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Ending Suspension

Part of Orders of the Day — Northern Ireland Bill – in the House of Commons at 8:45 pm on 8th February 2000.

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Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross UUP, East Londonderry 8:45 pm, 8th February 2000

I promise not to go on quite as long this evening as I did a week or two ago, because, unfortunately, we have tighter time restrictions.

Amendment No. 15 would delete the lines printed in italics at the bottom of page 1 of the Bill. I do not understand why they are printed in italics, but they say: "As soon as is reasonably practicable after section 1 comes into force, the Secretary of State must take steps to initiate a review under the Validation, Implementation and Review section of the Belfast Agreement." Amendment No. 16 would remove from subsection (3) the words: Before making a restoration order, the Secretary of State must take into account the result of the review conducted as a result of subsection (1). Several issues cause me concern. At no time during the Secretary of State's statement to the House last week or his answers to the subsequent questions did he refer to a review. The review came out of the blue. It has already been pointed out that the Secretary of State has other powers that he could use, but he has chosen to go for a review.

May we be told why we were not informed last week? Was it because the Bill had to be drawn up at the very last minute? I doubt it. I have been here long enough to know that Governments tend to have all sorts of contingency plans on the shelf, to pull out of a pigeonhole when needed and polished up. If the right hon. Gentleman knew before his statement that he was going to have a review, why did he not tell the House and the people of Northern Ireland? That straightforward question should receive a straightforward answer.

Did the right hon. Gentleman think that the weapons problem could be dealt with some other way—that he could go down another path, which turned out to be blocked? He made it perfectly plain in his answers on 3 February that weapons had to be dealt with or there would not be devolution because the agreement had not been fully implemented. We hear about full implementation when it concerns something of which the terrorist organisations approve but not when it is something of which the law-abiding population might approve. Stopping the release of prisoners and other things to put on pressure are not done.

The Government's one real lever against the IRA was prisoners. They and their families were exerting pressure on the IRA, on the ground. None of those people should have been let out the gate until such time as weapons were given up. That is the view of everyone in Northern Ireland who understands the mentality of those folk. The Government refused to understand. They threw away their strongest card and let out prisoners, so their leverage against the IRA disappeared. I have no doubt, as the release of prisoners is to continue, that it will be played out right up to July, until the very last of those fellows is out through the gate—including the two chaps that my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) mentioned, who were sentenced for a double murder only last week.

There could be no doubt where the Unionist population stand. To them, weapons always have been, and are, the litmus test of whether or not the IRA-Sinn Fein system of terror, murder and intimidation will move to democracy. Weapons are the key. The distance that my hon. Friend has travelled is not a distance that I would have travelled. My experience of those people, given that I live among a fair number of them, is perhaps greater than some of my right hon. and hon. Friends. I know how they think and react. If one wanted to put pressure on those people, it had to be done in a different way than giving in to them.