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Mr. Bermingham: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I hope that it is a point of order.

Mr. Bermingham: Does the Opposition spokesman have the right to mislead the House? The matter to which he refers is not one of appointment, but one of choice in a devolved--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) is not misleading the House. He is in good order; had he not been, I would have stopped him. Let me tell the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) that when he raises points of order, he squeezes Back Benchers out of the debate.

Mr. MacKay: I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

As I was saying, the House accepts that Mr. McGuinness is legally entitled to be Minister for Education under the d'Hondt formula, which is part of the agreement. However, there is huge concern about him running schools in Northern Ireland. Therefore, along with Mr. Adams, Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA, Mr. McGuinness has a responsibility quickly to commence the decommissioning of illegally held arms and explosives. In that way, they can prove to us, in action rather than in words, that they are now legitimate democrats who want to play a full role in the Executive running Northern Ireland. If they fail to do that, they and their representatives have no legitimate right to remain as Ministers.

Mr. William Cash (Stone): My right hon. Friend will have noted that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland referred to swift action if decommissioning did not take place within the prescribed time, and he has referred to

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the question of the action needed in that event. Will he specify what action would be taken if decommissioning did not take place within the set time scale?

Mr. MacKay: That is a matter for the Secretary of State, and he would not necessarily welcome my advice at this point. However, I think it inconceivable that the Executive should continue into February without proper and sustained decommissioning of illegally held arms and explosives taking place. Many Ministers who have been appointed to the Executive would not want to remain in post if decommissioning did not take place, and they would have my full support and that of my colleagues in withdrawing from the Executive.

I wish the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and all the other Ministers well in the difficult task that lies ahead of them. I pray that not only devolution but decommissioning takes place in full, so that peace can at last come to that troubled Province.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I remind the House that Madam Speaker has ruled that there will be a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench Members' speeches.

10.45 pm

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh): After 27 years of the most torrid life that any part of Europe has seen, it is a rather strange feeling for me this evening, having been active in politics for those 27 years, to stand in the Chamber literally on the threshold of the end of one era and the beginning of another.

From Whitelaw to Mandelson is a long time. There is more than one Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the Chamber this evening--there are previous Secretaries of State; and there is more than one former Northern Ireland Minister and more than one present Minister. Collectively, so that I leave no one out, I sincerely thank them all for their efforts as Secretaries of State and as Ministers for trying to help in the most appalling situation that the House will ever deal with in terms of the violence, suffering and trauma that people have lived through.

I do not want to plough over the past but I wish to emphasise that we will never know the suffering of people in the north of Ireland. We will never know the depth and the scope of it. However, we all know collectively, especially Members from Northern Ireland and those in the political process who are not Members of this place, that we as a political process owe it not only to the people who are alive in Northern Ireland and not only to those who died, but to those whose lives are in front of them to take this opportunity and mould it into a future in a way that ensures that the past will never be conceivable and will never happen again.

The Good Friday agreement was the product of many long years of effort by Prime Ministers, Secretaries of State, Ministers and Members. That was the beginning of the end of the horror of those 27 years. The Mitchell review was the penultimate step to that end. Now, 602 days after the signing of the Good Friday agreement, we stand at the end of that era of death, suffering and violence. However, paradoxically, as we reach that end we are at the beginning

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of a new era, a new dispensation, a new hope and a new confidence that we, the people of Northern Ireland, and those of us who are charged and honoured to represent them politically, will change the future.

We will make this work because we know the alternative to it. We will make it work because we owe it to everyone in Northern Ireland. We owe it to everyone in this country who suffered greatly too. We owe it also to people in the Republic of Ireland and to those abroad, especially in the United States and Europe, who helped us to try to solve our problems. We shall do so in the sense of the Mitchell review and in the direction in which it pointed us. I join in the thanks to George Mitchell for his skill, patience and steeliness, which should never be underestimated.

George Mitchell asked us to do two things. That should not be too much for any of us. One is to take responsibility for our future and our own well-being. That we do at midnight on Wednesday. The other is to get rid of illegal arms within our society. That we must do, if only for the most base political consideration, because people agreed in the Mitchell review that that must and should be done.

Both of those things must happen. I am confident that they will, because I am confident that we will build a new future and a new relationship, no longer one of abject dependence on philosophies that are outmoded, outdated and irrelevant to the type of world in which we live.

We will build a new society and a new dispensation, based on an absence of hostilities, which will create a Northern Ireland that is at peace with itself and at peace with its neighbours, with strong north-south linkages, interacting with a devolved United Kingdom and working within a devolved and common European framework. Then we can look at some of the philosophies that guided people towards violence in the north of Ireland and see how dated and outmoded they are.

However, problems are not ended when devolution comes; they begin, and there will be many of them. There will be myriad problems to be overcome, but I am certain of one thing. With the resolve, the good will and the new relationship that we must build, those can and will be overcome. I also believe that by dealing with those problems together, we will all emerge better people as a community, better politicians and better able to pay our debt to all the people, past and present, who deserve to have that debt paid.

Finally, I repeat that we made solemn promises in the agreement on Good Friday. We made solemn promises again in the Mitchell review. This is an opportunity for all of us collectively to make another solemn promise tonight that we will deliver on a future that we ourselves will create, with the help of the House and the help of the Irish Government and our friends abroad.

I do not want to overplay the theme, but I believe that for the first time we can all use a common understanding of the words, "We shall overcome."

10.54 pm

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann): It is a pleasure to follow my colleague, the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon). May I associate myself with the thanks that he expressed, and the thanks expressed by the Secretary of State, to all those who have helped to bring us to this point.

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I welcome the order, which will result in a significant devolution of power to the Northern Ireland Assembly and bring an end to direct rule. May I say, in passing, that there never should have been direct rule. There was not direct rule before Stormont, and if it should ever be necessary for the Secretary of State to come back to the Dispatch Box to revoke the order that he is making today, there is no need to go back to direct rule, because the legislative authority for Northern Ireland will remain in the House, and the executive authority is vested in the Queen. Consequently, should it ever be necessary for the Secretary of State to revoke the order, it will not be necessary for him to do anything further.

We should never have had the debasement of democracy that was direct rule. We are ending that tonight, just as on Thursday we shall be ending the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the Irish Government's quite improper territorial claim. Those are substantial matters for the people of Northern Ireland, which are well worth stretching for as we have stretched ourselves in order to achieve them. We are doing that in the course of the implementation of the Mitchell review and, as others have said tonight, that review is based on bringing about devolution and the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons.

We have always sought to ensure that devolution is accompanied by decommissioning. It is no secret that my colleagues and I would have preferred decommissioning to have happened in closer association with devolution--rather than happening now, effectively sequentially--but we are about to complete the process of devolution; it will be completed on Thursday. The process of decommissioning should begin on Thursday and we are, in effect, passing the baton on to the republican movement. It will need to move rapidly, and it knows that.

Reference has been made--not only in the House but in public comments--to the resolution that was passed by my party's council on Saturday and, in particular, to its intention to revisit this matter in February. All I shall say about that is that all the resolution does by arranging for a meeting in February is simply regularise what would otherwise inevitably happen. No one should be perturbed in any way by what has happened.

As the Secretary of State said, yesterday we nominated a number of people for ministerial and other offices through the application of the d'Hondt formula. I say to those Members of the House who are enthusiastic proponents of proportional representation in all its forms that, having experienced that particular form of it, I cannot recommend it. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] There were, of course, particular reasons why, in the course of the Northern Ireland talks, we adopted that formula, but its operation yesterday was, in some respects, somewhat capricious and produced results that would not otherwise have happened under what we would have regarded as a more normal system. However, I have to say to the House that it is a matter of pride for myself and my colleagues in the Ulster Unionist Assembly party that we were the only group that did not have to take an adjournment to work out what to do next.

I have to say, too, that I look forward to working with those who have been nominated under that process--the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh and, indeed, the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson). I hope that we shall work closely together--[Laughter.] Perhaps even in the same room, from time to time.

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I met this morning a journalist who came to interview me. He told me that he had just interviewed a member of the Democratic Unionist party who had obtained an appointment yesterday, saying that that person--it is not the hon. Member for Belfast, East--was bursting with enthusiasm and eager to get to grips with his job. I think that that is true not only of those who have been selected, but of the community as a whole in Northern Ireland. This morning, I had the pleasure of meeting a party of 25 people from Portadown who were visiting the Assembly. They, too, were looking forward to what we hope will be a new era.

Some matters are problems that remain unresolved. The Secretary of State knows what they are. He will have today received the submission from my party in response to the Patten recommendations. I hope that he will study it and see, as he comes forward with the Government's conclusions on the recommendations, that we should steer away from some of the sillier proposals that Patten made. On examination, I think that he will discover how ill-advised so many of those proposals are, but I shall not go into them now.

Another problem is the criminal justice review, which should have been completed by now but has been delayed. That delay is causing concern because we are aware of some other foolish ideas that are being canvassed by the members of that review, particularly with regard to what is called restorative justice. In my view, it is--in the form in which it is being operated by the Northern Ireland Office in some pilot schemes--contrary to the European convention on human rights. I remind the Secretary of State that the order brings the Human Rights Act 1998 into operation for a large number of matters in Northern Ireland, so that needs to be considered carefully.

I look forward to the time when policing and criminal justice matters are devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly. I hope that that will happen as soon as possible, because we should take control of that important aspect.

I shall not say much more because many other hon. Members want to speak. I simply say once again that we welcome this measure and hope to carry it through to fruition.


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