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Dr. Reid: On the last point, I think that most observers would remark that, in the course of the process, when things are done early, in good faith and with good heart, they have a much better effect than if there is a continuing concern and pressure for them to be done, and I take the point that the right hon. Gentleman makes. I also take the

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point that the Deputy First Minister, as he was yesterday, has drawn to our attention the constitutional requirements and potential as regards exclusion. That is, of course, a matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly in the last instance, on a cross-community basis, but I note what he says on that.

All I would say is that we are still committed to making the agreement work. We are still committed to implementing the agreement because my own view is that the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland have concerns about the manner in which it is being implemented, but they want it to be implemented and, therefore, to turn away from that would not be to the benefit of any hon. Member or anyone in Northern Ireland.

The right hon. Gentleman is correct to say that, at Hillsborough last May, the two Governments anticipated and, indeed, believed that substantial progress would be made on all those issues, including putting paramilitary weapons verifiably and permanently beyond use. That has not been done; it is reflected in the de Chastelain report, and I expressed in my statement deep disappointment about that. What we are now resolved to do in an urgent and intensive fashion is to engage once more with the parties—in particular but not exclusively to address the concern about paramilitary weapons. Of course, if other people have concerns, we have made it plain all along that we will listen to such concerns, but not to the exclusion of actual progress and putting paramilitary weapons beyond use.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): Does the Secretary of State agree that it is disappointing that, seven weeks after the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) expressed his intention to resign, no progress has taken place in the key areas that could have prevented that from happening? Does he also agree that it is good that the paramilitaries are still talking with the Decommissioning Commission, but that it is not good that deadline after deadline has come and gone and still a small group of paramilitaries, together with some hardliners, stand in the way of creating lasting peace?

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept—I believe that it is very important to say this—that it is disappointing to hear Her Majesty's official Opposition apparently mixing up the role of the House with the responsibilities of those same paramilitaries to deliver that part of the Good Friday agreement which it is self-evidently in their hands to achieve, and that it will not be achieved simply by our passing resolutions in the Chamber? In that context, does he agree that the challenge is now for the British and Irish Governments to work together to create the conditions that will generate such public pressure in both key communities in the Province that the paramilitaries will finally realise that, for all their holding on to those weapons, they will not achieve a lasting settlement of interest and benefit to their own communities without finally renouncing control of the tools for war?

Finally, does the Secretary of State acknowledge that if he proceeds in a strategic way and works with Dublin in a public and open fashion with clear and specific deadlines, he will continue to have the support of the Liberal Democrats?

Dr. Reid: I welcome the hon. Gentleman's constructive comments, which—I regret to say—stand in contrast to the contribution made by the official Opposition's Front- Bench spokesman.

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Yes, I welcome the fact that the paramilitaries are still talking to the de Chastelain commission and I should also place it on record that I welcome the fact that the IRA has opened up its arms dumps for inspection. That was welcomed by everyone and I do not for a minute diminish the significance of that.

However, just as we are prepared to meet our responsibilities, I ask everyone involved—on either the political or the paramilitary side—to reflect on their responsibilities. Very often, there can be commitment, sincerity and good faith all round, but people can make dreadfully wrong judgments. I do not want anyone to make dreadfully wrong judgments and that is why I share with the House my view that, although the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland want the agreement implemented, they have great concerns about the manner in which it is being implemented. I hope that people will reflect on how to use their influence to make sure that what is probably the major concern is addressed. If they do that, they can be assured that every other party, including this Government and, I am sure, the Irish Government, will accept our responsibilities and use whatever influence we have.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): Has not the official Opposition Front-Bench spokesman entirely misjudged the position? We should not be entering into a party ding-dong in the current circumstances. The right hon. Gentleman knows that I have agreed with him in the past on several issues and on what developments should take place, but we should be united in directing our attention towards Sinn Fein and the IRA. We should tell them that the time has finally come for decommissioning to take place.

I understand the concerns and arguments of the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). He has highlighted the fact that he had nowhere else to go. Therefore, everyone should be behind the demands that are being made and that point should be made as clearly as possible by Conservative Front Benchers as well as by the Government.

Dr. Reid: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. In a liberal frame of mind, the best that I can say about the contribution of the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) is that it was perhaps motivated by frustration and anger at what he sees as a lack of progress on the issue. Frustration and anger, however, are very rarely a good guide to action.

Of course, we must be prepared to be determined to retain the integrity of the whole process and, in that sense, we must be ever watchful that it is implemented in all its aspects. The best way to do that is to maximise the unity of those people who are committed to its success. That is why I was heartened recently to hear that some of the points made by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann were not exclusive to him. They have been made by people from different traditions and different parties and by people in different countries, such as the Taoiseach and the Opposition parties in southern Ireland.

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim): From time to time, the Secretary of State has reminded my party and me that he was absolutely convinced that IRA-Sinn Fein would decommission their weapons. A long time has now

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passed. Our view was scorned; it was abused in this very House when I expressed it and people said that we had no faith and that we should be prepared to take the leap.

Does the Secretary of State not realise from the tone of what has been said from the Government Front Bench that the heart of this matter rests with putting restrictions on IRA-Sinn Fein in government in Northern Ireland if they do not keep to the terms of the agreement? Sweet words from Bertie Ahern or from anyone else are no use. The IRA will not decommission. Therefore, it must pay the price of not decommissioning and sanctions must be taken against it. I agree fully with the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes), who made that point.

The Secretary of State must respond to urgent matters that concern the ordinary individuals of Northern Ireland. A serious security situation is arising. Will he assure me categorically that he will not put on the table to IRA-Sinn Fein conditions that will drastically change the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998? Will he also assure me that the watch towers in South Armagh, an area that members of the so-called Real IRA claim to be theirs, will not be demolished, because the people there live in fear of the Real IRA and its supporters?

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm to the people of Northern Ireland that the full-time police reserve will not be laid off until security is fulfilled? Will he give them the opportunity, which is in law in the agreement, of an election to the Assembly so that they can say who they want to represent them? Knowing that the Secretary of State has read the hearts and minds of all Unionists, and bearing in mind the fact that the Prime Minister told me not long ago that the vast majority of Unionists agree on that, why does he not put it to the people?

Dr. Reid: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his usual constructive contribution and I shall try to respond to the five points that he raised.

We believe that we have enshrined the Patten recommendations in legislation. If any parties believe that we have not and want to make their concerns known, we shall speak to them. The RUC has undertaken a monumental change in a very professional and very determined fashion. Any organisation would find such a change difficult even without coping with the security situation. However, if someone believes that we have not implemented parts of the Patten recommendations, we shall discuss that with them.

As for the military presence in Northern Ireland, if the threat lessens, we may be in a position to reduce it, but only on the recommendation of security advisers and so that it is commensurate with the threat. The hon. Gentleman might know that discussions on the full-time reserve are under way between the federation and the Chief Constable. They will take a little time and, again, any decision will be made in the light not only of those, but of the security situation.

On elections, it is my intention—so far as it is within my power—to implement the Good Friday agreement, not to suspend or exclude or throw aside sections of it. If we are asking others to implement aspects of it, we should be prepared to say that we, too, aim to do that. I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman that there will never be any circumstance in which we might have to take other action.

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He understands that. However, it is not my intention to do that. My intention is, as far as possible, to leave those matters with the people of Northern Ireland.

The hon. Gentleman claimed that I had said that I was absolutely certain that the IRA would disarm. I think that he must have been speaking about some other Secretary of State. I have never been absolutely certain of anything in this process. I have exercised my judgment and said that I believe, on the basis of what I heard and the discussions that we had, that there was the will to put paramilitary weapons beyond use. Like any sensible person inside or outside the House, I make my judgments on the basis of evidence. People are beginning to question that evidence. I believe that it is still the will of those engaged in the process to put paramilitary weapons beyond use, but I am merely reflecting a general concern in political parties and the wider constituency of Northern Ireland that there should not be an indefinite time scale for that. It has to be part of the process, and it has to take place alongside the other changes that we are making.

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