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Mr. Quentin Davies: I hope that the Secretary of State is not going to set up an Aunt Sally of his own invention and then attack that. No sensible person—certainly no Opposition Member—has ever suggested that entering into a dialogue or a negotiation constitutes appeasement. We have been concerned that the negotiation has not been balanced, and that there have not been clear demands that the other party in the negotiation fulfils its obligations under accepted agreements. It is essential that that balance and discipline be maintained, and that is what we are asking for. Under no circumstances would the Opposition suggest that we should not talk. We should talk to everybody.

Dr. Reid: I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. However, let me say, in as non-partisan a manner as possible, that it does nothing to promote confidence in the peace process or our sincerity in it to characterise the process, in a misleading way, as a one-way series of concessions to republicans and to talk—inadvertently at times—in the language of the sweetie shop or the headmaster's study. A human rights commission is not a concession to republicans. Human rights are the rights of everyone in the United Kingdom and, indeed, wider.

Mr. Davies: I have no problem with that.

Dr. Reid: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman agrees. An equality commission and equality of opportunity are not concessions to the republicans or gestures to a ghetto in west Belfast, but things to which every child and family in Northern Ireland should have access. A police service that the whole community can participate in and support is not a concession. [Interruption.] I am going through all the elements about which the hon. Gentleman appears to give the impression, perhaps inadvertently, that he regards

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as concessions to one side. I am glad if he agrees that these are not concessions but elementary rights that should be extended to all the people in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Davies: I do not want this evening's debate to proceed in too controversial an atmosphere. However, we have always supported the Equality Commission and human rights—never have I characterised them as concessions. The right hon. Gentleman knows our concerns about concessions such as amnesties, but I hope that we will not spend our time in this debate criticising each other for something that we have not done.

Dr. Reid: Okay. I accept the hon. Gentleman's point, but it is worth saying that we are dealing in this process largely with rights that should be extended to all the people in Northern Ireland.

David Burnside: Will the Secretary of State please explain why, for the first time since 1920, we have institutionalised sectarian discrimination in employment policy for the police in Northern Ireland? How can he define that as equality by any definition of the term? If he has an example of institutionalised Government discrimination from 1920, perhaps he will tell the House.

Dr. Reid: I would like to say that once again the hon. Gentleman speaks for the whole community in Northern Ireland, but I do not think that he would receive cross-community support for his assertion that there was previously no institutionalised discrimination in employment or any other field. Indeed, I would go further—we are trying to create a fair and just society in Northern Ireland. I agree with what the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford said earlier. Perhaps if we—by which I mean successive British Governments—had spent a little more time considering Northern Ireland between 1921 and 1972, we would have had a different past and perhaps a brighter future. However, we are now concerned with the establishment of a just and fair society in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Hunter: Before the Secretary of State concludes his speech, will he address the specific point of my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) about the argument for legislation to facilitate expulsion if it is deemed necessary?

Dr. Reid: I think that the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford decided that he would not press the case for that tonight. In any case, there is provision in the existing legislation, should such a course of action be judged proper, in that a resolution can be placed before the Assembly on which it can make a decision. Despite the fact that the issue was not raised tonight—

Mr. Davies: Abdication.

Dr. Reid: The hon. Gentleman says "abdication", but I suspect that we have an entirely different view both formally and in terms of our general attitude towards devolution. I believe that devolution means devolution—that if we create a police board, we do not dictate to it how it should deal with the full-time reserve, as he suggested that I should do tonight. If one creates a local

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authority, one does not dictate to it how it should do things. If one creates an Assembly to bring together the people of Northern Ireland then, for goodness' sake, give it some role in the major decisions. Incidentally, if one goes into an agreement with other parties, it is not as easy or as beneficial as he makes out unilaterally to rip up that agreement and start adding bits to it.

My argument is that there are already mechanisms to reach the objective that the hon. Gentleman appears to want to reach if it is decided that we have reached such a crisis in the peace process.

Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley): If what the Secretary of State said is the case, why on 10 April 1998 did the Prime Minister say this in a letter to the leader of the Ulster Unionist party:

meaning the provisions for exclusion—

as they have been on a number of occasions—

Dr. Reid: First, the provisions can hardly have been proved to be ineffective when they have never been tried.

Mr. Donaldson: They have.

Dr. Reid: The provision that I mentioned—the Secretary of State putting a resolution before the Assembly to exclude Sinn Fein—has not been tried, so the hon. Gentleman cannot assert that it has been found to be ineffective. Unless it has been tried and failed, there is no evidence for that.

The hon. Gentleman and I know each other well enough—I hope that that does not hinder his career—to get to the point. As he said when he was making a speech the other day, splendidly bedecked—I watched him on television—-he wants Sinn Fein excluded. That is his judgment. Therefore, his complaint is not about the mechanism for exclusion; it is that the Government do not want to exclude Sinn Fein, and certainly not at this point in time. That is a genuine political difference and a political judgment. He need not be so modest as to hide that behind a deficiency in the mechanism that exists. It is a difference of agreement. He is absolutely plain that he wants to exclude Sinn Fein from government, on the basis, presumably, that that will help Sinn Fein move towards politics and away from violence. That is his judgment. To me, it is not instantly, entirely and intuitively a logical position, but I understand that it is a political position, and it is a credible one.

Mr. Davies: I think that the Secretary of State may be missing the point, which is purely practical—that one has no credibility in this life in threatening a sanction that one is not in a position to enforce. The right hon. Gentleman will get no leverage in the negotiations with Sinn Fein by suggesting that one day there might be a majority of Sinn Fein and Social Democratic and Labour Members who might like to exclude Sinn Fein from the Executive. If he wants to use that mechanism, he will have to take powers in this House. That was my point. However, he quoted me correctly. Due to the fact that the other circumstances

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have been changed by this evening's statement, I have not pressed him as I had intended to introduce that legislation immediately. If things deteriorate and there are further problems, we will do that.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. That was a very long intervention. I remind the House once again that this is a very short debate.

Dr. Reid: I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I did not want to ignore anyone who wanted to intervene. As the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford said, however, that is a debate for another day. Whatever the differences here, there is no disguising the fact that we face difficulties in the peace process and it is right that the House should have an opportunity to discuss those tonight. All I ask is that in so doing we try to measure up to the scale of the challenge. The British Government certainly recognise the role that we have to play during the coming days and weeks to try to re-create the trust and confidence that the process requires.

I hope that the Opposition and other hon. Members will do likewise and that they will clarify the ambiguity, or equivocation, about their support for bipartisanship. The hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford knows that, despite our differences, we have tried to facilitate matters and to work together when that was merited. I hope that we can continue to do that whatever our tactical differences, because the people of Britain and the people of Northern Ireland want to see us united in our determination to make the process succeed if it is humanly possible to do so. We cannot guarantee success; there is no preordained destination for the journey we are on.

All of us in these islands would do well to take to heart the words—I am glad that they are in English—of Abraham Lincoln at the end of another long and painful conflict. He said

Whatever differences the debate may reveal over tactics, I hope that I, too, can say, let us stand united in our shared objective of securing a peaceful and just end to an ancient conflict.

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