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11 Feb 2003 : Column 829—continued

Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley): I propose an addition to my hon. Friend's committee—someone who would command respect right across the community in Northern Ireland. He is a Privy Councillor and my predecessor as Member of Parliament for Lagan Valley, and he now sits in the other place. I am referring to Lord Molyneaux.

David Burnside: The message has been passed to the Front Bench. I could not agree more with my hon. Friend.

Such an organisation for the purpose of verification would restore confidence, but we also need sanction. The sanction of war is about to be carried out against Saddam Hussein. What sanction will be carried out against Sinn Fein if it does not decommission? It wants to be at Stormont; it wants to use the institution that it once hated; it wants to be in the forum of local government. There are elements within Sinn Fein who want to take the democratic route, but they are being allowed to get away with playing as terrorists and democrats at the same time. We should take away the democratic benefits from Sinn Fein—that will really exercise sanction and pressure against it—and reward the democratic parties in Northern Ireland with a forum of local government at Stormont that is answerable and accountable to the people. If that means that Sinn Fein has to be marginalised and isolated from the process for a period of time, so be it. I do not believe that Sinn Fein-IRA, with their terrorist organisation, want to go back to a full-scale war, but they want to play it both ways, and have suckered the Government into allowing them to do so.

The Government are the sovereign power in the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister has the power, the authority and the majority in this House to make his international stand against terrorism a domestic stand

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against terrorism, and he would receive widespread support in the House for doing so. Decommissioning has become a farce because the Government have let the provisional IRA and the loyalist paramilitaries off the hook by not verifying the decommissioning and not exerting sanctions against the terrorist organisations. It is time that the Government acted, in the way that they act internationally, against the domestic threat of terrorism.

4.29 pm

Jane Kennedy: We have held a serious and constructive debate about a serious and sobering matter. I agree with all hon. Members who said that it is a disappointing day. It is disappointing to have to move such an order in such circumstances.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) for his constructive approach to the order and for saying that he would not divide the House. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) for similar indications.

The hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford and several other hon. Members questioned our definition of acts of completion. There has been no lack of clarity. We may debate the terms that we use but there is no lack of clarity about what is necessary to restore the confidence that has been lost. We are discussing giving up violence completely and in a way that satisfies everyone. I refer specifically to the IRA because of Sinn Fein's association with it, and Sinn Fein's responsibility in its partnership role in government in Northern Ireland.

We want a move of such significance that it satisfies not only me as Minister with responsibility for security, but hon. Members and the public in Northern Ireland, that the IRA has ceased its campaign. That will enable us to move the democratic process forward, with every party that wants to be in government abiding by the same democratic rules.

The IRA needs to disappear as a terrorist organisation. I leave the exact detail to that organisation to determine. However, it must be done in a way that gives confidence to the public in Northern Ireland and to hon. Members.

Mr. Quentin Davies: The Minister said that the IRA needs to disappear as a military organisation. That is the best formulation that the Government have made. Although we all agree with a phrase such as "everyone must abandon violence", it is such a general aspiration that it cannot be defined or verified as a specific act. We need verifiable, specific acts if we are to say that the Belfast agreement has been implemented. That is why I set such store by the word "decommissioning".

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. That was rather lengthy for an intervention.

Jane Kennedy: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention because it leads to my next point. The right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and the hon. Members for South Antrim (David Burnside) and for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) also alluded to the visibility of the process and the ability of all sides to say confidently that they believe that the move has been

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made. In that context, we are not simply considering the IRA, but all the organisations that need to put violence behind them.

I listened with interest to the suggestion that the hon. Member for South Antrim made for the Committee and to other contributions about its membership. We shall reflect on that. I shall not respond definitively today, but it will form part of the discussion that we shall all hold. I cannot emphasise too strongly that transparency is required to restore confidence among political parties that are engaged in the great project in Northern Ireland.

The right hon. Member for Upper Bann rightly drew our attention again to the aspirations that people had when they voted in favour of the Belfast agreement. I agreed with a large part of what he had to say. He talked about what is needed, and, although we are talking today within the narrow confines of renewing the provisions that will allow decommissioning to take place, I hope that I have given the House a clear indication that decommissioning on its own is not now enough to restore the confidence that we are seeking to rebuild.

Lembit Öpik: The Minister could say exactly the same thing about the debates that we are having about Saddam Hussein, so before she finishes, I hope that she will address this serious question: why are the Government taking such a totally different approach in Northern Ireland from the one that they are taking on Iraq? I suspect that a number of hon. Members might think that we should take an approach to this question more like the one that is being taken on Iraq. There is definitely a contradiction.

Jane Kennedy: I shall resist any encouragement to go down that route, not out of any lack of willingness to debate the point but because the issue that we are discussing today is a narrow one, and the Government's position on Iraq is a matter for debate on another day. I do not accept the proposition that the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire and other hon. Members have made that the situations are comparable. We are dealing here with a process in which, for a significant period of time, we have been engaged in a partnership with political organisations that have been undergoing a political process—however limited it may be, and however critical people might be of it. We must consider that if we are serious about returning to a situation in which we can restore devolved government.

The hon. Member for Belfast, East talked about the failure of the Belfast agreement, but devolution is the real prize that we are striving to achieve. It was about local people making those decisions, and it worked. It resulted in energetic, cross-community government bringing solid benefits for the people of Northern Ireland. We saw a degree of co-operation being delivered that was unthinkable until a few years ago, and in Northern Ireland there is a strong wish, which we share, to return to that.

A number of hon. Members talked about sanctions, but I do not believe that this is the time to be talking about sanctions in Northern Ireland, given the engagement that we are seeking with all the parties. For there to be a return to devolution—with the sustained

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effort on economic and social problems that we saw developing under the Executive, and the everyday issues being dealt with by local politicians in a way that matters to ordinary people—there must be an end to violence. What we need now is the definitive step that we have been talking about here today. It is clear that we have reached a crunch point at which Sinn Fein and the IRA—I am not talking about them exclusively—must commit themselves exclusively to a peaceful and democratic path.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): Does the hon. Lady agree that Sinn Fein-IRA must be well aware of the malcontents within their organisation who have gone to the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA? It would demonstrate a commitment to a peaceful future on the part of Sinn Fein-IRA if they did more to ensure that those criminals were behind bars.

Jane Kennedy: I have no disagreement with the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. It is a very valid point indeed.

We cannot now carry on with the IRA being half in and half out of the process towards peaceful and normal society in Northern Ireland. If there is real movement, however, we can move quickly to implement the outstanding parts of the Belfast agreement, including the provisions on normalisation. We can implement the provisions in their entirety—not in stages, but together. If we can do that, it is my fervent hope that I shall not be standing here at the Dispatch Box this time next year speaking to the same motion.

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Madam Deputy Speaker put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 16.

The House divided: Ayes 404, Noes 8.

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