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Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): I wholly endorse the remarks made by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland about Senator George Mitchell. It is no exaggeration to say that we would not be considering the order if it were not for his tireless patience--the patience of a saint. The senator has gained the trust of everyone involved in the process. This country owes him a very great debt.

The Opposition support the order; not least because we have consistently wanted a devolved Administration in Northern Ireland. Many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have served honourably in the Northern Ireland Office. I believe that they would all agree that they have been only second best, because it is right and proper that the people of Northern Ireland elect politicians who then can exercise power and responsibility. Successive Governments, Conservative and Labour, have administered Northern Ireland to the very best of their ability, but there has been a democratic deficit. It is unacceptable, in a perfect society, for Northern Ireland to be run exclusively by Northern Ireland Ministers who represent Welsh, Scottish and English constituencies.

That democratic deficit has been further illustrated by the fact that, for perfectly understandable reasons, local government in Northern Ireland, unlike elsewhere in the United Kingdom, has very, very few powers. It is important that the elected representatives, Unionist and nationalist, gain the power and then the responsibility. It will not be easy for them, and in the weeks and months ahead those Ministers will suddenly have to take some very tough decisions, but we wish them well.

The second reason that we support the order is for the reasons outlined by the Secretary of State. The moment that the Executive is formally set up on Thursday, the cross-border bodies come into effect, and, automatically, the Irish constitution is amended. Articles 2 and 3, which for too long have been a stumbling block to lasting peace in Northern Ireland and have caused huge misunderstandings, will disappear, and the Irish Government--the people of Ireland--will no longer have a constitutional claim on the Province. Instead--rightly, in a democracy--the people of Northern Ireland, exclusively and entirely, will be able to decide the future of that Province. I applaud that; it is a major step forward.

There is something that we have always wanted in addition to devolution, and that is the end to violence for good, and the decommissioning of all illegally held arms and explosives. We have been bitterly disappointed and very frustrated that not one gun, nor one ounce of Semtex, has been handed in by any of the paramilitaries, loyalist or republican, who signed up to the Belfast agreement. They have failed to fulfil their obligations, and previously the House has heard me say that I believe that it was wrong to release 300 or more loyalist and republican terrorist prisoners back on to the streets without getting anything whatever in return.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): The Secretary of State has said that he will not plan for failure. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the failure to have

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a plan B--the failure to have a plan for failure--has given the terrorists a powerful negotiating hand, which has enabled them to get away without handing in any weapons?

Mr. MacKay: The House will have heard the Secretary of State say tonight, clearly and without equivocation, that if anyone defaults on the Mitchell review proposals, they will be penalised. I take the Secretary of State at his word, but he knows full well that the House will be watching events carefully. Like him, I do not wish to contemplate failure, but we must be aware that we do not live in a perfect world. If decommissioning does not take place reasonably quickly, action will need to be taken.

I believe that the House should endorse what the Secretary of State said about the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and congratulate him on being elected First Minister, as we congratulate the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) on becoming Deputy First Minister, and wish them both well for the future.

I should like to return, for a second, to the role of the right hon. Member for Upper Bann. I entirely endorse what he said at his party's council meeting on Saturday. It seems to me quite reasonable and proper that the Ulster Unionist council should be reconvened early in February to review progress. It is absolutely clear that if decommissioning has not properly commenced by that point, it would be wrong and improper for Sinn Fein Ministers to remain on the Executive.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): I heard my right hon. Friend endorse the Secretary of State's comments about the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). I trust that he will not endorse the Secretary of State's comments about Gerry Adams, who ought to be a Member of the House. Will my right hon. Friend consider that many people in Northern Ireland will be very distressed to hear the Secretary of State paying tribute to somebody whose hands are dripping with blood and who is almost certainly a member of the IRA Army Council, which is the cause of all the troubles in Northern Ireland. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): Order. Hon. Members should allow me to deal with this point. I will not tolerate interventions that are in fact mini-speeches. They are not the done thing.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is a matter of common courtesy that we always refer to Members of the House, whether or not they have taken the oath, by their constituency. The hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) referred to a certain person by name, as indeed did the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the hon. Member for Blaby was not out of order.

Mr. MacKay: I want to look to the future, and I believe that all the parties in Northern Ireland and all the

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participants in the review process will be judged, rightly, not only by the statements that they have been making but by their actions. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), I say that we shall judge Mr. Adams, Mr. McGuinness, Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA by their actions in the weeks and months ahead.

I welcome the fact that it now seems almost certain that the Provisional IRA will appoint a representative to deal with General de Chastelain, and I very much endorse the Secretary of State's remarks that the whole House has absolute confidence in General de Chastelain to produce the right report and reach the right conclusions on the decommissioning of illegally held arms and explosives. However, you will be aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that actually arranging for somebody to discuss those matters with the general is only the first step. Although we welcome that step, shortly thereafter it will be absolutely essential that there is a proper start to the decommissioning of those illegally held arms and explosives, not only by the republicans, but by the so-called loyalist paramilitaries who signed up to the Belfast agreement.

Equally, I believe that it is vital that all arms and explosives are handed in by May. It is very easy to forget, in this short debate, that all those arms and explosives were supposed to be handed in over a two-year period concluding next May. Eighteen months has gone by, and there has been no decommissioning. There ain't long to go.

I want briefly to refer to the appointment of Mr. McGuinness as Education Minister. [Hon. Members: "Oh."] There seem to be complaints from Members on the Government Benches. It is absolutely right that in this House we are able to discuss developments in Northern Ireland. [Interruption.] Let me say to hon. Members who groaned and who are now shouting from a sedentary position, including the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett), that there are legitimate, genuine concerns in the Province and elsewhere in the United Kingdom about the fact that Mr. McGuinness, with his background and record, is now responsible for schools in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. MacKay: I shall conclude my point and then I shall certainly give way to the hon. Gentleman.

If the House is not going to discuss those legitimate concerns, and I, as the shadow Secretary of State, am to be shouted down for raising them, all I can say is that that is not what the House of Commons is about. I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Corbett: My point is simple, but the right hon. Gentleman does not appear to understand it. The appointment in Northern Ireland of Ministers to their portfolios has nothing to do with the House--that is what devolved government is all about.

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Mr. MacKay: I assure the hon. Gentleman that I fully understand that, but it does not mean that we cannot comment on the legitimate fears of the people of Northern Ireland and elsewhere. If we are properly to resolve the difficulty--

Mr. Bermingham: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. MacKay: No, because there is a 10-minute limit on speeches and many right hon. and hon. Members want to speak in the debate.

If we are to make progress in the review process, we have to be aware of the huge upset and legitimate concern arising from Martin McGuinness becoming schools Minister, with responsibility for education in Northern Ireland. I accept that Mr. McGuinness is entitled to be Education Minister. Under the d'Hondt process, the different parties were able to choose the Departments they wanted; Sinn Fein chose education, and I make no complaint about that. However, the fact that there is such legitimate concern about Martin McGuinness running schools in Northern Ireland makes it all the more important that Mr. McGuinness and his--

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