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The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. There are some things in this Chamber that the occupant of the Chair cannot control. I suggest that we carry on with the debate in the usual way.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton: On a point of order, Mr. Lord. Is not the mouse an indication to the Government that we should not let vermin into the House?

Mr. Robathan: Further to that point of order, Mr. Lord. Do not Standing Orders state that no animals other than guide dogs will be allowed into the House?

The Second Deputy Chairman: I suggest that we continue with the debate.

Mr. Brady: That intervention by the frightened mouse can be likened to the behaviour of Ministers, who have failed to stand up for what they should be fighting for. They have shown neither fibre nor substance in handling the negotiations entrusted to them.

Finally, it is crucial that future hon. Members whom the Bill will allow to join the House should disavow terrorism. Amendment No. 32 is the only proposal that would guarantee permanent security. I hope that decommissioning of weapons begins or that there is substantial progress to that end. However, it will remain possible that those who resorted to violence in the past could return to it.

In those circumstances, the conditionality that would be introduced by new clause 1 or amendment No. 10 would not give that vital protection. However, amendment No. 32 would give some permanent guarantee, in the event of a wholesale return to violence and terrorism affecting the whole of the United Kingdom and not just Northern Ireland, that those who refused to disavow violent intervention would not be allowed to sit in this House. It would mean that we would accept only those who believed in democracy and wished to participate in our democratic process.

Mr. George Howarth: The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) has just criticised me for not taking part in the debate at some earlier juncture. However, he will accept that the whole point is that Ministers responding to a debate listen to what hon. Members have to say. That is why I have sat here patiently noting all the points that have been raised. I intend to respond to them as fully as possible.

The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) has asked me to be candid, and that is my intention. I believe that it is inappropriate for me to be on the receiving end of criticism for having shown disrespect to the House in some way. At least three right hon. and hon. Members who have been present for all or most of the debate will attest to the fact that on every occasion on which I address

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the House and respond to issues raised by Opposition Front-Bench Members, I take the House very seriously. I am sure that the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) would accept that. I see that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) accepts that. The criticism that has been levelled at me is slightly unfair.

Mr. Brady: I have always found the hon. Gentleman to be a courteous man and a courteous Minister. What I believe to be wrong is the disrespect that the Government have shown for the House in the way in which they have handled this piece of legislation.

Mr. Howarth: I will demonstrate in a moment why I do not believe that that criticism can be sustained. Certainly, some of the criticism, including that made by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West was directed at me, and I think it appropriate and relevant for me to respond.

Sir Brian Mawhinney: I, for one, would not have wished the hon. Gentleman to take the comments personally. He is at the Dispatch Box, representing the Government, and the criticism was of the Government. I made it, as did others, and I do not resile from it.

The hon. Gentleman said that he has listened carefully to the debate. Does he now have any sense of the anger and unhappiness that those interventions sought to convey to him about the taking of business today?

Mr. Howarth: I will address, as far as I can, all the concerns that have been expressed during the course of the debate. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman knows that I will do that in due course. Of course, I have listened very carefully to what everyone has said. In no way would I make the criticism that any of the speakers who have taken part in these Committee proceedings have done so with anything less than seriousness. People felt that they had to make their points and, even if I do not agree with them, I recognise that they were made with all seriousness and proper concern.

I want to begin by dealing with some of the general points made in the debate; then I will turn to more specific points that arise directly from the amendments. The right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) and the hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) both said in different ways that the process so far had been all take and no give. Well, that is hardly the case. For the first time in 25 years, a devolved Government have been returned to Northern Ireland. That is an achievement. For the first time in 60 or so years, there is now agreement on the constitutional issues, and articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution have been amended. Those amendments will stand, regardless of what happens to the institutions. Of course, the 1985 agreement, about which many Ulster Unionists of different kinds had grave reservations--to put it mildly--has finally been replaced. So it is simply not true to say that there have been no achievements. That is not to say that there is not more to be achieved.

Mr. MacKay: I am obliged to the Under-Secretary for giving way. Let me remind him of the context of my remark that there has been all take and no give by the

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paramilitaries. I said that the two Governments, British and Irish, had fulfilled all their obligations, including many of those that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. I went on to say that the constitutional parties--Unionist, nationalist, alliance--had fulfilled all their obligations, including many of the those that the hon. Gentleman rightly mentioned, which I agree are important achievements.

In return, the paramilitaries--whether republican or loyalist--who signed up to the Belfast agreement have failed to fulfil their obligations. They had two particular obligations: the first was to decommission all their illegally held arms and explosives by May; the second was to end violence for good. That is what the hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) and I mean by all take and no give. That is the point that needs to be addressed.

9.30 pm

Mr. Howarth: I was not trying to misrepresent the right hon. Gentleman or the hon. Member for Lagan Valley. I accept entirely the right hon. Gentleman's interpretation of their remarks. I was about to draw attention to the matters on which there are still large reasons for concern and I shall talk about them in due course.

I stand by the fact that there is no direct link between the Bill and the agreement--it is a matter of context, as I tried to make clear in an earlier intervention. The agreement was negotiated with most--although not all--the parties in Northern Ireland; it was subsequently endorsed by the people of Northern Ireland and, indeed, by the people of southern Ireland.

There has been progress on all three longstanding, fundamental Unionist objectives--rightly held by Unionists to be of deep importance. That has been achieved through the courageous leadership of the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). In his speech, the right hon. Member for Bracknell referred to all the people who played a major role in bringing us to where we are today. I concur with, and add to, the list that he gave.

I am glad to see that the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) is in his place, as he was on the list read out by the right hon. Member for Bracknell, whom I join in paying tribute to the role played by the former Prime Minister in beginning the process. I have referred to the right hon. Member for Upper Bann. I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, to the Minister for the Cabinet Office, who played an important role in the matter when she was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and to the present Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Everyone has put their hands to the pump; we have all tried to do the best possible for the people of Northern Ireland.

Mr. William Ross: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howarth: I will give way in a moment.

I acknowledge that other elements are less welcome. However, we should not close our eyes to the substantial progress that has taken place as a result of the Good Friday agreement.

The right hon. Member for Bracknell and others, including the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire and the hon. Member for East

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Londonderry (Mr. Ross) referred to the modalities of decommissioning--the how, where and when. That is central to the Opposition's main amendment, which has been the subject of much of the Committee's debate. The whole Committee would probably agree that the point of decommissioning is that arms are decommissioned to the satisfaction of the Independent Commission on Decommissioning.

The Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997 makes it clear that the commission has to supervise decommissioning according to schemes that have been made. The Act requires that such schemes may include a range of methods of destruction, defined under section 10 as


Let me simply point out what is stated in the legislation. We must wait and see what the commission reports; I shall comment further on that in a moment.

The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) is not in the Chamber. At the risk of incurring some hon. Members' wrath, I wondered why the hon. Gentleman had been stirred to take part in the debate, as he was not in the Chamber--


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