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The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael J. Martin): Order. The Committee must come to order. The hon. Gentleman is addressing the Committee.

10.30 pm

Mr. Maginnis: Thank you, Mr. Martin; that was helpful, given the current state of my voice.

Although the Minister mentioned those other matters, we know--I have pointed it out to him--that Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, the Democratic Left and the Irish Labour party are not interested in participating as Members either of this place or of the Northern Ireland Assembly. In conversation, that was made obvious to me. To try to justify himself, the Minister pointed out that Austin Curry and John Cushnahan, among others, stood for seats in the Dail. However, they did so not simply because, as Irish citizens, they were entitled to do so, but rather because there was no opportunity to pursue their political careers in Northern Ireland, which was in the direct-rule process.

Rev. Martin Smyth: The situation was even more serious than that. Like other politicians in Northern Ireland, they had played a part, but, as there was no elected Chamber, they had difficulty even in finding secondary jobs to keep themselves occupied.

Mr. Maginnis: Indeed that was the case. Consequently, they moved, and one served in a European assembly and the other in the Dail.

The Government are making an effort to enamel on to the edge of the agreement provisions that are specifically designed to facilitate the position of Sinn Fein. However, he, I and every other hon. Member want Sinn Fein to exercise what, so far, it has claimed to be a voluntary obligation to disarm.

What is happening to that voluntary obligation after all this time? Today, I saw the Under-Secretary of State struggling, and failing, to try to explain what the Government's reaction will be if the de Chastelain report were couched in negative terms. Part of the Minister's difficulty is that he is afraid of offending Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein would use that offence as an excuse--that is the reality--for not presenting before General de Chastelain reports at the end of this month.

I shall relieve the Under-Secretary of the obligation and tell him what will have to happen. If I am wrong, he will be able to clarify the position for the rest of the Committee and contradict me. If there is a positive response, it will mean that there has been a first significant disarmament phase and that the general will be able to say in an agenda how events should proceed until 22 May.

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If there is not a first round of disarmament, General de Chastelain will have to report that. Immediately, there will be an obligation on the Government to suspend the Assembly and return Northern Ireland to a direct rule system in the interim. That will be supported by the Government in Dublin, even though they have no direct say in the matter. If I am wrong, I hope that the Under-Secretary will contradict me now. If he does not, we will know the process that we must expect.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 10 are in line with what is necessary if Northern Ireland is to be governed in the same way as other regions of the United Kingdom. The Under-Secretary has stated that the Bill is not the direct result of the Belfast agreement. I do not know whether that is so, or not. I do know, however--because I was fairly close to the heart of events--that the Bill was never mooted during the negotiations on that agreement, nor during the Mitchell review.

No Bill relating to Northern Ireland and the affairs of elected representatives there can stand apart from what is contained in the Belfast agreement. Even if the Government fall down on their obligations, Opposition Members must ensure that disarmament is an element of this Bill. I see no justification at all for the Bill, and many agree with me. However, no Bill such as this can be at variance with the conditions laid down for devolved government in Northern Ireland.

Disarmament is not a simple political issue in Northern Ireland. It is not a question of two opposing views. Disarmament is an inherent part of democracy. It is vital if those who have relied on violence or the threat of violence for more than 100 years are to be moved to recognise the primacy of democracy.

The importance of this Committee stage is immense, in the context of the House's procedures, traditions and protocol. It is important in terms of the way in which people in Northern Ireland see themselves as being treated as fellow citizens in the United Kingdom. If they find that the interests of 657 Members of this House are secondary to the interests of two Members who do not take their places here, their faith in the institutions of government, which we are trying to achieve under the most difficult circumstances, will be less than that needed to sustain what we are trying to do.

The Minister must speak frankly. He must tell us about the others who have been party to this. He must stop giving the impression that the leader of the party to which I belong was privy to the Bill when it was mooted. The leader of my party was made privy to the Bill when the Prime Minister informed him that it was to be introduced. He made known his antipathy to the proposals, and made it very clear that there would be a conflict of interest if the Bill was introduced in the form that was shown to him. That did not mean approval.

Mr. George Howarth: The hon. Gentleman will, I think, accept that the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) was consulted about the intention to introduce the Bill and the principles contained therein. As a result of those consultations, clause 2 was added to the Bill.

Mr. Maginnis: That is the clause to which you would not wish me to allude in any depth, Sir Alan. Clause 2 prevents a Minister in one legislature from being a

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Minister in the other. In fact, discussion of what my right hon. Friend has suggested is not yet complete, but we shall come to the relevant amendments later.

I suggest that the Minister intervene once again--I know that he will find this difficult, if not impossible--and tell us which of the Irish nationalist parties will take advantage of that provision, or wants to take advantage of it, or suggests that it should have the right to be a Member of another legislature in the United Kingdom as well as the Dail.

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. This may be of interest, but it is straying too far outside the scope of the amendments. I remind the hon. Gentleman that many arguments have been deployed over the past five hours, and he must not stray from order by repeating them too much or by not keeping within the scope of the specific amendments. I hope that he will govern his remarks accordingly.

Mr. Maginnis: You can be assured that I will do my best, Sir Alan, while, at the same time, trying to encourage Her Majesty's Ministers to be frank with the Committee. What is the purpose of the Bill and who will it benefit beyond those who have, as yet, failed to show any inclination that they are about to disarm and, hence, to meet the requirements of us all under the Belfast agreement?

10.45 pm

Mr. Forth: The Committee has laboured mightily to try to elicit from the Government the rationale that lay behind the Bill--the amendments sought in part to do that and, in that context, to improve the Bill. However, we have failed, as the speech by the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) showed all too well. Those of us who have sat through the debate in its entirety are little wiser than when the proceedings started as to why the Bill was introduced and why the Committee had to sit so hard on the heels of Second Reading.

The Minister urged the Committee to reject all the amendments. In doing so, he tried--interestingly--to have the argument both ways. He tantalised us with much talk about the importance and ramifications of the Belfast agreement, while trying to distance the Government from any connection between the agreement and the Bill. The Government seem to be trying to have it both ways. They hint at, or tantalise us with, the prospect that the Bill would add significantly to the goodies--the benefits--that have flowed from the Belfast agreement thus far. That has been challenged frequently during this brief debate. However, I do not want to linger on that matter, as we may have an opportunity to return to it in our further proceedings.

Not only are we no clearer as to the Government's motive in introducing the measure, but we are even less clear as to whether there is a connection in the Government's mind between the agreement, with all its ramifications, and the provisions of the Bill. In relation to the amendments, we are no further forward in understanding why the Minister has urged us to reject all of them, given that amendment No. 10, introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay), would strengthen the measure by an

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explicit reference to the decommissioning process, linked to the trust that we all put in the de Chastelain part of that process.

Mr. Fallon: My right hon. Friend says that we are no further forward. Has he reflected on the fact that perhaps we might have moved slightly backwards? In his summing up, the Under-Secretary used one phrase that we have not heard before: he said that there was "no direct linkage" between the Bill and the Belfast agreement. Does my right hon. Friend consider that there is some indirect linkage?

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