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Mr. Davies: I entirely agree with what the hon. Gentleman says, and I understand why he says it. As I said earlier, I do not believe that the statement is the last statement that needs to be made—far from it. It is not even the first of the deeds that we require to complete the process; it is a beginning and a positive move. We would be foolish, and we would be betraying the interests of the people of Northern Ireland, if we attempted simply to ignore it.

David Winnick (Walsall, North): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davies: I will, but I shall not give way very much this evening, for the simple reason that we do not have long. This is an Opposition day. We had to get the time for the debate this evening. The Government did not want a debate. I hope that if the hon. Gentleman feels frustrated at not having opportunities to express his views on Northern Ireland—his views are always well thought through, and for many years he has played a distinguished role in the matter—he will add his own probably more convincing and persuasive pressure to mine on the Secretary of State to ensure that in future we get debates in Government time.

David Winnick: The hon. Gentleman may have a point, and I am grateful to him for giving way. He said that the chairman of Sinn Fein did not condemn a terrorist murder. He was right to refer to that, and it was wrong of the person concerned not to have condemned it. Where is the difference between the two sides?

Mr. Davies: I am not quite sure what the hon. Gentleman means by the two sides.

David Winnick: The hon. Gentleman condemns the chairman of Sinn Fein for not having condemned the terrorist murder. What is the difference between the hon. Gentleman's condemnation and ours?

Mr. Davies: I hope that there is none. If the hon. Gentleman tells me that there is none, and we can agree on that, I shall be delighted. I have already said that the whole purpose of our motion was to try to establish a basis for common agreement, and the motion includes that condemnation, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman is satisfied.

I mentioned a possible scenario at the elections next May. I suppose that one could devise a scenario in which, irrespective of the outcome in May, the peace process could go forward uninterrupted. However, one would have to be quite optimistic to do so, and positively Panglossian to assume that the peace process will go forward on that outcome of next May's elections. Good policy is never made on the assumption of a best-case

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scenario. That prospect should make us all consider very seriously the actions that we need to take now, rather than delaying the difficult decisions until we approach next May.

Of course the Government genuinely, and indeed desperately, want the peace process to succeed, as we all do. They are rightly proud of the Belfast agreement. It is not an ideal document, but it was never going to be, and we accept it with its imperfections as the best available basis for peace in Northern Ireland. What a terrible irony it would be if that achievement by the Government—I pay tribute to them for it—were eroded by their own inept actions, failures to act or abdications. But can they really escape responsibility for the failures of implementation thus far and for the decline in confidence to which I referred? After all, it was the prospect of a complete and permanent end to violence that persuaded many people to swallow their objections to measures such as the early release of terrorist prisoners and the inclusion of parties such as Sinn Fein in government before IRA weapons had even begun to be decommissioned.

All parties to the agreement are supposed to be committed to the Mitchell principles of democracy and non-violence. They pledged in the agreement to use their influence to bring about

by May 2000. We were told by no other a person than the Prime Minister that there would be effective sanctions against those parties that failed to deliver. As he put it in the House,

Then there was the Prime Minister's speech at the Balmoral showgrounds, in which he set out the factors by which any ceasefire should be judged—a judgment which he said

Then we had the Prime Minister's handwritten pledges. I quote:

I quote again:

Those were all fine assurances. Yet what happened in reality? Almost the exact opposite: the prisoners were all released, despite the fact that there had been no decommissioning whatever. That was a colossal error—we said so, and voted against it, at the time—and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay), whose judgment, sadly, has been vindicated by events.

Why was it a colossal mistake, and could that have been anticipated at the time? Indeed it could, first because the Government abandoned their major instrument of leverage for nothing at all; and secondly because they deprived any member of the IRA army council who might have been willing to decommission of his major argument. We can all make mistakes, but the extraordinary thing is that, when no decommissioning had taken place and three years had passed, the Government

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made the same mistake again. At Weston Park they offered a whole new raft of concessions—including an amnesty to on-the-run terrorists and former terrorists allowed to sit as independent members of district police partnerships—that were not required by the Belfast agreement. Last December, the Government offered yet another concession: special status in the House for Sinn Fein-IRA Members of Parliament. In other words, they made full payment for no delivery, then, when there was still no delivery, they further rewarded the other party with an unanticipated bonus. Few people in the history of human affairs have found it very profitable to negotiate in that way.

How did the IRA respond? Two weeks after Weston Park, it showed its contempt by publicly tearing up the agreement on the methodology of decommissioning that it had signed with General de Chastelain. It looked as though decommissioning would never even begin. It certainly did not do so as a result of Weston Park. Then followed, fortuitously, the FARC incident and, tragically, 11 September, and American pressure produced the first act of decommissioning. The electoral imperatives of the Irish elections produced the second act. Now, the vital question is who or what will produce the third act. The IRA may be rethinking its strategy—we shall have to evaluate tonight's statement—but the fact remains, and it must be faced, that in its deeds the IRA has been going in the other direction. The Castlereagh break-in and the evidence of new targeting in March this year were evidence of that.

We cannot go on like this. The Government must appreciate that the peace process, like any peace process, must be based on two things. First, there must be a sense of balance and fairness. Both sides must be seen to be gaining benefits—all the dividends and bonuses cannot be paid only to one side. Secondly, there must be some proper structure of incentives, so that rewards follow performance and breaches result in penalties.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): To pursue the hon. Gentleman's list of criticisms of Government policy, the actions of the Conservative Administration in negotiating and having secret discussions with terrorists who had not declared a ceasefire were in the same category of strategic decision as the actions that the hon. Gentleman is describing. Why does he think that the previous Government's actions were acceptable, whereas those of the current Government are not?

Mr. Davies: There is no comparison at all to be made between opening negotiations with someone and actually making concessions. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not see the distinction between those two things.

So much for general analysis and principles, important as they are. In the rest of my remarks I shall be strictly pragmatic and practical, because that is what is called for. I shall answer this precise question: what should the Government do now? I urge them to do five things. First, to restore confidence in the communities, especially those in Belfast and Londonderry affected by the recent violence, the Government need to act to tackle the crisis of morale and numbers in policing. The regular force has already fallen below the levels envisaged by Patten—and Patten assumed an environment in which there had been a complete end to sectarian violence. That is why, in the

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circumstances, it would be madness to get rid of the full-time reserve. Without the full-time reserve, the Police Service of Northern Ireland simply could not cope.

Thus the Government should give two commitments immediately: first, that they will not allow numbers to fall further; and, secondly, that the full-time reserve will be offered new contracts when they fall due for the foreseeable future, and until a new determination has been made by the Chief Constable that there is a qualitative and sustainable improvement in the security situation.

The second thing that the Government should do now is act on the vital issue of linkage, reciprocity and a proper structure of incentives to perform. The official Opposition have the greatest sympathy for the First Minister's demand that the Government take powers to exclude from the Executive parties that are in breach of their obligations. It may be a little late now to use those powers in respect of past breaches, but it had been my intention to urge the Government immediately to introduce legislation to take those powers so that it was clear that they could be used immediately and decisively if there were any further breaches. In the light of the IRA's statement this evening, it is perhaps not the right moment to introduce legislation of that kind, but I hope that the Government will take every opportunity to make it absolutely clear, in private or by whichever other means they feel is expedient, that they will not be taken for a ride for a third time—that no more free concessions will be available and that at last some element of reciprocity and discipline will be introduced into the peace process.

I also urge the Government to concert with our Irish partners and American allies to ensure that there are real financial and other penalties for organisations, be they loyalist or republican, that are specified as being in breach of the agreement. The Secretary of State will know that that is a technical term in relation to the peace agreement, and the present procedure, which he has already used once, is a complete paper tiger, a sword of clay. That is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs, and I hope that he will take action to remedy it.

Thirdly, the Government should make it clear that there can be no question of making the Weston Park concession of an amnesty for on-the-run terrorists at the present time, or at any time, except as part and parcel of a final settlement involving the winding-up of paramilitary organisations and the end of the armed struggle. That offer has, in any case, never been endorsed, ratified or even considered by Parliament, and any moral obligation on the Government has now surely been obliterated by the successive IRA breaches since it was formulated. Those breaches started with the IRA's involvement with FARC, which we now know was going on while the Weston Park negotiations were taking place.

Fourthly, the Government should have the courage explicitly to endorse the Taoiseach's demand that decommissioning be completed by next May. I taxed the right hon. Gentleman with this the other day at Question Time, and he again evaded the issue, offering a mealy-mouthed fudge to the effect that

That was precisely the phrase used by the Prime Minister in his letter of two weeks ago to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, and more or less the wording

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used by the Secretary of State to me last week. That formula is simply not adequate. There is a devastating lack of conviction and credibility in a fudge of that kind, and I am surprised that the Government cannot see that.

The Government should make it clear that, whatever the result of next May's elections, no party can sit on the Executive if it has not fulfilled its undertakings under the agreement or remains tied to a paramilitary organisation that has not done so. The parties should know the score now, and the Northern Ireland electorate should know the score as soon as possible—certainly well in advance of the elections.

Finally, the Government should look again at the suggestion that I made last October, which they ignored, confident perhaps that their own approach would work. Since then, there have been successive serious IRA breaches. My suggestion was that the Government should attempt the negotiation of a comprehensive solution—what I called a programmed process leading to full decommissioning. I emphasise that that should involve not a renegotiation of the Belfast agreement, but simply a timetable for its implementation, for decommissioning by both republican and loyalist paramilitaries, and for recognition by Sinn Fein of the new police force. I urge the Government to accompany that with an attempt to negotiate an arrangement on other issues, including the Weston Park issues, provided that they are balanced by the disbanding of all paramilitary structures and the definitive ending of the armed struggle.

The negotiation of a comprehensive, timed or programmed global package such as this may seem ambitious. Of course it is. Perhaps the IRA's statement makes it clear that the time is more fertile for this than it has been up to now. In any event, I am convinced, after many months considering the problem and speaking to all sides in Northern Ireland, that no one there will make real concessions unless it is clear what proportion of the final price to be paid any particular move represents, and precisely what they will receive in return. Unless the package being negotiated is demonstrably final, everyone will hold back to keep something for the next round. On that basis, it will take until kingdom come to get to peace and genuine normalisation in Northern Ireland.

I know that the Secretary of State has been battling hard, and that he has been particularly active in recent days and weeks in trying to broker some de-escalation of the tension in the flashpoints of east and north Belfast, and in the context of the marching season. I want genuinely to congratulate him on that. He has already had considerable success, and of course he has our full support in continuing those efforts, as I have already told him privately.

The Secretary of State knows, however, as we all do, that violence such as this is more the symptom than the cause of the problem. The cause is a sense of unfairness, a sense that the other side is getting a much better deal, and a belief that the peace process is a failure or a fraud, or, if it was not a fraud at the outset, that it has now become one, and that people must look to their own sectarian groups or even paramilitary organisations to protect themselves and their interests.

No one in the House can or should rest content until the people of Northern Ireland can enjoy the same peaceful and normal life under the rule of law as exists elsewhere in the United Kingdom, or, indeed, in the

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Republic of Ireland. I am convinced that the peace process is the only way of getting there. It is in genuine trouble, but the flame is still there and it needs to be fanned back into full and vigorous life. I hope that the signal that we have had from the IRA this afternoon is an indication that this is a good time to do that, and to negotiate the full and final completion of the peace process. That will require not only considerable effort but considerable toughness, but, if it succeeds, it will finally bring about the peace in Northern Ireland that its people have prayed for and dreamed of for so long.

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