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Ending Suspension

Part of Orders of the Day — Northern Ireland Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:30 pm on 8th February 2000.

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I understand the rationale behind amendment No. 20, tabled by the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter)—that the review be carried out as openly as possible. The hon. Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson) made a similar point. Given the nature of the discussions that are likely to take place, complete public openness will not always be possible if we are to reach a satisfactory conclusion. Right hon. and hon. Members can envisage circumstances in which some talks would need to take place away from the public gaze. In the past, some talks between parties have taken place in a way that protected the participants and allowed them the space to decide in which direction to move.
However, it is our intention to be as open as possible and to make as much information as possible available to the public, to the House and to anybody else. At present, it is not entirely clear how the review will operate; we do not know who will chair it, or how, when, where or between whom the meetings will take place. Those details will need to be worked out, if and when the institutions are suspended.
The hon. Member for East Londonderry speculated that more detailed arrangements might be in hand, and were ready to be executed. However, in reality, we shall have to cross the bridge, and then my right hon. Friend and others will have to make the arrangements. We cannot give detailed answers at present, because we have not yet crossed that bridge—of deciding on suspension.
Until the shape of the review and its terms of reference are finalised, it is not possible to say whether there will be a report. However, the provision is not one of such import that it should be included in the Bill. It is a marginal issue when compared with provisions elsewhere in the Bill.
The second part of the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Basingstoke concerns the publication of a decommissioning report during any suspension period. At present, I cannot say whether a further decommissioning commission report will be issued soon. General de Chastelain may have something new to report at any time, but it is within the commission's discretion to decide whether and when to issue such a report. If the general issues another report, I assure the hon. Gentleman that it will be brought to the attention of the House and that its primary findings will be made public. Consequently, I ask the Committee to reject the amendment.