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Mr. McNamara: Earlier in the debate, I drewthe attention of the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) to a press release that you, Mr. Martin, felt had nothing to do with amendment No. 6. I had thought that the press release showed the Opposition's seeking to cherry-pick the provisions they like. I had also thought that it demonstrated something that never happened when the Government were in opposition--seeking to undermine progress in achieving peace. On certain occasions to my knowledge--I could enumerate them--it was necessary to protect the position

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of the then Secretary of State, who was engaged in negotiations, and to prevent cries for his dismissal for one thing or another.

The amendment does precisely what I feared and to which I referred. The Opposition are seeking yet again to rewrite the agreement so as to have a precise linkage between the release of prisoners and decommissioning. The purpose behind the amendment is to rewrite the agreement and to betray the different parties to it. Those parties entered into the agreement on the basis of what was in it, not on the basis of what the Opposition would like to be in it.

To say that is not to say that one does not want the decommissioning of arms--of course one does--but to suggest that there must be a direct linkage between an individual and the satisfaction demanded in the amendment on decommissioning is unfair on the individual and, I suggest, unfair to the independent commission on decommissioning. If we read it carefully--

9.15 pm

Mr. Thompson: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McNamara: I shall finish my point and then I shall gladly give way to the hon. Gentleman.

If we read the amendment carefully, we find that it states:


That is what the Opposition are asking for now. They are asking not for a token, not for a substantial amount and not for a bit of Semtex here or a kalashnikov there; they are asking for the decommissioning of all illegal arms. Who knows how many illegal arms are held by any paramilitary organisation?

Rev. Ian Paisley: The security forces know.

Mr. McNamara: The hon. Gentleman, the hon. and reverend Gentleman who leads for the Democratic Unionist party, says from a sedentary position that the security forces know. If the security forces know the amount of illegal arms that are held, that would suggest their being there with the quartermasters counting the arms as they are put in their concrete bunkers somewhere in County Meath, Kerry or, God help us, perhaps in North Antrim. It is obvious that that is not so and that the security forces could not possibly know.

Rev. Ian Paisley rose--

Mr. McNamara: I shall finish my point and then I shall give way, first, to the hon. Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson) and then to the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley).

How can anybody know of all the illegal arms that are held? Who will be satisfied that all illegal arms have been decommissioned? The commission on decommissioning cannot verify that all illegal arms have been decommissioned. It is necessary to depend on information that will necessarily be incomplete.

On the basis of the argument that Opposition Members are advancing, paramilitary organisations will say, "This is a list of what we have. We have 13 pikes from 1798,

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a few muskets from another occasion, a couple of .303s from 1916," and so on. Is that what they will do? How can we be certain that there is not another pike in the thatch? It is--

Mr. Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley): The agreement says that.

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman should be quiet.

Mr. McNamara: The commission cannot be certain. The hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) said, I think, "That is what the agreement says," but it does not. Paragraph 4 states:


Is that the point that the hon. Gentleman is raising? It does not make the independent commission, which could not possibly know whether all arms have been handed in, infallible; it refers only to the "decommissioning of illegal arms".

Mr. Thompson: The hon. Gentleman claimed initially that there was no direct connection between prisoner release and decommissioning. He should have listened to the Prime Minister this afternoon when he said clearly that there was such a connection and that it is explicit in the Bill. Our argument with the Prime Minister is not the connection but the fact that it is not explicit in the Bill--and it should be.

Mr. McNamara: I listened carefully to the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister today. He did not say what the hon. Gentleman alleges. I suggest that he reads the Prime Minister's words very carefully.

Rev. Ian Paisley: The agreement says:


We did not put that in the agreement because we were not there. The parties that signed the agreement put that there--including the word "all." What is more, the security forces have already informed the Minister how many arms they believe the IRA has, about the IRA's strike capability and of how many arms other organisations have.

The First Deputy Chairman: Order.

Mr. McNamara: The hon. Gentleman makes my case for me. He said that the Minister has been told how many arms the security forces believe the IRA has--they do not know how many arms the IRA holds. That is my first point. Secondly, the agreement states:


That statement is qualified by the reference to working "in good faith" to achieve that aim. The amendment says:

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    "not before the decommissioning of all illegal arms".

It will not matter that the parties have worked in good faith and used such influence as they have because, unless every weapon is put down, nobody will be let out of prison as part of what is surprisingly called accelerated prison release.

The hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire has strengthened his position since the last time we discussed this matter: he is now calling for all arms to be handed in. There is no way that the security forces or many of the organisations, given their diffuse nature, will know precisely how many arms are held. If, as the Opposition claim, there is a quartermaster with the Continuity IRA who hands out arms to dissidents, who is to be held responsible for those arms? Who can be certain how many arms are involved unless we know what the quartermaster has passed out?

The amendment, quite apart from being illogical, asks people to achieve the impossible. We cannot be certain of ever delivering what the amendment calls for. No man or woman who belonged to an organisation would ever be released because the terms of the amendment are not deliverable or achievable. Such linkage between prisoners and arms is not in the agreement. The hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire is seeking to rewrite the amendment. That is not what representatives of the various loyalist and republican paramilitary factions signed up to when they agreed to an unequivocal ceasefire. They signed up to the agreement, not to the interpretation that Her Majesty's Opposition would like to put on it. The Opposition are cherry-picking.

The hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire is putting a danger before the Committee. If one of the signatories does not like some little part of the agreement, will they seek to rewrite it? Some people in the Republic may not like, say, the constitutional clauses, and seek to amend it in legislation. Are they to be allowed to succeed? Will they have the precedent that the Opposition are trying to set? The Opposition are putting the whole agreement at risk by seeking to tamper with what Her Majesty's Government have brought forward.

Mr. Donaldson: I support the amendment. The hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) said that to accept the amendment would be to betray the parties that had signed the agreement. I suggest that he read the list of names in which the amendment has been tabled. He will see the name of the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), who I believe is the leader of one of the parties that signed the agreement.

It is vital to emphasise the importance of decommissioning in this process. Decommissioning first came on the scene before the talks got under way--with the report of the international body that was chaired by the former senator, George Mitchell. That international body recommended that the decommissioning of terrorist weapons was an important part of the confidence-building process surrounding political talks. In all the time since that report, not one weapon has been decommissioned by any terrorist organisation. It is important not to lose sight of the fact that we are talking about terrorist organisations, not political parties.

The hon. Member for Hull, North is wrong to say that there is no link between decommissioning and the release

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of prisoners. One of the Government's criteria concerning eligibility for release of prisoners in clause 3 is that a terrorist organisation must be


    "co-operating fully with any Commission"

established by the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997. That creates a link between decommissioning and the release of prisoners; the Government themselves have created the link in the Bill. We are simply trying to clarify exactly what


    "co-operating fully with any Commission"

means.

Are hon. Members who oppose the amendment suggesting that "co-operating fully" could mean something less than the decommissioning of weapons? If that is so, let them tell us. It is important that we understand what "co-operating fully" with the independent commission means. The Secretary of State will have to judge whether any of the terrorist organisations is "co-operating fully". How can it be argued that a terrorist organisation is "co-operating fully" on the decommissioning of weapons when it is not decommissioning its weapons? In anyone's terms, a failure to decommission weapons represents a failure fully to co-operate with the independent commission.


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