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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am fascinated by that. I wonder whether Mr. Peter Lilley--I should hate to disturb his "bonding" in Eastbourne--would feel that his demands had been satisfied by a Statement from me in this House rather than a Statement from the Chancellor in the elected House of Commons. I rather feel that he might dust up old cliches about organ grinders and monkeys. I hesitate to say that all of this has been got up by the press, but there is an element of that. We must concentrate on what the Chancellor actually said. What he said was contained in an interview in The Times on 18th December, as we were reminded by the noble Lord, and--this is much more important--in a speech at the Stock Exchange on Monday morning.
The Chancellor has confirmed that when the House of Commons has reconvened he will make a Statement to Parliament, which will cover much more than the issue of whether we will join the system in 1999. It will cover the formal communication to our European partners under the treaty about whether we shall join in 1999; the Government's approach to the working of the stability pact and the convergence criteria; the Government's position on the future of ECOFIN and economic co-ordination in Europe; any action that the Government propose on economic convergence; the action that the Government propose to take to ensure greater flexibility in Europe to avoid any risk of potential shocks if there is a monetary union, and making the European economy more employment friendly; the Government's determination to have a successful presidency to ensure that proper and orderly decisions are taken about EMU under the treaty; the way in which the Government's business advisory task force will help business and the City to prepare whether we are in or out; and the need for a period of stability. That is the Statement which Parliament deserves and that is the Statement which Parliament has. However, on an issue as important as this we shall simply not be rushed. There is no price to be paid for not being rushed.
As I have made clear, the speculation about disturbances in financial markets and in the understanding of government policy is extremely wide of the mark. We have a serious and concerted review of the options for monetary union. It is being carried out with all the seriousness that it deserves and it will be reported to Parliament at the proper time. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Harptree, for making
Lord Dean of Harptree: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this interesting and wide-ranging debate. I particularly wish to thank my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish who has spoken on these matters with his usual authority and good humour. I also wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, who has listened to the entire debate and has answered fully many of the points which have been raised. However, I am slightly surprised that he is upset that we included a reference to the financial markets. The noble Lord is a skilled parliamentarian. I should have thought he would admire the skill and ingenuity with which we have included what is an important issue. I should have thought he would admire us particularly for including that reference at a time when another place is not sitting and therefore the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not able to reply to these comments until next week.
This important issue should be clarified at the earliest moment. We in this House have been able to perform a service by introducing the issue in the debate today. My only regret is that we have had no speeches from the Government Back Benches--
Lord Dean of Harptree: My Lords, the noble Lord is sitting on the Cross Benches. I suspect that that has more to do with the Government Whips than with a lack of interest in the subject of the debate.
Noble Lords will be relieved to know that I have no intention of attempting to summarise this interesting debate. The subject is important. I feel sure that we shall return to it frequently in the future. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
The noble Viscount said: My Lords, there are a number of good reasons for asking your Lordships to consider the situation in Northern Ireland. Not least, we are as it turns out to be fortunate enough to hear maiden speeches from my noble friend Lord Mayhew and the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I greatly look forward to hearing both of them, as I am sure the House does. Their experience in parliamentary matters generally, but more particularly in the recent history of the Province of Northern Ireland, will make a considerable contribution to our debates in this House. I wish them good fortune in their maiden voyages.
But there are other reasons, too. The noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, reproved me during exchanges last Thursday for raising the question of Northern Ireland at all. Your Lordships will recall that he said:
For an experienced parliamentarian like the noble Lord, who is vastly respected in both Houses as a believer in parliamentary government, to suggest that a subject of great importance should not be discussed in Parliament when the media in five continents show no such inhibition is a remarkable phenomenon. I hope that the noble Lord has reflected on his position--indeed, I suspect that he may have done since I see that he is due to speak immediately after I sit down. Like everyone else in this House, based on agreeable experience, I greatly look forward to his contribution.
That does not mean that I do not agree with something else that the noble Lord implied in his supplementary question last Thursday. The noble Lord clearly implied that anything we say in this place should not make the search for peace more difficult. I agree with that implication as I am sure does every one of your Lordships.
What debates like this can do is express our support for the search for peace and wish the Government well in their endeavours. That, like the rest of the House, my party does wholeheartedly. Indeed, it would be surprising if we did not, considering the risks that my right honourable friend the former Prime Minister took in initiating and pursuing the policy that this Government have adopted.
However, that equally does not mean that Parliament does not have a duty to examine the way in which the policy is being executed, or that Parliament should not hold the Government to account for their actions--bipartisan policy or not. Indeed, it is incumbent on Parliament to warn the Government if it sees dangers emerging from Ministers' words and actions, just as the present Government did when we were in government and they were in Opposition.
I fear that this Government are already beginning to show that they find another place an inconvenience. It is significant that the Prime Minister confessed to his party faithful in Brighton a few weeks ago that his political hero is Lloyd George. Lloyd George also found another place inconvenient, particularly after the First World War. The Prime Minister has obviously noticed that the Welsh wizard had a plan that nearly succeeded in its object of enabling him to escape the trammels of parliamentary control: he tried to construct a coalition. It was a coalition composed of Lloyd George Liberals and, as he hoped, Tory coalitionists. But he was eventually stymied by the initial meeting of the 1922 Committee. This Prime Minister clearly realises that for the New Labour Party the Liberals are more promising territory for exactly the same ploy. I am sorry that the noble Lord is not in his place and I hope he will forgive my referring to him without warning him, but one has only to listen to the slavish
I therefore make no apology to the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, for returning to the subject of Northern Ireland today, particularly when it must be obvious to the House that, if the Government find another place inconvenient, they find this House convenient for a slightly different reason. They find it convenient to ignore us--as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, in a typically elegant and weighty speech. The noble Lord wrapped it up nicely; nevertheless, that is what he meant. The Government find it convenient to ignore us unless the Prime Minister, or indeed as I sometimes feel, the Leader of the House, wants to use us as a straw-man to make the trade union fat boys' flesh creep.
When another place is not sitting, noble Lords might think that this House has a particular responsibility to hold the Government to account as the only sitting House of Parliament. Your Lordships might have expected the Government to keep Parliament informed through the medium of this place on their extraordinary incompetence in the matter of their policy over EMU, whether it be the pronouncements of Chancellor Brown or the pronouncements of the real press chancellor, Mr. Charlie Whelan, and on developments in Northern Ireland, to take but two examples. Instead, by the happy chance of an Opposition Day, it was mere coincidence that your Lordships were able to wrest at least some Members of the Government from the protective, if confusing, shelter of the spin doctors.
As I say, I wish the peace process well, as do all your Lordships--and it is for that reason that I particularly welcomed the full, frank and unequivocal answer from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, to my Question last Thursday.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, knows, and I am sure, that those suspicions are wholly unjustified. However, they exist, as the noble Lord has no doubt found during his time in the Northern Ireland Office. I have to say that those suspicions were increased by his right honourable friend's remarks on 29th August which I quoted. I hope that they were allayed by his remarks on Thursday, particularly since they came from him. Nevertheless, I hope that the noble Lord will be able this afternoon to put a little more flesh on the bones of his reply than he had time to do on Thursday.
In their short tenure of office the Government have acquired an unenviable reputation for fixing referendums. It grieves me to say so, but we all know that even if they had conducted the Scottish referendum on an equitable basis, the Scots would almost certainly still have voted yes to both questions. But it is at least arguable--and I say this in the presence of the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal, who is a more recent Welshman than I--that they would not have achieved the result they wanted in Wales. In both cases, they used government resources and taxpayers' money to support their campaign and did their best to exclude the no campaigns completely from equal access to the media. If it had been a general election, they would have probably been accused of breaking electoral law. And in the case of Wales, against the advice of your Lordships' House I note, they held the referendum a week later, hoping that the Scottish result would influence the Welsh to vote yes.
By any standards, it was a shabby performance more reminiscent of pre-Reform Bill politics than today's. It has not increased the Northern Irish majority's trust of this Government's capacity to conduct referendums equitably. It is for this reason, if no other, that it is urgent and essential that the Government should join with Opposition parties to frame rules for the conduct of referendums in general. Perhaps such an attempt would attract the unimpeachable sponsorship of Madam Speaker herself. Were an attempt to produce rules by,
I hope that the noble Lord, when he comes to intervene, can at least express sympathy with this proposal and that the Government can return to this House and another place as soon as possible with suggestions as to how we might proceed with maximum expedition.
I have given one example of how the Government might increase the confidence of the majority in the Province in the peace negotiations and in the mechanisms the Government use to test whether there is consent for their proposals.
I have to say that there is another example of muddle which has undermined confidence in the Government's capacity to handle the Northern Ireland situation. I shall not rehearse the whole unhappy saga of the deal that the Government apparently did with Mr. Irvine over the transfer of Jason Campbell to a gaol in Northern Ireland. Let me pass over the question of whether Mr. Dewar talks to Dr. Mowlam and whether Mr. Blair talks to either of them. The question that arises is simply this. Do the Government believe that any prisoner in a UK gaol is a political prisoner? I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, will this afternoon be able to give an unequivocal no to that question.
However, this sorry saga implies that at least some Ministers in the Scottish Office would answer yes instead of no to that question. In his typically courteous response to a Question from the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, on 16th October, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, reassured this House that there had been no discussion whatsoever between Northern Ireland Office Ministers or any civil servant and any loyalist party about the transfer of Mr. Campbell. But the noble Lord did state that "communication" took place on the subject. I am sure that the whole House would be grateful if the noble Lord were able to assist us further in explaining what the communication was and when it occurred.
Further, if it is true, as was reported, that the Northern Ireland Office applied to the Scottish Office for the transfer of Jason Campbell, will the Minister inform the House on what grounds that application was based? The suggestion that any prisoner should be transferred in the United Kingdom from one jurisdiction to another on the grounds that they have connections with a political group is quite unacceptable. The only criterion for such transfers, as I am sure the noble Lord knows, has in the past related to whether the prisoner concerned had close family connections in the other country. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will make it clear that that policy continues to apply and that no one at any stage in this sorry affair entertained any thought otherwise.
Nevertheless, the Government face, as we did, a difficult few months in which they will have to convince all of us, notably the people of the Province, that Sinn Fein/IRA will not be allowed to use the threat of a return to violence to overturn the will of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland; in which they will have to ensure that the situation in the Province is represented fairly in the media, particularly, if I may suggest it, in America; and in which they will have to demonstrate their determination to keep Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom, since that is what a majority of its people want, including, I venture to suggest, many Roman Catholics. We wish them well in that endeavour, in spite of the strictures in the earlier part of my remarks, and express the wish too that they will take Parliament, including this House, into their confidence in so far as they are able. It would be a change for them on past record, but they might even find some support for their policies here if they did so. I beg to move for Papers.
Lord Merlyn-Rees: My Lords, I note that the terms of the Motion before us are to discuss the situation in Northern Ireland. That is what I wish to do. I have been in this House five years and the way in which we also wander around other issues still surprises me. The noble Viscount suggested that we should consult Madam Speaker. We might consult the noble Lord, Lord Dean, who was a Deputy Speaker. Much of what we say here would be cut short straight away in the other place because we had wandered.
I meant what I said last week, having been associated with Northern Ireland for a long time; I counsel that we choose our words carefully. There are soldiers and policemen on the ground. I discovered that they did not take kindly to clever stuff in the Houses of Parliament. My father was a soldier in Ireland in 1916 and he always
That is why I said what I said last week. I applaud our having the debate today. It gives us a chance to talk about the issues of Northern Ireland as we see them today. Politics in Northern Ireland are for real. They concern the basic issues that have faced the Province for the past 25 years and longer.
I should like to ask about security. In the discussions that are taking place, the Armed Forces of the Crown can never be put under the control of any other government but the Government of the United Kingdom. When I first became involved in the affairs of Northern Ireland there was confusion. There was confusion in 1972 as to whether the devolved government in Northern Ireland controlled the Army. When I asked who decided to introduce internment, the answer came from two wings: the central Government did it; no, they did it. Let us be absolutely clear that security is in the hands of this country. Nothing that comes out of the talks should possibly alter that.
Secondly, although 20 years ago the police were not so independent, they are now completely independent. There must be no question of setting up a police force that is under the control of any political party. The RUC has achieved great things in the past 20 years. It is now one of the best police forces in the United Kingdom and it must remain independent.
As for the speed of change, history looms over everything in Northern Ireland. There are certain things that history teaches us. In 1922 there was a civil war in the south, after the Lloyd George agreement, when there were more casualties than there were during the whole of the time of the British occupation--if such it was. The danger in Northern Ireland is the wrong word and the wrong innuendoes. Agreement could be reached and still there could remain other groups who are involved in the violence. We have to be prepared for that. It will take time for reconciliation and to achieve the kind of thing that we dream of on this side of the water.
As for consent, that is not a new word. It was used by De Valera, by Wilson and in the two Downing Street declarations. It appears all the time. What, in fact, does it mean? In fact, I want to ask what it meant to the
I turn to the situation in relation to politics this side of the water. Before 1914 Ireland dominated politics. The photographs and paintings on the walls just outside the Chamber show it. Ireland dominated British politics. It dominated the situation when the time came for reform of the House of Lords. It has not dominated politics since 1979. My noble friend Lord Callaghan made sure that the Opposition were brought into the discussions. The noble Lord, Lord Whitelaw, led the way when he became Secretary of State. He briefed me completely as to what was going on. I did the same when I became Secretary of State. It is not the normal political approach. It is not like a discussion on economic affairs. One does not come to Parliament to hear a good discussion of economic affairs. One goes somewhere else. It is reduced to over-simplicity. I hope that is the situation in this House, now that the previous government has left office. The situation in Northern Ireland is too serious for party politics.
Our duty is to discuss these issues in a sane and sensible manner. That is what I meant by the approach that was made by the Questions the other day--to have the questions being asked, when all the documents on the table that are being discussed in the talks in Belfast are the same papers, with a different heading, as were there at the time of the previous administration. They would have been approved by the Cabinet.
So, why ask what is going on in Northern Ireland now and say that some great change is taking place and that the Secretary of State, in raising the issue of consent, somehow broke a convention that changed the situation? That was the situation before. There is no need to raise the issue in this way. The situation in Northern Ireland is still fraught. I, for one, rate the chances as not very high.
I believe that what has been done by the Secretaries of State in recent years has been excellent. I have had two disagreements with the Government in the past 20 years. One was over internment, which was an error, and I ended it. The law will now be changed, so that internment cannot return without the matter coming before Parliament. But internment was ended a long
We have not found the key to the door. But I commend what the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, did and what the present Secretary of State is doing. That is the only way through. One cannot sit back. One has to try. I hope that in doing so, we shall not turn to narrow party politics in questioning what is going on.
Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, no fewer than seven of my nine predecessors as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland are Members of your Lordships' House. One of the most distinguished has just resumed his seat and I thank him for his kind observations about me. There are others yet of your Lordships who have even greater knowledge of Northern Ireland than they have, let alone than I have. So it is with a totally unfeigned diffidence that I venture to trouble your Lordships at all in this debate with my own pennyworth of reflections. But I do so, sustained by the knowledge of your Lordships' customary kindness on these occasions and also by my own tremendous sense of gratitude for the privilege of having been able to serve for five years as Secretary of State of that most beautiful Province.
It is a great pity that so many people outside political life seem to regard that post as either a poisoned chalice or a one-way ticket to Siberia. I think it is a pity, first, because it is not true but, secondly, because giving currency to that mistake leads to resentment and is bad for confidence in Northern Ireland. As we all know, confidence is in rather short supply in Northern Ireland.
I have never thought of the job like that, which, as things turned out, was rather fortunate for me. I always considered it, as I still do, about the best job in the gift of any Prime Minister, though no doubt five years of doing it is enough in the interests of all concerned. I agree with one of my predecessors, who said to me not long ago, "Once you have held that job, you never get it out of your system". I would add, "You never desire to get it out of your system".
It is important that these things should be publicly said. I have found that in Northern Ireland so many people seem to suffer from a debilitating sense of being unfairly rejected, as though outside their own Province they are somehow seen as beyond redemption. That would be bad enough for anybody and it is certainly bad for them.
I had many saddening things said to me in my time there, but none more sad than the refrain which perennially met me and which I first encountered when on my second day in the Province I was walking on the pavements in central Belfast. Time and again people wistfully said to me, "We are not all bad, you know". Even then I knew how good so many of them were and of course I know that even better today.
But what qualities come to mind? One can take only a few examples: of course their courage, but also their kindliness and their warmth; their generosity, especially to charitable causes, and their hospitality; their family cohesion and their sense of community; their resolution, their humour and their hope. It seems to me to be relevant to any debate on the situation in Northern Ireland that one should call those qualities to mind, while not of course ignoring that there is a darker side as well. They are qualities that have endured and I believe they will continue to endure.
They are part of the situation in Northern Ireland and a major part too. They are the foundation for a better future for Northern Ireland, which is why they are foremost among the reasons that make me sure that in time better things can come for Northern Ireland. By that I mean that the principle of consent, properly understood, will come to be accepted and that the mounting weight of public opinion influenced by those qualities and many others will come to displace violence and the threat of violence as a practicable political weapon in anybody's hands.
We must acknowledge that today things are far from right in Northern Ireland. First, so incomplete is support for the principle of consent that no fewer than 18,000 soldiers are still needed to back up the RUC in upholding the rule of law. There is a substantial contribution from the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy, and I pay the most heartfelt tribute to all the security services who serve there. Secondly, hideous, so-called punishment beatings continue, I am told, at the rate of 13, 14 or 15 every month and of course they are wholly political in their purpose. Lastly, in the governance of Northern Ireland the substantial and damaging democratic deficit persists. Those factors oblige us to say "in time". But how much time? Nobody can tell how long it will take for those who balk at it at the moment to accept the principle of consent. That is what it will turn upon.
I end by mentioning three developments in this context from which in particular we may take heart: first, the burgeoning on the ground of courageous and innovative examples of co-operation between the communities, frequently led by women. It is happening. Secondly, there is the continuing reduction in
The great objective of a settlement founded on consent is now widely owned. People know that it can only be reached by a process of free negotiation; but it must be free. So we can take heart from this; but we must also take care. It is surely uncontroversial to say that the great objective which we share will be reached only if no participant is ever allowed to get away with demanding concessions with the threat of violence in default. The firm rejection, which I anticipate, of any such blackmail will sustain support for the process; it will bolster and underpin confidence and trust and, no less necessary, it will be seen to vindicate the remarkable and admirable courage now being shown by certain other participants.
Lord Alderdice: My Lords, it is not only a pleasure, but a very real honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, in his maiden speech. I know your Lordships will agree that it has been a privilege and a pleasure to listen to him.
I have particular affection for him in the contribution that he made, for, though I was not around to become familiar with his academic accolades at college, his experience in national service, his early service in the legal profession or indeed his earlier political career in another place, I had the good fortune to spend some years working with him as he toiled at the Northern Ireland office to try to reach an accommodation in our Province. All the grace and elegance, all the courtesy and responsible public service which we have seen tonight in your Lordships' House demonstrated by his speech, was fully evidenced in all the work that he did in the office of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. He was and continues to be a man greatly respected, and rightly so.
It is also a great pleasure to note that his partner, not only in marriage but also in political work in Northern Ireland, Lady Mayhew, is here also, for she was singular in her commitment to advancing not only the cause of peace, but also the welfare of women and all who were vulnerable in Northern Ireland. She has therefore gained for herself enormous respect in that regard.
On a personal note I should like to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, for making possible this debate on Northern Ireland this evening and to apologise. I need to return to Northern Ireland this evening and I may not be able to be in your Lordships' House for the full debate.
The noble Viscount is absolutely right when he says that scrutiny of Northern Ireland issues is as necessary as scrutiny of any of the other matters which fall to the responsibility of government. Indeed, one could legitimately make the argument that it was a failure of scrutiny by this House and the other place over many years, after the foundation of Northern Ireland and up to the end of the 1960s, that led to things developing which were totally unsatisfactory and, indeed, in the end to matters breaking down into violence. Therefore it is
Scrutiny is one thing; the danger is that folk can introduce Northern Ireland matters with reference to matters in other areas. We are unfortunately familiar with the fact that there have been times in the past when parties, indeed in this place, have introduced a Northern Ireland matter as a way of making play on the political stage on this side of the water. That is no more true of British politics than it has been of the politics of the Republic of Ireland, where there is a temptation to raise Northern Ireland matters from a partisan point of view.
I say not in any way that the reference to referendums on this side of the water is to that effect at all. But it is important to point out that there has been widespread agreement by all the participants in the talks that any format of referendum in respect of the talks in Northern Ireland must be agreed upon by the participants in the talks in Northern Ireland, and not be something that should be decided upon or mediated by the Speaker in another place.
For in truth the context in which referendums might be held in Northern Ireland is different from that in other parts of the United Kingdom. One welcomes very strongly the move towards devolution and the results of those referendums and perhaps succeeding referendums. But let us be clear: devolution in Northern Ireland will not be entirely the same matter as devolution in the rest of the United Kingdom. It will have many common factors and the dynamic created towards devolution in the rest of the United Kingdom is welcome as it assists us towards devolution in Northern Ireland. Let us not delude ourselves, however. There is no likelihood of Scotland seeking to have relationships with Scandinavia as a separate matter in the same kind of way perhaps as a Northern Ireland administration will have to have particular relations with the Republic of Ireland.
Perhaps I may turn to the scrutiny of these matters and deal with the issue of prisoners which was raised by the noble Viscount. He is absolutely right. There are not political prisoners in Northern Ireland. But there are, let us be honest, prisoners who are there having committed crimes that were politically motivated. They are crimes no less but they were politically motivated. We delude ourselves if we do not acknowledge that to be the case. How then do we treat such matters? They come before the courts and are exposed to the full rigours of the law. People are appropriately sentenced and committed. However, when we come to deal with them, one of the dangers is that we find political components entering in.
I have to say that the decisions that were made, at least in the first instance, in respect of the particular prisoner to whom the noble Viscount referred, were wrong. They were foolish and ill advised. Some of the
What is it that has really informed the mistakes? It is largely this. People look at the situation in Northern Ireland and decide not what is right to do and then do it but what is some form of balancing act between Unionists and Nationalists. They say, "Here is a procedure which we choose to undertake but the Unionists will not be so pleased about it. So let us do another little thing that perhaps will appease the Unionists." So, for example, we have the North Report producing a set of proposals about parades which we shall discuss in your Lordships' House next week. "The Unionists are not so happy so let us add another little bit about other cultural matters sufficient to confuse the whole matter totally and perhaps render the original sane proposal quite unworkable". Or we have other situations where there is a proposition to come forward but it is seen that Nationalists will not be terribly amenable to it. So, instead of arguing the case through and doing something because it is right, the response is to put in a little something for Nationalists to appease them.
In general, what happens is that one ends up pleasing no one and, worst of all, not even doing what is right. If one goes back to the time when the civil rights marches began, the call by civil rights marchers, including, for example, people like the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, was for British rights for British subjects; for everyone to have the same rights; and for everyone to have respect. What do we find now? Two sets of rights--Unionist rights and Nationalist rights: Protestant rights and Catholic rights; the creation of a form of apartheid, of separate development, which is in no one's interests. I would confess a particular self-interest in that regard as someone who does not want to be pigeon-holed as either a Unionist or a Nationalist but rather a tolerant and pluralist individual who wants to develop a society in which everyone has his place, in which everyone has respect and in which everyone has his rights respected. That is the way forward--not having two sets of rights, forever setting each other apart and forever a matter of dispute as to whose rights are being respected most.
I welcome the scrutiny of this debate because it is a complex and difficult issue. I do not for the moment take quite the low-spirited view that the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, takes, because my own experience of the talks, even over the past couple of weeks, has not been an entirely discouraging one. But there is a talks process involving democratic politicians. If we reach a settlement that is not unanimous but has the overwhelming support of both sides of the community and across the community as a whole--that is not impossible--the question is whether the peace process will hold, an entirely different matter from the talks process.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I feel especially privileged this afternoon to follow the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, not only because of the memorable speech which he made today but of course because of the distinguished contribution which he made to seeking reconciliation and political progress in Northern Ireland. I am also pleased to follow my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, who has made a characteristic contribution to the debate this afternoon in the service of reconciliation in Northern Ireland. In a previous existence it was always a great pleasure to work with him in Northern Ireland. He will know that because of the British-Irish mix in the City of Liverpool, the city from which I come, it is sometimes jokingly referred to as the capital of Ireland.
As a student, elected to its city council in 1972, the council then under the distinguished leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Sefton of Garston, I entered a town hall which still had a sectarian party and a politics where the last vestiges of orange and green rivalries still lingered. In 1979, during a maiden speech in the other place, I reflected on that sectarian past and spoke of the beginning of the constructive, new ecumenical partnership then being forged by the city's two bishops. Last year Archbishop Derek Worlock died, and last month Bishop David Sheppard retired, having made many significant interventions in your Lordships' House. He said he knew it was time to go when, during a parish visit, a youngster asked him if he had ever been interested in cricket.
Enduring though their legacy will be, there has not always been such amity. Forty years earlier, the city's bishops declined to say the Lord's Prayer together. Twenty years before that, the city council, for sectarian reasons, declined to give permission for the construction of the city's Roman Catholic cathedral. The formidable efforts of our two bishops and the Free Church leaders have today made such scandalous sectarianism an impossibility--and their philosophy of "better together" has helped to heal historic divisions.
There are all too obvious parallels and applications in Northern Ireland. Cardinal Cahal Daly, the former Irish Catholic Primate, well understood the nature of sectarianism when he told a meeting which I helped to organise here, three years ago, that,
Nearly a century later, in 1985, with the noble Lords, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, Lord Hunt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, I helped to draw up a report on the future of Northern Ireland. We recorded the terrible and pointless waste of life and the disastrous effect on the economy caused by that continued political failure. Since then the toll has risen inexorably. Since 1969, and by September of this year, 3,196 people had died in Northern Ireland. That included 2,247 civilians, and a further 37,617 people had been injured. Life has been lived and lost against the backdrop of more than 35,000 shootings, nearly 10,000 bombs exploded and nearly 20,000 armed robberies. Protection rackets, many involving drugs; so-called "punishment beatings"; intimidation and expulsions have disfigured life in Northern Ireland. These have gone on unabated even while the talks have continued at Stormont. Between June and September of this year the Northern Ireland Housing Executive had to rehouse 132 families ordered off their estates by paramilitaries seeking to assert their authority. In Gostin Street, Belfast, a man was recently held down and his fingers on both hands smashed with a hammer. Ten days ago, in the Grosvenor Road area, an 18 year-old man was shot in the legs. Last month, a mixed-marriage family was forced to leave Craigavon with their children aged 11 weeks and 20 months. Such intolerable behaviour should have no place in a democratic society. This blatant intimidation certainly has nothing to do with the rule of law.
An end to this catalogue of violence remains the elusive prize which will reward the patience and perseverance of those constructively engaged in the present negotiations. For their original act of courage, Mr. John Major, the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, Mr. Albert Reynolds, along with all those of Northern Ireland's political and religious leaders who continue to take risks for peace, deserve our unqualified praise and unambiguous support.
I could think of no more appropriate debate in which to venture to take the risk of making a maiden speech. My own mother is an Irish speaker from the famine lands of the West of Ireland. My late father was a Desert Rat and my uncle lost his life serving in the RAF. Along with my own children, I have both British and Irish passports. Why? Because love of country need not imply a hatred of another country. In common with
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, the House is most fortunate to have the noble Lord, Lord Alton, among us. I believe that he has a special third passport here. His first speech has certainly whetted our appetite. It was full of generous indignation and real knowledge. He already knows so much, which is going to be immensely valuable to this House, including his ecumenical experience, if I may call it that, from his Liverpool roots. One has to remember that when he entered the other place in 1979 he was the youngest MP to be elected. Possibly he may not be our youngest Peer. But he is certainly going to bring energy, enterprise and a generous courage to our debates. I believe that we are most fortunate to have him among us. We warmly welcome him.
I feel diffident about speaking not only after hearing the noble Lord, Lord Alton, but also two distinguished Secretaries of State. I greatly admired the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, as we all did.
It would be wrong at so early a stage in the talks to abandon hope of a successful outcome. It is certainly right, now that all political parties right across the spectrum in Northern Ireland, including Sinn Fein/IRA, are there, to give them a chance to work out something. However, I believe that we need to consider what the game plan will be if the ceasefire should end, as I sadly believe that it will. As the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, pointed out, we are talking about two different things--the talks and the peace process.
The IRA has already said that it does not consider itself bound by Sinn Fein's acceptance of the Mitchell principles. Sinn Fein has said that its agenda is "Brits out, and a United Ireland". The Prime Minister, on the other hand, has said that,
But is it right that we should tacitly assume that only talks which carry Sinn Fein with them are of any value? Is there not some mileage in building as strong a consensus as possible on a series of practical issues between the parties who represent the non-violent majority (and who include many nationalists) and who wish to remain part of the United Kingdom? Most, if not all, would welcome more cross-Border co-operation between north and south--such ventures as the new offshore oil exploration initiative involving Harland and Wolff, the University of Cork and Queen's, Belfast. And most want more practical grass roots co-operation within Northern Ireland, and of course the ability to attract investment.
But these people need confidence-building measures from the two governments as much, if not more, than Sinn Fein/IRA which seems to be getting the lion's share so far. Unionists and moderate, non-violent nationalists need reassurance that the whole process is not to become a mechanism for buying off, or at least constantly placating, Sinn Fein/IRA, not because it has more than a minority political constituency but because it is the political face of the IRA. The recent report of an intention to include questions of cultural identity in the legislation on parades is perhaps an encouraging signal, and the Irish Government's confirmation this week that Articles 2 and 3 will indeed be up for discussion during the substantive negotiations is another, though I found the phrase,
The next few months will be taxing for all concerned, and it is never helpful in long and delicate negotiations to keep pulling up the plants to see how they are growing. But I do suggest that the full IRA/Sinn Fein agenda is simply not negotiable if the differences between it and the other democratically mandated parties are to be, in the words of the joint statement of December 1993,
Perhaps, therefore, even more energetic efforts to build the confidence of those parties are needed now rather than next May to ensure that they all stay at the table and work out something other than the Sinn Fein/IRA agenda. Who knows, even some of Sinn Fein might join in. The IRA will in any case make its own decisions and follow its own agenda. It is perfectly accustomed to moving from the political phase to armed struggle and back again.
In the wake of the devolution referendums in Scotland and Wales it is, I suggest, even more important to repeat yet once more, loud and clear, the Prime Minister's unequivocal commitment in his statement of 16th May in Belfast that,
Nevertheless, there is a general tendency to blame the majority parties, especially the Unionists, for any difficulties in the talks, and that will increase as Sinn Fein/IRA finds it harder to obscure the stark fact of its non-negotiable agenda. It will do a Drumcree if it can, and it will be of the greatest importance for the truth to be kept steadfastly in view. The publication of the aide-memoire sent by the Government to Sinn Fein on 13th June was an excellent example of making sure that the truth about what was said was published and could not be invented by Sinn Fein.
Of course the Unionists will be difficult; but no one should expect turkeys to vote for Christmas, and these turkeys speak for very many citizens of Northern Ireland whose future is at stake. They speak for many more than just the Unionists. As has been said, we should take great care not to put people into separate boxes. There is a large majority in Northern Ireland who wish for peace; there is a very small minority who have the power, unfortunately, to refuse that peace, but we should not confuse them. This could be a valuable debate and I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Cranborne for initiating it. I have been particularly privileged to hear from two previous Secretaries of State and from our other new Peer.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, and to compliment her on her understanding remarks. Time restrictions inevitably prevent me from paying adequate tribute to the two former Secretaries of State who have spoken and to their good ladies who made more of a contribution to the Province than they themselves probably realised at the time or since.
Last week, on 16th October, on the initiative of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, who has provided us with another opportunity today, we had exchanges on the principle of consent and there was agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, when, with his years of experience behind him, he declared that consent is not a questionable matter. That view was reinforced by the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, who has just spoken.
It follows that the principle of consent must not be qualified or muddled by tortuous forms of words. Whatever other items might be included in a referendum, perhaps in the form, "Do you agree or disagree with Section 4(4)(2) of the agreement?", which would not convey very much to the average elector, a clear-cut question ought to be asked also--namely, "To which nation do you wish to belong?"--because the answer to that question will place all other issues in their proper context.
But even if by some miracle a solution were found in the Stormont talks, an even greater miracle would be required to bring terrorism to an end, because terrorists deal in absolutes not compromises. When it becomes apparent that no government anywhere in the western world can ignore the principle of consent and immediately concede terrorist demands for the ultimate, the killing will be resumed by the main terrorist body or one of its sub-contractors.
In a perverse way, terrorist reaction is being made more likely by a Northern Ireland Office speciality not invented by this Government--termed "confidence building measures" which in reality and in plain English are concessions to terrorists designed to keep them on board the "peace process", which itself is an American invention exported to various parts of the world with equally varying success.
But confidence building concessions are not a harmless pastime; they are a deadly, dangerous miscalculation for they convince terrorists that force, or even the near threat of force, is certain to gain objectives which no democratic system could deliver, even if it so wished. But perhaps I misjudge the British and Irish Governments. Perhaps having completed phase one of the confidence-building concessions to terrorists, they are about to introduce a phase two of benign confidence building measures designed to restore the confidence of all the law-abiding people, Protestant, Catholic and people of no faith, in Northern Ireland and for that matter in the rest of the United Kingdom.
I assume that the Northern Ireland ministerial team will have prepared an impressive catalogue of balancing measures overdue for over a quarter of a century, perhaps beginning with a modest updating of administrative mechanisms in line with the other three parts of the United Kingdom. These and other updatings do not in any way relate to what is condemned as an internal settlement, which seems to be the unforgivable crime, for these would be of real, immediate benefit to people of all shades of opinion. They would do something far more important also; they would provide the only real lasting foundation for stability.
This past week we have been confronted with a most serious and most urgent development. I refer to the appalling spectacle of editors of certain Dublin newspapers being tempted with free offers of classified documents from the files of the Irish Department of External Affairs. I have discovered that many of those confidential files originated in the Joint British-Irish Secretariat. Some of those already examined contained sensitive security information which could not be disclosed, and never was disclosed, even to senior Privy Counsellors, except those in the need-to-know category.
I do not attach blame to the Minister nor to his colleagues, but as one whose duty involved access in former times to secret information for over 15 years, I now have a duty to warn your Lordships of what is referred to in our Writ of Summons as "dangers impending" as a consequence of those continuing disclosures and that the Prime Minister, who bears the burden of national security, be respectfully requested to withdraw the British element from the Joint Secretariat with immediate effect.
Lord Blease: My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, for initiating this debate and for his helpful and constructive expression of interest in Irish affairs. The timing of this debate is useful at the commencement of this Session of this Parliament.
There have been 11 Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland since the abolition of the Stormont Parliament in 1972 and the passing of the Northern Ireland Act in July 1974. Several noble Lords have held positions as democratically elected government Ministers or other positions relating to Northern Ireland during these past 25 years. My noble friend Lord Merlyn-Rees mentioned certain strains upon family life and how Ministers have to take decisions. I recall two Ministers with whom I was acquainted. I was present when one was informed of the shooting and death of his security officer, and the other of a similar occurrence. One came from the Conservative ranks and the other from the Labour ranks. I mention this because Labour and Conservative are both naturally human at heart and both can reflect the serious issues they are called upon to deal with and the spontaneity; that they may have to react under tremendous pressure has to be really understood to be appreciated.
The present position is that terrorists and other misguided people are still taking wild action against efforts to establish law and order. There are blatant attacks intended to destroy the fabric of democracy and parliamentary principles. Today, even after some 27 years of blatant abuse and attacks designed to destroy parliamentary democratic procedures, there still exist deep divisions and bitter sectarianism. The ugly no-go peace lines, the awful fear of favourably agreeing to middle ground and lawful measures, are borne with serious consequences. Those who seek to build bridges to peace and prosperity are victims and often suffer bodily attack. Even the stigmatised areas in the divided community areas are riddled with vandalism and dereliction. Children and families suffer. Those who seek to uphold law and order are constantly under attack.
It is against that background that we have the new ceasefire and that the inter-party peace talks are taking place. Those talks are now in their fourth meeting at the Castle Building in Belfast and they are under
The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, made mention of the method by which this is to proceed and I think note must be taken of it. How can this House of Lords, this Westminster Parliament, this United Kingdom Government help towards a peaceful democratic outcome of these talks? I am glad to say that over the past 27 years there has been an understanding, democratic bipartisan approach to Northern Ireland affairs, both in this House and in another place. I would certainly hope that that approach would be upheld in the letter as well as in the normal acknowledgement of the processes.
There is no personal kudos, there is no party political gain to be attained on a singular point-scoring basis. The United Kingdom Government are still responsible for the day-to-day ongoing efforts in Northern Ireland. These cover all facets of life in the Province: security, law and order, economic development, health, education and family life in general. These must proceed along the normal parliamentary process and it is important that we establish the ways and methods by which they should proceed. The talks may go on at another level. The well established legislative and administrative arrangements and procedures for upholding these democratic objectives are well known: we have parliamentary debates, we have Question Time, we have the Northern Ireland Special Committee, we have other special committees dealing with parish affairs. There is the Northern Ireland Forum which I think sometimes ought to be consulted on certain matters, and there is also the Anglo-Irish Inter-Party Group.
I think it is the duty and responsibility of Members of this House and Members of another place to appreciate that they have not only the responsibility but are committed by oath to uphold the good government of the nation, and it is important that we look at that in the light of what has been asked for. We have been asked at times to sever the links with Britain--that the British and Irish nations must be separated. There has been no thought about the 2 million first-generation Irish people, from Northern Ireland and from Southern Ireland, who still hold positions in Britain. What is to happen to them? Have they been consulted? It is the duty of all Members of the House of Lords, and particularly of Members of Parliament who represent constituencies in Britain, to acknowledge the tremendous strain that is being placed upon those people in many ways; they are being asked to give up of their own free will homes and opportunities for education and employment that they have established here.
I also feel that a word should be said about the creeping method of the condominium type of rule that now exists in Northern Ireland. It is the result of international agreement and the Anglo-Irish Agreement; but the establishment of the Maryfield has, I believe, dealt a terrible blow to the Northern Ireland Civil Service and to its methods of doing work. I know that they may not measure up to some of the British civil servants in Northern Ireland Office who have an ethos and a way of explaining things, and they do not require civil servants from the Irish Republic. I wish to see a united Ireland, a united people of Ireland, united by heart and mind not simply by the movement of a line on a map.
Lord Cooke of Islandreagh: My Lords, I too believe that we should be grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, for introducing this debate. The situation in Northern Ireland is important and if anything can come out of this debate which will help to bring peace to Northern Ireland, it will be good.
It is unfortunate, but a fact, that after three years of effort by governments to progress the peace process, distrust and fear throughout Northern Ireland are now worse than they have ever been and tension is high. I believe it is important to look at the reasons for this because, if the reasons can be defined, perhaps something can be done. Sinn Fein/IRA in its ceasefire mode has been working hard to prevent the communities coming together. It has worked to bring them into conflict and this work has been effective--for instance, the Garvaghy Road, Drumcree problem. Mr. Adams has said that it took them two years to get the Garvaghy Road residents to act as Sinn Fein wanted. They put in an outsider, a convicted terrorist, to organise the residents and persuade them to object to every parade and never to compromise.
Sinn Fein has made great efforts to encourage nationalist-minded people to have unrealistic expectations and demands. The increasing number of protest parades is evidence of that. If the talks lead to a settlement, this will not stop because the objective of Sinn Fein will remain. They will still want to prove that the Province is ungovernable as the next stop before they get the Brits out. That does not help community relations. That fact must be recognised and taken account of.
Almost as serious is the effect of both governments' determination to bring Sinn Fein into the talks by making concession after concession to terrorists. The people of Northern Ireland and the security forces have opposed terrorism for 27 years. They have suffered ethnic cleansing in the west, indiscriminate bombings and unspeakable atrocities. Loyalist paramilitaries have reacted and made things worse, but now, with concession after concession to Sinn Fein/IRA, everyone can see that violence pays.
In Northern Ireland, an integral part of the UK, we have the extraordinary situation where our neighbour state has a constitution which requires its government to work to take over Northern Ireland as part of its territory. That is unfriendly to say the least. They have been allowed, by the terms of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, to interfere in the internal affairs of Northern Ireland. It has a large establishment--Maryfield, near Belfast--which is staffed by officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs who have direct access to Northern Ireland Office officials on classified matters. They now regard it as their right to appoint a proportion of members to our public bodies and boards. They can veto a candidate of whom they do not approve. I support what the noble Lord, Lord Blease, said about the effect that that has had on our own civil servants, whose decisions have been questioned and overridden by officials from Dublin.
In the past few days we have had the release of classified documents in Dublin to which the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, referred. It is no surprise for that to happen in the political community in Dublin. We in Northern Ireland--citizens of the UK--are told nothing about the extent of the involvement of the Government of the Republic in our affairs. Some things come to light occasionally, but there is evidence of much more. Is it any wonder that the majority in Northern Ireland who wish to remain in the UK are fearful of the future and are becoming distrustful of governments?
The Secretary of State has talked about confidence-building measures. So far they have been in the form of concessions to Sinn Fein. If the Government wish to give some confidence to the majority who support the Union, they will call a halt to the interference in Northern Ireland affairs by the Republic of Ireland and will exert positive pressure to have Articles 2 and 3 removed from its constitution. Only then can Strand 2 talks on North/South relationships begin properly with equal parties working to develop relationships for mutual benefit.
How about the Government seeking some advice from people in Northern Ireland instead of consorting with a foreign state? Have the Government thought of that? Perhaps the Minister will be able to allay some of the fears which are so widespread in Northern Ireland.
I wish to mention something which the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Armagh, the noble Lord, Lord Eames, said yesterday in Northern Ireland. He was commenting upon the absence of trust which separates the people and communities in Northern Ireland. I shall paraphrase. He said that we would only have peace when that feeling of separation had been overcome and people settled down to live together. He said that a settlement in the peace process alone would not be enough. He emphasised that that would take time and much care. He felt that more open government was necessary and important. I believe that he is correct. A settlement reached in the talks will not of itself bring peace. Peace will come only when we have mutual trust and a will to live together. That is why today's debate is so important.
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