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Mr. Mandelson: If we trawled over a detailed, word-by-word analysis of all that the IRA has said, we would be here for the rest of the day, but we are not here to do that. These matters are very important, however. We have heard many such statements before. We have to look behind what is meant in addition to what is simply said. I am satisfied, given my examination of these matters, that what has been said has been said sincerely and without cynicism, but it remains to be seen whether what has been said will be borne out by deeds and actions. We should judge the IRA by deeds and actions rather than simply words.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the renewal of the process would not have been possible but for the excellent relationship between the British and Irish Governments and, especially, between our Prime Minister and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern? Will he emphasise in his future deliberations on such matters the continuing importance of the close relationship between the British and Irish Governments, especially on the provision of whatever necessary security, logistical or material support Mr. Ramaphosa and Mr. Ahtisaari will require to do their important work?

Mr. Mandelson: Yes. I have no hesitation in echoing what my hon. Friend says. The relationship is excellent. We would never have got anywhere--we certainly would not have got where we are today--without the relationship between the two Governments, the particularly close relationship between my right hon. Friend and the Taoiseach and the relationship between me and the Irish

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Foreign Affairs Minister. It is a very honest relationship--[Interruption.] It is a very honest relationship, and no less robust and reliable for that. The Taoiseach and the Foreign Minister have made a tremendous, absolutely first-rate contribution, with their officials, to what has been achieved. Our continuing success certainly depends on that relationship remaining permanent.

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone): It seems a long time since I first stood at this Bench and talked about disarmament and verification of a process and the need to be reassured that the war is over. We have had numerous euphemisms in the interim, most of which have run into the sand because the nuts and bolts, the practicalities and the technicalities, have not been dealt with effectively.

Now that we are dealing with the real men of violence--the IRA--does the Secretary of State recognise that the Ulster Unionist party still has day-to-day responsibility for reassuring society in Northern Ireland? We do not want the invigilators to work in a detached way: we want contact with them from time to time, especially at the outset, so that they understand what is required from society's point of view.

Mr. Mandelson: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I do not know how long we have the two of them in Belfast next Monday, but if it is possible for them to meet the main political representatives during their visit that would be very desirable. Of course the devil is in the detail in all these matters. Whatever other shortcomings and vices I have, not having an eye for detail and not being able to micro-manage things are not among them.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): I thank the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister for the work that they have done and for the welcome statement that has been made today. My right hon. Friend says that he hopes the Assembly will reconvene on 22 May. Does there have to be a vote and debate in the House?

Although there is a statement from the IRA, my right hon. Friend hopes that there will also be one from the loyalist paramilitaries. If it is not forthcoming before 22 May, will he continue with the re-establishment of the Assembly, or will there be a delay because of the loyalist paramilitaries' inability to come up with a statement such as the IRA has made this weekend?

Mr. Mandelson: I hope very much that the loyalist paramilitaries follow up and echo what the Provisional IRA has said. That is terribly important if we are to build confidence right across the community in Northern Ireland. I am not in the business of making conditions about statements or about decommissioning in relation to the devolved institutions.

Mr. Corbyn: Good. I did not want my right hon. Friend to do that.

Mr. Mandelson: I thought for one minute that my hon. Friend was asking me to make that conditional, and to reintroduce a direct relationship between those two things. There will be an order and a debate before 22 May, and I have every expectation that the Executive of the Assembly will be going again on that date if we get the positive response from the parties that we are looking for.

Mr. Robert Jackson (Wantage): Only the IRA knows the size and location of its arms holdings. Therefore,

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decommissioning and the destruction of arms was always going to depend on the calculation of the IRA's interest and its good faith and trust, as the Secretary of State has said. Do not those two things apply equally to the current proposal for decommissioning by way of inspection of these weapons?

Mr. Mandelson: Yes is the answer to that, but this time we are doing more than merely travelling in hope. What the Provisional IRA has said is so direct and so clear-cut that it would lose a colossal amount if it were to resile in any way from the commitments that it has made. Of course I do not know the size and location of the IRA's weaponry. Although we can deactivate arms, we cannot decommission engineering knowledge and the ability to import or to remake arms should it wish to do so. That is why the motivation and the intention of the Provisional IRA and how that has been stated and described over the weekend is so important. Pursuing political objectives by peaceful means is the top and bottom line of that statement in this situation. That is the big picture, and we should not lose sight of it.

Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): I welcome the Secretary of State's announcement about the institutions. Is this not the time for all genuinely peace-seeking politicians in Northern Ireland to commit themselves totally to the peace process, and is it not an opportunity for the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble)--for whom I have considerable respect--to make it clear to those around him who oppose the process that he is determined to go down in history as a peacemaker?

Mr. Mandelson: Since becoming Secretary of State, I have long since learned not to give the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) any lectures on how to manage his party. That would be completely beyond me, even if I desired to do it--and sometimes, perhaps, beyond the right hon. Gentleman as well.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman's party will reach the conclusion that we all want and pray for, but it must make that decision in its own way and in its own time. It is a large party, and an intensely democratic party. That is why, for now, I shall leave things in the capable hands of the Ulster Unionist Council.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): I give a cautious welcome to what is clearly improving news, but does the Secretary of State accept that there is a significant problem? The arms that the IRA says it will decommission will be, as it were, the institutional arms, which are all in one place. Many weapons will remain at large in the community, and under the control of the IRA. Will the right hon. Gentleman draw to the inspectors' attention the real need to deal with those weapons, as well as the weapons that will appear in the dumps?

Mr. Mandelson: That is not the responsibility of the inspectors, so, with respect, I shall not be drawing it to their attention.

These arms, right across the community, are not simply in the hands of the IRA; they are in the hands of many people and organisations. That is why, if we are to build

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the decent, democratic civic society that we want to see in Northern Ireland--if we are to succeed in taking the gun out of Irish politics for ever--all those guns and all those people must be addressed, and all those people must be persuaded to deal with the matter.

I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Gentleman, but I think that this is something not so much for the inspectors as for General de Chastelain's commission to examine and tackle, and I shall urge it to do so.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Long before the right hon. Gentleman's star span into the political firmament, militant republicanism had shown its murderous capacity for mutation--from official IRA to Provisional IRA, and now from Provisional to Continuity and Real IRA. It will probably continue to mutate long after the right hon. Gentleman has, like some comet, gone into outer darkness. Given that weapons are kept in the barn, under the floorboards and in the house next door--if it is empty--is it not vital that no security arrangements be reduced until such time as, over the years, it has become perfectly plain that weapons are being taken out of society and not just being put on display for the benefit of visiting foreign inspectors?

Mr. Mandelson: I think the hon. Gentleman has introduced a rather cynical--unjustifiably cynical--note. I do not know whether I shall be in outer darkness, or in what part of the firmament I shall be, when we see these organisations, rather than continuing to mutate, fade away and wither on the vine for ever. That is what I want to see--an end to the mutating, and a start to the withering--but it will only happen in the context of politics working and being seen to work. That is why we have set out the proposals that we have set out; that is why we are constructing this backcloth of political change and development in front of which the decommissioning process can get under way--I hope thoroughly, and I hope faithfully.

I hope that we shall be able to come back at some time in the future, and demonstrate that the hon. Gentleman's scepticism was unfounded.


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