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Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I am aware of that. Surely, it is a remarkable state of affairs that one is constantly told that this is an agreement to which people have signed up but no provision has been made for any party to be asked to set its hand to it. I do not believe that Sinn Fein would sign the agreement even if given an opportunity to do so. In a way Sinn Fein is a curiously honest group of people. Sinn Fein knows that the IRA has no intention of giving up its weapons before Northern Ireland is ceded to the republic. My noble friend Lord Cope was far too optimistic. As Mr. Adams has made plain, the Provisional IRA will not give up its arms unless the United Kingdom renounces its right to deploy Her Majesty's Armed Forces in its territory. That is what it means by "decommissioning".
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I do not distinguish between them except in the sense of scale. They are all of the same ilk and should be treated in the same way. But the weapons of the IRA are essential, not just as a threat--
Earl Russell: My Lords, I am sure that the whole House sympathises with the noble Lord's feelings about terrorism. But is he aware of any settlement reached since the war with former terrorists that has not involved some element of amnesty, and does he condemn them all?
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, the noble Earl forgets that this is not an agreement reached between the United Kingdom and citizens of a foreign place. This is in our land, over which we have jurisdiction. This is not a war of independence against a colonial power. This is Her Majesty's Kingdom. The IRA knows that its weapons are essential not just now as a threat to the people of Ulster but to be used sooner or later to back up an IRA campaign of ethnic cleansing designed to create a majority for unity with the Republic.
I have spoken for too long. I have spoken as a Unionist. I speak also for the victims of these criminals who have shown no repentance or contrition. They have uttered not a single word of regret for their crimes. There has been no sign of repentance and regret. The victims of the past would not wish to stand in the way
Lord Fitt: My Lords, when the agreement was first debated in this House I said that given the overall situation in Northern Ireland I was inclined to support it with grave reservations about prisoners and the RUC. Since then, during every day that has elapsed I have had a real conscience striking me in relation to the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Holme, said that this was by far the most difficult part of the agreement. This morning, after hearing on the radio what was liable to happen in Northern Ireland this week, particularly on Sunday in regard to the march at Drumcree, I debated whether to say anything in this House. Whatever I said could be misinterpreted as being an attack on the agreement. The one thing which persuaded me to stand up today was the knowledge that I would be speaking immediately after the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit. If there is any noble Lord in this House with whom I can agree in emotion, in conscience and in every other way it is the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit. That is not because of his opposition to the agreement, but because of the terrible things that happened to him. Every morning he gets up and looks at his wife in a wheelchair. The IRA's atrocities will be with him and his wife until the end of their days.
It is in no one's ambit to criticise the noble Lord for his opposition to the Bill. I feel exactly the same. Some of my colleagues--among them, one of my closest colleagues--were murdered by loyalist paramilitaries. I had to identify my colleague's body after he was almost decapitated by a loyalist murderer. That murderer fought an election to the assembly last week. Thanks be to God that he did not achieve majority support at the polls.
As the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, will know, we have in Northern Ireland what we have referred to over the years as "whataboutery". When one talks about the atrocities of the IRA, someone from the other side will say, "Ah, but what about?" I have lived with that for 30 years in Northern Ireland. There is a lot of "whataboutery". If the IRA gives up its arms--and I want it to do so--I want the same criteria applied to the other paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland which have carried out the most atrocious murders seen in the island of Ireland in my lifetime and long before.
Today, we are asked either to accept or reject the Bill. As I said to some of my friends this afternoon, I find it offensive when people from the Northern Ireland Office and Ministers refer to "cherry picking". Perhaps I am not well read, but the first time I heard the expression was when some civil servants were making a vicious and prolonged attack on the noble Baroness, Lady Denton, at the end of her career in Northern Ireland. They said that the report on the alleged misdoings in her office was cherry picking. I find that an offensive term because people who are giving of their all, their conscience, and their whole being, in expressing
Should the Bill mean that the agreement was defeated I would be opposed to it. Grave as my reservations are, I support the agreement. Despite all my reservations, I believe that in the attempt to resolve the problems of Northern Ireland there is no further answer except by way of this agreement. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit--and it makes my blood run cold when I think of it--that a convicted loyalist murderer was elected to the assembly last Thursday. A convicted IRA murderer who was responsible for the Old Bailey bombing was elected last week. An indication of the awful divide which exists in Northern Ireland is that people who have the same conscience as I have can go into a ballot box and vote for people who have carried out such atrocious crimes. I will have to live with that. Those people will be elected to the assembly in Northern Ireland and they will speak with the authority of a mandate in Northern Ireland. Much as I would wish, there is no way in which I could reject that mandate. People voted for them in the democratic process in the privacy of a polling booth in Northern Ireland.
I listened with great attention to my noble friend Lord Merlyn-Rees. I could detect that he, too, was wrestling with his conscience about the Bill. He was in Northern Ireland during a great deal of travail with car bombs and murders almost every day, sometimes almost every hour. He cannot be happy with the Bill. Incidentally, I notice that in today's debate only myself and the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, are what I consider to be supporters of the Labour Government. I hope that it will not be assumed that the Conservatives are opposed to the Bill but that Members on this side of the House are not. I believe that many Members on this side of the House cannot be happy with the Bill. Perhaps they are not speaking about it, perhaps they are not writing about it and perhaps they are hoping that the problem will go away.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, that I understand every fibre of his being in his opposition to the Bill because he has lived through the incident and every day that he lives he will remember it. Every day that I live I remember that identification of my friend's body and all the other atrocities that took place. I remember very well when a pub was blown up in my constituency. I went down there and helped to pull 16 bodies out of the pub--
Lord Fitt: It was McGurk's Bar. I had to pull out 16 bodies. One of the bodies which I tried to bring out from under the rubble actually broke in my hands. They are incidents which I can never forget. But the Bill seems to be absolving people who were responsible for the commission of those horrendous crimes.
Seventy one per cent. of the population voted in the referendum. Those people voted because they wanted peace. Who does not want peace in Northern Ireland? Since then, we have seen a reduction in that yes vote in the assembly elections because the people who voted yes began to think and to examine the agreement. They began to look at the police Bill and at this sentences Bill and did not vote in such great numbers. Therefore, I urge my noble friend at all times to be acutely aware of the great sensitivities which exist.
I wish to associate myself with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, about the report of Sir Kenneth Bloomfield in relation to the victims in Northern Ireland. There are many victims in Northern Ireland in the same category as the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, who will have to live the rest of their lives with the consequences of what was carried out by those paramilitaries, loyalists and republicans. I urge my noble friend to make certain that in the years that lie ahead those victims and their consideration must never be taken out of the equation in this agreement. I continue to support the agreement but with great reservations, which I had at the time and continue to have.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, of course I support what this Government and the government before them have done to create the conditions in which Northern Ireland may be able to work out its future. But I have a number of difficulties with this Bill which I expect the general public in Northern Ireland share.
The first is the definition of eligibility for release. Clause 3(4) requires that the prisoner is not a supporter of a terrorist organisation. Clause 3(8) provides that the Secretary of State may specify a terrorist organisation but only those which are either,
My difficulties are that first, the prisoners being offered the opportunity to apply for release on licence and a major reduction of sentence are being offered it precisely because they are, though they are there for murder and violence, first and foremost, members of and therefore presumably supporters of terrorist organisations. Are they in the least likely to say that they no longer support the very organisations which both put them there and now have the political leverage to get them out?
My next difficulty, at least with the IRA prisoners, is that the IRA does not appear to be taking any steps to end the breaking of the ceasefire by its so-called breakaway groups. The latter could not operate without both the expertise and the special materials, including semtex, available only to the PIRA itself.
Next, the Secretary of State must take into account whether the organisation which they have supported to this day is co-operating with the commission on decommissioning. How can that come about when the IRA has said, not only in May this year but on many other occasion, that it has no intention of decommissioning its arms, not one ounce of semtex; when Martin McGuinness has reiterated that for the IRA, decommissioning means only with the withdrawal of the British forces and the disarming of the RUC; and when Gerry Adams said in June 1995:
I believe that one of the IRA leaders in the Maze--mention has been made of this today--has recently been reported as floating the possibility that the IRA might itself destroy some arms. There is of course provision for that in the decommissioning plans, provided that the destruction is both supervised and certified by the commission. But no more has been heard of that and it may well have been a pre-election gimmick, dictated by the IRA to raise hopes, rather like the more recent hints that the IRA may at last reveal where its victims are buried.
It is of course always possible that in order to secure the release of prisoners the IRA may indeed instruct its members to say that they no longer support the IRA although I do not believe, for reasons of face, that that could ever happen. It is much more likely simply to instruct them to say that they are now men of peace. Will that be enough? But since the IRA recently said publicly that members of Sinn Fein who were also members of the IRA were free to stand for election and serve in the assembly, such an instruction is not perhaps impossible if it will obtain the release of the prisoners. It would be cynical, but would it count under the terms of the Bill? It could be simply another tactic in the political phase of the struggle.
The IRA's use of Sinn Fein is always flexible and has allowed it to say that it did not consider itself in any way bound by Sinn Fein's support of the Mitchell principles, thus implying, successfully at that time, that they were quite separate institutions.
The Secretary of State's powers in the Bill are very wide and I suggest that by comparison the sentencing review body is an instrument rather than a truly decision-making body. It is becoming clear that this Bill is flexible enough to allow the paramilitaries on both side to get their men out and into a splendid rehabilitation programme promised in the Belfast agreement--something the RUC and other victims never had--without any quid pro quo at all. Here we come to a major difference between the Secretary of State's view of the policy--and I share the admiration expressed for her courage--and that of the Prime Minister which I find difficult to understand. Discussing the Belfast agreement on 20th April 1998, when the point had been made that there was no explicit linkage between decommissioning and the release of prisoners in the agreement, most unfortunately, she said:
Negotiation is not bartering. It is a perfectly proper procedure. It is deeply unfortunate that there is no explicit linkage between decommissioning and the release of the men of violence in the agreement but the Prime Minister's statement, in his speech at Balmoral on 14th May, quite apart from his reply in the other place to Mr. David Trimble, makes it clear that he regards a commitment to decommissioning as explicit in the agreement. He said:
I should say that I am well aware that the loyalist paramilitaries too have been responsible for terrible grief and murder. I have concentrated on Sinn Fein/IRA because the loyalists have, it is said, taken the first steps to discussing decommissioning with the commission. The IRA has not.
I have only two other questions at this stage. All we know of the Irish draft legislation is that it is reported it will under no circumstances consider for release under the new process those who may be convicted of the murder of a Gardai officer, Detective Garda Gerry McCabe. Can we be reassured that we too will follow that admirable precept and not release the murderers of policemen or members of the forces? They would not have been released if they had been, other than, in effect, political prisoners.
Incidentally, I hope that we shall be given details before the Committee stage of the Irish draft legislation. I shall be especially interested to know whether provision is made there for the extradition to Northern Ireland of any prisoner released on licence under this scheme from Northern Ireland who breaks a condition of release by, for example, engaging in renewed paramilitary activity in the Irish Republic or takes refuge there.
The Minister will tell us that under arrangements made as far back as 1985 by the previous government quite large numbers of those paramilitary prisoners have already been released or are due for release. That was intended to stop the violence; it did not do so.
The general public--and most especially the victims on all sides--do not wish to see a series of efforts by the Government, even for the most admirable reasons, to try to set up arrangements which will in effect let the IRA in particular, and the paramilitaries generally, literally get away with murder. It is really not enough for them to have a last minute conversion to peace, unless they and Sinn Fein/IRA also publicly urge their former organisations to engage actively in decommissioning. Alas, I know that this is extremely unlikely to happen, but it is surely the least that we should be requiring of them, if only on behalf of their victims, in return for freedom and a new start in life. We of all people, after Munich, should know the difference between peace and appeasement.
The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I am a very loyal but not automatic supporter of the Government. However, on this occasion I rise to give the fullest possible support to my noble friend the Minister who made such an effective speech. I am aware that no none who lives in Northern Ireland thinks that anyone who lives over here is worth listening to. But I have one or two qualifications of my own. They do not compare for one moment with those of my noble friend Lord Fitt, the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux or, indeed, in a different tragic sense, the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit.
I return to the present situation. I express the strongest possible support and admiration for this settlement. I congratulate all those concerned. In my eyes, particular credit goes to our Prime Minister. I fervently believe that without him the settlement would never have been reached. So all credit to him.
That admiration leads me, I believe quite logically, to have confidence in those who are concerned with operating the agreement. There are many difficult choices in front of them. It is no good pretending from outside that I know exactly the best course of action in every case. I leave it confidently in their hands. If you like, I give them the benefit of the doubt. Nevertheless, there are very serious issues before us today. For example, the whole question of releasing people who have done terrible things cannot be glossed over quickly.
Something like 3,000 men and women in this country have been convicted of murder. I am in touch with and see about six of them from time to time. Indeed, only last week one of those men who has been convicted of murder asked: "Why are the Irish people being treated better than we are?" That is the kind of question that the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, raised in his speech. It is a question that needs a serious answer. Why should people who have been convicted of murder--and of course not all members of the IRA have been convicted of murder, whether it is the IRA, UDA or whatever--be let out early, as is intended will occur if the ceasefire holds?
One cannot answer that question without taking a long and hard look at the difference between the situation in this country and that which prevails in Northern Ireland. For example, no one in this country would tolerate for a moment the existence of a series of paramilitary bodies. That is the first difference. There are six or more paramilitary bodies in Northern Ireland, half of them Protestant and half of them Catholic. Roughly speaking, half are involved in the agreement while the other half are not. Those who are not involved are particularly dangerous because they are not even committed to the agreement. However, that is the situation that whoever is responsible for our affairs here and in Ireland has to cope with. Those people may not like it, but that is the regrettable fact. Perhaps one should ask. "Why haven't we got rid of such bodies before?" These paramilitary bodies are criminal organisations and
We shall have to make time to decide what course should be taken. Indeed, one has to try to put oneself in the position of the Government. As I said, I give them the benefit of the doubt. I can only say that I condemn utterly all violence in Northern Ireland, especially murderous violence. That is not quite the same as saying that all terrorism is unjustified everywhere. As the noble Earl, Lord Russell, pointed out, many terrorists have later become heroes. In 1920 Lord George spoke of "holding murder by the throat" when dealing with the Irish guerilla warfare, but later he hailed Michael Collins as a glorious figure.
In Northern Ireland today there is no excuse whatever for violence. I wish to make it plain that I am not soft on crime in Northern Ireland. Indeed, there is no excuse whatever for violence by any party. But paramilitary bodies, criminal bodies, are still permitted to exist. That is the situation with which the leaders and all those concerned have had to cope.
Before I sit down I should like to make one further plea. I illustrated it in a sense when I asked a question earlier. It is natural in England for people to think of the enemy as being the IRA. After all, it is those people who attacked the British Forces in the Province. However, over the past few years it would seem that more damage has been done by the Protestant paramilitaries. It is difficult to calculate, but more damage seems to have been done by them. They are heavily armed. Indeed they are possibly as heavily armed as the IRA but it is difficult to know exactly. Certainly, if one were a Catholic, one would think that the Protestants were the more powerful body.
I remember being present in 1969 when the British Army was brought in in strength. To some extent, it was brought in to protect the Catholics. But let us not think of the unfortunate Protestants as being at the mercy of the IRA; indeed it is the other way round. I always ask for balance. I am not saying that any of them are in the right because, ideally, no paramilitary force should exist anywhere. A paramilitary force can be a force committed to violence against one's fellow citizens and should not exist. However, assuming they exist, they should be put on the same footing, whether Protestant or Catholic. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit will agree with that.
Lord Rathcavan: My Lords, I wish to speak briefly as someone who lives in Northern Ireland. I hope that I can impress on your Lordships the enormous impact that the prisoner issue has had and is having. It has caused passionate views to be held by those in the middle ground who have not previously held many passionate views. The Bill will be carefully assessed in Northern Ireland, and I believe that the apparent dilution
People in Northern Ireland are greatly concerned that the Bill may not be an integral part of the process which will lead to a democratic and peaceful end. They are concerned in particular that progress on decommissioning must proceed in parallel.
I support the view of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, that some of the Bill's wording might be improved and that the reassurances that people want should be written more clearly in the Bill. Ironically, it was his party which moved the goal posts on the decommissioning issue on several occasions, which is why many people in Northern Ireland have lost confidence in the decommissioning process and why they now want to see some material and positive progress towards the decommissioning of illegal arms and explosives in parallel with prisoner release.
I hope that the Minister will consider tidying up the drafting of Clause 3(9) so that it will be made much clearer that the Secretary of Sate has to take into account the fact that full co-operation on decommissioning by any organisation with which a prisoner for release is concerned, is taking place. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, said that that litmus test should be applied to each prisoner being considered for release. In my view it is sufficient that it is applied to the organisation with which that prisoner is concerned.
Prisoner release and decommissioning must be clearly seen not to be linked--I realise that that will be difficult, if not impossible--but to be taking place in parallel. Like the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, I supported the agreement. I realise that we cannot cherry pick, as he said. He has spoken and written movingly on many occasions, as he did today, about his own experiences, and the struggle he has had with his conscience about accepting the release of prisoners who have been guilty of horrific crimes, as regards many of which he has had personal and harrowing experience.
We have all had to compromise our commitments and our consciences in some way in supporting the agreement. In that spirit, I support the need for the Bill. I urge the Minister to confirm the Government's insistence that decommissioning and prisoner release will clearly proceed in parallel. He must be aware of the great sensitivity of the prisoner issue in the Province. He must give people in Northern Ireland the clear reassurances that the process will be fair.
Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, we in this House have the advantage over our colleagues in another place in that we have yet again seen confirmation that the people of Northern Ireland want the Good Friday Agreement to proceed. The vote may
One did not have to be psychic about the judgment of the officials when one saw the arrival of a thousand troops in the Province in advance of a pronouncement by the Parades Commission. This morning the chairman--to quote Mr. Trimble--of the "so-called" Parades Commission announced that there were to be no Orangemen down the Garvaghy Road.
If in previous years, the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State, Church leaders and community workers could not solve the problem, why should five men and women with no previous experience of these negotiations have been able to find an answer? The commission is called independent. One probably has to live in Northern Ireland to recognise that for many people any body appointed by the British Government will not be regarded as independent.
It will be the same with regard to the commissioners provided under the Bill. There will be assumptions and prejudice from day one. The independence of the Parades Commission was removed by the Prime Minister and the absence of a resignation by the chairman of the commission when he accepted the instruction not to publish the provisional plan for the commission earlier this year. It would help were the Prime Minister to learn that when one pushes something into the long grass, the long grass has eventually to be mowed. The week of the Drumcree procession is not the time to do it.
Perhaps I may use this opportunity to express sympathy for members of the RUC and the security forces who will be in the middle of any confrontation. We talk about the victims of terrorism. But what about the victims of the prejudices and enthusiasm for confrontation of constitutional politicians? Those members of the RUC and the security forces are just as likely as others to be injured and out of work for the rest of their lives. I hope that that will be borne in mind in the future.
Before I came to this House I had never heard of Henry VIII clauses. Fortunately I was well educated in them by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. If I had not learnt then, this Bill would well and truly teach me what it is. The greater the detail you find on the face of the Bill, the better it will be. It would surely help those Northern Ireland politicians who have to make it work.
From time to time we have seen legislation helped to go through quickly. Things are then often left unresolved. The purpose of your Lordships' House is to revise legislation. Most years it makes 2,000 revisions. Legislation then comes back to haunt the people who have to make the legislation work.
It is appropriate for me now to praise the bipartisan support I received from all sides of the House during my years in office. That does not mean that I had an easy time. I am grateful to those noble Lords who gave me that support. It is especially appropriate that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, is in his place, because it was helpful to be able to concentrate on Northern Ireland rather than cross-House disputes. I hope that we shall be able to continue in that way. Northern Ireland issues are too fragile to be turned into a World Cup-style game. There will never be a golden goal in Northern Ireland.
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