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Mr. Trimble: I shall extend to the hon. Gentleman the same courtesy that he extended to me, but if any of his friends want to intervene, I shall take an intervention. Nobody else wants to come in; that is interesting in itself.

David Burnside: Does my right hon. Friend agree that Ulster and the cause of the Union would be better served on decommissioning and all other subjects if we had one united Ulster Unionist party?

Mr. Trimble: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that our position would be better secured if there were single-minded consistency on those matters. Like me, he has been involved in the past in united Unionist approaches and he will remember when, unfortunately, he and I found ourselves excluded from those arrangements—but that is to delve deep into history. I recall that matter fondly and I am sure that he does, too.

Mr. Frank Field: Many of us on the Labour Benches also think that the democratic voice of Northern Ireland would be stronger if there were one Unionist party rather than two. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, whoever the democrats facing negotiations in Northern Ireland, their position would be strengthened if they did not face an Irish Prime Minister who has one view about those near to arms being part of the Government in Northern Ireland but has made it plain that he will not have such people as part of the Government in southern Ireland?

Mr. Trimble: I take the right hon. Gentleman's point, although I think that it was progress when the Irish Government clarified their position. Until then, there had been a degree of ambiguity about their intentions in that respect, so I am more inclined to build on that clarification as movement forward in the direction that he suggests—that the same principle should apply elsewhere. Of course, his party leader might reflect on whether that principle should also apply in the United Kingdom, so that the message goes not only to us but to his right hon. and hon. Friends, too.

I was questioning whether it was part of the Government's objective to achieve decommissioning and the question that obviously follows is, what are the

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Government doing to achieve it? That is crucial. I do not want to go back over our arguments in October and November, but I endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) said earlier.

We are deeply disappointed at the failure of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning. We had great hopes for it at the outset, but although we are so far into the process, the IICD continues to be passive. As I pointed out at some length last November, it was in a position of considerable power and influence, yet declined to exercise it. That failure at that stage has produced a situation in which we consider the commission—regretfully—in slightly different terms from before.

Other pressure points are available, however. In some quarters, it is believed that the reluctance of republicans to decommission, and to do so transparently, largely stems from those elements in the republican movement who are deeply involved in racketeering and want the cover and weapons of the private army to pursue their criminal objectives. If that is the case, and there is every reason to believe that it is, other agencies of the state should be particularly active in the matter—a point that has been made regularly about the Assets Recovery Agency.

I appreciate that the agency was responsible for the recovery of a significant sum of money recently, but that was from loyalists. That relates to the point made by the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady). There appears to be reluctance in some quarters and in some Government agencies to act in a way that might cause discomfort to the republican movement. That appears to be the case for the Assets Recovery Agency, too, and it is something that the agency should take energetic steps to dispel. The Government should reflect on that point.

David Burnside: Will my right hon. Friend be more specific? The Northern Ireland Office is not prepared to rock the boat with the army council of the Provisional IRA, led by Slab Murphy sitting alongside Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, because it would rock the peace process.

Mr. Trimble: I am not sure of the full reasons why some agencies, and perhaps even some elements of Government, behave in a way that gives rise to the impression that my hon. Friend describes. I am not sure that they intend that result.

I suspect that in some cases, particularly with regard to agencies, those involved are anxious to do what they think the Government want. They may not have any instruction, advice or hints of that nature, but they are anxious to anticipate what they think the Government would want. I hope that they get that wrong.

Whatever the reason, in my view there is no cause for anyone to be concerned about whether their actions imperil what is called the peace process. As I pointed out elsewhere just the other week, republicans did not call a ceasefire out of the goodness of their hearts or because they had had a conversion. They called it because circumstances left them with little alternative. That should be the basis on which the Government approach the matter. They have approached it as if all the cards, or most of them, were held by other people, rather than

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themselves. That is not the case. The Government should and could put on much more pressure on these matters.

This is a technical measure. If there is to be decommissioning, as we hope there will be, the order is needed. But this process has been going on for 10 years. One has to question the extent to which the Government are committed to it. I shall listen carefully to what is said in the reply. While, strictly speaking, we would favour this technical measure because it is needed, the debate gives us an opportunity to display our displeasure. So we shall listen.

3.31 pm

Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke) (Ind Con): In view of the lack of time, I shall be ultra-brief and very selective.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) and regard the order as a monument to a failure of policy. It is just one manifestation of a wider approach to the problems of Northern Ireland that has become so discredited over the last years. Not only has that approach failed to deliver, but many of us predicted that it would fail to deliver.

I find it hard to imagine a more depressing or shameful sequence of events than successive Westminster Governments' abject mishandling of the decommissioning issue and the contributing role played by successive Irish Governments and the Ulster Unionist party. The entire so-called peace process was built on the mistaken and discredited belief that, by granting concessions to them, those who should rightly be marginalised by civil society could be brought centre stage and participate in democratic government.

The Minister would have us agree that we should accept the order because without it there would be no reasonable prospect of further decommissioning and no final act of completion. That is a fallacious argument. It is to continue to slide down the slippery slope of surrender and appeasement.

This is the sixth time we have been asked to renew the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997. It has delivered virtually nothing of significance. Quite simply, it is the wrong approach. The provisional republican movement and others have had their opportunities to demonstrate their commitment to exclusively democratic means. They have rejected those opportunities, and they have failed to deliver. The Act should be allowed to lapse. In the event of the provisional republican movement or others indicating a change of heart, its powers could be re-enacted in a few hours if the Government and the House wish.

To accept the order is to send out entirely the wrong signal. It is politically and morally wrong for the Government to perpetuate a position of conciliation, as the order does, when terrorist organisations are persistently and consistently choosing to maintain and practise the option of violence.

3.34 pm

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): Over a period of 10 years now, the communities in Northern Ireland have become accustomed to hearing

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promises and assurances that the decommissioning of weapons would, first, begin, secondly, continue and, thirdly, conclude—and they have waited and waited. In 1998, the Belfast agreement was signed, and they received further assurances that the decommissioning of illegal weapons from both republicans and loyalists was essential and would be concluded by 2000. That time has come and gone, and still there has been no progress whatever.

I listened intently to what was said by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). I hold him in high regard, and I very much appreciate his views on this and other subjects, but I disagree with his belief that there will be no decommissioning. If there is a strictly accurate understanding of paramilitary violence in Northern Ireland—whether loyalist or republican—it shows that the republican violence has as its goal a political objective. Loyalist violence, which is equally abhorrent, unacceptable, immoral and unjustifiable, has as a different objective the prevention of a political accommodation coming about with the IRA. However, if those in the IRA receive, as they have done in recent years, concessions towards their political objective, they will move because they see their political objectives being realised. That is the history of the past six years.

The more the present Government accommodate the desires and objectives of the Provisional IRA, the better those in the IRA will respond. Why would they not? If they previously engaged in a campaign of murder, mass murder, intimidation, threats and arson to gain political objectives, gaining some small steps in that regard, and they can gain more concessions by retaining the threat of violence by retaining their armoury intact, while the Government hold out the carrot of the prospect of progress towards their objective via the 1998 agreement, why on earth would they not hold out the prospect of some movement? Whether that prospect is illusory remains to be seen. However, that is what we have seen over the past three or four years.

Those in the IRA make tentative steps and involve themselves in token gestures to pocket more concessions. That has been at the back of the on-the-run saga and the other concessions that the IRA is waiting to pocket yet again. At the moment and for the past 10 years, they have had the best of both worlds; they have given the intent of moving into democracy, while retaining the right to return to violence and to use violence. The community has said, "No, you must disarm. You must engage in acts of completion, and you must disappear." That is what the community now demands in Northern Ireland.

We have to be in a post-IRA era before we can engage in meaningful discussions that will lead to an Executive being formed, with all the main parties involved. If we do not get that, we will obviously have to look at other methods. I listened with interest to the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) indicate his involvement and explain what he had intended should be the case. Yet many people in Northern Ireland see that, on three occasions, he was prepared to enter into the Government of Northern Ireland with those who represent terror, with nothing more than a promise of possible decommissioning.

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