Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Rev. Ian Paisley rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell): As the Minister will be aware, I am a strong supporter of the Belfast agreement. Will she accept from me that trust is a commodity in very short supply in the Province, especially in the Unionist community, and particularly as the four hand-written pledges that the Prime Minister gave on the eve of the agreement referendum were subsequently not met? Will she assure us that after the mistake that I think that the Prime Minister made when he spoke from the Dispatch Box during Prime Minister's Question Time last Wednesday, everyone will be far more cautious? If the trust gets any worse, we will not make any progress at a vital time for the Province.

Jane Kennedy: I acknowledge the right hon. Gentleman's position and the support that he has given to the agreement, and I hear what he says. It is true that we should all bend all our efforts to grow and develop confidence and trust among parties if progress is to continue to be made.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): During the lengthy discussions between the general and the two Prime Ministers to which the right hon. Lady referred, did the general pass on any additional facts to the Prime Ministers?

Jane Kennedy: The general did not break the rules of confidentiality or the promise of confidentiality imposed

27 Oct 2003 : Column 28

on him by the Provisional IRA. Although those rules might be seen as a stumbling block at this moment, they have allowed a series of acts of decommissioning that, in my estimate, would not have taken place without them.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): The Minister speaks of trust and confidence. Do not two things arise out of this sorry business? The first is that it is difficult to have any confidence in a decommissioning process that takes place in secret. Is it not up to the Government to ensure that that is done in public, with transparency? The second issue is why, in the light of all the evidence and experience to the contrary, the Government persist in trusting the IRA and Sinn Fein, which are inextricably linked?

Jane Kennedy: I have said a couple of times that last Wednesday's event has been acknowledged as significant. The general explained a range of the detail when he shared with us what he could. We know that the amount of weapons was substantial and that what was put permanently out of use was sufficient to take out of circulation things that would have caused death and destruction on a massive scale. That process and event last week was significant. It should not be forgotten or lost among all the noise, sound and fury that has been created as a result of the speculation that arose because the general was unable to be clearer and to give more detail. We are seeking to make progress on that. Had he been able to be clearer about the detail, that event and the statements might have been sufficient to allow confidence to grow among the parties.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): The Minister knows that I, too, am a supporter of the Good Friday agreement. Does she not agree, however, that trust has again been damaged by the loose use of terminology and words by the Prime Minister? In those circumstances, the one thing I have not heard from the Minister, which would go some way to restoring the situation, is an apology on behalf of the Government? Would it not be a sign of a mature Government for them to apologise now to the House and to those people who consider themselves seriously misled by what the Prime Minister said?

Jane Kennedy: I think that Opposition Members are choosing to pretend that they were seriously misled. Quite honestly, I have answered the question many times. The Prime Minister did not mislead the House. As I said, the position remains as I set out in the answer I gave at the outset. It is unsurprising that following that discussion, the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach had a clear sense of the scale and nature of the act of decommissioning. Hon. Members will want them to take the process forward and to wish them well as they do so.

27 Oct 2003 : Column 27

27 Oct 2003 : Column 29

Points of Order

3.58 pm

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You made it clear in the urgent question that it would be wrong for any hon. Member to impute dishonour to another Member of the House, yet on two occasions Conservative Members, the shadow Northern Ireland Secretary and the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition, shouted from a sedentary position that the Minister was speaking lies. I presume that you were not able to hear that. On such an issue, is it not all the more important that we return to the old traditions of the House?

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman should leave those matters to me.

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is going to behave himself. He should not shout across the Floor of the House when the Speaker rises.

Rev. Ian Paisley: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Sir, as leader of the Ulster Democratic Unionist party, I want to make it perfectly clear that no member of my party said what the Minister reported us as saying. She mixed us up with the member of another party who said something like that. He is not a member of my party. I find it ill for the Minister to malign our people when she should be answering the question on everyone's mind in Northern Ireland. We are going back to killings in Northern Ireland and all we are given is a guess. We are being asked to rely on an educated guess for our future security.

Mr. Speaker: The Minister will have heard what the leader of the Democratic Unionist party has had to say.

Mrs. Iris Robinson (Strangford): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, of which I gave you notice. I have been informed that other Members and I have had appointments with Departments cancelled because of the election to another institution in Northern Ireland. Can you help us to ensure that our constituents are not disadvantaged by the election campaign, because it has no bearing on how we currently perform our roles in this House?

Mr. Speaker: That is not a matter for the Chair, but Ministers will have heard what the hon. Lady had to say.

27 Oct 2003 : Column 30

Opposition Day

[20th Allotted Day]

Defence Policy

Mr. Speaker: I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

4 pm

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex): I beg to move,

The security of our citizens, of our country and of the world is the first and most important duty of Government. The security challenges that we face today are very different from the days of the cold war, and they will continue to change. The end of the cold war was greeted with relief, but that relief has proved misplaced. Many expected the end of the superpower stand-off to herald a new international order; instead we have a new international disorder, where the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism are the main threats, and they arise from the new instability of whole regions, civil strife and the rise of rogue states.

No single country can achieve security in isolation. Security can be delivered only through an alliance. So if security is the Government's first and most important duty, the first and most important question that we must answer is this: in the new post-cold war security environment, what kind of alliance offers the best and safest prospect for our security? That leads us to the crux of the debate: is European and American security divisible? The answer, of course, is no.

The security, freedom and prosperity of Europe and north America are as inextricably linked as ever. The US and Canadian commitment to the preservation of peace and security in Europe is in their national interests as well as ours, so the north American military commitment in Europe must be maintained. Therefore, the only alliance that can best guarantee security is a transatlantic alliance and, moreover, a proven alliance. That alliance is NATO. Maybe the Secretary of State is with me up to this point in my remarks. [Interruption.] It might help if he had been listening instead of treating this subject lightly.

NATO is founded on the principle that European and north American security is indivisible, and it works. NATO not only won the cold war but has adapted to the post-cold war world. NATO enabled Europe to pacify the Balkans. But NATO must continue to transform,

27 Oct 2003 : Column 31

and it is doing so. The NATO summit in Prague last November implemented a leaner, more efficient, effective and deployable command structure. Furthermore, a 20,000-strong NATO response force was established. Made up mainly of European forces, it provides NATO with a credible, high-readiness, fully trained and equipped combined arms multinational expeditionary force, able to deploy quickly and undertake the full spectrum of NATO tasks wherever required.

Next Section

IndexHome Page