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Mr. Oaten: That is a chicken-and-egg situation. It would be helpful if the Minister explained, but I sense

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that the Bill may need to be passed before decommissioning can take place. The amendment proposes an alternative that is the other way round. That is the difference.

Mr. Brady rose--

Mr. Oaten: I shall not give way. I want to make progress on amendment No. 32.

On terrorism, the proposition is that the Bill should be linked with a statement from Members moving into the House making it clear that they disown terrorism. That is another tempting proposition, but I return to the point that I made in an intervention: an important principle would be broken because those individuals would have stood for election and been democratically elected. We would be saying that democratically elected individuals could not take their seats.

Mr. MacKay: Were we wrong to pass such legislation on the Northern Ireland Assembly where, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, no one can take his seat unless he swears that he has given up violence for good? Is there to be one law for Northern Ireland and another for the rest of the United Kingdom? I think not.

Mr. Oaten: The issue could be considered in terms of the ability of individuals to stand for election in the first place and what they say in their statement before they stand. I am uneasy about the principle of a person being elected and conditions being attached to his election. We may impose the condition of renouncement of terrorism, but what other conditions and aspects could be imposed? The principle is dangerous.

Mr. Robathan: The hon. Gentleman seems to be making a predictable Liberal "on the one hand, on the other hand" effort. Does he not understand the difference between democratic elections and trying to destroy a society or a Government by force and by terrorism? The whole point is that those who take part in a democratic election say, "I will foreswear the Armalite; I will go for the ballot box." People cannot use the ballot box and the Armalite. Surely he must understand that.

Mr. Oaten: I understand that point, but the process of standing on a platform and being democratically elected would be overturned by amendment No. 32 because it concerns a person who has already been elected. I would have had more sympathy for it if it related to whether a person was able to stand for election in the first place.

Mr. Donaldson: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Oaten: I want to conclude my remarks.

Mr. Donaldson: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Oaten: No, I want to conclude my remarks.

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We are uneasy about being unable to back the amendment. The Government could have been more open with us on those issues, but, in the interests of making the peace process work, we are prepared to back them and reject the amendment.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton: I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) because, although I am not sure that he has given the Committee any true knowledge of where the Liberal Democrats stand on the Bill, he has at least suggested that they are not particularly happy with it and we are grateful for that.

The Bill is an important constitutional measure and some truly valuable contributions have been made. My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney)--sadly, he is not in his place--drew attention to the speech of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who is also not in her place, although she has been present for most of the debate. Her contribution was a rapier thrust at the chest of the Government because it concentrated the minds of hon. Members on the purpose of the Bill.

I remind the Committee that the hon. Lady has been a Member of the House for many years, is one of the most senior Labour Members and is highly regarded across the House. She asked Ministers to be honest, open and transparent about the purpose of the Bill. I make a plea to the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland: I hope that he will be open, honourable and transparent with the Committee and will tell us precisely the purpose of the Bill, why the Government have introduced it now and why they have rushed it through in such a hurry, allowing inadequate time for the consideration of amendments. Clearly the Opposition are in a sizeable minority. We therefore have to accept last night's decision to give the Bill a Second Reading.

I am opposed to the Bill in principle and on principle, and there is a difference. It is fundamentally flawed, it is unnecessary and it leads members of the Committee to hold strong suspicions about its objective. My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire made an outstanding contribution. He naturally advised the Committee that he had served as a Northern Ireland Minister and of course he has a pedigree that connects him directly to Northern Ireland. I very much value, respect and appreciate his views and he touched on all the important issues relating to the amendments.

I also commend the speeches made by official Ulster Unionist party Members, whom I describe as my hon. Friends. In my view they always have been. I have taken a strong interest in Northern Ireland affairs ever since I was elected to the House 29 years ago and am happy to advise the Committee that the first time I voted against my party was on the prorogation of Stormont in 1972. I believe that that was the most insidious form of surrender to terrorism, the enunciation of which I heard from the mouth of the then Conservative Prime Minister. From that moment, we have never stopped making concessions to terrorism.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) referred to the coat of arms that we see over one of the entrances to this Chamber of the House of Commons, the coat of arms erected on the instruction and at the wish not only of the House, but of the then Speaker: the coat of arms of Airey Neave. I feel very

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emotional about my hon. Friend's reference to Airey Neave, because I was the last Member of Parliament to speak to Airey Neave before he went off to his tailor that Friday morning and before I went up to my constituency by car. It would be an insult to his memory if we allowed anyone to enter this place as a Member of the House of Commons who had not renounced terrorism and a wish to achieve their objectives through armed conflict or terrorism, whether by the bomb or by the bullet. So I am speaking strongly in favour of amendment No. 32, tabled by my very good hon. Friend and colleague the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). I believe he is absolutely right to have this matter placed on the face of the Bill.

9 pm

I repeat that I do not like the Bill. I do not believe that it is necessary. But now that it has had a Second Reading, I believe that amendment No. 10, with which other amendments and new clause 1 are linked, is absolutely correct. It would be improper, it would be immoral, it would be dangerous and it would be wrong for this measure to take effect before decommissioning had taken place.

In this debate we have had discussions about the action of decommissioning. The excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) highlighted that. Then the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) drew attention to another piece of legislation in which the phrase "the process of decommissioning" formed a part.

I am sure it is not necessary to remind the Committee that decommissioning was really the essence of the package put forward, I think, three years ago by Senator George Mitchell. Of course, we know that at that time no progress was going to be made towards a peace settlement at least until decommissioning had started. We know now that Sinn Fein has achieved a considerable amount since then. Not only has not a single weapon been decommissioned by Sinn Fein--or a round of ammunition or a pound of Semtex--but the party is now in the Northern Ireland Executive; it is in part of an institution of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Robathan: Does my hon. Friend also recall that one of the Mitchell principles was that all parties to talks, let alone any further stage, would have renounced violence for good? Does he not think it might be helpful to remind the Liberal spokesman, the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten), of that? I know that he was not in the House then, but I am sure he understands that it is a pretty good principle, which has been established for some time.

Mr. Winterton: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, but I believe I would be straining your patience and tolerance, Mr. Lord, if I went back to everything that has occurred since Senator George Mitchell came on the scene and decommissioning became such an important part, supposedly, of making any progress whatsoever. I do not need to mention again matters referred to by the hon. Members for Lagan Valley and, I believe, for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson)--not only that Sinn Fein has achieved what I have already indicated, but that the RUC is being decimated; I used the phrase in a supplementary question to the Secretary for State for Northern Ireland,

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and I believe that the RUC's death warrant has been announced by the Government. Certainly the morale of the Royal Ulster Constabulary has been devastated by what I see as the insult that has been delivered to it, only a few weeks after it was rightly awarded--because I believe it is the finest, most courageous and most professional police force in the world--the George Cross. Just a few weeks after that it learned that in due course it is to be deprived of its name, its oath is to be changed and the whole composition of the force is to be dramatically altered and its numbers reduced again. That was one of the purposes of Sinn Fein-IRA.

So what we in the Opposition are seeking to do--I believe that some of what I am saying is shared by Liberal Democrat Members--is to see some safeguards put into the Bill, however undesirable it is in principle to us. The House, in its wisdom or otherwise, because of the Government's very sizeable majority, gave the Bill a Second Reading. I believe that it is absolutely right that if the suspicions of the Government's acts and intentions are not to grow, these amendments need to be included in the Bill in one form or another.

I nevertheless make a plea to Ministers. Not one hon. Member has spoken in favour of the Bill. I hope that, if democracy is to mean anything--and to me it is very important--Ministers will heed what I consider to be the properly founded, well considered arguments of Opposition Members, and will make a gesture of some kind. What, otherwise, is the House of Commons about? Why have this debate? People are asking why the time should be expended if the Government are not prepared to listen to the--I think--well argued cases advanced by Opposition Members.

I still believe in this place, and to me it is valuable that people out there still believe that this place is valuable. Are the Government going to reduce its credibility by forcing the Bill through without any proper, detailed, open response, or are they going to respond to the genuine concern that has been expressed, reply positively and accept, if not the wording of all the amendments, at least the intention behind some of them?

It is not often that my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire comes to the Chamber, as an ex-Minister, to make speeches such as the one that he made tonight. His knowledge is considerable; his commitment to Northern Ireland and to the peace process is also considerable, respected and well known. On his behalf, and on behalf of all Opposition Members who have spoken, I make this plea to the Government: please be honest with us. Please do right by the people of this country who believe in justice, democracy and law and order. Do not forget the overwhelming majority of peace-loving, law-abiding citizens in Northern Ireland, for whom we seek to secure the best deal--and the Bill, as it stands, is not the best deal.

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