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Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford): Let me take the Secretary of State back to an important point. He rightly cited the Belfast agreement as placing an obligation on the parties to decommission completely in two years. Does he accept that Sinn Fein-IRA was one party or does he buy into the fiction that Sinn Fein and the IRA are separate organisations?

Dr. Reid: No. Obviously Sinn Fein was a signatory to the Belfast agreement, and the hon. Gentleman knows that the IRA was not. Sinn Fein therefore committed itself to using all its power and influence to achieve decommissioning.

Mr. Davies: So the right hon. Gentleman accepts the fiction that Sinn Fein and the IRA are separate organisations, which make decisions separately and can be regarded as separate for the purpose of the Belfast agreement?

Dr. Reid: I do not accept that every member of Sinn Fein is a member of the IRA or that they are completely identical. [Hon. Members: "Answer the question."] With respect, that was the question. The hon. Gentleman appears to insist that the obvious relationship between them means that they must be identical in all ways. I do not accept that.

Mr. Davies: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way yet again. He is at odds with the Prime Minister, who said at Balmoral on 14 May 1998:

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Dr. Reid: The Labour party and the trade union movement are inextricably linked but they are not identical.

David Burnside (South Antrim) rose

Dr. Reid: There is nothing incompatible between my comments and those of the Prime Minister, and if—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. I am sorry to interrupt the Secretary of State, but the hon. Member for South Antrim (David Burnside) must not remain on his feet when the Secretary of State is responding to an earlier intervention. He must wait until the right hon. Gentleman has dealt with that.

Dr. Reid: The hon. Member for South Antrim (David Burnside) is keen to catch my eye, but I assure him that I would not be discourteous enough to miss him, especially in the position that he has been in for the last minute or so.

I would say to the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) that, of course, all of us recognise that there is an inextricable link between Sinn Fein and the IRA, but that is not what he asked me. He asked me whether they were identical organisations. Plainly, anyone who knows anything about the matter understands that they are not, any more than the trade union movement and the Labour party are absolutely the same. If he thinks that the only analysis can be complete identity or complete separation between the two organisations, he does not understand—indeed, he underestimates—the sophistication of the opponents that he is trying to deal with.

David Burnside: Does the Secretary of State accept that there is a single leadership in Sinn Fein-IRA, which is personified at the top by Martin McGuinness being chief of staff of the army council of the Provisional IRA?

Dr. Reid: I have no information that Mr. McGuinness is chief of staff of the army council of the IRA, if that is what the hon. Gentleman is asking me. His sources might be better than mine and, if so, I would be extremely obliged if he would make them available to the state security apparatus. We do not have that information. If he is asking whether the leadership of the republican movement is known to all of us, then I would say that it is. We can carry on with a discussion of how many republican angels can dance on the head of a pin, or we can address the subject in front of us. I suggest that the second option might be more productive for the whole House.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): Does the Minister accept that, given that Sinn Fein and the IRA are clearly linked, the main point is to recognise the momentous symbolic importance of the first step that they took in the decommissioning process? We should discuss the Bill in that strategic context, rather than in the tactical context in which we have been discussing it for the last few minutes.

Dr. Reid: I entirely agree. That is what I am trying to do. We must remind ourselves that, although there have been huge imperfections in the transition period, huge strides forward have also been made on all aspects of the Belfast agreement. These are not esoteric or academic

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matters, because they are the very advances that make so much difference to the lives of millions of ordinary people in Northern Ireland and, to some extent, here in Britain as well.

It is also worth reminding ourselves that since 1998, we have witnessed the establishment of the democratic institutions, not only in terms of the north-south dimension, but of the stronger British-Irish relationships. We have seen the principle of consent enshrined in the agreement, thereby putting Northern Ireland's status as part of the United Kingdom beyond doubt, and the removal of the Republic's territorial claim to Northern Ireland, which was previously enshrined in articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution.

Those are gains that I believe all hon. Members would warmly welcome, as is the incorporation of human rights in all aspects of life by the introduction of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Human Rights Commission. We have also seen the advancement of equal opportunities for all in Northern Ireland, irrespective of their background, by the implementation of the equality provisions and the establishment of the Equality Commission.

In addition, since 1998, we have made a new start on policing and criminal justice, with the completion of significant reviews of policing and the criminal justice system. These are merely some of the major strides forward that have been made. None has been easy; all have required the participants to challenge their preconceptions. Those challenges have, however, been met and overcome in the course of this process, however difficult or impossible they seemed. Despite all the difficulties, the progress continues.

It is natural in a debate of this nature that people will have in their minds some of the scenes that we have witnessed on television over the last six months. There is no reason why they should not do so; indeed, it is probably essential that we all bear them in mind. However, even in the last six months, some of those headlines have camouflaged significant steps forward in the peace process.

There is formal cross-community support for policing for the first time in Northern Ireland's history. There is successful recruitment to the new police service, drawn from both traditions, and it is worth remarking on the cross-community support for the new police service badge, as shown by the Policing Board last week—another seemingly impossible challenge, which was met on the run by the new Policing Board. In deference to the right hon. Member for Upper Bann, I should say that he has a theory that the Policing Board was able to reach a conclusion so quickly on a cross-community basis because the designs that I gave to it were so awful as to drive everyone else into agreement. There has been further progress towards normalising security arrangements, and the criminal justice Bill and the draft implementation plan have been published.

In that context, and perhaps most relevant of all to today's debate, following a four-year ceasefire and arms dumps being opened up to inspection, there has been an unprecedented act of decommissioning by the Provisional IRA. Whatever hon. Members, or, indeed, those who deny the significance of that, may think about the timing, let us recall that we were told that it would never happen, that it was impossible, that it was too huge a challenge even

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to contemplate and that it was not worth waiting another six months for it. I believe that it clearly demonstrates the enormous progress made in such a relatively short time.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) rose

Dr. Reid: Before I take this intervention, I must say that I hope that that shorthand style of delivery on those issues on which we have made progress does not detract from the fact that each and every development that I listed has in itself been hugely significant.

Mr. Francois: The Secretary of State described the act of decommissioning as truly significant. To allow the House of Commons to judge whether that is right, will he tell us, very simply, what the IRA gave up to be decommissioned? If he will not tell the democratically elected House of Commons what it was, will he describe his rationale for not doing so?

Dr. Reid: The hon. Gentleman may not be aware of this fact, but the House of Commons decided how those matters would be dealt with when it decided that there would be an international commission under General de Chastelain. The House of Commons decided the schemes under which decommissioning would be carried out. The House of Commons placed General John de Chastelain's remit in statute, so the hon. Gentleman already has his answer.

The manner in which the most delicate and difficult of all the challenges facing any society in the transition from decades—indeed, in some cases, centuries—of conflict through to the route of peace was precisely arranged by the House of Commons so that it would be dealt with by General de Chastelain. Finally, it was not my word that the act was significant but that of General de Chastelain, to whom Members entrusted the task of reporting, through the Governments, to the House.

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