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Mr. Robathan: I apologise for my absence for an hour earlier.

I shall be brief: I do not want to repeat all the excellent arguments that have been presented by my friends and colleagues. But I think the debate has shown that the Government, if they do not already know it, should study the old adage: "Act in haste, repent at leisure". The Bill, ridiculously, is being rushed through in two days, allowing hon. Members no chance to table amendments

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or even to think about what the Government are trying to say. My hon. Friends have been poking holes in the failings of the Government's argument throughout today's debate.

I was delighted to hear from my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) that if the amendment was not accepted, the Opposition would not give the Bill a fair wind. I did not oppose Second Reading yesterday, because I felt that we should at least have a chance to amend the Bill. Perhaps the Government will accept amendments, and perhaps the Bill will then be passed--although, frankly, I think that it is pretty much of a dog's breakfast. It strikes at the heart of much of our constitution; it is ill conceived and badly thought out.

Let me say a little about the constitutional change that the Bill proposes. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) drew attention to the terrible mistake of introducing constitutional changes in this manner, but I think we can all see from what has been said today that the Bill is purely a sop to the IRA. It has been put together with Sinn Fein. No one else wants it; no Labour Member is prepared to stand up and talk about it, because none of them wants it--if they even know what it is about.

The Government are giving away yet another card. As the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) pointed out, they have laid their cards on the table, but what are they getting in return? What cards do they have up their sleeve to use against IRA-Sinn Fein, who are inextricably linked and who still maintain huge arsenals of weapons?

One has to question--I do not like to do so--the Government's motives. Why do they want that constitutional change? What is it for? Is it just that they hate the United Kingdom Parliament? Do they hold the UK Parliament in contempt? They do not treat it well; we all know that. Even the most loyal Labour Back Bencher knows that. What is the Bill about? What are the Government about this afternoon? I hope that we will be able to ask that question for a long time after today; we shall have to discuss the matter on some other occasion, too.

I turn to decommissioning, which is the point of most of the amendments. I much prefer amendment No. 1, which was tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), to amendment No. 10, which was tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay), because amendment No. 1 is absolutely clear. It says that the Belfast agreement has to be put into force completely before we can proceed. In other words, all decommissioning would have to take place.

Those of us who were unhappy in some part with the compromises that have had to be made for peace in the past three or four years would be much happier if amendment No. 1 were accepted. We need an absolutely clear-cut guarantee that those to whom concessions have been made--Sinn Fein and the IRA--will make some concessions in return. I would like all weapons to be destroyed, not sealed in some bunker that might yet be under the control of terrorists, or indeed of some dissident terrorist group. I should like weapons to be destroyed before we give any more concessions to the IRA.

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In the last fortnight, we have had several concessions. We have had the destruction, or emasculation of the RUC, the name change and everything that goes with that. We have had the Bill. Hon. Members may not even be aware that, in another Bill, we have a clause to exempt Sinn Fein from the rule to stop political parties receiving donations from foreign countries. It should be called the Noraid clause, but I will not stray further down that road because I know that it would be out of order.

I said that I would be brief and I have been, but I just wish to add my voice to those of my colleagues on the Opposition Benches who have all made such good points, saying that the Bill should not proceed unless it is fundamentally amended.

Mr. Brady: I have been in the Chamber throughout the debate. It is probably one of the shabbiest episodes that I have witnessed as a Member of Parliament, and not only because of how the Government introduced the Bill, which is of questionable worth. They introduced it in a hurry, on two consecutive days. The whole thing has been handled in a way that is utterly unacceptable in a civilised Parliament, especially when Ministers are prepared to say that there is no emergency. There is no reason why it should be done in such haste.

The debate has also been shabby in that, with the honourable exceptions of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), who have indicated at least some capacity for sentient thought, not a word has been uttered by Labour Members to justify what they are doing. Not a word has been uttered in criticism of the sensible and moderate amendments tabled by Opposition Members, whether from the official Opposition or the official Unionists.

I can only come to the conclusion that no plausible and honest argument can be advanced by those Members who oppose the amendments. I was confirmed in that view when I heard the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten). He at least had the decency to say something, but he did not advance a plausible argument against the amendments. As I said when I intervened during his speech, I cannot see the logic of the argument that, if the Government have done a deal to link the Bill with decommissioning of terrorist weapons, it must not be put on to the face of the Bill because it would cause difficulties.

Including the deal in the Bill would accomplish precisely the opposite effect. It would not prevent the Bill's passage, but simply create certain safeguards involving the legislation's commencement date or the behaviour of Members who might be affected by its provisions.

Mr. Oaten: The problem is that we cannot make a judgment because we have not been told about the deal, if there was one.

9.15 pm

Mr. Brady: I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman, and agree that there is a problem. However, when Ministers demonstrate a total lack of openness and candour, it is not incumbent on hon. Members to accept what they say. Indeed, it is precisely then, when Ministers will not tell us what they are doing and show no respect

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for the House, that hon. Members--whether Labour, Ulster Unionist, Liberal Democrat or Conservative--should do what we have been sent here by our constituents to do. We must think, be cautious and use some common sense in legislating, particularly on the most sensitive matters in relation to Northern Ireland.

Mr. Evans: Does my hon. Friend agree that the deal that everyone is talking about is the Good Friday agreement; that no other deal should be necessary to achieve decommissioning; that decommissioning should start without the Bill; and that that is why we need to pass the amendments?

Mr. Brady: My hon. Friend has put his finger on it. I do not believe that Ministers are rejecting the amendments--they seem to be rejecting them but perhaps they are playing us along for a few hours to keep us in suspense--because they have done a deal or secured something in return for what they propose to give away. They are simply locked into a process of giving things away, of letting things go by default and of expecting nothing in return from those who, sadly, to date, have given no sign of wishing to move forward to genuine peace and disarmament.

Mr. Robathan: Does my hon. Friend remember from his history lessons the danegeld and how one just had to keep on paying it, but received nothing in return?

Mr. Brady: I remember it well. However, I do not intend to be diverted down that historical road, pertinent as it may be. There are many examples of appeasement in history, whether it be the danegeld or more recently, and we know that appeasement does not work.

The Government, in proceeding with the process over almost two years, have shown that appeasement does not work. Ministers have never insisted on delivery of something in return from Sinn Fein, but consistently conceded more. They have never stood up or said what they should have said--that the people of Northern Ireland, and people across the United Kingdom, wish to achieve objectives and a very important prize. The Government do not have the courage or backbone to insist on moving towards achieving those goals.

In his excellent speech, my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) dealt with the importance of conditionality and of including that vital principle in the Bill.

I do not intend to speak at length to the amendments in this group, but should like to deal briefly with the three key subgroups of amendments in the group.

Amendment No. 10 and new clause 1 deal with the importance of the principle of negotiation and of conditionality, and of ensuring that we receive something in return for what we give away.

Amendment No. 1 insists that there should be full implementation of the Good Friday agreement, and not some fudge, half-baked deal or failure to implement the agreement. It is also vital because it would ensure that implementation could not proceed without the agreement of both Houses of Parliament. That brings us back to the crucial point that the Bill must enjoy proper democratic assent. The Government cannot get away with sitting mute and not attempting to defend their proposals.

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Finally, amendment No. 32 is absolutely vital. The other amendments deal with the commencement of the measures, and the point at which it will be permissible for Members of the Dail also to sit in the House of Commons. However, they do not provide permanent security for this House--[Interruption.] A rather frightened mouse has run across the Floor, Mr. Lord, just as I was expounding the argument that I smell a rat with the legislation.

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