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Dr. John Reid: Having had problems with semantics, the hon. Gentleman now has problems with his chronology. There were no new promises made after or around the time of the publication of that article; there was nothing that was not entirely in the public domain, including the inquiries. I take it that the hon. Gentleman has read the Weston Park communiqué, which does not exclusively comprise inquiries demanded by republicans. In fact, it consists of three inquiries long demanded by those of a loyalist and Unionist persuasion, as well as three demanded by those of a republican or nationalist persuasion. There was nothing new at the time when my right hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) was writing; there was nothing that was not fully in the public domain. To say that my remarking on that made me almost disingenuous is a bit unfair, to say the least.
Mr. Davies: I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman thinks that I am being unfair to him; I have simply quoted for himtwice nowthe words of his right hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool. If his right hon. Friend was wrong, it would have been simpler to say so; perhaps the Secretary of State does not want to quarrel with him because, as we know, he is such a powerful personage in his party and has the ear of the Prime Minister. That may well be the explanation.
We must get back to the position that I put to the Secretary of State before, which he does not seem to want to acknowledge. He acknowledged it once with two or three words but, as far as I know, he has never acknowledged it with any deed. The Unionist community in Northern Ireland understandably feels that the process is a one-way street; everything that the Secretary of State
The Government now acknowledge that there is some kind of distinction between Sinn Fein and the IRA, so they make concessions to Sinn Fein, but the IRA does not deliver on the other side. If that situation should not worry everybody, not merely Unionists, in Northern Irelandand, indeed, everybody in the United KingdomI do not know what should.
If the Secretary of State does not already knowhe certainly acts as if he does notI must tell him that one cannot build successful peace in Northern Ireland, establish successful devolved institutions and democracy and normalise that part of the United Kingdom without the support of the Unionist majority. He seems to believe that the Unionist majority can be taken for granted and will end up accepting just about anything he comes up with. The course on which he has embarked is extremely dangerous and that is reflected in the Bill. Once again, there is an open-ended approach to the IRA or Sinn Fein-IRA delivering its side of the agreement; more and more concrete concessions are made at the expense of Unionist concerns and sentiment, as well as justified Unionist pride.
The strategy of making concessions without any quid pro quo was flawed from the start. I have no hesitation in saying that the Government's decision to let out all the prisoners within two years of the Belfast agreement being made without the IRA decommissioning a single weapon or giving up a single ounce of Semtex was a colossal mistake. That was recognised at the time by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay), who wisely and sensibly tabled amendments to the census legislation for Northern Ireland that would have established that linkage. Those amendments were resisted by the Government but, had we established the linkage, we would have an instrument of leverage on Sinn Fein-IRA; all those instruments of leverage were thrown away by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessors.
It is hardly surprising that two years passed without decommissioning. Why should people decommission when there was no particular reason why they should? In fact, the Government deprived the Sinn Fein-IRA leadership of any arguments to use among its membership. It could not say that it had to decommission to get its prisoners out because they had been let out anyway. The strategy was extremely naive and incompetent, and it damaged the peace process. A third year passed, but still there was no decommissioning. The Government panicked, went to Weston Park in desperation and made a whole lot of new gratuitous concessions, which were not required at all in the Belfast agreement, to somehow appease Sinn Fein-IRA and hope that nevertheless they would come up with some decommissioning. Even then, they did not do so. Two weeks after the talks at Weston Park, the IRA went back on the agreement on the methodology of decommissioning that it negotiated with General de
As the right hon. Gentleman acknowledged earlier I do not know whether he always remembers what he says 10 minutes after he has said itbut he certainly accepted that the situation changed only after the autumn, with the exposure of the IRA's involvement with FARC in Colombia and particularly after the events of 11 September, to which he rightly referred in this context. The position changed as there were new international pressures on Sinn Fein-IRA, particularly from the United States, which were unanswerable. I agree that another major factor was the threat that the whole process was about to break down, but that was nothing to do with what the Government did; it was entirely to do with what the right hon. Member for Upper Bann did with what I have previously referred to in public as the three Trimble sanctionsfirst, withdraw Sinn Fein members from meetings of all-Irish bodies, secondly, withdraw Ulster Unionist Ministers, then resign himself. Pressures brought to bear elsewhere by political parties in Northern Ireland, the Irish Government, no doubt, and particularly the United States brought about decommissioning.
Nobody could have anticipatedthe Government certainly did notthat the international context would be transformed tragically and appallingly by the events of 11 September and that that would have a critical and decisive knock-on effect on the situation in Northern Ireland. The Government must not allow themselves to continue down their previous path. If they want to continue with unilateral concessions, the House must not allow them to do so. Tonight, we have the opportunity to prevent them from acting in that way by changing the Bill, sending it back and getting the Government to return with a much more limited deadline, which will impose greater discipline on the whole process. I hope that the House will take that opportunity.
I shall draw conclusions both from the way in which the Government handled the process which I have just detailed and their extraordinary illusions about Sinn-Fein, which have been startlingly and dramatically revealed in our debate, which will go down as an historic debate for that reason alone. We need a fundamental rethink of the position in Northern Ireland; we must consider the right approach and strategy that the British Government should adopt to maximise the chances of a succesful peace process and successful decommissioning. There are two aspects to that. First, it must be made clear what the deal and price will be ultimately to achieve complete and full decommissioning, which will be defined by General de Chastelain saying that the process that he has been supervising has been completed.
How do we get there? How do we bring in all the other parties as well as Sinn Fein-IRA, including the loyalist paramilitaries, to which the right hon. Gentleman was right to refer? We all know that Sinn Fein-IRA thinks that its opposite number is not the loyalist paramilitaries, but the British Government. It likes to think it is dealing with the Government on an equal basis. The right hon. Gentleman's illusions about dealing with Sinn Fein-IRA will greatly have comforted it in that belief.
That is important for at least two reasons. One is that only on that basis will it be clear how far the concessions go and what we will have to pay for decommissioning, and it will be clear what must be done by when. There will be some rigour and discipline in the process. Secondly, only by such an open, transparent deal will it be possible to restore confidence in Northern Ireland that we are not engaged merely in a process of endless appeasement of terrorists or former terroristscommonly known as, and often called in Northern Ireland, a sell-out. By definition, a sell-out will not have the support of the great majority of law-abiding people.
The Bill provides us with the chance to introduce a tighter, more disciplined and more transparent process. I hope that the House will take that opportunity. If we do not, we are left with the prospect that, if decommissioning happens at all, it will happen because others have made the moves that the British Government ought to have made. We will not know how many moves need to be made or how long it will take until we get arms out of politics in Northern Ireland.
I can well believe that Sinn Fein-IRA may be under pressure from other sources. It is generally expected in the Republic of Ireland that Sinn Fein-IRA will need to make at least a cosmetic further act of decommissioning before the Irish elections in May, in order to maximise its respectability and chances of picking up seats in Ireland. I do not know whether that is true, but if so, it in no way absolves the British Government from doing everything possible to facilitate the process and make decommissioning more likely, rather than slowing down the process or leaving it to an indefinite future.
Above all, the British Government must make a new effort to ensure that they carry with them all the communities in Northern Ireland. They must explain to the Unionist community, as well as to the nationalist and the republican communities, what needs to be done, why it must be done, how the concessions that need to be made are limited and what their purpose is. That aspect of the peace process has been dangerously neglected by the Government.
I am not in the business of criticising the Government without making positive and, I hope, helpful suggestions. The issue of changing symbols will arise in connection with other Bills in the near future. Let the Secretary of State think about the matter before then. If he considers it necessary to change symbols in order to create the feeling that they are part of the new constitution in Northern Ireland among communities that up till now have felt disadvantaged, let the right hon. Gentleman bring in new symbols, but let him not destroy old ones. Let him add. Let him show the same respect for the Unionist tradition as he is showing in order to