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Mr. Speaker: Order. I have allowed the hon. Gentleman some elbow room, but he must put questions to the Secretary of State.

Rev. Ian Paisley: I shall put one very important question. Will the Secretary of State explain to me and my European constituents why they have been visited by the security forces in the areas where all that dismantling will take place, when they have been warned that there is a threat from the Real IRA? What assurance can he give them, as he pulls down their security, on how they will be protected? They did not say that that threat exists; the security forces told them that it does.

Will the Secretary of State please list the other events that have occurred in north Belfast, such as that involving the man who was shot by the IRA on Sunday afternoon? Why is that not mentioned? Why is the young person who was driven over and killed not mentioned? Is it because they were Protestants that they were not mentioned in the Minister's statement?

Dr. Reid: With respect, Mr. Speaker, I will not respond to the hon. Gentleman's last comment, other than to say that any death in Northern Ireland—whether of a Catholic,

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Protestant, Jew or Muslim—is taken with equal seriousness because all those lives have equal worth. That is the view of the whole House.

As regards the commission, it is not entirely true that there is no information about the decommissioning. In fact, the report, although brief, tells us a good deal. Members of the commission witnessed the event; they are relying not on others' words but on their own eyes. They regard it as a significant event, and these are people who have served in the military. They are not armchair generals, but people who have had an active role in the military. They confirmed that the materiel in question included arms, ammunition and explosives; in other words, not one or two rusty rifles.

The commission said that the arms were put completely beyond use and dealt with in accordance with the decommissioning scheme under the legislation approved by Parliament. That means that, under paragraph 11 of the decommissioning scheme of August 2001, the commission has taken a record of the arms decommissioned and has verified the information in that record. In other words, although it is the commission's judgment that such information should remain confidential, the commission has been able to record the details of the arms decommissioned.

Finally, the commission says

That means, as the participants in the Good Friday agreement agreed, the total decommissioning of all paramilitary arms. It would be better for the whole House to pay tribute to John de Chastelain for the work that he has done, rather than to cast aspersions on the manner in which he has conducted it.

The hon. Gentleman asked me a perfectly legitimate question, which he put with passion. Of course advisers advise and politicians and Ministers decide, but, as I have said, before I take any decision regarding matters of normalisation, I consult with and take advice from the GOC Northern Ireland—a man with a not undistinguished military record of fighting for his country and no known proclivities towards appeasement or republicanism—and the Chief Constable of the RUC. Both of those individuals were consulted on the announcements that I made today. If it is good enough for them, it should probably be good enough for most Members of this House.

David Winnick (Walsall, North): I welcome the statement from my right hon. Friend and the progress made in Northern Ireland. Does he agree that we must not forget the victims of terrorist violence, be they victims of the IRA or of the loyalist murder gangs? Does he further agree that, speaking bluntly, one of the greatest blessings that Northern Ireland could now have would be if the leader of the Democratic Unionist party spent the rest of his political life trying to make the Good Friday agreement work, and thus help to undermine and destroy the forces of violence in which he has never been involved? It would undermine those forces if he took a positive and useful role in making the Good Friday agreement work and in making sure that politics instead of the gun dominates that part of the United Kingdom.

Dr. Reid: Yes of course we remember the victims, on all sides and from all backgrounds, of this terrible period

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in Northern Ireland's history. It is precisely to try to avoid another generation of victims that we are engaged in this project, which involves so many challenges and difficult decisions. This process is about trying to avoid another 3,500 people dying, as has happened during the troubles.

Sometimes we in this House underestimate what that number of deaths means to Northern Ireland. To reveal the extent of the suffering caused, if the equivalent number of deaths had occurred in the rest of the United Kingdom, the total recorded number of deaths in Northern Ireland has to be multiplied by 40. That gives a total of between 120,000 and 140,000 people. If the same number of deaths had occurred in the US, it would be equivalent to 480,000 people.

We should not forget. As I said at the start of the statement, that should be the spark that causes us to make sure that a conflict that has lasted between 30 and 800 years should not continue to affect the next generation of people in Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland. I agree that I wish that the leader of the Democratic Unionist party would throw his considerable political weight behind the process.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): Although I welcome what is clearly good news, will the Secretary of State accept that some of us will be very cautiously optimistic? We have been let down before, and promises have been broken before. To take the process a little further forward and encourage the Provisional IRA to decommission more weapons, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that he needs to take an even tougher stance against those who have failed to decommission? They include the dissident republican groups and the so-called loyalists, both of which should be taken on once and for all.

Dr. Reid: I think that I agree on both points. Being cautious does not stop us being radical: it means merely that we have to have a degree of surety about the risk involved in being radical. There is a sense in which being cautious should not require political timidity.

One old philosopher said that the best way to approach such historically important occasions was with pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will. That would be a good platform for most of us. I see that Tory Front-Bench Members are nodding in agreement: I shall not tell them who the author of that remark was, lest I embarrass them.

We must be prepared to pursue robustly those who remain on the other side of the democratic line, who will not cross that bridge in pursuit of the peace process. Many of them masquerade under the guise of a glorified cause, but are in fact up to their eyes in racketeering, drugs, murder and mafia activities. We should not give them the salutation that they are involved in some great political cause.

Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy): May I offer my personal congratulations to my right hon. Friend, his colleagues and his predecessors? I hope and pray that matters will progress satisfactorily and smoothly, and with a higher degree of tolerance on all sides. Does my right hon. Friebd believe that the wider world can draw lessons from events in Northern Ireland?

Dr. Reid: The message is simple. It is that jaw-jaw is almost always better than war-war. A vacuum is created

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when we stop talking and attempting to reach solutions to problems through dialogue, and that allows men of violence in.

I therefore thank my hon. Friend for her question, her thanks and her hope. I thank her most of all for her offer of prayers.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): What is the Secretary of State's understanding of the word "significant" as used by the commission? Does it apply to the magnitude of the political step taken, or does it imply a significant reduction in the capacity to undertake terrorist activity?

Dr. Reid: I hate to be tautological, but my understanding is that the word is used to mean "other than insignificant". I do not know whether the word is used to refer to the quantity of arms, or the length of time that such arms could have been used to conduct an armed struggle or terrorism.

However, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has read General de Chastelain's report, in which the general gives an indication of why he does not want to go into specific quantities. In our attempts to manage a peace process towards a horizon, we have discovered how difficult it is to move from A to B. General de Chastelain has discovered that too, and his opinion, as expressed in the report, is that to issue further details would not assist—in fact would inhibit—progress towards the goal of a continual process of decommissioning.

I admire General de Chastelain and his work, and I shall not try to second-guess or psychoanalyse his use of semantics. However, the fact that he has bothered to use the word "significant" should be significant for us.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his knowledge of Gramsci, the Marxist. I hold out the hope that he will one day return to dialectical materialism.

The cross-border bodies are a critical part of the Good Friday agreement. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is now no obstacle to republicans serving on those cross-border bodies and that they should be allowed to get on with their work?

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