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Baroness Denton of Wakefield: I support the amendments in this grouping, including the one proposed by the Liberal Democrat Benches. It was nice to hear the noble Lord, Lord Holme, admit that there was more sense on red Benches than on green Benches on this side of the Chamber.
I should like to follow the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, in trying to persuade those on the Benches opposite that we are not trying to wreck the agreement or to move in a unilateral fashion. We are trying to improve this legislation and thereby perhaps protect the Government. We hope that the Government will give serious consideration to the suggestions we have put forward. We believe that all of them add benefit to the wording of the Bill. It will be interesting to see whether the noble Lord can accept any of them. After all, he began the Committee stage by stating that he would accept, and be comfortable with, some of the suggestions. We are still waiting for that.
Lord Desai: I am sorry to intervene in this debate; I do not know whether my noble friend will find it helpful. I have the impression that we have still not quite come to terms with the nature of the agreement. I tried, rather hesitantly, to suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit--who, unfortunately, is not in his place--that this is not entirely a UK matter and that neither are the UK Government overall sovereign but a partner in negotiation with other parties. The fact that these parties are groups of citizens of the UK is neither here nor there. It is a complicated process. We are in a messy situation, half decolonising, half regulating.
I know that this may inflame passions rather than calm them, but I think of the agreement as more like a multilateral treaty which various parties have arrived at. What we are doing is embodying the treaty in a piece of UK legislation, and disturbing it may mean that other parties who agreed to it may feel that they will be better off doing something else.
At least one party, the Republic of Ireland, was a sovereign party. The Republic agreed to an historic decision in its referendum. An historic concession was made by the Republic to remove Articles 2 and 3 of its constitution. That was quite amazing. In the first post-Imperial partition which has been legitimised, as it were, post-haste, the Republic has agreed that it does not have a claim on Northern Ireland. That is very much part of this matter. If we start messing about--with the best intentions of course--the agreement will unravel. That is the way I view the comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, in relation to Amendments Nos. 13 and 15. It is a delicate situation.
I am not sure that I would include the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham. To me, the words "shall take into account" do not need embellishing further. There is no great empirical factor involved; it means that certain things shall be taken into account as the Secretary of State feels it appropriate to do so. I am worried that if we start to unravel this, it will fall apart. It is important that we carry the Bill through as it stands because it was carefully drafted.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: Before my noble friend replies, I should like to say a few words. I become a little troubled when people say, in relation to a Bill that we are considering, that we should not do anything about it; that we should not amend it in case it upsets an agreement which the Government have already made without consultation with the British people outside Northern Ireland.
The fact is that around 56 million people in Wales, Scotland and England have an interest in this matter. They always have had an interest in it. After all, the IRA terrorists have not confined their activities to Northern Ireland; they bombed many places on the mainland. We have just as much interest in decommissioning therefore as anybody in Northern Ireland.
It is right and proper that this place, as part of the United Kingdom Parliament, should be able to speak on behalf of the English, the Welsh and the Scots who have not been consulted. We have not had a referendum about it here. So this is the only place where we can make our voice heard. Those in this Chamber who represent the mainland--Parliament represents Northern Ireland as well as the rest of the UK--are entitled to introduce amendments and, as with any other Bill, to advise the Government of their opinion. That is what Parliament is all about. If that is not what we are about, why on earth are we discussing the damned Bill? Why are we wasting our time? If we are being told that anything we do will upset the agreement, why are we discussing the Bill? Why do we not go home to our wives and families, go
Generally speaking, therefore, I believe, as I hope I made clear, that we are entitled to discuss this Bill. Indeed, if there is a vote, I shall be inclined to support the amendments before us. They stiffen up certain matters; they say to the terrorist organisations--not individual terrorists in this case--that they have to co-operate in decommissioning. As I said earlier today, unless we have decommissioning by both sides, the assembly cannot work. It will be under perpetual threat from one side or the other. I believe that the amendment will be a little help towards that and is deserving of our support.
It is my inclination to support the amendment. The Minister may wonder why so many of us are supporting so many small amendments involving words like "in particular". He should realise that the reason there are so many is that the agreement in itself was vague in intention in order that it could be made. The Bills that have come forward, which will probably become Acts, are to make the provisions within the agreement more precise. If we go on allowing very vague words to go through in every clause, it will be a wonder if the Bill is not fought over and disagreed with for months to come. Therefore, although the amendment in itself is not necessarily vital--neither are many of the others in themselves--overall, we are dealing with a very weak and rather limp Bill which could cause more trouble than we realise at the moment.
Lord Dubs: I have listened with great interest to the comments on these various amendments. This is an important part of the legislation and has provoked a great deal of interest both in this House and beyond. Perhaps I may say to my noble friend Lord Stoddart that of course this House has the right to consider all aspects of the Bill and, indeed, to put forward suggestions or amendments to alter it. But it is equally the Government's right and the right of other noble Lords to say that, having got an agreement which represents the best opportunity for peace for Northern Ireland for many, many years, if we believe that certain suggested amendments are counter to the agreement and might jeopardise it, that is part of the process of debate and discussion. No one is saying to the noble Lord that he does not have the right to make whatever contribution to the debate he wishes. But the Government for their part want the agreement to stick and want to give effect to it because they believe that that is the best way forward.
Perhaps I may deal with Amendments Nos. 13, 15 and 18. I understand the thinking behind them. In essence the argument is that, as it is legitimate for the Secretary of State to take into account the four factors in Clause 3(9) when determining whether a terrorist organisation has established and is maintaining a
That is because the practical effect of the amendments would be to turn the four factors into specific tests or preconditions which would have to be met. Whatever the merits of that, it would take us beyond what was agreed in the Good Friday Agreement and beyond what the Prime Minister said in his Balmoral speech on 14th May. The Prime Minister's purpose in identifying these four factors which are reflected in Clause 3 was to provide a mechanism for clarifying whether those who stood to benefit from accelerated releases were associated with organisations that were genuinely committed to democratic non-violent means. These are crucial factors which will need to be weighed in the balance, but they are not intended to be prescriptive. The Secretary of State must be free to make a judgment in the round, taking account of all the relevant factors, including those listed in Clause 3(9).
I listened very carefully to the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, and I welcome his decision not to support Amendments Nos. 13 and 15. I just wish he could be nudged a little further into not supporting Amendment No. 18, because I believe that the use of the word "and" also changes significantly the sense and changes it in a way which also takes us further than the agreement. It represents a quite significant change to link all those four factors in the way that is done.
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