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Ending Suspension

Part of Orders of the Day — Northern Ireland Bill – in the House of Commons at 10:06 pm on 8th February 2000.

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Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 10:06 pm, 8th February 2000

I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes. Of course, we are all pleading with all sides to move forward together on a path to peace and to decommissioning in the end, but let us make it clear that the agreement contains no provision for the suspension of power and did not set a deadline—the deadline has been set as a result of an external intervention by the Unionists. It is the exercise of a Unionist veto on the agreement, a veto that is dangerous.

The Unionist veto was dangerously used in 1975 and 1985. There have been periods when it has undermined the democratic institutions that British Governments have tried to establish in the Six Counties. We are seeing it again now. Why should we allow a timetable to be imposed by one of the parties to the agreement which is not in the agreement?

A lasting peace can be founded only on trust. It is clear that sufficient trust has not been established between the parties to the conflict. The irony of the Bill is that it suspends the operation of the key body that is engendering trust—the Assembly. The Assembly is the key forum, in which representatives from all the constituencies and all the parties are able to meet, mix, discuss and work together on common problems in the interests of their community. That process is a key foundation stone of building trust to secure decommissioning. After only eight weeks' operation, we are asked to suspend that key body of trust and confidence building.

The Bill's wide-ranging powers are shocking. The Secretary of State is able by order not just on this occasion through the Bill, but on future occasions, to suspend the Assembly and all the mechanisms associated with the agreement without full and adequate debate. Orders are never adequately debated in the Chamber. That wide-ranging power does not even contain a review element; there is no review element on revocation or restoration. It is government by order. There is no power in the legislation for consultation with the Irish Government, although I accept Ministers' assurances on that point.

I oppose the Bill. It will not help the peace process; it is dangerous; it is undemocratic; and it cannot be supported. The Belfast agreement was founded on an agreement to secure by consent peace and a future for the island of Ireland. The Bill rides roughshod over the concept of consent, without even consulting the Northern Ireland Assembly or going back to the people of Ireland.

If we are not careful, the Bill will undermine the peace process. I therefore urge care on the Secretary of State. I urge him not to enact the Bill immediately, but to allow more time for discussion and, if necessary, to bring together again the parties that founded the Belfast agreement. This short-term measure could have long-term ramifications, and I urge other hon. Members to vote against it.