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Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker: Order. Before I call the next hon. Member, I would like to say that the House obviously knows that this is a very important statement, and I want to call as many hon. Members as possible. Short questions and, of course, short answers, will be of great assistance.

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down): On behalf of the people whom I represent, I would like to thank the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister, the Northern Ireland Office Ministers, their predecessors and their counterparts in the Government of the Republic of Ireland for being part of the process that has brought us to this point today.

This is an historic event. It is the first time in a century that Irish republicanism has yielded one single weapon or bullet, and that is significant. Let us not question the motivation behind the event, but rather accept the event as the gateway to the future that has been created. I hope that the Secretary of State will agree that this gateway will, perhaps, produce a gun-free society in Northern Ireland, and a society free of political violence.

Does the Secretary of State agree that all of us in the House and in Northern Ireland need to encourage the loyalist paramilitaries to see that they have no cause to retain their weapons, and that they can now confidently disarm and leave the protection of any community to the proper security forces in Northern Ireland? Does he also agree that it is important that the dissident republican movements adopt and subscribe to the will of the people of Ireland that this should happen? The intractable problem of the Good Friday agreement and decommissioning is the keystone to our new future.

The other matters to which the Secretary of State has referred—policing, demilitarisation—are moving along, and we hope to hear of the reinstitution on a permanent basis of the institutions. I am sure that the Secretary of State will welcome the statement made in the House today by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) that his Ministers have been reinstated in their positions of ministerial responsibility today. I would like to hear the leader of the Democratic Unionist party say that his Ministers will also be restored, and that all four of the coalition parties will at long last work together as an Executive in this Administration of Northern Ireland and in the north-south bodies.

Does the Secretary of State also agree that the real victors, the real benefactors, of this process—which I hope will now move rapidly to its culmination—are the ordinary men and women and their leaders who have

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personally endured violence and the threat of violence over the years, and who have at all times stood by their abhorrence of violence and their determination to see the democratic process victorious in the end?

Mr. Speaker: When I asked for short questions, I was expecting them to be shorter than that.

Dr. Reid: That was short by Northern Ireland standards. I will attempt to be even more brief.

I thank my hon. Friend for his tribute, his thanks and his accolade to me. I can assure him that the people whom I mentioned earlier are much more important; I just happened to be around when this happened. That is also a good caveat for distancing myself from any consequences if it all goes wrong. One of the first phone calls I received about the news was from Mo Mowlam, who was delighted. I pay tribute to her and to her predecessor.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the stability of the institutions and about the need for those decent, good loyalists to consider how they can contribute to the process. He is also right about the marginalisation of the dissident republicans. I do not believe that they represent any people, any strategy or any modern reality at all. That is why I think they will eventually be completely marginalised.

My hon. Friend is also right about the people of Northern Ireland. They have a character that has been forged in a crucible over decades. They never cease to amaze me, and I am privileged to have been asked to work alongside them.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): Despite my evident seniority in the gang of three here, I shall keep my comments proportionately brief. First, I thank the Secretary of State for early sight of his statement. Secondly, does he agree that its real historic significance is to show that, through dialogue and acting in good faith, the pathway to peace has genuinely been cleared? Many people did not believe that to be possible.

On loyalist weapons, is the Secretary of State aware that the Ulster Defence Association said last night:

The Progressive Unionist party has said that the IRA statement is seriously significant. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of any recent meetings between the Decommissioning Commission and those paramilitary groups, in particular the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Freedom Fighters? Is there any indication that they will follow the IRA's example and live up to their responsibilities in terms of the Good Friday agreement? If not, what practical measures does he foresee the House employing to put pressure on them to do so?

Will the Secretary of State confirm that he will take a strategic approach to demilitarisation, which his statement so rightly laid out, to ensure that those, especially in nationalist communities, who have been cynical about the Government's commitment to it realise that there is a long-term and well thought out plan to maintain the impetus towards normalisation? Will he also give his view of the time scale for moving forward to implement Patten to a fuller extent than has been achieved so far?

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I, too, pay tribute to the many individuals in Northern Irish politics and in the House who have shown courage and great stature in getting us this far. Does the Secretary of State agree that many of us consistently supported the Good Friday agreement from the start and that that consistency has been vindicated? Perhaps most important of all, there is now a compelling argument for those who have not seen fit to regard the Good Friday agreement as the way forward to peace to change their view.

Dr. Reid: Yes, I entirely agree that we have come a long way, despite predictions that we would not be able to achieve any of these things. When I say "we", I mean all of us who are committed to making the agreement work. When we are overawed by the challenges of what remains to be done, we can do no better than look back to see how many times it was predicted that we could not do something, and how many times we have. Eventually, managed to do it.

I have no evidence that the UVF has been in contact. More important I suppose, one of its spokesmen, David Ervine, said that he has no evidence that it intends to decommission. However, I have said today that I wish people would reflect on what they could do, even if they feel at this stage that they cannot make such an historic move, and that circumstances are different. They should come in and contribute to the process, because there are many good loyalists who want that. They may have a degree of scepticism, a degree of worry or a degree of trepidation, but they are better contributing to the process than sitting outside it.

On the impetus towards a normal society, yes, I hope that we can keep up that dynamic, but it is not entirely in our hands. Of course we have the major responsibility, but we all have to work together to create the circumstances where that becomes possible. Yesterday's step was a major move in that direction. I hope that the immediate measures that we have announced today show that we are willing to respond and willing to think creatively, and politically to work with others to ensure that we return to what we would call a more normal society there.

The hon. Gentleman asked about Patten. The implementation plan has been published. The first meeting of the new board, which is cross-party, is next week. We shall proceed from there.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): This is a fine statement on a fine development. Despite the Secretary of State being modest, we should congratulate him on the role that he has played in connection with it. He knows that the art of the impossible is hard work, and that goes for his predecessors, back to Peter Brooke who found a form of words that set the whole process going.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will try to do something else that is impossible—that is, get the IRA to operate its own amnesty for people who have been placed in internal or external exile. Nothing would be better in order to bring in the support of doubters on some Opposition Benches. There is an exceptionally good report by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on the matter.

Dr. Reid: I hear what my hon. Friend says, certainly on the last point. We must all make an effort to resolve

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past conflicts and painful memories of the past. What my hon. Friend says has a degree of resonance—and, as tributes have been flying round, I think he should be thanked for the consistent contribution that he has made over the years, despite the ebbs and flows of the process. It has been tremendously valuable.

David Burnside (South Antrim): It appears that some Englishmen ask quite long questions as well.

There appeared to be two serious and important omissions from the statement. One related to the proposed amnesty that the Secretary of State announced at Weston Park. If we are looking ahead with some hope, surely the Secretary of State should have made a statement to the House saying that no legal proceedings would be brought against those who have served in the security forces and the Regular Army, including the Ulster Defence Regiment, the Royal Irish Regiment, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Reserve, relating to any incident over the past 30 years.

I entirely agree that we need loyalist decommissioning—the Unionist parties are at one on that—but has not the unfair treatment of loyalists over the parades issue helped, to an extent, to alienate the loyalist community in many parts of the Province? The Secretary of State omitted any reference to what he said at Weston Park about a review of the remit of the Parades Commission, which we consider very necessary.

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