The Prime Minister said during Question Time that the Government would introduce amendments to the Northern Ireland Bill which would enshrine a strict timetable for de-commissioning in the legislation. The amendments would also allow for the formal identification of any parties that defaulted in the process and for the suspension of the institutions created by Northern Irish devolution.
The concessions, which mirror suggestions made by John Major, are a last- minute attempt to convince David Trimble, the Ulster Unionists' leader, to support the peace deal.
William Hague and Paddy Ashdown welcomed the Government's "readiness to amend the Bill". Mr Hague said he hoped the Government was responding to the "genuine concerns" expressed about the lack of "fail safes" in the legislation.
The Bill cleared the Commons on Tuesday night, after eight hours of impassioned debate, amid deep divisions over the effectiveness of the safeguards contained in it.
Mr Blair said he had "listened very carefully" to comments made during the debate, urging all parties to take the "final step" to secure a stable and peaceful future for Northern Ireland. "I hope that all the politicians in Northern Ireland do make their very best efforts to secure this chance for a lasting peace and settlement in Northern Ireland," he said.
"We have listened very carefully to the comments made in the House yesterday. We will, therefore, bring forward further amendments in an effort to provide a basis upon which all people can agree this last step in the Good Friday Agreement process.
"In particular, those amendments will focus on making sure that decommissioning happens in accordance with a timetable to be laid down by General John de Chastelain actually in the Bill and making clear that any breach of that timetable will lead to the automatic suspension of the institutions."
But during the Bill's second reading in the Lords, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, the former unionist leader, dismissed it as an "act of vandalism". "This wholly destructive Bill would obstruct all that we have achieved." Lord Molyneaux said the Government had intelligence reports which proved that the IRA had decided to "reject decommissioning at any time in the future".
Lord Tebbit, whose wife became wheelchair-bound when injured by the Brighton bomb, condemned the IRA's failure to decommission "even a single rifle or ounce of semtex". "If Sinn Fein/IRA are committed to peace why are they holding on to their weapons unless killing is still on their agenda," he said. Peers were being asked to support a "pig in a poke" which would give hope not "to democrats but to bandits," he said.Reuse content