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Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford): I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in letting me have a copy of his statement just before Prime Minister's questions. I fully associate myself and the entire Opposition with his comments about the appalling cold-blooded murder of Gerald Lawlor, and the other acts of violence that the right hon. Gentleman has listed. The statistics that he has given the House give us a clear impression of the depth of the crisis that we face. None of us should have any illusions about that.

Precisely for that reason I want to make a desperate effort to be as positive as I can in responding to the Secretary of State. Nevertheless, will he accept that I cannot in all honesty avoid expressing the profound sense of disappointment that I feel, and I believe so many people will feel in Northern Ireland, throughout the rest of the country, in the Irish Republic, in the United States and elsewhere, at the extraordinary vacuousness of the right hon. Gentleman's statement.

The statement was full of fine words with which no one would want to disagree for a moment, but in terms of actual decisions or action, the bravest thing that the right hon. Gentleman seems to have done this afternoon was to repeat words which the Prime Minister used four years ago, and to say that he might in certain circumstances be prepared to use powers that he has never used but which have been available to him for four years.

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I shall remind the House of what the Prime Minister said on 14 May 1998 at Balmoral by way of defining the ceasefire and the agreement. He said that the ceasefire would be


None of those things has happened. What is more, there have been spectacular breaches exactly of the sort that the Prime Minister mentioned—targeting, for example, and procurement of weapons. Nothing whatever has been done about it by the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister said four years and two months ago in Belfast on the same matter—exactly the same words were used this afternoon—


It has not become more rigorous over the past four years. We can only pray that the Government will genuinely now become more rigorous at the eleventh hour. It is indeed the eleventh hour.

We welcome any improvements in police powers, in bail arrangements and in increasing the number of available criminal offences for the police to use against perpetrators of violence. However, may I again say how disappointed I am that after all this time, after several weeks of hype—Hillsborough, before Hillsborough and after Hillsborough—all that the Secretary of State can do is to promise to look at these matters. Even these matters are not promises.

If the right hon. Gentleman really wants to do something to improve policing and law and order in Northern Ireland, would it not be a better idea to accept the proposal that I put to him last Tuesday in our debate, that the Government should make a commitment to prevent police numbers falling further? Police numbers are falling the whole time. Would it not be a better idea to remove the uncertainty surrounding the future of the full-time police reserve in Northern Ireland, by making a commitment to continue with that reserve as long as is necessary?

On the vital matter of the peace process, on which all our hopes for the future of Northern Ireland depend, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there will be profound disappointment that all he said was that in future he would not hesitate to use powers that he has had and never used, despite blatant abuses of the ceasefire and breaches of the agreement? Does he not owe the House an explanation of why he did not use those powers when there were spectacular breaches, such as Florida, the FARC and Castlereagh, to name three? Does he accept that he has a real credibility problem, and that the only way he can overcome it is to answer clearly now the questions that his statement this afternoon raises?

First, what criteria will the Secretary of State use in future to trigger those powers? Will he accept the Chief Constable's determination that a breach has occurred? So that there is no doubt in the mind not only of the House, but of the people of Northern Ireland that the Government are turning over a new leaf, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us that if, in the future, events such as Florida, the FARC, Castlereagh and the targeting about which we heard in March and April come to light, those incidents

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would fall within his definition of breaches of the ceasefire and would in future, though they did not in the past, trigger his use of the powers which, up till now, he has left unused?

Secondly, if the right hon. Gentleman uses those powers—he is referring to introducing a motion in the Assembly to exclude from the Executive a party which is associated with a paramilitary organisation in breach of the agreement—what will he do if he does not get cross-community support in the Assembly? I asked him that question last Tuesday. He is depending on the Social Democratic and Labour party and Sinn Fein, for example, to exclude Sinn Fein. What will happen if they do not support him? Will he give up and say, "Well, I did what I could. There is nothing more I can do", and go back to the state of indecision and funk that we have had for far too long?

Thirdly, will the Secretary of State now explicitly reject the revolting idea that there is some difference between violence perpetrated by paramilitary organisations on their own communities and violence directed at, for example, policemen, soldiers or politicians? Will he reject that? Will he state clearly that all violence is equally unacceptable, and all violent breaches of the ceasefire and the agreement will equally qualify to trigger the powers that he has belatedly promised to use?

Fourthly, will the Secretary of State deal with another question left untouched by his statement? What will he do when breaches of the ceasefire or the agreement, or threats to peace in Northern Ireland, come not from organisations connected with parties in the Executive, so the idea of excluding the party concerned from the Executive would be an irrelevance? What will he do to gain greater leverage over such organisations?

I revert to the point that I made in our debate last Tuesday: will the right hon. Gentleman urgently concert, as I asked him to do, with the Irish Government and the American Government to put in place real financial and other penalties for any organisation that he may specify as being in breach of the agreement and the ceasefire? At present, as he knows, the entire specification system is a paper tiger—a sword of clay, I called it the other day. That is not good enough. Will he do something about it? [Hon. Members: "This is not very positive."] I wish I could be more positive. I was hoping desperately for some real decision, for some real new move forward, for some new boost to the peace process. It is disappointing to us all that we have not had that.

Finally, in a spirit of constructive co-operation, I put five proposals to the Secretary of State last Tuesday, and we got no response at all to any of them. The Secretary of State was not able to refute the good sense of any of those proposals, but he was not willing to take them on—perhaps because of the "not invented here" syndrome. If he will not accept my proposals, does he accept the Taoiseach's suggestion—which the Taoiseach referred to as a determination—that decommissioning should be completed by next May? Will the right hon. Gentleman state unequivocally that no party will be allowed to serve in the Executive after the legislative elections next May if it has not fulfilled its obligations under the agreement or if it is associated with a paramilitary or other organisation that is in breach of those obligations?

The Opposition have always said—I repeat it now—that no peace process can succeed anywhere unless two fundamental principles are observed. First, there should be

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balance, fairness and even-handedness between the parties. There should be no perception that one side is getting all the benefits and the other is being taken for a ride. Secondly, there should be a proper and rational structure of incentives. Rewards should follow performance. If there are breaches, there should be penalties, which should be enforced. I believe firmly that we have been right all along to state that the peace process will make no progress except on the basis of those principles.

I take comfort from the fact that there have been moments this afternoon when the Secretary of State sounded as though he accepted the good sense of that approach, at least in theory. More is required than to accept those principles in theory. They must be put into practice, which requires real toughness, sustained political will and a robustness that we have not seen from the Government over the past four years. That is why we are in this terrible position. I hope and I pray that at this eleventh hour and 59th minute the Government will show those qualities from here on.

Dr. Reid: If that is the hon. Gentleman speaking in a spirit of constructive co-operation, I would not like to see him when he is trying to be bombastic and pompous. He used the word vacuous. I listened carefully to his proposals, and I am afraid that vacuous would be too substantial a word to describe them. I did not pretend that I could solve this problem, but he omitted to mention that I made a number of proposals. He may not accept some of them, but they included new security measures, more troops on the streets, additional bearing down on armed gangs, the investigation of new legislative powers, a political initiative at a local level, the mechanism for shining light on paramilitary activity in the community, and an attempt to clarify the items that would be considered in a judgment on ceasefires. He may regard those proposals as inadequate, but they hardly bear comparison with his own suggestions, which as far as I could make out were to discuss matters with the Irish.

The hon. Gentleman's most offensive accusation concerned our promise and belief that the peace process would bring an end to deaths. It is true that there has not been an end to deaths. There have been six deaths this year, and that is six too many, but to act as though that is no different from 106 or 406 does not do justice to the people of Northern Ireland or to their achievements.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about police numbers. I wish he would study the facts. I have increased police recruitment by 60 per cent. above the envisaged target. I would increase the numbers even further if we had the physical and training capacity to do so. He also asked about the full-time reserve. He should understand that part of the process is to pass decision making to people in Northern Ireland. The Policing Board is discussing with the police a complete human resources strategy.

What the hon. Gentleman wants us to do with the Policing Board, however—which is to overrule it, and dictate—is exactly what he wants us to do with the membership of the Assembly itself. He does not seem to understand that the decision on exclusion lies with the Assembly, not with the Executive and not with the House of Commons. He suggested that we should simply ignore and overrule the Assembly.

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I am empowered by Parliament to require the Assembly to consider the relevant motion on the holding of ministerial office—a point that has been put to me continually by the leader of the Ulster Unionist party, the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). Following a breach of the ceasefire by the IRA, I would be ready to use that power as a means of enabling the Assembly to address these matters. I wish that the contribution of the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) had been slightly more constructive and slightly more related to reality.

Let me make two final points. First, I omitted to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on being reappointed to his position on the Front Bench, and to tell him that that probably brought me even more joy than it brought him. Secondly—this is a more serious point—I wish that he would remember that part of the reason why we have been successful in the peace process, in so far as we have been, is the bilateral way in which Members have supported it.

People will recall the days when, in the midst of a terrorist campaign and murder and mayhem on the part of the IRA, the last Conservative Prime Minister, John Major, conducted secret talks with the IRA. He denied that in the House. It would have been easy for the Labour party to make mischief on a parti-pris basis, which the hon. Gentleman sometimes gives the impression of doing. We did not do that. The magnitude of the project on which we are embarked is such that all of us should do all we can to keep partisan political point-scoring quite separate from genuine criticism. Not for the first time, I think that the hon. Gentleman failed to do that.


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