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Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Far be it from me ever to be regarded in that way. No, what I was arguing for was a strong equality commission and human rights commission in Northern Ireland and a strong equality commission and human rights commission in Great Britain, with a relationship between the two. I was not suggesting some great over-arching UK body as such.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I apologise for apparently misrepresenting what the noble Lord said. In any case, I hope that the Secretary of State will not feel obliged to bring into force Part VI of the Bill too quickly. I believe that the change and reorganisation of institutions, tempting as that always is to politicians, can cause much disruption and involve a great deal of effort which, of necessity, lowers the amount of effort going in to achieving the objectives of the institutions being reorganised. That is particularly so in Northern Ireland at present where everything is changing so quickly.

The Minister spoke of the necessity to keep up the momentum. That is a theme which has run through many ministerial speeches during the past few months. It harks back to Harold Wilson's recipe for keeping the Labour Party happy a good number of years ago. I understand its importance in the Northern Ireland context, but, like my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale, I also think that change needs digesting. If you ram too much change too quickly down the throats of people in Northern Ireland it could well be rejected as a result. That is the danger that we now face with some of these provisions. When I served in the Northern Ireland Office with my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale, I always thought that one of the essential qualities of a Northern Ireland Minister was patience. We certainly seemed to need to exert that during a good deal of that time.

While still on the human rights question, I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, referred to the Republic of Ireland's obligations as far as concerns human rights. The agreement provides for the Republic to put into force similar legislation to that which we are implementing here. Can the Minister say whether the Irish Government's timetable on implementing their obligations for this sort of legislation is quite as hectic as ours?

The other part of the Bill--that is, the big first part of it--deals with devolution; in other words, a huge change intended to last for generations and one which is very

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desirable. However, it is also important to get it right. We do not have an entrenched constitution in this country. Indeed, it is only partly a written constitution. But that puts a greater onus upon us to see that it is well rewritten. In most countries the constitution can only be altered through a very elaborate additional process by comparison with ordinary law. But here we have reached the stage where a few days' debate in this House and no debate in another place seems to be sufficient. That puts a heavy responsibility on your Lordships in this case.

As I said, we support devolution as part of the agreement. However, as many speakers have said this afternoon, it is not enough for us, for the Government, for this House and for the majority of the people in Northern Ireland to support the agreement: we need also to see the terrorists supporting it. While Government and Parliament have been rushing forward to fulfil our part of the agreement by way of this Bill and others, the terrorists have signally failed to move as far as concerns decommissioning. As has been said this afternoon, the initiative on all this is clearly with the IRA and Sinn Fein. I want to make it quite clear that we do not believe that the terrorists or their supporters can join an executive until decommissioning has started. It is not a precondition as people have said; it is a political fact that that is the case.

My noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew, who did so much to get this process going in the first place, said all this much more eloquently and forcefully than I can. The noble Lord, Lord Cooke, and the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, were also firm in that respect. It was also emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, who made clear that punishment shootings are also part of this matter. As so often happens, the noble Lord, Lord Desai, brought it together and clarified our minds by demonstrating that decommissioning is part of ending the cult of violence. That really is the key. It is the key symbol that we want to see.

I believe that it is also important to point out that, if there is no decommissioning, terrorist prisoners will stop being released and those released will soon become wanted men liable to rearrest on sight. The agreement will collapse as a whole. Without decommissioning this Bill and the agreement itself will be so much waste paper and all the tremendous hopes of everyone will be dashed. I hope that does not come about. The great thing is that the assembly is now established and talking. Like the Minister, I have the advantage of having attended at least part of its first full session. An elaborate discussion was taking place on the use of the Irish language, the validity of voting in Irish, the flying of flags and the desirability or otherwise of a bar on the premises! A great deal of attention was given to the composition of committees and what would happen if members of the assembly changed their party allegiance. We shall also need to consider these matters when we consider the formulae that are built into this Bill.

The good thing is that everyone was present at Stormont. They did not walk out. They were talking, not shouting, and the furniture--which is more movable than our furniture--was not being thrown about. That is great; but they now need time to settle down and to

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gain confidence in one another. That confidence will not come without decommissioning. One cannot trust a terrorist who has a gun under the table or outside the door, even if he claims to be an ex-terrorist. One certainly cannot trust him while punishment shootings continue. As the spokesman for the Liberal Democrats made clear, we shall want to discuss the powers of the assembly and the executive and which matters should be devolved, which should be reserved and which should be excepted--abortion being one of those matters.

Clauses 3 and 4 and Schedules 2 and 3 were not discussed at all in the Commons; the guillotine ruled that out. There was no discussion of these matters and therefore we shall need to discuss them in some detail. I hope we shall also have the opportunity to discuss the important point on corporation tax mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Rathcavan. I felt some of my old Treasury instincts come to the surface when he mentioned that point which is an extremely important one.

Among other matters we shall also want to examine Clause 67 which gives the Secretary of State sweeping powers to set up at least six new bodies, according to the agreement, to implement cross-border matters. However, we do not know which cross-border matters these are or how they will be implemented. Apparently we shall not be told in the course of this Bill what these matters are likely to be. Nevertheless we are expected to give the Secretary of State permission to set up these bodies and to give them powers under Clause 67. That is, of course, subject to affirmative resolution in the case of each body but it has been the practice of your Lordships' House not to oppose such statutory instruments. However, if Bills continue to give permissions of this kind--blank cheques, as it were--to the Secretary of State, that practice may come under some pressure.

The important ideas which lie behind this Bill have our support as part of the implementation of the agreement, but the agreement must be implemented in full by all sides. This is an important Bill and this has been an important debate. However, some of the most important debates on this Bill will occur in the later stages when we discuss the clauses in more detail. I support the Bill.

7.4 p.m.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, this has been a full and frank debate. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have expressed broad support for the thrust of the policy as embodied in this Bill. In Committee we shall have time to discuss some of these points in detail. I am reluctant to anticipate Committee stage debate by dwelling in too much detail on some of the points that have been made. I hope that noble Lords appreciate that; otherwise we could be here for a long time as I have made pages of notes on what has been said. Certainly I give the undertaking that the Government will reflect on all the points that have been made in the debate. As I indicated at the outset, we shall bring forward a large number of amendments and, clearly, I shall take into account the

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points that have been made. I shall possibly make some changes to what we intend in the light of what has been said today. We shall have a thorough Committee stage.

However, I shall deal with some of the main points that have been made. I apologise to noble Lords if I miss some out. I am sure noble Lords will all feel that their own points are the most important ones but time does not allow me to discuss them all in detail.

The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, and many other noble Lords referred to decommissioning. The Government's position is clear. There has to be progress on all elements of the agreement. The only way to get through this impasse is for all sides to honour all the commitments they made in the agreement and for all aspects to move forward in parallel. As has often been said, decommissioning is an integral part of the agreement. It is not a pre-condition; it is an obligation and it must happen. The question is not whether it will happen but when it will happen. The Government have said that on many occasions. During the Labour Party conference in Blackpool last week the Prime Minister had discussions with some party leaders on this issue.

For the record I ought to say that the only two Northern Ireland politicians who addressed the full Labour Party conference were David Trimble and Seamus Mallon. Each received a standing ovation at the conference. Other politicians spoke at fringe meetings, but the only ones who addressed the main conference were the two that I have mentioned. However, at one of the fringe meetings I heard a member of Sinn Fein say clearly that decommissioning had to happen. He said that clearly and unambiguously. I mention that for what it is worth. There were many fringe meetings during the Labour Party conference at which Northern Ireland was discussed. I believe that some clear messages emerged from those discussions.

A number of noble Lords have mentioned punishment beatings and shootings. These are clearly unacceptable and they simply must stop. However, I draw some comfort from the fact that the numbers have decreased in recent months. That is welcome. In June 32 were reported, in July 19, in August 18 and in September eight. Clearly there should be none at all. It is unacceptable that this practice should continue. That has been the Government's clear policy throughout.

I refer to some specific points that were made. The noble Lord, Lord Holme, asked a number of questions. He asked about Clause 23(6) and a motion of exclusion against a party or individual. I am grateful for the point that he made, which he had already drawn to our attention during the consultation process. I am happy to confirm to the noble Lord our intention to introduce an amendment along the lines he suggests. However, even if we intend to introduce other amendments on the lines the noble Lord suggests, time will not always allow me to say that. Therefore the absence of such a comment does not mean that we shall not necessarily do that.

The noble Lord, Lord Holme, also referred to committees in connection with Clause 22. I am grateful for his comments. I am sure he will want to discuss these issues in greater detail in Committee. However, I cannot promise that the Government will move in the

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direction that he clearly hopes we will. As regards north/south bodies, any establishment of implementation bodies is likely to require several assembly votes. There will certainly have to be an assembly Bill to confer functions on the bodies and all such votes will be subject to the petition of concern procedure and therefore require cross-community support, should 30 members require this under Clause 34. Therefore there is that safeguard.

As regards trade between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, that is a matter of trade within the European Union and subject to the single European market. I am confident that north/south co-operation and the new political atmosphere generated by the agreement will open new opportunities for trading and economic development in Ireland, north and south. Indeed, there is already quite a lot of such trade.

The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, asked a number of questions. He suggested that some of our amendments would go rather far in unpicking the agreement. They will certainly not. None of our proposed amendments will unpick it in the least. We intend to make sure that we stick totally by the agreement throughout and any such amendments will reflect that. However, we will consider carefully any amendments moved by the noble Lord to see whether they are consistent with the agreement and therefore amendments that we might be able to accept.

The noble Lord also asked about Orders in Council. He did not like the procedure. I believe that is a summary of his remarks. We have in mind and have consulted the parties on improvements in the procedure. These would involve consultation with the Assembly as to its views. As a body, it may very soon take over responsibility for the issues concerned. Clearly a large number of matters that have previously been the subject of Orders in Council will now be matters for the Assembly and will no longer be subject to that procedure. There may, however, be some issues for Orders in Council as regards criminal justice and policing. I assure the noble Lord that, if all these matters go through as I hope, there will be very few Orders in Council compared to numbers in the past.

My noble and learned friend Lord Archer and the noble Lord, Lord Lester, asked a number of detailed points in relation to the powers of the human rights commission and about the equality bodies. I could make a long Committee stage speech. However, I shall resist doing so, except to say that we shall certainly consider carefully amendments proposed by both noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and my noble friend Lord Desai made the point that we want to avoid a hierarchy of equality as regards the equality commission. The Bill requires the new commission to secure an appropriate division of resources between fair employment, gender, race and disability. It must also be transparent in presenting an annual report covering the work that it is doing. The Bill also permits a new commission to establish consultative councils for gender, race, disability and other aspects of equality. We shall take account of the concerns expressed by noble Lords on the equality body. It is certainly not our intention that there should be any less emphasis, through

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having one body, on the different elements that go into that body. I for one should be very unhappy were that to be the case. I am assured that the steps we are taking will not lessen the concern for race relations, gender and all the other matters.

Northern Ireland is a very small place. It has 1½ million people. There will be some savings in overheads by merging these bodies. The saving will go towards the work that the new commission will be doing. In relation to the size of Northern Ireland there is a good case for saying that we should look at it as one body.

Moreover, if I may draw on my past minor involvement with the Commission for Racial Equality, I see that when an investigation is carried out in regard to an employer or organisation as regards possible discrimination one comes across all elements of discrimination, not merely the one on which one is focusing. So there are other advantages in having one body. I appreciate that there are feelings the other way. However, I assure those concerned that that is certainly not our intention. We shall do everything possible to ensure that the focus remains clearly on all elements, not merely on one of them. There will be no hierarchy of equality in the way we are moving forward.

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