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6.46 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. George Howarth): This has been a good debate, in which strongly held views have been put strongly and any doubts that people may have have been covered.

The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) should not labour under the delusion that the Bill is the product of some arrangement between Ministers and Sinn Fein. Representations were made by the Irish Government--whether they communicated with the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) is another matter. [Interruption.] I can assure the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone that I will refer to him later. Certainly there were discussions between this Government and the Irish Government.

Another point is that there was consultation about the Bill. I do not know how far down the chain of command of the Ulster Unionist party that consultation went, but it is precisely as a result of that consultation that clause 2 is now in the Bill. Clause 2 would not have figured in the Bill as originally envisaged.

Rev. Martin Smyth: I appreciate the point that the Minister has just made, and I understand that there might have been consultations a fortnight ago. However, a fortnight ago in this place, I asked why we were rushing the Committee the day after the Second Reading of this important Bill. I regret that minority rights have not always been defended, even in this House.

Mr. Howarth: It was precisely because there was consultation that we felt it not unreasonable to have a tight timetable. Although individual members of different parties have expressed strong reservations, there has been an agreement that Second Reading would be uncontested by the Opposition. Normally, that gives reason to believe that it is reasonable to have a fairly short time scale.

24 Jan 2000 : Column 73

On the question of whether the Bill is being hurried, it was published before Christmas. Anyone with concerns or reservations has had plenty of time to consider the Bill in detail and table appropriate amendments.

I shall cover first the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). One reason for that is that, as many hon. Members noted, she set the tone of the debate. However, a second reason is that I hold my hon. Friend in very high regard indeed, for reasons that are known only to her and to me. Had it not been for her, I should not have become a Member of the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich asked a prescient question when she asked why the Bill was being introduced. As she rightly noted, the circumstances are not precisely the same as those involving the Commonwealth. However, a variety of arrangements exist between the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland as a result of the Good Friday agreement. Those arrangements include the implementation bodies covering issues such as inland waterways, food safety, trade and business developments, special European Union programmes, the Irish language and Ulster Scots, and aquaculture.

Mr. Maginnis: The Under-Secretary of State was at pains to tell us that the proposal had nothing to do with the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Is the Minister now agreeing with my earlier suggestion that the Bill has been enamelled on to the agreement?

Mr. Howarth: I shall come to that precise point, if the hon. Gentleman will bear with me. Not for one moment am I saying that the Bill arises out of the Good Friday agreement. It does not, but as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary explained, the arrangements between Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and this House--and the Government--are unique and different. Our response to the agreement must reflect that. The argument is about context rather than precise linkage.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) raised the issue of whether the Republic of Ireland should be invited to join the Commonwealth. It would be foolhardy of me to get involved in that debate today. In the long term, it is a matter for the Irish people and Government to decide. However, I am sure that the House will agree with my hon. Friend that, regardless of the links between southern Ireland and Northern Ireland, very strong ties of kinship exist between people from Ireland in general. I speak for my own family in that regard: our ties to Ireland go back a long way, but they exist none the less. That makes a difference to the relationship between our countries.

The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) is no longer in the Chamber. That is unfortunate, as I wanted to address her directly. She made a helpful and responsible speech, and raised a couple of issues that should be answered. First, she spoke about the need to consider the link between the Bill and decommissioning. The hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) said that that linkage should not be made, and I strongly agree. It would be inappropriate to make that link, as I hope the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald and her supporters will understand. Decommissioning is an important element in the Good Friday agreement, but the agreement must stand as a separate issue.

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The Good Friday agreement makes the link, and the matter should be viewed in that context. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has stated that any default on decommissioning reported by General de Chastelain would have serious consequences. It is important to keep that uppermost in our minds when we consider the various linkages with the Good Friday agreement.

I shall deal with the second point made by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald in my response to the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone. He and others--including the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald and the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg)--asked about the conflicts of interest that would be incurred by a person who sat in two legislatures and who was a Minister in the Government attached to one of those legislatures. That is an important point and I listened to the argument very carefully.

I have not had the opportunity of studying the amendment on that subject tabled by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). However, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I will study it overnight with my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I cannot give a firm commitment on the amendment, especially as I have not seen it, but we shall reflect carefully on the issues raised in this debate.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Howarth: No, as I have still to respond to some participants in the debate.

The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone also asked about the Oath. That is an important matter, and one that has been raised repeatedly. The Bill does not change the Oath of Allegiance. The Government do not intend to change it; we are not talking to anyone or consulting with anyone about the possibility of changing it.

The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald asked for a absolute commitment on the issue. She served with some distinction in the previous Government, and she knows that no Government can give cast-iron guarantees of that kind. However, it would be wrong for anyone to think that a change in the Oath is in prospect. It is not around the corner, nor around any corner that I can foresee.

The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone knows that I hold him in high regard, as do many of my colleagues. We should not forget that matters of identity, allegiance and loyalty have been at the heart of divisions in Northern Ireland for a long time. I know that the hon. Gentleman will agree with that. That history has been discussed many times in this debate already, so I shall not rehearse it. However, I merely observe that, in Northern Ireland, there is no such thing as a yes-no, black- and-white issue. We are dealing with complex matters that have to be discussed.

Many people in Northern Ireland think of themselves as British, as they are, but many also think of themselves as Irish. By reason of their birth in Northern Ireland, they are entitled to Irish citizenship. Asked--in relation to sports, culture or politics, for instance--whether they

24 Jan 2000 : Column 75

think of themselves as Irish or British, people will give many different answers. I am pleased at the arrival in the Chamber of the right hon. Member for Upper Bann, as he will know exactly what I mean.

The Government take such matters very seriously, and I have given a clear undertaking that we will reflect overnight on the amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:--

The House divided: Ayes 300, Noes 17.

Division No. 34
[6.59 pm


AYES


Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Alexander, Douglas
Allen, Graham
Ashton, Joe
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, John
Ballard, Jackie
Banks, Tony
Barnes, Harry
Battle, John
Bayley, Hugh
Beard, Nigel
Beith, Rt Hon A J
Bell, Martin (Tatton)
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)
Bennett, Andrew F
Benton, Joe
Bermingham, Gerald
Berry, Roger
Best, Harold
Betts, Clive
Blears, Ms Hazel
Blizzard, Bob
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul
Borrow, David
Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Bradshaw, Ben
Breed, Colin
Brinton, Mrs Helen
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Browne, Desmond
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Butler, Mrs Christine
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies
(NE Fife)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, Dale
Casale, Roger
Cawsey, Ian
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chaytor, David
Chidgey, David
Clapham, Michael
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Clark, Dr Lynda
(Edinburgh Pentlands)
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clelland, David
Clwyd, Ann
Coaker, Vernon
Cohen, Harry
Colman, Tony
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cooper, Yvette
Corbett, Robin
Corbyn, Jeremy
Corston, Jean
Cotter, Brian
Cousins, Jim
Cranston, Ross
Crausby, David
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Dalyell, Tam
Darvill, Keith
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Davidson, Ian
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Mrs Janet
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Donohoe, Brian H
Doran, Frank
Dowd, Jim
Drew, David
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Ennis, Jeff
Fearn, Ronnie
Field, Rt Hon Frank
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flint, Caroline
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Foster, Don (Bath)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Foulkes, George
Galloway, George
Gapes, Mike
George, Andrew (St Ives)
George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Gerrard, Neil
Gibson, Dr Ian
Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Godsiff, Roger
Goggins, Paul
Golding, Mrs Llin
Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Grant, Bernie
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Grocott, Bruce
Grogan, John
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Healey, John
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Hepburn, Stephen
Heppell, John
Hill, Keith
Hinchliffe, David
Hood, Jimmy
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Howells, Dr Kim
Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Humble, Mrs Joan
Hurst, Alan
Hutton, John
Iddon, Dr Brian
Illsley, Eric
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Johnson, Miss Melanie
(Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Kelly, Ms Ruth
Kemp, Fraser
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Kidney, David
Kilfoyle, Peter
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Kirkwood, Archy
Kumar, Dr Ashok
Laxton, Bob
Lepper, David
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
McCabe, Steve
McCartney, Rt Hon Ian
(Makerfield)
McDonagh, Siobhain
Macdonald, Calum
McDonnell, John
McIsaac, Shona
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Mackinlay, Andrew
McNulty, Tony
MacShane, Denis
Mactaggart, Fiona
McWalter, Tony
McWilliam, John
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Mallaber, Judy
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Martlew, Eric
Maxton, John
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Meale, Alan
Merron, Gillian
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Milburn, Rt Hon Alan
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Austin
Moffatt, Laura
Moonie, Dr Lewis
Moran, Ms Margaret
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)
Morley, Elliot
Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle
(B'ham Yardley)
Mountford, Kali
Mudie, George
Mullin, Chris
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Naysmith, Dr Doug
Oaten, Mark
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Olner, Bill
O'Neill, Martin
Palmer, Dr Nick
Pearson, Ian
Pendry, Tom
Perham, Ms Linda
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter L
Plaskitt, James
Pollard, Kerry
Pond, Chris
Pope, Greg
Powell, Sir Raymond
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Primarolo, Dawn
Purchase, Ken
Quinn, Lawrie
Radice, Rt Hon Giles
Raynsford, Nick
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Rendel, David
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Rogers, Allan
Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff
Rooney, Terry
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Rowlands, Ted
Roy, Frank
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Sanders, Adrian
Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Barry
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Short, Rt Hon Clare
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Singh, Marsha
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Snape, Peter
Southworth, Ms Helen
Spellar, John
Squire, Ms Rachel
Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Stevenson, George
Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stinchcombe, Paul
Stoate, Dr Howard
Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Stunell, Andrew
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
(Dewsbury)
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Timms, Stephen
Todd, Mark
Trickett, Jon
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Walley, Ms Joan
Ward, Ms Claire
Wareing, Robert N
Watts, David
White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, Rt Hon Alan
(Swansea W)
Wills, Michael
Winnick, David
Wise, Audrey
Wood, Mike
Woodward, Shaun
Worthington, Tony
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)

Tellers for the Ayes:


Mrs. Anne McGuire and
Mr. David Jamieson.


NOES


Cash, William
Donaldson, Jeffrey
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Gill, Christopher
Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Hunter, Andrew
Maginnis, Ken
Mates, Michael
Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Swayne, Desmond
Thompson, William
Trimble, Rt Hon David
Viggers, Peter
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)

Tellers for the Noes:


Rev. Martin Smyth and
Mr. Eric Forth.

Question accordingly agreed to.

24 Jan 2000 : Column 77

Bill read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills),


Question agreed to.

Committee tomorrow.


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