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Ending Suspension

Part of Orders of the Day — Northern Ireland Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:15 pm on 8th February 2000.

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Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office) 9:15 pm, 8th February 2000

The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) seeks to remove the requirement for a review. Amendments Nos. 15 and 16 contradict the main purpose of suspension, which will come about only if it becomes clear that the political institutions no longer carry cross-community support and confidence. If that happens, it will be essential to bring the process back on track through discussion and negotiation. In other words, we will need a review.

That fact was recognised during the negotiations that resulted in the Good Friday agreement, which is why the agreement includes a section titled "Validation, implementation and review". If suspension occurred without a subsequent review, we might find ourselves in a dangerous political vacuum, and that could lead to the destruction of everything for which we have worked for so long. Almost certainly, the Good Friday agreement would end, because suspension without a follow-on would end the story.

A desire to see that state of affairs come about may well lie behind the hon. Gentleman's amendments. The Bill is intended not to suspend the agreement, but to save it. Although I know that the hon. Gentleman—he posed a series of questions, but he appears to have left the Chamber—would disagree with me, I hope he would accept that we are being consistent. I am convinced that the twin proposal of suspension followed by review will bring us to a positive outcome. We cannot do that by suspension alone. I cannot in all conscience recommend that we accept amendments Nos. 15 and 16.