Northern Ireland Bill — 13 Jul 1999
Order for Second Reading read.--[Queen's consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.]
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I am very grateful to colleagues for attending to this urgent business, and apologise for the speed with which it is being done. I know that hon. Members will appreciate the circumstances in which the Bill has been introduced and be anxious for the Good Friday agreement to be implemented in full.
In the past 10 months, progress has been held up by the dispute over the formation of an inclusive Executive and the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons. There have been months of discussions, hundreds of meetings and hour upon hour of debate and negotiation, the sole purpose of which has been to find a way through the impasse which both sides of the community in Northern Ireland are able to support.
As we are debating progress in Northern Ireland, I should like to register in the House the progress that has been made on marches in the past week. I think that everyone will be pleased with the progress that was made, on 12 July and in the preceding weeks, and will hope that that progress continues. I pay tribute to the Orange Order, which worked hard--as did the residents, but the Orange Order worked particularly hard--to ensure that this time of year was not violent.
I say at the outset that I know that a number of issues and concerns have been raised about this Bill by the parties in Northern Ireland and people in the House--in particular, suspension versus exclusion, prisoner releases and the timetable for decommissioning. My intention is to cover the detailed points in the Bill, and then to address these concerns more fully.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and US President Clinton have all been actively involved in trying to help the parties to overcome their differences and, as almost anybody engaged in the process will acknowledge, they have worked very hard.
The latest discussions began in Belfast on 25 June, when three important principles were agreed: that an inclusive Executive should be formed, exercising devolved powers; that all paramilitary arms should be decommissioned by May 2000; and that decommissioning should be carried out in a manner determined by the Independent Commission on Decommissioning, under General John de Chastelain.
On 2 July, the two Governments put forward new proposals, based on those agreed principles. As the Prime Minister said in the House at the beginning of last week, the two Governments are proposing the following: the d'Hondt process to nominate Ministers in a new Northern Ireland Executive, to be run this Thursday; following that, devolution of powers will take effect from Sunday; and General John de Chastelain's commission will then set out the steps required for, and the modalities for achieving, total decommissioning by all paramilitary groups by May next year. Literally within days of devolution, the process of decommissioning is to begin, as specified by the commission, and there is to be a start to actual decommissioning within a few weeks.
13 Jul 1999 : Column 176
The Sunday Telegraph of 27 June carried an article by Jenny McCartney which identified in stark horror the kind of situation that could come about in Northern Ireland if an Executive were set up before terrorists had genuinely given up violence for good. The scenario that she describes is one in which Martin McGuinness, a man widely believed to sit on the IRA's Army Council--and to have sat on it when the bombs went off in South Quay and Manchester--is Northern Ireland's Minister for Education; not by any means a far-fetched scenario, since Sinn Fein is understood to want to hold the education portfolio.
The right hon. Gentleman came to Northern Ireland and pleaded with the people that they should believe him and take his promises and pledges that violence would have to be given up, that decommissioning would take place and that no one would be released from prison or enter government unless that had occurred.
Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:--
The House divided: Ayes 312, Noes 19.
Votes by party, red entries are votes against the majority for that party.
What is Tell? '+1 tell' means that in addition one member of that party was a teller for that division lobby.
What are Boths? An MP can vote both aye and no in the same division. The boths page explains this.
What is Turnout? This is measured against the total membership of the party at the time of the vote.
|Party||Majority (Aye)||Minority (No)||Both||Turnout|
|Lab||283 (+2 tell)||0||0||68.5%|
|UUP||0||6 (+2 tell)||0||80.0%|