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Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): Is my right hon. Friend aware that there will be much disappointment not only in Northern Ireland but on the mainland and that the overwhelming majority in Britain itself want the Good Friday agreement to be endorsed and implemented as soon as possible? I hope that, despite today's disappointments, that will come about later.

Will my right hon. Friend reaffirm that the Government intend to continue to work as closely as possible with the Government of the Irish Republic? Today, there may be a kind of victory for those who were against the agreement from the beginning--the majority of Unionist Members--but it is essential above all that we do not give them a permanent victory, because that would be a terrible disaster for Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom as a whole.

Marjorie Mowlam: The disappointment that my hon. Friend mentioned will be shared not only by people on the island of Ireland and in Great Britain, but--if my mailbag is anything to go by--by people across the world who have been watching the situation. What is important today is to reinforce the contribution from the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) and say, "Yes, it is disappointing and sad that we have not made progress, but we still have the Good Friday agreement and a review."

In a sense, we are where we were before "The Way Forward" document was put forward. We are where we were when the Hillsborough declaration failed. That is disappointing, but we are no further back than we were several months ago and that does not mean that we cannot find other ways forward. That is what we should focus on.

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My hon. Friend mentioned the Irish Government, and I may say that we would not have got to where we had got if we had not worked as closely as we have with theIrish Government. Previous Governments knew that, and Opposition Members who have spoken also know that. We have had a good working relationship with the Irish Government and we are still talking through the night about how we can go forward. We will continue to talk over the weekend. The Taoiseach and others in the Republic are as sad and disappointed as many people here are that progress is not being made.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): I first wish to apologise for the absence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). He expected the statement to be made later and was hoping to be here in time for it.

We are used to spin doctors and I understand the reference to the Good Friday agreement, but I thought that we were talking about the Belfast agreement rather than the spin on it. The harsh reality--when one considers what has been said across the Chamber--is that unlike those why buy from disreputable insurance salespersons who mention benefits but do not encourage reading of the small print, politicians should read the small print. From the beginning some of us saw where the problem lay. That emerged from the statements of the Prime Minister when he came to Belfast some two weeks ago and wanted everyone to subscribe to a document that stated, first:


and, secondly:


    "that the Republican movement is prepared to decommission by May 2000".

We have answered the first point and we are prepared to go down that road, despite what has been said today by Labour Members. Unfortunately, they are following the big lie by the leader of Sinn Fein, who went on the media to say that Unionists did not want to share not with nationalists or republicans but with Roman Catholics. My right hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann has answered that specifically in the House and elsewhere.

The second point about decommissioning has not been dealt with. The failsafe mechanisms did not deal with it. We live in the reality of Northern Ireland and it was none other than Gerry Adams who categorically denied that any commitment had been given to disarmament. Hence, there is no evidence that there has been a seismic change in republican thinking.

The Secretary of State mentioned movement in Northern Ireland in her statement and I would expect her to agree that that has been going on for a considerable time. If we went back to the report from the constitutional convention of 1975, we would find many of those points in it. Unionists have been moving forward, but we are not prepared to sell democracy at the price of terror.

Marjorie Mowlam: I have tried to acknowledge the role of the anti-agreement parties because in a democracy everybody's voice should be heard. We have not indulged in spin doctoring on this issue: I do not believe in it and will not do it.

Rev. Martin Smyth: You have.

Marjorie Mowlam: I have not and will not, but I can tell the House who has been spinning. It is all the parties

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in Northern Ireland, and the sooner they stop spinning and start talking to each other, the sooner progress will be made. On the hon. Gentleman's final point about looking back to what happened in 1975, it is important that we do not keep replaying history or living in the past: we must look to the future. We have a chance of looking to the future if we all try, by admitting the mistakes and errors in the past, to build for the future.

Progress has been made over the past 30 years, but hundreds of people have also been killed, as the hon. Gentleman and I know. The violence continued after the Good Friday agreement was reached, but the smaller number of people killed in the period shows that the agreement considerably lessened that violence.

Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush): My right hon. Friend reminds us all that this is a good time to remember the lessons of the recent past, one of which is that there is a greater chance of agreement when the major Opposition party supports a Government. That is true even when strange things happen, such as the previous Conservative Government holding direct talks with the IRA. What has happened in the past few days is a result of the major Opposition party partially withdrawing support for the Government. In so doing, it has undermined the already severely divided Ulster Unionist party--so that those responsible members of that party who wanted the agreement found it almost impossible to go the extra mile--and allowed the agreement to slip through our fingers.

Marjorie Mowlam: I thank my hon. Friend, in view of all the work that he has done on this matter, but I must reinforce the point that we will make progress when people stop spinning and start talking to each other.

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale): If the ceasefires are "fragile"--the word that the Secretary of State used earlier--rather than permanent, firm and unshakeable, as we had been assured previously, does not that suggest that it is especially important to halt prisoner releases until there is some decommissioning of weapons?

Marjorie Mowlam: I am saddened that the hon. Gentleman has put that interpretation on my use of the word "fragile" in relation to the situation. The ceasefires become more and more fragile when there is no alternative political way forward. When there is a vacuum--

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Ah.

Marjorie Mowlam: It is all very well to say "Ah", but that is the reality: a political vacuum makes it easier for people who use the road of violence to justify their course of action. At the moment, there is no political vacuum in Northern Ireland. The political way forward is still being debated and discussed. The fragility is not in the nature of the ceasefires which, as I have said many times in the House, I keep under constant review. I have made a clear commitment that I will act if and when I am advised that the ceasefires are not holding. The fragility stems from the possibility that people will not talk and from the presence of extremist groups who want to break up the agreement.

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Conservative Members may be trying to secure a statement from me that could be headlined as "Secretary of State Admits Ceasefires Fragile", but that is notthe case. There is fragility in Northern Ireland at the moment: that is inevitable. People will be disappointed and worried, and there remain marches to be held. However, I hope that all hon. Members will play a part in sustaining confidence and ensuring that divisions are not exacerbated. We must do our best to try and hold the situation together.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): I add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend for her patience in carrying out all the duties associated with her office over the past two years. On this sad day, she has had to announce a review of the Good Friday agreement which, when it was agreed, was an enormous step forward.

Will the review look again at the basic principles of the Good Friday agreement, or will the basis of the review be that we retain the agreement, under which both communities must be represented and in agreement before any progress can be made? When does my right hon. Friend expect the review to be completed?

Finally, the First Minister designate has failed to attend Stormont this morning. He has not offered his resignation, but his party has not nominated people to the Executive. Does the right hon. Member for Upper Bann(Mr. Trimble) remain as First Minister designate, even though he has vetoed this final hurdle in the peace process, or will he remain in office only until such time as the two Governments have completed the review?


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