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Mr. Mandelson: I can confirm what the hon. Gentleman says. Of course, as I have said already, nobody wants to take this step. If we can possibly avoid it, we will, but only if an objective change in the circumstances allows us to make that change. For that to happen, we must see a different approach and a different stance on the part of the IRA. The hon. Gentleman is right in referring to the fact that there is only one deadline for decommissioning in the Good Friday agreement. It is not January, it is not February, it is not March; it is May--to be precise, 22 May of this year. Nobody is trying to impose new deadlines for people to meet. Nobody--not the Unionists, not the Government--is trying to rewrite the Good Friday agreement. All that we are seeking is the full implementation of the agreement that we had. That should be clearly understood by those in the republican movement who have expressed some anger at the turn of events this week. It is very important that they realise that. Nobody is trying, as some have accused me this week of doing, to abandon faith in the political process or the institutions that have been created--far from it: I am motivated solely by a desire to save and preserve the process and the institutions that have been created. That will certainly determine all the Government's actions in the coming week and in the months ahead.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): At this very disappointing time for Northern Ireland, should we not bear in mind that there remains overwhelming public support in the United Kingdom, as in the Irish republic, for the Good Friday agreement, and that the vast majority of people in both countries want that agreement to remain

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in force? As far as the IRA is concerned, is it not "make up your mind" time? If the IRA want the agreement to remain in force and the Executive and the north-south bodies to continue, they know what they should do. The vast majority of people in Ireland--the Republic and the north--want them to do what we in Parliament want them to do: decommission.

Mr. Mandelson: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If we did not have the Good Friday agreement and we were starting all over again with all the negotiations from scratch, I have absolutely no doubt that the agreement that suits everyone's needs and aspirations most clearly and the one with which we would end up all over again is the Good Friday agreement. That is why it is so important that we move ahead and implement it in its entirety, but it has to be clear that decommissioning is going to happen. "No more ifs and buts"--that is what people want to hear and that is what they are entitled to hear. The method of decommissioning is for the de Chastelain commission. The commission must act in accordance with decommissioning schemes made by the two Governments. They provide for a variety of methods, but all require arms to be destroyed or made permanently unusable or inaccessible. That must be the basis for the action that is undertaken by all the paramilitary organisations.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): Can the Secretary of State and General de Chastelain confirm that there is not a scintilla of a possibility of a misunderstanding on the part of the paramilitaries and of those associated with them of what the consequences would be of a continuance of their present stance?

Mr. Mandelson: I hope that, in everything that I have said--which, I am sure, is echoed in every part of this House--there is no ambiguity, but if there is, let me make it absolutely clear. If there is no decommissioning, there will be no full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. If there is no full implementation, there will be no devolution in Northern Ireland. That is a matter of colossal regret, but it is a fact.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield): May I thank the Secretary of State for making his statement to the House, and for giving an assurance on any proposed legislation or any further statements to this House next week, because we have as great an interest in this matter as the people of Northern Ireland? May I thank him also for the cautious, confident and moderate statement that he made, because he knows that the people of Northern Ireland want this to succeed? May I put it to him that those in either community who are opposed to the Belfast agreement have an interest either in not decommissioning or in suspending the Executive? They feed upon each other.

In considering what might have to happen if no progress is made, will the Secretary of State consider that we do not really want to go back to the old direct rule, because it was under that that so many of the tragedies occurred? May I ask him to give an assurance to the House that the one element that will remain firmly in place is the close co-operation between the British and Irish Governments, because neither is involved in any

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suspension, and that this direct rule should be direct rule by London and Dublin together, as a way of carrying the process forward?

Mr. Mandelson: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his support. He is absolutely right that there are rejectionists on both sides of this argument who are prepared, in some cases, I am afraid, to fill the atmosphere with hatred and poison, which simply serves to deepen the divide in Northern Ireland's community, to polarise opinion and to frustrate the whole cause of making peace.

I can assure my right hon. Friend that the co-operation between our own and the Irish Government remains very close indeed. As the Taoiseach said in the Dail last November:

Nobody wants it, but both Governments know that if it has to be, it will be.

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim): Does the Secretary of State agree that the statement made by the previous speaker, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) that we should have a new form of joint rule from Dublin and this House is the sort of statement that would bring about a disastrous situation? Should not the Secretary of State tell the House today that no such joint rule will take place in Northern Ireland?

Secondly, does not the Secretary of State understand that his statements tonight are not at all helpful to the people of Northern Ireland? He says that the

Surely we are here tonight because the IRA has not played its part, and has not lived up to the promises that it made. The other amazing statement was that

    "the assurance repeated this week that there is no threat to the peace process from the IRA is important and will be welcomed".

Surely the threat from the IRA is that it has the means to destroy life in Northern Ireland, and that it has an arsenal bigger than any other terrorist arsenal in western Europe, which it refuses to decommission. When he comes next week to present his Bill, can he give us an assurance that we will possess de Chastelain's report? It is unfair to ask Members from Northern Ireland to discuss this matter next week if we do not have in our hands the report of de Chastelain. The Secretary of State said something about another report, but if there is no other report, will we have the report of which we have not as yet seen the contents? If there is going to be a pause, may I ask him, "Will he pause the release of prisoners?" Will he stop the implementation of the Patten report? These are matters that need to be handled, and handled urgently.

Mr. Mandelson: I must say that I did not share the hon. Gentleman's precise interpretation of the remarks by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). I do not think that he was calling for joint rule as such, but in case there is any ambiguity about the

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Government's policy, I may say that we do not support joint rule--however advantageous and beneficial it is to the people of Northern Ireland to have the ready support and contribution of the Irish Government for the political progress that has been made in Northern Ireland.

If the hon. Gentleman does not mind my saying so, I think that he is slightly splitting hairs over the statement that I have made. Of course I readily acknowledge--indeed, I said--that the arsenal of weapons held by the IRA makes their continuing, indefinite involvement in democratic politics impossible. We know that, and they themselves have accepted that, which is why they say that decommissioning is an essential part of the peace process. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman disagrees with me, but I happen to believe that the ceasefires are not unimportant as an essential condition for political progress.

I think that anyone who is in any doubt about the difference that has been made to life in Northern Ireland by the ceasefires could just go over there and live there for a few days, and talk to the people who live there. They would soon find out that it has made an enormous difference to the quality of life of everyone there.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will reflect and provide not rancour and not recrimination in these circumstances, but his support for those who have made such a success of Northern Ireland's government. Among those, I include the representatives of his own party, who have been excellent Ministers on the Executive.

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