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Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): This is a very bad day for the people of Northern Ireland, but it is an almost inevitable day, because the Government have appeased the men of violence and are now paying the price. I put it to the Secretary of State that the Belfast agreement has not been implemented by the Government. He stated today that the agreement was a deal, but the deal has not been met. Every single terrorist prisoner has been released from jail, yet not one gun nor one ounce of Semtex has been handed in.
Does not the Secretary of State agree that the process started by John Major has been squandered by his Government and his Prime Minister? Would the Secretary of State be good enough to reiterate to the House what his Prime Minister said to the people of Northern Ireland at the time of the referendum? He gave pledges, in his own handwriting, that there would be decommissioning of illegally held arms and explosives ahead of all terrorists being released and ahead of Sinn Fein members of the Assembly becoming Ministers in the Executive. He has let the people of Northern Ireland down.
The Prime Minister has also let down my right hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). I commend everything that the First Minister has done in terms of moderate Unionism and trying to keep the people of Northern Ireland together. I regret to conclude that he has been right to resign: he had no possible alternative.
Will the Secretary of State look again at General de Chastelain's report? After all this time, without a gun or an ounce of Semtex having been handed in, the general reports to us that the IRA has not spelled out how it intends to put arms beyond use. It is not surprising that the arms have not been put beyond use, because the IRA has got what it wanted: it has got all its terrorists out and Sinn Fein members as Ministers.
I have several questions for the Secretary of State. Assuming that no decommissioning occurs in the foreseeable future, will he bring before the House or before the Assembly an order that excludes Sinn Fein Ministers? They cannot remain as Ministers when those to whom they are inextricably linked have not given up violence and have not decommissioned any of their weapons. Secondly, if it is necessary to reintroduce direct rule, can we have an absolute assurance that there will be
Dr. Reid: It has just occurred to me that I may have made a slip of the tongue and said that the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) had resigned his position from the Assembly. I should, of course, have said the Executive, since he remains in the Assembly as leader of the Ulster Unionist party and obviously as an honoured Member of this House as well.
I think that we should distinguish between sound and fury and constructive engagement in a process that all of usat least those on these Benches and, I think, all in Northern Irelandstill want to succeed. It is important, in so doing, that we should be seen to have kept our side of the bargain, to have acted honourably and to have gone as far as we possibly could, as I believe the right hon. Member for Upper Bann has done, because of his will to meet the circumstances of a peaceful Northern Ireland. I do not think that it helps in that process when a few cheap debating points are thrown across the Chamber.
The right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) may regard human rights incorporated into Northern Ireland society, the equality agenda or a police service that is acceptable to and participated in by the whole community as unworthy objectives that are merely concessions and appeasement to Sinn Fein. I believe that they are good things in a modern democracy. If we are, from a position of moral and political legitimacy, to criticise anyone in this process for failure to meet their commitments, we are better placed to do so if we can illustrate, as this Government can, that we have met our commitments in all these areas.
The right hon. Member for Bracknell spoke of what might happen in the case of exclusion, suspensions or the process falling apart. The Prime Minister, the Government and I are intent not on suspending parts of the agreement or excluding people from it butbecause it is the will of the people of Northern Ireland, expressed in overwhelming numbers in a referendumon implementing the agreement and saying to everyone who has signed up to it that they are obliged, politically and morally, to implement it as well. That is not because I say so and not because the right hon. Member for Upper Bann or anyone else in this House says so, but because the agreement was supported by the overwhelming majority of the people of Northern Ireland. It is their will that we are all engaged in implementing.
Mr. Peter Mandelson (Hartlepool): I think that most people in the House this afternoon will deprecate the grandstanding of the Opposition spokesman. I compliment my right hon. Friend on the very clear and measured tone of his statement this afternoon and of his remarks on television and radio over the weekend. I think that most would share the view that the First Minister's resignation is highly regrettable but also, I am afraid, inevitable in the circumstances.
My right hon. Friend is right to point to the progress made. By definition, a process involves a series of events, some of which are interlinked, and many of those on constitutional issues are utterly interlinked. He is right to point to the fact that progress on the institutional side in Northern Ireland and on the social and legal side in recent years has been, by any standards, monumental: the establishment of the Assembly and of the Executive, and the powers passed to it; the incorporation of human rightsthe Human Rights Commission; the equality agenda; and, on policing, the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, the police commissioner and the police ombudsman. There has been a whole hosta plethoraof moves forward.
There is a widely held perception in the whole island of Irelandnot led by me or, indeed, by the House, but by the Taoiseach, the Social Democratic and Labour party, every opposition party south of the border as well as every party north of the border, with the exception, I think, of Sinn Fein, and also expressed by the right hon. Member for Upper Bannthat any movement on decommissioning has not been commensurate with the movement made on other sides. We must all recognise that any agreement has to carry two sides. When people believe that the process is not advancing as it should in all its aspects, we run the risk of losing their support for that agreement. That is what should concern us: with due respect to the right hon. Member for Upper Bann, it is not so much his resignation but what it symbolisesthe concerns of the people whom he represents about the progress of the process.
As my right hon. Friend said in the second part of his contribution, it is necessary for the two Governments to work together. They have been working extremely closely together, and I welcome the fact that the Taoiseach has recently made his view on the issue plainin the Dail, in public, and on radio and television: that is, that the decommissioning aspect is vital to the process; that all the parties must be seen to have eschewed not only violence but the threat of violence; and that the democratic process demands that there be further progress in putting paramilitary weapons beyond use.
The Secretary of State has made reference to the report published today by the Decommissioning Commission. I am sure that he will confirm that a close reading of that report reveals that there has been absolutely no progress whatever by the republican movement in the discussionsbrief, or whateverheld during the past few weeks or months. There has been no progress at all in carrying out the obligation in the agreement. During the past few months, I have made frequent references to the failure of the republican movement to keep the promise it made directly to us 14 months ago; but much more serious is its failure to keep the obligation in the agreement. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman recalls that we made that agreement only after we had received assurances from the Prime Minister on the afternoon of 8 April 1998, one of which stated specifically that, in the Government's view, decommissioning had to begin immediatelyimmediately in 1998. It is more than three years later.
Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that folk in Northern Ireland, across the boardI am not thinking of our own party's supporters or indeed of Unionists generallywill be appalled if, more than three years later, the failure of the republicans even to begin to keep their obligations is rewarded by the Government, by the making of further moves on policing that have already done so much to undermine policing in Northern Ireland? Does he not realise that the only way to see that that obligation is kept is to make it absolutely clear to republicans that they will suffer if they fail to carry out their obligations?
Does the right hon. Gentleman recall what my colleague the Deputy First Minister said in an interview yesterday, when he invited the Government to take a lead in the matter and referred specifically to the Government's power to table provisions to exclude? Will the Government also consider what will now happen with regard to the Decommissioning Commission? Two deadlines22 May 2000 and June 2001have been ignored by the republicans. What will the Government now do with regard to the Decommissioning Commission's remit, bearing in mind the fact that the legislation has only some six months left to run and that there is now a very great urgency in ensuring that the issue is tackled?
Perhaps the Minister might like to point out the irony that republicans could have sustained progress over the past few months by taking even modest measures, but the situation can now be resolved only by ensuring that the issue is completely dealt with and resolved once and for all, and there is now less than six weeks left to do that.