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The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. That is an interesting point, but the clause is simple. It is a necessary tidying-up provision because a section of the earlier Act becomes obsolete. I am not sure how much extra explanation the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) requires.

Mr. Ross: The Bill is superficially a simple measure. However, if it was that simple, how have we managed to spend 21 hours discussing it?

Sir Patrick Cormack: Does my hon. Friend agree that the muddle, confusion and obfuscation could easily be cleared up by a series of simple categorical statements by the Government, which would enable us to hold Prime Minister's questions and the rest of Wednesday's business? However, we are witnessing the most inept handling of a measure in the 30 years that I have been a Member of Parliament.

Mr. Ross: Would that I could agree with the hon. Gentleman. The Government's handling of the Bill is not all that inept. The apparent ineptitude conceals a clever, devious piece of Government work. We have asked questions, which have not been answered. That is why we are still here. We are asking the same questions in different ways on every aspect of the Bill. After 21 hours of debate in Committee, we have not received an answer.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton: My hon. Friend makes a good case for not repealing section 36(5) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. I have studied the explanatory notes,

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which state that the section "is no longer needed", but provide no explanation for that. The Government have failed. Is not it therefore in order for him to make a case--

The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. That was a long intervention and the hon. Gentleman has only repeated something that has been said many times.

Mr. Ross: I admitted earlier that I need to have these complex matters explained to me time after time, so that I understand them. Unfortunately, I am getting no assistance from Ministers. All we get is confusion and attempts us blind us with smoke, to hide the reality. The Government could have spared themselves so much pain and difficulty if they had only listened to the reasonable points made yesterday and in more than 21 hours of debate today.

If the Government had been forthcoming, all these problems would have long since disappeared. If they had let us know exactly what deal they had reached with IRA-Sinn Fein to produce this legislation and what was in the Bill for Sinn Fein-IRA, we would have known where we were. I dare say that in those circumstances, rather more people might have been prepared to vote against.

Mr. Fabricant: Does my hon. Friend recall that it took 15 hours of debate to get from the Government, like squeezing blood out of a stone, the information that they had negotiated with IRA-Sinn Fein to get this clause--

The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. That has nothing whatsoever to do with clause 3. I counsel again the hon. Member for East Londonderry not to repeat himself, to come to the point and to arrive at a conclusion.

Mr. Ross: I have been trying not to repeat myself. It is just that I get drawn down highways and byways by right hon. and hon. Members who clearly have great difficulty understanding what is going on and seek the truth.

Rev. Martin Smyth: Would it not have clarified the situation and avoided misunderstanding and suspicion that a deal had been done if the Minister had said that the provision was to keep alive the mythology of a separate body of legislation for Northern Ireland? The fact that that explanation was not given might have added to the suspicion that has been engendered in all our minds.

Mr. Ross: My hon. Friend is correct. The Northern Ireland statute book is to some extent a myth. We know from experience on various Committees in this House that it is maintained in some respects but ignored or overridden in others whenever that suits the Government of the day--especially in such matters as extending European law. The concept of a Northern Ireland statute book as a separate body of legislation has been greatly undermined by events over the past 25 years. My hon. Friend is correct to describe it as a myth because a myth it is.

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I have tried to explore the issue for 20 minutes or so and I am grateful to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who have assisted me with their questions and interventions. It is always good to have friends in this place.

Mr. Bercow: On a point of order, Mr. Lord. I apologise for interrupting my hon. Friend but, given that the suspense on these Benches is almost unbearable, would it not help the Committee if the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland gave a nod or shake of the head to show whether he will reply to the debate?

The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that that is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Ross: While I am grateful to the hon. Member for Buckingham, earlier there were nods and shakes to the extent that we had to get the Minister to tell us what they meant. Words are better than nodding or shaking heads. I hope that the Minister appreciates that we want words at some length and in some detail, so that we have a clear understanding of what is going on in regard both to repealing the 1998 Act and the Bill as a whole. We have not had that. Repeals usually appear in a table at the end of a Bill, but no such table appears in this Bill. The repeal appears as a clause, which is somewhat unusual. My experience may not be such that it ensures that I am correct, so I seek guidance. Why has that not been done? We deserve to be told.

It is not good enough for the Minister to say, "The Bill represents tidy draftsmanship. We are good at tidying up and leaving things neat." For heaven's sake, if the Government are to do that let us start with the complex legislation. Rather than scatter the whole body of United Kingdom law over half a library, let us upgrade and consolidate it annually or biannually so that people know exactly where they stand. It does not matter what they are looking for--our legislation refers back to statutory instruments, various orders, Bills and God knows what and is impossible to disentangle. To do that, we would have to employ a good barrister every day in the House, which is probably why so many barristers and lawyers are Members. They can thread their way through the legislation.

The legislation is simplistic according to the Government, but what have they done? They have simplified it even further, which does not make sense or fit into the general scheme of Government behaviour and the usual way of amending Bills. It does not fit in any way, shape or form and that has simply increased the suspicions of Opposition Members. In the light of that, we deserve a proper explanation.

Mr. Gale: Was not my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) right to suggest that we have heard assertions from Ministers, but no evidence whatever? Is not that the fundamental problem? I do not want to quarrel with my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack), who is on our Front Bench, but he said that the matter could be tidied up, given a ministerial statement or two. Those of us who have been here for many hours are well aware that a great many issues have to be dealt with--the future of Ministers in the House who might become Ministers in an Irish republican Government, for example. We have consistently tried to get answers from the Minister, but

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clearly we shall be able to do so only by debating the new clauses and having a thorough debate on Third Reading. I cannot see how the matter could be tidied up quickly.

Mr. Ross: I agree, but the hon. Gentleman used the word "assertions", which is not used in Northern Ireland or in Ireland generally. The word "allegations" is used, and they are usually made against the Royal Ulster Constabulary or the Army. The Bloody Sunday inquiry is a case in point and the bill is almost £14 million, which has been spent for no good purpose. Allegations are made time and again until some foolish people actually believe them and hold inquiries. My view is that allegations and assertions, whether they relate to the events of 30 January 1972 or whatever, are only that until proof positive--proof beyond reasonable doubt--is produced. [Interruption.] The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office is starting to react for the first time. We hear him, but that is not unusual because he always blows up when we touch a sore spot. Perhaps I should cool it a little because I do not want him to get out of order and raise your ire, Mr. Lord.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton: My hon. Friend has got a reaction.

Mr. Ross: That is a happy change, but unfortunately that Minister is not the man from whom we want a reaction. We want words, but he is apparently not in a position to give us the information that we on these Benches--both Ulster Unionist and Conservative--require. Indeed, the Liberal Democrats also raised questions, as did Labour Members.

The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman said a few moments ago that he was about to bring his remarks to a close. I think that would be a good idea.

Mr. Ross: If the Minister of State had behaved himself, my remarks probably would have been terminated by now. He moved me to continue. But in the light of your strictures, Sir, I will bring my brief remarks--

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