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Dr. Reid: I hope that that will be the case. One reason why the Belfast agreement encompassed a solution to many problems is not just that the two communities in Northern Ireland were able to come together, although that was important, but that the Northern Ireland Assembly, through the Executive and along with our partners in the Irish Government, were able to give an all-Ireland dimension to tackling some of the practical problems without instilling the fear that that somehow imposed a constitutional arrangement. I hope that those involved will be able to do what my hon. Friend suggests in the near future.

I know that my hon. Friend will understand when I say that dialectical materialism was a product not of Karl Marx but of Joseph Stalin, and that therefore I have never adhered to that particular creed.

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East): Will the Secretary of State tell those in Northern Ireland who, like me,

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he might categorise as a tad sceptical, why, when considering whether the republican movement is committed to exclusively peaceful and democratic means, they should put more weight on an unspecified event where an unspecified number of weapons were allegedly decommissioned or put out of use in an unspecified way than on the very real record of the 107 shootings carried out by the Provisional IRA during its ceasefire, the 270 so-called punishment beatings, the dozen murders that it has carried out, its gun-running in Florida, its exploits in Colombia, its racketeering and its street violence? Why should we put more weight on the unspecified as opposed to the detail? Will the right hon. Gentleman take it from me that those on the DUP Bench apply no different criteria to a requirement for total, verifiable and visible decommissioning from loyalist paramilitary organisations than they do from republicans?

Dr. Reid: I not only take it from the hon. Gentleman, I believe it. I take it, therefore, not as an allegation or an assertion but as something that I am willing to accept. From the use of the word "allegedly", it is obvious that he is not willing to accept the word of General de Chastelain. He and I part company on that. I accept the word of General John de Chastelain and I think that the majority of people in the House accept it.

Andy King (Rugby and Kenilworth): I, too, join the rest of the House in welcoming the very good news about this first momentous step in the peace process. At last we have broken through, and now our prayers must join with those of everyone in Ireland and throughout the country about the continuation of the peace process.

My right hon. Friend referred earlier to the loyalist paramilitaries. What are his views on what steps they should be taking with regard to the next stage in the peace process?

Dr. Reid: I think that the entire House is clear about what step all the paramilitaries should be taking to move forward—they should put their arms beyond use. What I said earlier in response to the comments of a spokesman for some of the loyalist groups is that if they do not feel able to do that, we would welcome them telling us what they could do. Certainly, they should desist immediately from widespread, sectarian, indiscriminate attacks, attacks on small children and attempts to mutilate and ultimately murder people. I cannot for the life of me see how anyone thinks that that will assist their cause. Although we should not be euphoric about what happened yesterday and we should keep our feet on the ground, I hope that the other paramilitaries will consider carefully nevertheless and see how they can build on the events that took place yesterday.

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury): Does the Secretary of State accept that perhaps one reason for scepticism and, indeed, cynicism in Northern Ireland is that people are genuinely concerned about the level of control that the paramilitaries seem to have over the streets? Given that fact, does he accept that while verification of weapons being put beyond use is extremely important, an assessment—his assessment—of the weapons that are kept by paramilitaries on both sides, and not only by the mainstream organisations, is equally important?

Dr. Reid: Yes. It is not just the weapons that are kept, although that is significant, but the activity for which they

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are used. None of the ceasefires is perfect. I specified the UDA and the Loyalist Defence Force because the level, scale and nature of the violence in which they were engaged was distinguishable, not by politicians alone but by others whose advice I seek in these matters, from the activities of some of the paramilitary groups—the UVF and the IRA—who, in the round, remain on ceasefire. Our ultimate aim is simple. It is to create a Northern Ireland where people's problems, grievances and political objectives are sorted out and achieved by democratic means. Given the problems that we have had and the length of time for which we have had them on the island of Ireland, while impatience is understandable, the fact that we have managed to achieve in less than a decade things that some people thought would never happen in 100 years should be a spur to us.

I will end with a brief anecdote. On Saturday night, I was in Wexford. I have to confess, although it will destroy my credentials, that I went to the opera. It occurred to me when I was there that it was May 1169 when Robert FitzStephen first landed on the island of Ireland with 600 soldiers. There I was, 832 years later, trying to play some small role in overcoming some of the problems that have persisted ever since. When we understand the nature and magnitude of what we are dealing with and add to that the past 30 years—with the deaths, misery and pain and the burden of history that is on everyone—what we have achieved so far is, thankfully, some recompense to the people of Northern Ireland for having supported this peace process. What we achieved yesterday was another major milestone in that journey.

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry): The Secretary of State outlined a series of events beginning today—his term was "security normalisation processes". This process has been going on for many months—in fact, several years. Just as these events are continuous, obvious and transparent, what steps can he take to assure the House that the decommissioning process, if it indeed has begun, will be continuous, obvious and transparent?

Dr. Reid: I cannot guarantee success in any area. We are all putting our efforts into it, but I will not pretend to the House that the peace process is irrevocable or inevitable. Commentators write about that, but my view is that with human beings things only succeed if we continue to apply all our efforts to ensure that they do so. As a general proposition, I do not think that anyone in the House who guaranteed that the process would be a success would be believed or believable. However, if I am asked what can give us the best guarantee of success in dealing with this difficult issue—putting arms beyond use in the midst of a transition from conflict to peace—I have no doubt that it is the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning led by General John de Chastelain.

If the hon. Gentleman has a better idea of how to put arms beyond use and how to achieve that, I am always willing to listen; but if he comes up with the same solution that has been tried for the past 800 years, on the evidence, I should be somewhat sceptical about it.

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Points of Order

5.50 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): On a succinct point of order, Mr. Speaker. Following the exchanges, initiated by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) and taken up by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) and myself, concerning cluster bombs and land mines, and in the light of my approaches to the Chief Whip, the Solicitor-General's office and, indeed, to the Liberal Democrat spokesman, would you look kindly, Mr. Speaker, on my request that, as the Solicitor-General will be in the House at 12.20 tomorrow for Question Time, she make a statement to follow up her written answer? That answer stated:

It is said that the Americans may have dropped this arsenal—this weaponry; none the less, it is also true that it came from the British base of Diego Garcia in the Indian ocean which brings it into order as a legitimate matter for the House to consider. Will you look kindly on allowing some kind of statement from the Solicitor- General tomorrow?

Mr. Speaker: It is up to the Solicitor-General whether she wishes to make a statement. I have no control over those matters. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can raise the matter at business questions tomorrow and put in a bid for such a statement.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware from exchanges that took place earlier that the Secretary of State for International Development ducked out of giving evidence to a Select Committee earlier this week, citing as a reason the fact that she was unwilling to instruct her officials to prepare a written memorandum and despite the fact that the Committee had said that it did not require such a memorandum.

You are the custodian of our rights in this place, Mr. Speaker. There seems to be a new development, whereby a Minister declines to be cross-examined by a Committee because of the absence of a written document for whose preparation that Minister is responsible. Can you do anything to ensure that in future neither the House nor its Committees are treated in that cavalier manner?

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