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Mr. McCabe: Will the hon. Gentleman assure the House that what we are hearing is exactly what he said to Lord Mayhew in 1997? Did he tell him that a one-year period with the extension of up to five years was the
Mr. Davies: Unless the hon. Gentleman has been asleep for the past five years, I can only imagine that he has deliberately come to the House to produce manifest absurdities. In 1997, we did not have the Belfast agreement. We did not have the beginnings of a mechanism to produce decommissioning. Since then, in case he has not noticed, we have had the Belfast agreement. In case he has forgotten, that agreement provided a deadline of two years, as we have heard from the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). Nothing happened under that deadline; it was extended for a year, but still nothing happened. Eventually, some progress was made after 11 September.
In producing a regime under which decommissioning might take placeif initial agreement between the parties is secured and if the international commission and the other organisations required can be set upto start off with a five-year period may well be reasonable, but once four or five years have elapsed, deadlines have been missed, people have failed to live up to the commitments they made, and the law-abiding and peace-loving people of Northern Ireland have been disappointed, to go back to square one and start again with another five years seems less absurd than irresponsible.
Mr. Davies: The hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe) is trying to waste time by pretending that he does not know what has happened in the past five years, so I shall not give way to him again this afternoon, but I shall give way to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik).
Lembit Öpik: I thank the hon. Gentleman. Given that the Good Friday agreement did not exist when the Conservative Government decided to create an amnesty, does he not agree that that required a greater act of faith on the part of Parliament than this Bill, which we are discussing in the context of the Good Friday agreement?
Mr. Davies: Yes, that is true. That took place right at the beginning of the peace process launched by the Conservative Government and it required a considerable act of faith. I take the hon. Gentleman's remark to be a compliment to my right hon. and learned Friend Lord Mayhew, who I am sure will be pleased to have the approbation and recognition of the Liberal party and its official spokesman for once.
Dr. John Reid: I am sorry to keep intervening, but Opposition Front Benchers appear to be genetically incapable of either hearing or understanding words. I made no such statementthat the IRA were not so obliged. I said that they had not signed the Belfast agreement, and that is a statement of fact, not of opinion.
Mr. Davies: Fortunately we in the House have the institution of Hansard, so we need not spend any more time on that issue. I sincerely hope that when I read my Hansard tomorrow morning I will find that the Secretary of State is as fully aware as other reasonable and experienced people in Northern Ireland of the fact that the distinction between Sinn Fein and IRA is a complete fraud, and that when he speaks to any representatives of either organisation he is probably speaking to individuals who hold positions in both organisations and represent them both.
Mr. Robathan: May I take my hon. Friend back to deadlines for decommissioning? Is it not true that when an organisation determines to give up its weapons, that can be done relatively quickly? In Macedonia recently, there was a 30-day limit, and I recall that 20 years ago in Zimbabwean enormous country with fighters out in the bushthere was a two-month limit. If an organisation is determined to give up its weapons, surely it does not need a rolling five-year programme?
Mr. Davies: I totally agree. It is ironic than on a day when we have discussed sending 1,000 British troops to Afghanistan to participate in a peace processthe decommissioning of what remains of the Taliban and the establishment of peace in that countrythat is supposed to be completed in a matter of months, we are extending by a further five years the deadline for getting rid of terrorist arms in our own country, and doing so apparently thoughtlessly and on the basis of an extraordinarily sanguine acceptance of Sinn Fein-IRA propaganda about its operations and structure.
The Secretary of State would be extraordinarily naive to think that offering an extending deadline is likely to get the action he requires sooner. He made an absurdity of that notion when he said that everyone in Northern Ireland tends to go to the wire, but it would be absurd in almost any context. Suppose that the right hon. Gentleman wanted to buy a house, and he thought that he might get it for £100,000 and the most that he was prepared or able to pay was £150,000. Does he think that he would be more likely to get a bargain, or more likely to get any deal at all, if he signalled to the vendor that if pressed he would go to £500,000? That is precisely what he has done by offering five years. It is thoroughly reckless.
It is an extremely depressing signal to send to the people of Northern Ireland. It can only undermine people's confidence and their hopes in the peace process producing the dividends for which they all hope. The signal will inevitably have a particularly devastating effect on morale in the Unionist community. That concerns me very much.
Apart from that easy declaration, what have the right hon. Gentleman or his predecessors done? There has been an endless stream of concessions. There have been the release of prisoners and the abolition of the RUCextremely difficult concessions for Unionist sentiment to accept. We have said and I have said that we must accept those moves, reluctantly of course. There is no question but that they stick in the gullet, but they are a necessary part of the process.
It is important that the Belfast agreement is implemented. I have done my best to counsel patience and forbearance. What has happened? The Government have gone endlessly further. As if the release of prisoners and the implementation of the Government's obligations under the Belfast agreement were not enough, they went to Weston Park and made a new raft of concessions that were not required under the Belfast agreement. In recent weeks, they seem to have gone almost berserk with the concessions that they are offering.
We have before us the Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill, which includes a proposal to remove the royal coat of arms from new courthouses in Northern Ireland and to abolish the loyal oath for judges. Those concessions are deeply offensive to Unionists. They are deeply worrying to anybody who takes seriously the idea, as at least we all do on the Opposition Benches, that we are part of one kingdom in this country.
The matter has not stopped there. At Northern Ireland questions on 5 December, I put to the Secretary of State the article that had been written by his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson). I will