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Ending Suspension

Part of Orders of the Day — Northern Ireland Bill – in the House of Commons at 10:25 pm on 8th February 2000.

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Photo of Mr Andrew Hunter Mr Andrew Hunter Conservative, Basingstoke 10:25 pm, 8th February 2000

Unusually, I find myself supporting the Government. I had no hesitation in voting for the Bill on Second Reading, and in the prevailing circumstances, the Government are taking the right action.

I deeply regret, however, the tone and tenor of the Secretary of State's early comments. As long as he equates opposition to the Belfast agreement with opposition to peace, the right hon. Gentleman will alienate himself increasingly from a significant body of thinking. I have never concealed my personal opposition to the agreement and have incurred much unpopularity for so doing. I do not believe that that agreement will generate or create political stability—without which there can be no lasting peace in Northern Ireland.

Civilised society has core values that include the absolute rule of law, a system of justice free from political intervention and genuinely accountable democratic structures—so the Belfast agreement and the political arrangements that flow from it are ultimately doomed to failure. I demand the right to express that view without being accused of being opposed to peace. Every time the Secretary of State makes such an allegation, he is alienating himself from an important body of thinking in the province of Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

I regret that tonight's debate has been accelerated, although I appreciate the reasons. Only two clauses in this Bill of nine clauses were debated in Committee. It is most unfortunate that so much of the Bill is being passed without detailed consideration by this House. I hope that will be put right in the other place and that there will be amendments, so that our debate can be prolonged.

I particularly regret the fact that we did not debate one of the Bill's deficiencies, in clause 9. The Secretary of State said that the Good Friday agreement stands or falls together. I only wish that were so. The agreement contains a number of independent strands that are not related. If we had reached clause 9, I had hoped to debate the desirability of linking suspension of the structures and institutions of direct rule with the accelerated release of prisoners. I hope that point will be raised in another place.

I support the Bill but regret that it did not receive more consideration. I regret that the Secretary of State continues to equate those who oppose the Belfast agreement with those who oppose peace.