chamber, and avoid an even more unworkable situation.

As for the impact of the Deputy First Minister's resignation on the First Minister, the two posts are connected, and I believe that there will have to be an election for both. I believe that a six-week time frame, which the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) mentioned, is another dimension to the matter. Although we are--to be fair--still checking the details, I share the hon. Gentleman's view that, after six weeks, there will have to be an election for both posts.

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I do not really want--however frustrated I might feel--to deal with the hon. Gentleman's final point, on political parties, point scoring and bipartisanship. As so often in this process, we have to do all that we can to protect bipartisanship. It would not help for me to go through what we did when we were in opposition that has not been reciprocated, as I should be indulging in what I told the rest of the House would not be productive, today, of all days. Nevertheless, bipartisanship does help, and I hope that, from now on, we can continue acting positively and constructively in that manner.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield): As the Secretary of State will know, the sense of disappointment that she expressed will be shared by the overwhelming majority of Members of this House and the people of Northern Ireland, because the Belfast agreement represents the majority of the people in Northern Ireland more even than any party there. May I thank her for the immense amount of work that she has done? No British Minister in history has ever devoted so much time, attention, care and thought to finding a solution, and the language she uses is clearly designed to keep all the participants in a position to negotiate. I am sure that she is right to talk about the future because of the majority in the referendum.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, for many people, the ultimate decision by the Unionists will not come as a surprise? From the time of the first ceasefire, their feeling was that there could be no negotiations until it was permanent. Now we have the problem about decommissioning.

The impression has been given that the representatives of old Unionism, which commands the Ulster Unionist party, is interested in the Union with the United Kingdom only if we will send troops to support them, but not if they are asked to sit down with the Catholic community on the basis of equality. One of the consequences of that, as I am sure the Secretary of State is aware, is that if the emphasis now moves to London and Dublin running a condominium in Northern Ireland, that will be the first stage towards what many people--including myself, for all my life--believe; that the Irish people will have to settle their own future. I hope that she will use those arguments with the skill that she has shown to try to make the Ulster Unionist party--I am not speaking about the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), but his party--realise that the old days are over, and that the majority of people in the Northern Ireland want that to be the case.

Marjorie Mowlam: I ask all hon. Members to avoid recriminations, however strongly we may feel; otherwise, we revert to oppositional behaviour, and today is not the day for that. I am sure that we will have debates in future when these views can be expressed clearly. Today, we are making a commitment to stick with the principles in the Good Friday agreement and to have a review. The details of the review will be discussed by the parties in Westminster and there will be input from those in the House. My right hon. Friend talks about the old days being part of the past and, for many people in Northern Ireland, they are. If one goes to Northern Ireland, one sees new buildings and increasing jobs and industry. Normality is coming to Northern Ireland, and all politicians have to show leadership and make sure that we make happen politically what is happening in many communities.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): Does the Secretary of State agree that, not for the first time

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in our history, "Steady the Buffs" is not a bad national watchword, and that the important thing at this juncture is calm thought for the future about how the delicate plant that is the peace process can be fostered? That, of course, includes--as the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) said earlier--the work of General de Chastelain on the decommissioning programme.

Marjorie Mowlam: I acknowledge the work of the right hon. Gentleman, who will feel as sad as anyone that we have got to this point but no further, as he was one of the architects of the process. General de Chastelain will continue to work as hard as he has done, and he has made a positive impact on the process. I am sure that that will continue. "Steady the Buffs" might be his phrase. Mine would be "Keep your head, keep it down and we will keep going."

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North): Is my right hon. Friend aware that her right hon. and hon. Friends admire her stateswomanlike qualities this afternoon, as she must be under tremendous pressure to vent her opinions? We admire the way in which she continued her job, despite the fact that, from the time when the Good Friday agreement was made, the Official Opposition--in conjunction with the Ulster Unionists--sought to cherry-pick and alter the agreement, change it and bring in fresh conditions. As much as anything, the Official Opposition are responsible for bolstering the Ulster Unionists in their rejection of the agreement.

The Ulster Unionists are halfway through another Parliament, and still there is no change. That has always been their policy. Many of us believed from the start that they never had any intention of coming to an agreement.

Marjorie Mowlam: I thank my hon. Friend for the work that he has put into building the process, but I must also say to him that there has been change in Northern Ireland. Incredible progress has been made since the Good Friday agreement. The principle of consent has been agreed, so there is a way forward on the basic constitutional difficulty that has always been at the root of the problems in Northern Ireland. That, more than anything, is a good building block to start from; it was for the Good Friday agreement, and it will be as we move forward.

Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater): I very much welcome the Secretary of State's insistence that this is not the end of the Good Friday agreement but that the review itself is being conducted within the agreement. I greatly appreciate her demeanour and presentation today, which are a signal improvement on some of the comments from Government Back Benchers to which she has had to respond.

When the Prime Minister talked in his original statement about a failsafe mechanism, which is obviously a very important agreement, I was concerned that he was not able to say what the mechanism was. The Government are trying to produce suitable amendments rather late in the day. I strongly endorse what the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) said. Surely the opportunity is now there for General de Chastelain to produce the mechanism, which could be put in the Bill. The Bill has been laid aside but not abandoned. The independent commissioner's report could be attached to

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the Bill and the mechanism would be endorsed, with the authority of Parliament--it would not be a bad thing if it were endorsed by the Dail as well--so people might be able to have real confidence that it was, indeed, a failsafe.

Marjorie Mowlam: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his contribution, but unhelpful comments sometimes come from both sides of the House. I appreciate and reinforce strongly his point that this is a review; the Good Friday agreement is still there, we are certainly not going backwards and we fully intend to move forwards. However difficult it is today, and however disappointed people are, we must not lose sight of that. I have often thought in the past two years that we have come a long way quite quickly.

One can see from conflicts around the world that it will take years to build a strong, stable base. That we go three steps forward, one back, four steps forward, three back is in the nature of building a process of trust and confidence and achieving the reconciliation that is needed. I certainly endorse the right hon. Gentleman's statement that the review is to take place on the basis of the Good Friday agreement.

On tying the failsafe to the broader political statement and to the role of General de Chastelain, the best thing to say at this point is that I am sure that General John de Chastelain and the parties in Northern Ireland have heard what the right hon. Gentleman said. As the review progresses in the weeks ahead, I am sure that his points will have been heard.


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