Decommissioning (Northern Ireland)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:48 pm on 5th November 2003.

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Photo of Quentin Davies Quentin Davies Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland 12:48 pm, 5th November 2003

I think that people will draw their own conclusions from the obvious discomfort of the Prime Minister's Cabinet colleagues and their desire to stay away from the debate. I have some sympathy with them in that regard, given the unpleasant reality that we all have to face.

It is urgent that the House get to the bottom of this matter. It is clear that Labour Members do not wish to do so; that is the last thing they want. I intend to proceed, however. There are three reasons why this is so important, and I would have hoped that they would have been clear to everyone on both sides of the Chamber. First, General de Chastelain is a very distinguished public servant. He is a former chairman of the Canadian chiefs of staff, and a former Canadian ambassador to the United States. He generously agreed to give up what has now been several years of his life to preside over the Decommissioning Commission. As a public servant, he cannot defend himself in the media. It cannot be right that his veracity and reliability should be impugned without the case against him being examined very thoroughly indeed.

The second reason goes right to the heart of the peace process in Northern Ireland, which must, if it is to be successful, include the completion of decommissioning. For that reason, it is very important that the Decommissioning Commission should be able to operate. That means that, like it or not, the paramilitary organisations and the people of Northern Ireland as a whole must have trust in it, and in the veracity of its chairman, General de Chastelain. There will be a considerable crisis if that trust disappears.

The gravest, and by far the most important, aspect of this is a matter of fundamental constitutional moment. It is the issue of whether the House and the British public have been told the truth.