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Mr. George Howarth: To put the record straight, neither my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department nor I said at any stage that the First Minister, the leader of the hon. Gentleman's party, wanted these measures. Nor did we say that as a result of consultation he wanted them. He was consulted and he expressed reservations. Some of those reservations were taken into account and embodied in clause 2.

Mr. Maginnis: I am grateful. My right hon. Friend voted against the Bill on Second Reading. The reality is that we were concerned not with recent events but with how we reached a situation in which an unnecessary and patronising piece of legislation came before the House and occupied us in the Chamber for more than two days, and almost three.

We have heard also that there was consultation with the Irish Government. I have no knowledge--I stand to be corrected--that the Irish Government sought to initiate legislation that they could not reciprocate. Indeed, they had no desire to reciprocate and no ability to do so. These matters have been well and truly illustrated throughout our hours and days of debate.

We now approach the nub of the issue: who negotiated with Her Majesty's Government? The answer is Sinn Fein, which is the only Irish political party that could have an interest in the Bill. Sinn Fein will be disappointed that my right hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann and my colleagues managed to get clause 2 included in the measure, because that party's objective is to portray itself as the only all-Irish party with governmental responsibility in both jurisdictions. However, as I said on Second Reading, the Taoiseach--the political leader of the Irish Republic--has made it clear that he does not want unreconstructed terrorists in any coalition Government that he may lead.

That lesson could be learned by those in this House who would smuggle members of Sinn Fein-IRA--unreconstructed terrorists, associated with terrorist organisations, who retain guns and bombs--around the protection that Madam Speaker gives the House, and provide them with offices, telephones and £50,000 a year each. I am pleased that common sense prevailed throughout the House and that the Government, whatever excuse they may proffer, have been persuaded not to usurp the power of the Chair, which protects us all and has traditionally done that, both during my time in the House and long before.

Ministers claim that the Bill is not threatening, but that is a subjective view. It would be more objective to consider whether the Bill is a reconciling measure. Little reconciliation has occurred in the past few weeks at the Government's behest. I do not want to stray from the Bill, but the Government have taken the one action on policing that would alienate most people in Northern Ireland. As part of their decision-making process, the name of the

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Royal Ulster Constabulary will disappear. That has achieved nothing. Ministers refused to comment on that. Perhaps we can--

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The hon. Gentleman said that he did not want to depart from the Bill but promptly did so. We are on Third Reading, and the hon. Gentleman should confine his remarks to the Bill.

Mr. Maginnis: I acknowledge that point. I said that I did not want to enter into a discussion on the RUC, but I should have liked to refer to the matter. However, I accepted your guidance, Sir Alan.

I have shown the Government's carelessness of the sensitivities of ordinary, decent people, not only in Northern Ireland, but in the Irish Republic. The Government must abandon the notion that a majority of 170 heralds the return of colonial times.

We have to ask ourselves whether any recent event, including the introduction of the Bill, is likely to help with the one issue that is important to all our striving to achieve lasting peace in Northern Ireland. Everyone knows that I am referring to the dismantling and disarmament of terrorist organisations. The laziest member of the family who does the least work--whether at university or in his job--can lie in bed to dinner time knowing that the registered envelope will arrive on the doormat. By enamelling on to the periphery of the Belfast agreement concession after concession to the IRA, the Government have presented that registered envelope to the organisation so that such people do not have to work, as the rest of us have to, at moving things forward--often at our own inconvenience and soon to our own embarrassment.

Mr. Donaldson: My hon. Friend talks about striving for peace in Northern Ireland and I welcome his comments. The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) made remarks, which he repeats at every opportunity in the House, about those of us who have concerns about aspects of the process--concerns that he has just expressed. We may have concerns, but does my hon. Friend agree that that does not mean that we are against peace in Northern Ireland? Many of us who voice them have suffered at the hands of terrorists and want to end terrorism in Northern Ireland. That is why we express our worries. The objective of my hon. Friend and I is the dismantling of terrorism in Northern Ireland, which is the only way to achieve real peace.

Mr. Maginnis: My hon. Friend makes a relevant point. Although we want the same thing for those whom we represent, we find it difficult to reconcile on a means by which to achieve it.

Mr. Winnick rose--

Mr. Maginnis: I shall not give way because I must end my speech.

The Government must recognise the difficulty that ordinary people have in trying to move the process forward. By introducing such legislation, they do nothing--absolutely nothing--to help.

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6.28 pm

Mr. Simon Hughes: The way in which the Bill has been debated has shown the importance of the issues that it raises. It relates principally to Northern Ireland, but also to Ireland and to the United Kingdom, so we all have a duty to take it seriously. It is clearly part of a constitutional process and part of and related to a peace process. There can be no one of good will in the House who does not want the peace process to succeed and the constitutional relationship between this country and Ireland to be on the best and most secure footing. They therefore want a Bill that improves that constitutional link as well.

The Bill could have been better explained, and would have been more welcome, had it been part of a parallel process in Ireland and the United Kingdom, particularly because Ireland is evaluating what constitutional changes it might want to make. A report is due this year. We have all had to judge the Bill on what has been presented to us, even though there is clearly a much bigger agenda all round. My hon. Friends and I voted for Second Reading and have been in the Chamber throughout the past day and a bit, tabling a new clause and supporting or opposing amendments on their merits. We regret that we have not managed to amend the Bill.

On Third Reading, the question that we must ask ourselves is whether the Bill contains two proposals of merit. Irrespective of the way in which the Bill has been presented and handled, should we support it on Third Reading, given the words that are on the Order Paper? The answer is that we will vote for the Bill on Third Reading, because the two specific proposals that it contains seem to us, on balance, to have merit. Those two proposals are, first, that the relationship between people in the Irish Parliament and people in this Parliament should be at least on the same footing as the relationship between people in the Parliaments of the Commonwealth and people of this Parliament; and secondly, that the anomaly which allows people to be in the Irish Seanad and the Northern Ireland Assembly should be corrected to allow people to be in the Northern Ireland Assembly and in either House of the Irish Parliament. We shall therefore support the Bill.

The approach of the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack), the Minister and the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) was entirely reasonable. I cannot say the same for the approach of the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). He unjustifiably criticised people who have a perfectly valid point of view, and attributed to them motives that he could not justify given their activities over many years.

The Bill has not had better support because it tries to gain the confidence of the republican minority in Northern Ireland without at the same time seeking to gain the confidence of the Unionist majority. The peace process and the constitutional process require both communities to be more confident as a result of the Bill.

Ministers know our position. We do not blame the two Ministers for the way in which the Bill has been handled. They have been assiduous and, like us, have served their time during the many days and hours that we have considered this measure. However, the Government are in charge of the timetable, as you and your colleagues have often told us, Mr. Deputy Speaker. They decided that the

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Bill would be brought before the House for Second Reading on one day, for Committee stage the following day, and for Report and Third Reading on the third day--at least in chronological time--without interruption and against all the usual conventions of the House.

When considering constitutional Bills, it is especially important that we follow the usual constitutional timetable and give time for proper consideration. We need to be particularly careful with short Bills to ensure that they are not hiding a multitude of future difficulties. We have been down that road before during my years in the House.

The Bill was not in the manifesto or the Queen's Speech. It was not in the Good Friday agreement. It was conceived in mystery sometime before December, published without explanation in December, presented on the day the House rose for the recess, introduced without justification in January, and pushed through the House without agreement on three consecutive days, during the last of which we have sat for 24 hours. We have still not been given an explanation for or justification of why this measure had to be handled in that way.

As the Minister and I had cause to reflect in the middle of this afternoon, it is a bizarre outcome that on the 1,000th day of the first Labour Government for almost two decades, instead of the Prime Minister putting his record to Parliament for the scrutiny of the House, we had to have a Committee stage of a Bill that two months ago no one envisaged we would be debating.

I repeat the question. We can guess, but we have never had an answer: why this Bill? The Minister said--I took careful note--that it was a small step to improve the constitutional relationship. I accept that, but why was the measure not introduced in the Northern Ireland Act 1998? Why was it not introduced in 1999? Why was the Bill not in the Queen's Speech, the Good Friday agreement or the manifesto? Why now and in a way that requires us to drop all other business, defer all other activity, eliminate Prime Minister's questions and Department for International Development questions and to delay other legislation? What is the urgency? No one has answered the question. No one has ever told us the facts.

I have tabled a set of questions to the Home Secretary and a set of questions to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland today to try to obtain the answer to those questions. Before the House rises, I will table similar questions to the Prime Minister. If the two Secretaries of State do not know the answer, perhaps the Prime Minister knows it.

I believe that, although the Bill is clearly not formally linked to decommissioning--it should not be--it is probably informally linked. That may not be a bad thing, but we ought to have been told. I say to my colleagues on the Ulster Unionist Benches that if the truth of the matter was that the measure was an initiative of Sinn Fein, we might still have supported it, but we would rather have been told. Our Ulster Unionist and other colleagues would have rather known where the measure came from than have to speculate and never receive an answer.

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