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Mr. Thompson: Together, the new clause and the amendments would link decommissioning with the enactment of the Bill. That is right and I support that principle.

We must consider why the Bill has been before the House for the past two days. When I read remarks that the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland made about the Bill yesterday, I was amazed that the Government were suddenly worried about some right that we have in Northern Ireland that the people in the rest of the United Kingdom do not have. That is extraordinary. I would rather that there was more concern about the rights that the rest of the United Kingdom has and that Northern Ireland does not have. The Government should be keen expeditiously to amend those and not introduce the one in this Bill, which they say is so necessary.

The Minister said that the Bill would bring into parity not only the House, but the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. However, there seems to be nothing in the Bill that applies to the Welsh Assembly or the Scottish Parliament. That suggests that the Bill was introduced quickly and that it is not well thought out. Judging from yesterday evening's discussions, it is clear that the Government have not considered many aspects of the Bill or its repercussions.

Those of us who live in Northern Ireland were very surprised when we heard about the Bill. We had to ask ourselves what on earth it was about. I suspect that very few Members of the House were aware that the Members of legislatures in the Commonwealth could become Members of the House. We have learned something that we did not know. However, we were not at all conscious that there was any pressure from anywhere that Members of the Parliament of the Republic of Ireland were desirous of sitting here or that Members of this House were desirous of sitting in the Irish Parliament. Therefore, we had to ask a second question: who would benefit from the Bill?

The only people who are likely to benefit from the Bill are Sinn Fein. Of course, the Members for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams) and for Mid-Ulster (Mr. McGuinness) are

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elected to the House, but I suspect that, in future, they may wish to sit in the Dail: they need the Bill so that they do not lose their membership here. In other words, the Bill is another act of appeasement to Sinn Fein.

The Minister has refused to say why the Bill was introduced at this time. I suspect that he dare not say why it was introduced now because it was simply introduced to appease Sinn Fein. We all want Sinn Fein to decommission its arms as quickly as possible, and preferably before the end of this month. Therefore, it has sought concession after concession. It has sought the removal of army posts, the drawing of soldiers away from Northern Ireland and more and more. No doubt, the Bill was one of the concessions for which it asked.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton: My hon. Friend has just implied that he believes that the Government, and perhaps the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, have discussed the contents of the Bill with a certain party that was elected to the House, but has not chosen to take up its seats. Does he believe that the Government have discussed the Bill's contents with Sinn Fein-IRA and, if they have, why have they not had the courtesy to discuss a constitutional measure with the leaders of other parties representing Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom?

Mr. Thompson: I certainly believe that the Government have discussed the Bill with Sinn Fein. I ask the Minister to come to the Dispatch Box and deny that such discussions have taken place.

Why is the Bill being rushed? It is being rushed so that Sinn Fein can be assured that it will be on the statute book before decommissioning starts--if, indeed, it ever does. There can be no other reason why the Government should give up valuable time to spend two days debating the Bill. Perhaps the Minister will come to the Dispatch Box and deny that, too. We in Northern Ireland believe that the position is as I have described it and that the Government are acting in the hope--probably fruitless--that if Sinn Fein are given concession after concession, they will deliver on decommissioning. In fact, concessions will be made and appeasement will continue, but, at the end of the day, there will be no decommissioning. It appears that the Government never learn.

That is why I believe that it is essential that the linkage set out in the amendments should be made. The Bill should not be brought into force unless there is complete decommissioning and we have seen that Sinn Fein-IRA have had a change of heart and have decided to turn away from violence for good. They must show that they are prepared to give up their arms and decommission them to prove that, in future, they are willing to tread the democratic path. Only in that way should they be able to achieve their ambitions. I shall fully support the amendments.

Mr. Fallon: I share the revulsion expressed by the hon. Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson) at the haste with which the Bill is being taken. We have had stages of Bills concertinaed before, but I cannot recall such a thing being done without a proper explanation being given to the House. The Bill is bad, and the only merit of the first group of amendments is that, if accepted, each of them would, in its own way, delay implementation of the measure.

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I do not find all the amendments in the group equally attractive. Of them, I prefer amendment No. 32 on the ground of its clarity. It is self-evident that what is good enough for the Northern Ireland Assembly ought to be good enough for the House of Commons. I hope that the Minister will explain why a protection he thinks it necessary for the House to put in place for the Northern Ireland Assembly should not be applied to the House. We have not yet heard Conservative Front Benchers' views on the amendment, so I look forward to hearing my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) express full support for it.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) spoke to amendment No. 1. I note that, yesterday, he announced that he, too, is opposed to the Bill "in principle". However, he is apparently prepared to accept the Bill passing into law when a number of things happen. When those things have happened and he is satisfied that they have happened, he is--reluctantly, I assume--prepared to move to what he called "the next crucial stage". That puzzles me. If we are opposed to the Bill in principle, why do we have to accept that, when a number of completely unrelated events happen, the principle must be dispensed with and there has to be a next crucial stage? I look to my right hon. Friend to reassure me on that.

8.15 pm

Mr. Forth: I was trying to say--obviously, with insufficient clarity--that, despite my having opposed and continuing to oppose the principle of the Bill, I, as a good parliamentarian, have to accept that, because the House has given the Bill its Second Reading and thereby agreed it in principle, it is now our job collectively to improve the Bill as best we can. There can legitimately be a process whereby one opposes a Bill's Second Reading but acknowledges the will of the House and plays one's part in improving the Bill.

Mr. Fallon: I fully understand and accept that. My point was a slightly different one--perhaps my right hon. Friend did not quite catch it. When speaking to amendment No. 1, he said that, if a number of other matters fell into place and events happened in the order and to the extent that he wanted them to happen, we could then move to "the next crucial stage". I do not accept that. If the Bill is bad in principle, how would the amendment enable us to sweep away its unacceptable features and move on?

New clause 1, which stands in the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Conservative Front Bench, is in many ways the weakest of the amendments in the group. For wholly understandable reasons, it links the constitutional change, to which we have strong principled objections that were ably expressed yesterday by my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary, to the pace of decommissioning. If I were uncharitable, I might criticise the acceptance of the concept of the pace of or "progress" towards decommissioning, because it perpetuates the wholly false assumption that decommissioning is some sort of process. To my mind, decommissioning is not a process, but an act.

The moment we concede that decommissioning is not an act, we are inevitably drawn into agreeing that it is a process, which may be long drawn out or difficult to

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define. I reject that and I am disappointed that the new clause implies that such "progress" is tradeable and that its definition is a matter of argument. All we are asking Sinn Fein-IRA to do is decommission. We are not asking them to commit themselves to decommissioning, or to make some sort of progress towards it. We are asking them to do what they agreed to do--decommission.

Sir Brian Mawhinney: My hon. Friend says he regards decommissioning as an act. Will he concede that it might consist of a number of acts?

Mr. Fallon: Of course I concede that it might consist of a number of acts, because it involves a number of people. However, I hope that my right hon. Friend, whose speech was easily the most compelling of the speeches so far on the group of amendments, agrees that, if we concede that decommissioning may be a process, we are in danger of being drawn into ill-fitting definitions of pace and progress and what does or does not constitute substantial progress.

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