Northern Ireland Bill — 31 Jul 1998
Order for Third Reading read.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
We are grateful for the overwhelming support that the House has shown for the Bill, following the substantial backing for the agreement in Northern Ireland itself. Once the Bill is finally approved, the requirement of the triple lock, which successive Governments have agreed should apply to any settlement, will be satisfied.
The Bill is the culmination of a great deal of work in Northern Ireland. We have put a number of Bills before the House this year. The key developments show how much the Northern Ireland political landscape, which is the context in which this Bill will operate, if passed, has changed in the past 12 months.
It is instructive to remember that this time last year the talks participants were still deadlocked on the decommissioning question. They had not addressed their substantive agenda; they began that only in October. Once they did begin, the pace accelerated, culminating in the Good Friday agreement on 10 April. Since then, we have had a referendum, an election, an Assembly, a policing commission, a criminal justice review and a decommissioning body, as well as passing the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act. We have also acted on our commitments on the Irish language.
Now the House is considering and, I hope, will shortly pass this Bill. It is major piece of constitutional legislation, which has been prepared in record time. We have been happy to acknowledge that further changes may be necessary, while still taking some pride in the Bill as it stands. It is, we believe, an essentially sound framework for the agreement institutions to operate within.
I crave the indulgence of the House for a moment as I want to thank the civil servants. The list that I have just given shows how much work has been done by Northern Ireland civil servants over past months. I also pay tribute to the many political party leaders, to the Prime Minister, to the Taoiseach and, above all, to the people of Northern Ireland who have given their support and encouragement to making progress with the Bill.
Of course, we respect the doubts that have been expressed about the agreement within the House and outside it. Those who doubt have often shown courage, too. However, I believe that people are ever more widely coming to the view, whatever their original reservations, that the agreement must be made to work. The Government will continue to do all that they can to ensure that the agreement comes fully into operation, in all its aspects. In doing that, we will listen to all shades of opinion, for the agreement or against it. We will work closely with the new authorities established in Northern Ireland. Those comments apply especially to the Bill, just as they do to other aspects of the agreement. We are anxious that the Bill should reflect the agreement as faithfully as possible and, within its terms, provide the most effective and flexible machinery possible.
31 Jul 1998 : Column 634
Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:--
The House divided: Ayes 215, Noes 8.
MPs for which their vote in this division differed from the majority vote of their party are marked in red. Also shows which MPs were ministers at the time of this vote. You can also see every eligible MP including those who did not vote in this division.