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Mr. Forth: I congratulate my hon. Friend. He has identified more from the Minister's remarks than I was able to do. He has suggested an intriguing possibility. While my hon. Friend was speaking, I watched the Minister carefully--as ever I do--and I saw him shake his head. The Minister, from a sedentary position, by subtle use of body language, sought to refute the suggestion made by my hon. Friend. From that, I conclude not only that is there no direct link, but that it would appear from what the Minister is not telling us verbally, but is telling us bodily, there is no indirect link either.

Mr. Fallon: May I press my right hon. Friend? Does he agree that the matter is important? I made a criticism of his new clause because he was introducing to the Bill precisely the linkage that the Government were attempting to deny. If it is now suggested that there is some linkage between the Bill and the Belfast agreement, that would surely strengthen the case for my right hon. Friend's new clause.

Mr. Forth: Of course, I agree with my hon. Friend that that must be so. However, we are still left with the problem that the Minister has not yet formally conceded that point, even though I, in my modest contribution earlier, and other hon. Friends have tried to show, by quoting from yesterday's Hansard, that the Minister's very words--even more, those of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, his hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien)--clearly suggested that, in their minds, there was a distinct link between the Belfast agreement and the Bill. In all those respects, we are no further forward.

I was referring to the amendments and the new clause, tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell and other right hon. and hon. Friends. I was trying to establish that they did not run counter to the agreement, but were intended to reinforce what was in the Belfast agreement in the context of the Bill. The Minister rejected the new clause, for reasons that he failed to make clear.

My own modest amendment, No. 1, tried to go even further. It tried to say that we could strengthen the Bill by amending it to give explicit recognition to the fact that, before the alleged benefits of the Bill came into effect, the parties to the agreement would all have to sign up to a statement saying that the agreement had been fully implemented. The Minister seems to have rejected even that.

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What mystifies me is that we have tried genuinely, I believe, to co-operate, to take the spirit of the Bill on board and to strengthen it by means of our new clause and amendments, by making references to the decommissioning process, to the parties to the agreement and so on; yet the Minister has still seen fit to tell us that he wants the Committee to reject all those amendments.

I have not yet mentioned the excellent amendment No. 32, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), which brings yet another imaginative approach to the Bill. It would give the Government another option that they could use to strengthen the Bill. These are not attempts to undermine the Bill. They are all patently attempts to reinforce and strengthen the Bill by making cross-references to the decommissioning process and to the agreement process; and amendment No. 32 makes an explicit reference to the rejection of terrorism.

None of that, surely, can be regarded as remotely controversial. None of it seeks to undermine the Bill. Even those of us who voted against Second Reading have accepted the verdict of the House yesterday, and we are now seeking to look at the Bill in a positive light and to strengthen it with our amendments. I would contend that those separate approaches are not necessarily contradictory and may well be complementary.

Therefore the Committee may--guided by you, Sir Alan--wish to express its view separately on the different approaches taken by myself, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell and my hon. Friend the Member for Stone. I hope that you will consider that carefully, having, as ever, closely followed the Committee's deliberations, in which support has been expressed by different people for the different amendments at different stages of our deliberations.

Even though the Minister has said that he wants all the amendments rejected out of hand, without giving sufficient reason, the Committee is entitled to take a different view. I hope that you, Sir Alan, will give the Committee an opportunity to do so in the fullest possible sense.

Mr. Cash: I was out of the Chamber for a fairly short time because I wanted to have some discussions with other Members and ask them the reason for the Bill. I shall not betray any confidence, but I will say that I had a word with a very senior member of the Government, and when I pressed him as to the reason for the Bill, he said that it was all part of an understanding. That is as near as we have got, so far, to an explanation. There has been no explanation whatever, and I entirely--

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Would my hon. Friend be good enough to tell the Committee with whom the understanding was made?

Mr. Cash: I wish that I were in a position to be able to disclose that, but I can say that, quite clearly, the implicit suggestion was that there was an understanding with Sinn Fein-IRA. We know that discussions were going on, which have not been disclosed to the House or in any

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other way--secret discussions. Baffled as many people may be by this bizarre Bill, it does not alter the fact that, in some way, there is perceived to be some advantage to Sinn Fein-IRA in the arrangements proposed in the Bill.

Some might believe that these proposals do not relate to a member of Sinn Fein-IRA, or to any other person who may be entitled to stand for the House of Commons. However, persons who have known terrorist views could stand without any difficulty for the Assembly in Northern Ireland. It follows that we are entitled to an answer to the questions posed in my amendment. We are talking about qualification and disqualification, about membership of the Assembly and about membership of this House. The Minister has not replied to my question.

Mr. George Howarth: I replied to the points that the hon. Gentleman raised in the debate. It is just that he was not here when I did so.

Mr. Cash: I know exactly what the Minister said, and he has not replied to my points at all. I asked him this--if a person with a track record of espousing terrorism were to take his seat, after election, in either the Assembly or this House, should he not be required to disavow terrorism before taking his seat? There has been no answer to that question, and relating it to questions of allegiance is not the entire answer. We are entitled to assume that no person who continued to espouse terrorism should be allowed to take his seat in this House or in the Assembly.

Mr. Fallon: Does my hon. Friend recall that the only answer that he did receive from the Minister was the technical point that the provision in the Northern Ireland Assembly applied only to members of the Administration, rather than to the membership of the Assembly itself? The Minister did not answer my hon. Friend's point.

Mr. Cash: Indeed, and there is an enormous difference between a member of the Administration and a person seeking election. I ask the Minister again to answer my question. Clearly, he is not intending to do so because he will not come to the Dispatch Box.

Mr. Howarth: I have answered the question.

Mr. Cash: The Minister has not answered it.

We have had no answer on the reason for the rush, either. I suspect that it is because the Bill is part of a secret understanding, of the kind indicated to me when I was outside the precincts of the Chamber. Furthermore, there is no reciprocation in the arrangements being proposed here. I have seen the Minister shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders, giving the impression that this was a spontaneous proposal from the Government--as if they had invented the proposal out of thin air.

The Chairman: Order. The points that the hon. Gentleman is deploying now were for Second Reading, and they are not directly addressing the amendment. I must insist that he address his remarks to the amendment. I understood that the hon. Gentleman was winding up on his own amendment. That is what he must do--not go back into the whole Second Reading debate and the reasons for the Bill.

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Mr. Cash: Indeed, but the points that I have been making are directly relevant to the question of whether or not terrorists who have not disavowed terrorism should be allowed to stand for election, as well as to take their seat in the House. It is by no means impossible that people who are terrorists and have not disavowed their terrorism will seek election in the knowledge that they will not be able to take their seats.

Respectfully, Sir Alan, I suggest that there ought to be separate votes for the amendments which fall within the group. I am not prepared to withdraw my amendment. Furthermore, I respectfully ask you, Sir Alan, to allow a separate vote on each of the other amendments.

11 pm

Sir Richard Body (Boston and Skegness): The Under-Secretary of State has been very patient, as he always is. However, on this occasion, his powers of persuasion have been mislaid. His comments on decommissioning and his arguments against the amendments carried no weight at all. Over several hours, he has been pressed on these issues, but he has failed to respond.

We have been asked to rush through the Bill. It received a truncated debate yesterday on Second Reading, the whole of its Committee stage is being considered tonight and it will have its Third Reading before the end of the week. It is an important constitutional Bill, but were the Government of Ireland consulted? Presumably, they were; and that might explain why the Under-Secretary is unable to persuade us about decommissioning. I hope that every Labour Member is eager for decommissioning to take place. The amendment does little more than reaffirm that point and insist that decommissioning take place before we make yet another concession to those who are given to terrorism.

Have the Government of Ireland been asked to intervene? Is that why we have had to give this concession, so that they might intercede on decommissioning? If that is not the reason, there is a very ugly reason for the Bill. It is that the Government are slipping away from their requirements on decommissioning. There can be no third explanation for the Bill.

I make this plea to the Under-Secretary. Will he speak again and tell us the answers to the points that we have put? They have been put repeatedly and with almost tedious repetition, but there has been no response from him. I ask him again: what is the reason for the Bill?

Question put, That the amendment be made:--

The Committee divided: Ayes 133, Noes 271.

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