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Lord Shaughnessy: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he consider the reputation and background of General Sir John de Chastelain who has served his government and the international community in a very good cause and whose reputation is above reproach?

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, of course I do that. But there are many men who have served their countries well, whose reputations are above reproach but who, when they have dealt with the IRA, have come singularly and badly unstuck.

4.53 p.m.

Lord Cooke of Islandreagh: My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, in agreeing with everything that has been said this afternoon. I was pleased that the

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noble Lord began to ask questions about the details of decommissioning, what would happen if the weapons were stolen and so on. That is a minefield. It is almost certain that that will happen and make life difficult.

This Bill and the talks leading up to it relate to Unionist refusal to sit in government with any party with guns. Unfortunately, in no way does it help the Unionists or others; rather, it is a threat to them. It suggests that if they do not get in quickly the whole thing will come to an end and it will be their fault. That is not a very helpful way to sort out the problem. This problem goes right back to the time when the Good Friday agreement was first published. At that time Unionists realised that decommissioning was not a precondition for partnership in the devolved government of Northern Ireland.

Very soon feeling against the agreement became strong and the probability was that the referendum result would not be in favour of the agreement. The Prime Minister then made several statements, which have already been referred to, to assure Unionists that they would not be forced to sit in government with any party with guns and Semtex. As a result, the referendum was passed but, unfortunately, the Prime Minister did not keep to his undertaking. Again, he asks Unionists to take a risk for peace and to sit with Sinn Fein while the IRA thinks about destroying its arsenal. Failing that, the Assembly will be stood down and the Unionists will suffer as much as those who fail to decommission.

David Trimble has asked for some failsafe guarantees in this Bill to help him, but none has been included. Unionists and the people of Northern Ireland generally respect plain speaking and demand fair treatment. They detest ambiguous statements and the products of spin doctors. I cannot over-emphasise that they very much want devolution and the Assembly to work. There is a craving to make this work and to restore normal democratic government. Co-operation with the SDLP, or any democratic party, does not present a problem, as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, emphasised, but to sit in government with Sinn Fein, as it is now, is too much to ask. Pressure has been placed on David Trimble and his team, which is much resented. Is it because the UUP is thought more likely to give way than the terrorists?

I believe that the present impasse has arisen because politicians on this side of the Irish Sea seem to look on Sinn Fein and the IRA as erring democrats who can be pulled back to see the light by kindness and favours. We who have had to live among them in Northern Ireland know quite a lot about them and know better. We know that Sinn Fein and the IRA are inextricably linked. We also know that members of the present leadership of Sinn Fein have in the past held high positions in the IRA. The IRA has said repeatedly that it will not decommission. This is no surprise because the IRA regards itself as the only legitimate army in Ireland with the right and duty to unite the island of Ireland. It has thought that way for 80 years. The IRA believes that it has a duty to use force of whatever kind it thinks necessary.

Mr Adams has said that the objectives remain unchanged. Neither the IRA nor Sinn Fein has said that the war is over. Sinn Fein has not accepted that the

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all-Ireland referendum on the Good Friday agreement is a valid act of national self-determination. This leaves the IRA with the continuing requirement to be ready for a resumption of armed struggle. It is very significant that Mr Bruton, leader of Fine Gael, believes that this is the core of the problem in both parts of Ireland. The immediate objective of Sinn Fein/IRA is to prove that Northern Ireland is ungovernable by peaceful means, and the situation on the Garvaghy and Ormeau Roads is not unrelated to that objective.

Memories can be short, but we are still very conscious that the IRA has bombed and murdered about 2,000 people and so-called loyalists have acted with similar bestiality. Is it not the ultimate denial of democracy to force people to sit in partnership in government with unrepentant terrorists?

The Ulster Unionist Party position on this is supported by democrats throughout the world. It should be remembered that Mr Ahern, the Taoiseach, was strongly in favour of this for a few months at the beginning of the year. But the success of Sinn Fein in the European elections has been noted by nationalists north and south and the Dublin Government are now looking at Sinn Fein as a future party of some significance. The British Government have given Sinn Fein almost all it has asked for without it giving anything in return: early release of prisoners, the setting up of the Patten Commission, and so on. Sinn Fein has taken votes from the SDLP in Northern Ireland and for fear of losing further votes Mr Hume will not want to agree to vote for the expulsion of Sinn Fein. I have to pinch myself. Am I really a citizen of the UK, brought up to believe in democracy, watching our British Government pressing hard on a peaceful and democratic party in part of the UK to make it agree to sit down with armed terrorists as partners, even temporarily, to govern part of the United Kingdom? Is it democracy when a Government with a large and disciplined majority can do something as undemocratic as this?

I am concerned about the Bill. I note that the Minister said that amendments would be tabled. However, I believe that even his hands are tied. As the noble Lord has explained to us on many occasions, he has to consider the Good Friday agreement. It is the international agreement; and there can be nothing in the Bill which goes against that agreement. That means that what the noble Lord can do to straighten out the many problems is very limited.

I believe that there is only one thing to do. It is to put the problem in abeyance for the time being while people sit down and do a little straight thinking.

5.1 p.m.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I agree with Sinn Fein in one matter at least, in this present dangerous and difficult situation, when it says that we must not forget the lessons of the past. It is right about that. The past I have in mind is not the early 1990s, nor even the early 1980s, but the early 1970s and the time of the Sunningdale Agreement and the power-sharing executive which was set up. It was an experiment which

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nearly succeeded, but in the end failed. We would be wrong to ignore the lessons of that failure in grappling with the present situation.

At that time the power-sharing executive programme was under the towering leadership of Lord Whitelaw, whom we all miss--I miss him very much indeed. He was supported by his juniors, my noble friends Lord Windlesham--he was here a moment ago-- Lord Kelvedon and myself. He was supported from outside the British Government by many eminent figures, of whom one was the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. We heard him today giving yet another courageous speech. There were many other extremely brave people. They were physically brave as well as politically and intellectually brave. It was not just their job or their opinions on the line: their lives were on the line. They supported that power-sharing executive; and yet it failed, despite the heroic efforts of the then Secretary of State, the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, who will speak later in the debate, no doubt with his usual great authority and experience.

What are the two lessons I draw today from that sad experience, with all its efforts, when we came so near to success? They are simple lessons. One was that you cannot push the Ulster people as a whole, but specifically the Unionists and their supporters, too far. You can expect many concessions from them--and there were many then and there have been many this time round--but you cannot go on pushing them again and again in face of more disappointments, more half-broken promises, without any sign of concessions from the other side or any sign that their concessions are bringing a better world for the Ulster people. The attempt to do so then led to the Unionist side of politics unravelling, and the entire Province being trapped and paralysed by strikes, with violence breaking out again on both sides and another plunge into the dark era for the people of Northern Ireland. I shall come to the application of that lesson in a moment.

The other was a more difficult lesson, and possibly less welcome to some speaking on the Unionist-inclined side. It is this. If the Executive is formed but has to exclude both the more extremist parties, and, beyond them, the men of violence and terror--the real slaughterers--the power-sharing Executive will not just sail ahead on its own. Democracy will not be allowed to proceed untrammelled. The violence will take over again. As the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, said, this is a society of two communities and at the wings are violent propensities which will always come in through splinter and breakaway groups and not only destroy peace in Northern Ireland but the democratic procedures as well.

That applies just as much to the situation if there is no decommissioning as it applied to the situation in 1974. If there is no decommissioning, it does not mean that the democratic institution can go ahead without Sinn Fein, or whatever. It means that outside the democratic institution, violence will resume. The culture of violence which is already there will go on. It will frighten people. That fright will nibble away at the democratic process, and those who have tried to support the democratic process will be forced away from it. Violence will

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gradually close over the democratic process just as the sea closes over the sand-castles on the beach. That is what happened before and that is what will happen again unless we have a policy and a procedure which can deal with the situation. I argue that the Bill falls short of that.

What emerges so clearly from those days is this. Let us suppose, as I fear is all too likely, that the decommissioning process is fudged or does not satisfy General de Chastelain. Let us suppose that somehow difficulties are found of the kind which my noble friend Lord Tebbit described with great percipience and imagination--these things could easily happen. The understandable idea that some democratic core can still go about its business; that Northern Ireland can be ruled democratically again as it wants to be with devolved legislation; that nothing else will happen and that the situation will be stable, is foolhardy. That idea is not founded on experience, memories, lessons from the past, or any realistic appreciation of what will happen in the future.

That idea has to go hand in hand with the other part of the policy that is not in the Bill. We had a debate in your Lordships' House--how many months ago? I cannot remember--on the horrors and atrocities of Omagh. Some of us said then that there is a missing piece of the policy. Of course we want democracy. Of course we want agreements. Of course we want to work towards the ideas and principles of the Good Friday agreement. But none of that will work unless at the same time the operations against violence and terrorism are organised at a level of co-operation nationally and internationally with Belfast--and the American Government may now be involved--and with a degree of intelligence and intensity on the whereabouts of weapons which will never be handed in, and with a degree of determination all round which ensures that violence does not undermine the democratic process.

It seems self-evident that part of that policy has to be a halt of the early release of prisoners. The early release of prisoners is fuel for violence. We know that it is. It is reported as such. It is known to be such. If we are to have a policy which ensures that democracy in the form of devolved legislation continues, with or without Sinn Fein and the decommissioning, it must go hand in hand with a policy of security and an effort against terrorism which includes the halting of the early releases. I am amazed that the early release amendment, which I hope will be tabled tomorrow, was not included in the earlier process.

I am a guilty party because I participated in the legislation which was rushed through Parliament 24 years ago and once again we are rushing through legislation. At least then we consulted the other party leaders before they had to stand up in Parliament and make their points and be greeted with the cry, "Oh good, let's have an amendment.". At least there was some kind of consultation process. However, it appears that the views of the former Prime Minister--a man of authority who began this peace process--were novel to the Government when he rose from the green Benches in the other place and uttered them. I find it incredible that

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he had not been consulted. Yet that appears to be the pace and style with which the policy is being cobbled together.

I believe that this is a sad little piece of legislation. It is missing the vital element of policy which must go with it. I have no idea whether it will work, but, as noble Lords have rightly said, it is another additional pressure on Unionists who, heaven knows, have bravely yielded on every front, often risking their own lives and certainly their political positions. It may or may not hold the position.

I hope that the threat in it will never be needed. I hope that the decommissioning will take place. However, if it does not and the violence-inclined parties remain outside, this Bill will not hold together the Good Friday agreement. It will not hold together the devolved executive, however much the Unionists and those who want democracy and moderation in Ireland want it. Much more will be required, even with the amendments that we shall debate tomorrow. It saddens me that once again we are proceeding with a policy of which half is missing. The half that is missing is the real determination of London, Dublin and even, bless them, the American Government, if they can understand what is happening in Ulster, to defeat, head off, suppress and destroy the terrorist element which remains hanging over peace and democracy in Northern Ireland.

5.12 p.m.

Lord Carew: My Lords, it is a special pleasure for me to follow the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford. I have watched his political career with great interest. Almost exactly 50 years ago, as head boy of my prep school, he reported me to the headmaster for messing around for which I was soundly thrashed. I want to thank the noble Lord for assisting me to grow up.

Apart from my education in this country and 10 years in Her Majesty's Armed Forces, my home has always been in the Republic of Ireland. Therefore, I want to say a few words in regard to the Bill and the Good Friday agreement. My father made his maiden speech in 1947 and I made mine in 1995. Both were on the subject of improving relations between people in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Over the years, whereas personal relations between the UK and the people of the island of Ireland have been good, the politics have been exceedingly difficult. The Good Friday agreement was a major political step forward. No praise is too high for the efforts of the two governments and the respective parties in Northern Ireland. The agreement presents the best chance of peace in years and the people of the island of Ireland, by a huge majority, voted for that peace. Therefore, the opportunity must not be lost.

Her Majesty's Government are now on the brink of devolving powers to the Assembly with an inclusive Executive in Belfast. It is vital for that Executive to be inclusive. Unionists and Nationalists will have to work together; one without the other will not work. Over the years, we have all become aware of the mistrust between the political parties in Northern Ireland. Therefore, to

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ensure the working of the Executive and decommissioning, a fail-safe device has been built into the agreement. The Bill provides those safeguards.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, that decommissioning should have taken place at the time of the Good Friday agreement. Under the agreement, Sinn Fein gave a commitment to hand in all weapons by May 2000. But will a start be made before then? Will the IRA verify the commitments given by Sinn Fein? I understand that the Taoiseach stated to the Unionists that his personal belief is that the IRA will begin to decommission its weapons shortly after the Executive is set up and will complete the process by May 2000. However, the IRA must make a statement at least to the effect that decommissioning was not just an aspiration but an obligation that will be honoured within the timeframe of the Good Friday agreement. I believe that it is most important that the SDLP remains in the power-sharing Executive, even if Sinn Fein were expelled.

The Bill and the Good Friday agreement have, after lengthy discussions, come about by compromise. Whether it be the Bill before us today or a further amended Bill, there should be a final Bill that is acceptable to the parties in Northern Ireland. That final Bill will surely be the best way forward for peace in Northern Ireland.

5.16 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, there has been a remarkable degree of unanimity among the speakers in today's debate. However, surely it is unprecedented for a Bill of such contention to be allocated a mere eight hours for all its stages in another place. Like my noble friend Lord Tebbit, I sincerely ask: what is the reason for this unseemly haste? If ever there were a case for consensus, surely this must be it.

Why are we here? When I see the Bill, I have a feeling of deja vu. In order to gain an understanding of today's debate, one has to revisit the Good Friday agreement. I was present for almost all of yesterday's debate in another place and much was made of the overwhelming majority in northern and southern Ireland in support of that agreement. However, we need to remember the reason for that. It was the letter that was written in the middle of the night and handed to Mr Trimble, and the personal assurances given by the Prime Minister during that night to secure the acquiescence of Mr Trimble and many of his Unionist colleagues. That was conveyed to the wider public in Northern Ireland, supported by my right honourable friends John Major and William Hague. Others spoke publicly on the basis of the Good Friday agreement plus the personal assurances of the Prime Minister in that note and verbally. The latter was the ingredient which secured the vote.

There are many people in Northern Ireland who believe we have been let down. I count myself as one of them. I make no criticism of the Prime Minister for that because I believe that he made those assurances in good faith at the time. But the truth is that we have been let down. I accept that we can be clever with hindsight,

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but, with hindsight, in one more day Mr Trimble should have insisted that those assurances were put into the agreement. We should then have been in a much stronger position and perhaps today's debate would have been unnecessary.

That is the reason why we demand from the Government that the three points raised in another place yesterday, together with the fourth put forward in the excellent speech of my right honourable friend John Major, should be incorporated in the Bill. If they are not, we shall repeat the fudge of the Good Friday agreement.

The Prime Minister at that time said, "Trust me". As I have said, I believe he was genuine; and we did. Now he must understand that we need more than words or parliamentary reassurances; more than, "It will be all right on the night", and more than some interesting spinning from No. 10 to reassure the wider public who are not aware of the technicalities of the Bill.

I agree with the comments made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, that the central issue of the Bill is decommissioning of arms, not whether or not Mr Trimble and his Unionist colleagues sign up to the Bill and whether they take one more leap of faith. My noble friend Lord Tebbit said that we really need a proper definition of the word "decommissioning". I believe also that we need a proper definition of the word "breach" in the Bill, for what constitutes a breach may be interesting.

The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, regaled us with some alternative scenarios. Perhaps I may add another. General de Chastelain genuinely will, at some point, produce a timetable. The first stage of that timetable is the "two or three days". I do not know how that will manifest itself when the timetable is produced, but whatever the first stage is, when that time is reached it may be possible for the General himself to say, "Yes, we have reached the limits of my timetable but I believe in good faith that there are so many encouraging signs coming from Sinn Fein/IRA that it would be too insensitive at this stage to trigger the measures in the Bill". It may even be that if the general decides to trigger it, it may be said at the next stage of the process that this is too sensitive a time to trigger the mechanisms in the Bill. As my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew said, it is only the mechanism that is released, not the automatic exclusion. So we do need more definition.

My right honourable friend John Major asked in another place whether we could confirm that the British and Irish Governments were in agreement about the Bill. In reply Mr Murphy, the Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office, stated:

    "The right hon. Member for Huntingdon also asked whether we could confirm that the British and Irish governments are agreed on the Bill. Our relationship as Governments has never been closer and we agreed fully on the way forward".--[Official Report, Commons, 13/7/99; col. 228.]

That is not a "yes". Are they in agreement on the Bill? May I extend the question asked by my right honourable friend to this: are the two Governments agreed about the amendments that we believe are coming tomorrow? It is

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important that we hear that. Perhaps I may reinforce the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, that we would also like the Minister today--before tomorrow--to give us some indication of what the amendments we see tomorrow will cover.

My right honourable friend also asked if the de Chastelain schedule could be published. I believe that that is not only desirable but essential. Again, Mr Murphy in another place said:

    "The right hon. Gentleman asked whether we would encourage General de Chastelain to publish the full schedule and timetable for disarmament".

He continued:

    "General de Chastelain said in his report of 2 July that he was prepared to define a detailed timetable for decommissioning, following discussions with representatives of the organisations. Clearly there will be a detailed timetable. Under the Bill, if the general lays down a timetable, it must be kept to, or he will blow the whistle. I recognise that the publication of the full timetable would encourage confidence. Equally, it is a matter for the general and his colleagues to decide whether they should do that".--[Official Report, Commons, 13/7/99; col. 227.]

With respect, I believe that it is a matter for Parliament to say whether that should be published, and not the general.

On past record, we know that the IRA is a past master at prevarication. Therefore, can we have a guarantee that General de Chastelain's determination of the timetable will be made in a matter of days? I am not sure whether the two or three days count from the publication of the timetable or whether we could wait weeks and months for it. It would be important to have that.

In response to the question from my right honourable friend John Major about whether literally any breach of the disarmament schedule would lead to suspension, Mr Murphy answered "Yes". That is why we need a proper definition of what constitutes a breach.

The Bill must be amended. If it is not, Sinn Fein/IRA will have won yet another round. It must be amended to provide greater clarity, more certainty and a transparent process within which those who default are excluded from the power sharing Executive and those who genuinely seek to tread the path of democracy continue in office. It really is a strange notion of fairness and justice when the guilty have the power of veto over the innocent. It is time now to really test the intention of the paramilitaries, including Sinn Fein/IRA. It is they, not Mr Trimble and his Unionist colleagues, who are the key to real peace in Northern Ireland.

5.25 p.m.

Lord Moran: My Lords, at one time I used to speak quite often on Northern Ireland matters. I was critical of the Anglo-Irish agreement, of the Downing Street declaration, and of a number of initiatives taken by the previous government. I have often been uneasy about the bipartisan approach.

Despite considering some aspects of the Good Friday agreement deeply unsatisfactory, I thought that as the people of Northern Ireland approved the agreement in a referendum it was not for me to complain so I have since remained silent. I can only say that perhaps some of those in Northern Ireland who voted yes may now

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regret it, misled as they were by the promises of the Prime Minister which appear, if this Bill goes through as it stands, to be worthless.

Now, on the eve of the emasculation of this House and its transformation into a House which is unlikely to make too many difficulties for the Government, I feel bound to say a brief word, particularly as this extremely important Bill is being rushed through in an extraordinary way to meet a quite arbitrary deadline decided by the Government.

I agree with the concept of power sharing but it must depend on a genuine will on both sides to operate democratically, peacefully and constructively. I think it most important that there should be devolution of government to Northern Ireland.

There are good precedents for enemies turning into valuable friends. One of the most notable was the change of heart by Botha and Smuts after the Boer War, but Adams and McGuinness are not Botha and Smuts, not by a long chalk. It is hard to believe that they will change into peace-loving, constructive politicians; rather they are likely to continue to pursue their own agenda--Brits out, a Marxist united Ireland and perhaps in due course the ethnic cleansing of the Protestants in Northern Ireland.

My objections to what is going on are, first, the involvement of the Government of the Republic, a foreign power which has still not repealed Articles 2 and 3 of its constitution laying claim to Northern Ireland, although it is pledged to do so under the Good Friday agreement, and, indeed, the involvement of President Clinton. Mr Blair and Mr Ahern seem to act as though Northern Ireland is not part of the United Kingdom but an Anglo-Irish condominium.

Secondly, I dislike the methods adopted by the Government and their predecessors to promote power sharing, notably their constant pressure on the Unionist majority and only on the Unionist majority. Thirdly, there is the continued outright appeasement of the IRA with no response or quid pro quo at all from that organisation; most of all, of course, the release of terrorist prisoners like the Brighton bomber, Magee, condemned of the most terrible crimes. This is not only highly objectionable in itself but drives a coach and horses through our own criminal justice system. Are we not all supposed to be equal before the law? If so, why should Irish terrorists be released after serving only a fraction of their sentences when the Kray brothers and Myra Hindley remained behind bars?

On the issue of appeasement, I recall as a former High Commissioner in Canada, the case of Mr Trudeau. In Quebec, some years ago, there was a terrorist organisation which killed a Minister and kidnapped a British trade commissioner. Mr Trudeau is a liberal--a man of the left--and it was generally expected that he would do nothing except say, "Tut, tut". However, he was not prepared to tolerate terrorism in Quebec. He took the firmest measures and told what he called the "bleeding hearts" to, "Go on and bleed." Terrorism in Quebec was killed stone dead. What a contrast this approach of a vigorous young country with the timid,

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ineffective efforts of our Government! It shows that in dealing with the British Government violence and the threat of violence certainly do pay.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, that decommissioning is fundamental to genuine, peaceful power sharing and cannot be fudged by the Government. The failsafe measures promised by the Prime Minister to the people of Northern Ireland are not--or not yet--included in the Bill.

We continue to go along with the fiction that Sinn Fein is separate from the IRA when everyone knows that the two organisations, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, said earlier, are inextricably linked. Experience also shows that no reliance can be placed on IRA promises.

I have read the report of the debate in the other place yesterday. I was impressed by the moderate and statesmanlike speech made by Mr Trimble. He moved amendments that were inexplicably voted down by the government majority. I was encouraged to hear the Minister's comments earlier about the likelihood of government amendments being moved in this House. If they meet the points put forward by Mr Trimble and the Opposition, the Bill may become less objectionable. If not, I think it would be much better--as Mr Trimble said yesterday--to take more time over the legislation and give ourselves the opportunity to get it right. To pass the Bill as it stands must be wrong.

5.32 p.m.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, I do not intend to detain your Lordships for long. I want to make a plea, not a speech, on behalf of three-quarters of Northern Ireland's people who voted yes and who want to keep the process going. They want to live with their children in a peaceful community where money can be spent on education and health facilities, not on security and peace trips. I am worried that people who live in Northern Ireland can talk to each other only in South Africa, but that is a personal point.

I make a plea on behalf of those who still want peace and those who behaved very responsibly at Drumcree and Ormeau Park last weekend. Both sides are to be congratulated because their actions really made a difference. None of us believed that it could happen. Furthermore, the Royal Ulster Constabulary did not have to be the filling in the sandwich--a role that it has often played before. I remember how, on one occasion when I was away from the Province, my protection driver spent the whole night taking fire extinguishers to the wives of RUC officers as a protection measure. That is no way to live.

This weekend we saw movement for which no one could have hoped. I think we must recognise that that movement came from the streets and from the parties, not as politicians but as people making decisions about their future. We cannot run Northern Ireland from outside Northern Ireland; we cannot run it from Great Britain. British citizens who live in the Province can get a feel for the situation, but the only real feeling is that one does not understand it. It is important that we do not make decisions here about Northern Ireland.

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We have got things wrong in the past. We talk about Sinn Fein as if every Sinn Fein member has horns. However, that party has a big vote and we cannot deny the people their democratic rights. We argued against Sinn Fein on democracy grounds, but the voters need a democratic party and they should be allowed to make up their minds. We should not have had a policy of not shaking hands with Sinn Fein party members. That was very wrong. If we treat people like that, how will they treat us back? There is a lot of give and take to come. The question is: will that happen or does the damage run too deep? That is an important issue and we should not add to the problem.

When I was in the Province, those who had lost family members would say, "I can live with this if this is the last one. If my son's death means that no one else will be killed, we will be brave about it". Of course, that was not the case. Other people have been killed, and the latest tragedy occurred at Omagh. We lose faith, but the people who did not were those at the heart of the tragedy. We must learn from them and move forward.

There are always too many fingers in the pie when it comes to Northern Ireland: they all want to be "boys for success". As the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, said, every American wants to be the one who came to save Northern Ireland. Most Irish immigrants to America left from the west coast of Ireland three generations ago, but Americans still have the view that horses and caravans travel up the west coast--and it is like that for those flying in to Shannon airport for a holiday. The Americans must learn that that is not what Ireland is about. They must not think that they can help by inviting Adams to sit at one table and Trimble to sit at another. At any dinner in America there is a Mr Plod the peacemaker. North America should realise the enormous investment opportunities and talent in Northern Ireland and, in that way, help constructively. However, I plead with America to stay out of Northern Ireland politics. I am sure that Northern Ireland policy will be viewed as a vote catcher in the New York state elections.

My noble friend Lord Howell drew attention to the fact that Northern Ireland cannot be run from Dublin. The situation is made more difficult by the two civil service departments: the Northern Ireland Civil Service and the Northern Ireland Office Civil Service. The communications between the two services are sometimes strictly limited and Ministers can be fed differing policies. The aim of Northern Ireland Office civil servants is often to ensure that they do not miss the seven o'clock flight back to London. The Minister shakes his head, but I have seen it happen.

It is a very difficult situation. Someone suggested that General de Chastelain should have a drink in the bar and listen to and share views. It does not happen like that. One gets locked away in Stormont or Hillsborough and, if one goes across the road to the pub, some people look at the protection officers while others put their drugs away. It is very difficult to relax in that sort of atmosphere. We must weld the different groups.

We have been held back by a lack of responsibility in Northern Ireland. If people are not responsible, they do not behave responsibly. That is the case at national

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and local levels. If a school is burnt down in Northern Ireland and the British taxpayer pays for it to be rebuilt, there is no pain in that--unless one's child attends that school. I hope, therefore, that this process will bring forward a great movement so that people can take ownership of it. I hope that we can still get it through with that ownership there. People should be able to say, "This is mine. If you do that, and we lose it, then it will be your children, my children and the future that will suffer".

The process will not be easy. It is up to the people of Northern Ireland. I have found somewhere at last where I agree with the Prime Minister when he says, "It is now up to you. I have done as much as I can". I believe that he should stick to that. Again, one of the problems has been, "If you don't like the message you are getting, go to Downing Street". Time and time again we have seen the processions up Downing Street and the crews waiting to take the message. The great thing about Sinn Fein is that it has always been better at spinning; second only, I believe, to Alastair Campbell.

All congratulations should go to David Trimble, who was the first person to take the Unionist message to North America. They used to believe that there was not a Unionist message. I once sat at the same table for the first dinner the Unionists attended in Washington. It was appalling. They felt that the North Americans were anti-Unionist. They were not anti-Unionist, they just did not know about the Unionists. Progress has been made. Let us not be negative. Let us concentrate on hanging on to what we have.

If I were still in office--I would love to be still in office: that is not to say that I am trying to usurp the Minister and in any case that is unlikely to happen-- I would ask the Unionists, Sinn Fein, the other players and the paramilitaries whether any of those groups would want to be known as the one which ruined this final effort for peace, or whether it would want to be known as the hero big enough to make the gesture to save it.

5.42 p.m.

Lord Merlyn-Rees: My Lords, the mere fact that the noble Baroness, Lady Denton of Wakefield, has risen to speak shows the great courage that she carries with her at all times. It was a privilege to hear what she had to say.

I apologise for arriving late. I had to present degrees this morning and I could not get back here in time. However, I have heard 95 per cent of the speeches.

Since 1967, Northern Ireland has been marked by a series of crises. It was in that year that the Provisional IRA came into existence, taking over from old IRA. Civil rights marches took place in West Belfast. On the walls was written, "I Ran Away", for the IRA. It played no part. A new organisation was set up and the republican movement fissured. The Official IRA went political and has representatives under different names in the Dail. However, it is the Provisional IRA that we are talking about. It is a new organisation based, of course, on the past. The Protestant paramilitaries are fissured groups, one of which is far larger than the

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Provisional IRA. The crises which have marked the period have necessitated action by the government of the day.

In 90 per cent of what it says the Bill is very similar to other Bills introduced in the past 20 or 30 years. Technically, it is no different. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, but it is a place apart. The noble Lord, Lord Deedes, is no longer in his place. In 1971 I took a Labour Party delegation from the other place to Northern Ireland. The noble Lord led the whole delegation. We visited Long Kesh, as it was called at the time. One should not have a place such as Long Kesh in the United Kingdom. It was like a prisoner-of-war camp, with barbed wire, compounds and so forth. Northern Ireland is different, and we must not forget that. That does not mean that it is not a part of the United Kingdom, but to treat it as it were Sussex, Hampshire, Wales or even Scotland is a grave mistake. It is different in many ways.

Another point I have not mentioned for some time, although it is always on my mind, is that we underestimate the problems that Members of Parliament from Northern Ireland have to face. They are far closer to their electorate, and they are constantly in danger. I shall never forget the police guard I had, which was not much greater than that provided to Members of Parliament in Northern Ireland. It is a place apart.

Northern Ireland Members of Parliament form a powerful group. They are a small group which acts almost as a devolved group. The Government are asking for the Bill to go on the statute book because of the crisis that has arisen right now. The first crisis I came across--the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, mentioned it--was in 1974 when a power-sharing executive was set up. The late Lord Whitelaw had left the Province in December, before Sunningdale was signed. He played a most powerful part in the Province. The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, says that he misses him. I do, too, as indeed do many noble Lords on this side of the House.

On my first day there I attended a meeting of the power-sharing executive. Brian Faulkner asked if he could come to see me. The noble Lord, Lord Orme, was the Minister of State at the time. We had decided to keep away from the power-sharing executive. It was running Northern Ireland, apart from security and constitutional matters. Brian Faulkner said to me, "I have come to tell you that the Sunningdale agreement is finished. We were pushed too far." Then he said, "I have been disowned by my own party." The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, will agree that that is what happened. I sent a fax--it was not called a fax in those days--to Downing Street saying, "I propose to go on saying that we support Sunningdale but the Prime Minister must realise that it is in grave danger." Eventually, it ended with a veto from the Loyalist side of the community, with the Ulster workers' strike. The noble Lords, Lord Fitt, and Lord Blease, will remember that. The strike was not a trade union strike, but rather one by trade Unionists, which was perhaps more powerful.

Four weeks later we had to have the same kind of legislation as we have now. I notice much the same wording. The legislation is being brought forward in

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order that the government of the Province can be suspended by a suspension order. The whole purpose of the Bill is to make provision for the government of Northern Ireland should there be a breakdown. Clause 2 provides for what would happen should there be a restoration. It is exactly the same as happened before.

I wish that technical legislation well. However, there are questions I wish to ask about what else is involved. The key to it all is decommissioning. I wish to ask this question. I am operating from the Explanatory Notes to the Bill. I am not suggesting that they should take the place of the Bill itself, but the matter is set down clearly. The Explanatory Notes state:

    "In relation to decommissioning, the condition is that the Decommissioning Commission ... reports to the Secretary of State that there has been a failure to honour commitments relating to decommissioning".

Decommissioning is then defined. The Explanatory Notes continue:

    "The Independent International Commission on Decommissioning was established in 1997 ... The Belfast Agreement itself envisages the Commission monitoring, reviewing and verifying progress on the decommissioning of illegal arms".

Has it done that? Has it supervised and verified that decommissioning has taken place?

I wish to make a statement as well. There are two sides to the equation of violence in Northern Ireland. There are two vetoes: a loyalist veto and a republican veto. There is a veto by the SDLP, which never has been involved in violence. It has a veto as well, because it represents the Nationalist tradition in the Province. The Republican and Loyalist sides are the two sides of the equation. Sinn Fein is split; the IRA is split. So are the paramilitary groups, of which there are many. This has always been the case.

We forget at our peril on this side of the water that in 1920, when southern Ireland, the 26 counties, became independent, there was a civil war in Ireland between the various wings of the IRA. There is a danger of that happening again. History should not be forgotten in that respect. What we are doing in this House and in another place must take that into account.

It is easy enough here, with the normal problems that may or may not arise, but Northern Ireland is a place apart and has to be dealt with as a place apart--a part of the United Kingdom, but a place apart. The Nationalist, the Unionist and the Republican Political parties have to be taken into account.

As regards decommissioning, of course something must be done, but I am sceptical. A certain amount of arms could be handed in, as well as semtex and agricultural nitrates. Large amounts of weaponry, much of it from the Middle East, from Libya and so on, will still exist. I am sceptical of the importance given to decommissioning, except in one respect. It is a totem pole. It is important, but we must not run away with the idea that it is so important that it will solve the problem, because it will not.

I remember how often this sort of situation has arisen, as may the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford. I invited the heads of the Churches in Northern Ireland

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to come and see me at Stormont. My noble friend Lord Orme was with me. It was the first time that they had been in my room and the first time they talked together in this respect, or so I thought. I talked about a cease-fire, and one of them said, "Never forget that in Ireland over the centuries the pike has gone back into the thatch", ready to be pulled out at another time.

It is important that there be a totem but it will not be the answer. Unless all the arms are handed in, violence will continue. In my view, there is only one way through, and that is for the three sides to work together. We may not like it. There are many things that stick in my throat when I read about them, but in other countries steps have had to be taken to bring men of violence onto the political scene.

Mr John Hume has done a remarkable job with the SDLP, a new party that came into existence around 1968. New parties emerge. Attitudes change. I never thought I would praise Mr Adams. He has accepted that the division of Ireland into two remains. That is a very important step, accepted by virtue of the Belfast agreement and all that goes with it. I ask noble Lords to look carefully at it.

Then, of course, there is Mr Trimble. To show that he has come a long way--and I praise him for it-- I would tell your Lordships that I first knew him as someone on a motorbike, wearing a black suit and riding as an outrider for Bill Craig of the Vanguard Unionist Party, another breakaway group.

People in Northern Ireland have had to come a long way; they will have to go further before there is peace in Northern Ireland, because it has not come yet.

This is a technical Bill. We have seen it before. We need to examine carefully the amendments that come tomorrow. They are what really matter. The rest, of course, matters, but to make a song and dance about the Bill is a mistake. I ask noble Lords to look at the other Bills. We have gone through these technical matters about commencement orders and non-commencement orders previously. They can be found in the files.

I wish the Government well. I shall listen carefully to what is said about decommissioning. While I am sceptical, it is important for the people of Northern Ireland, particularly on the Unionist side. In this respect, I do not forget Brian Faulkner, who was driven too far. The politicians of Northern Ireland cannot be driven for ever, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, said.

I look forward to hearing what the Government come up with. I ask these questions about decommissioning. What has been done about it since the Belfast agreement? Has anything at all been done about monitoring and reporting? It is very important, because unless something is done the whole edifice will fall to the ground.

5.56 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, my grandfather was adjutant of the Munster Fusiliers in Tralee in 1909. It may seem a long way back, but it is not nearly as far back as most Irish memories go. There was a foul

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murder, and his sergeant-major said to him, "Captain Dillon, there has always been murder in Ireland".

We underestimate what drives the Unionist population. They have been a minority in Ireland and have been subject to, and are continually subject to, persecution and, if I may say so, ethnic cleansing, to which I will refer in a minute.

I had luncheon today with an old friend of mine who comes from Ulster. His mother remembered as a child his farmhouse on the borders of Donegal being defended by her father and two elder brothers with rifles against the IRA coming across the border.

It is also to be remembered that if the Unionists had not been frightened of the Southern Irish Catholics home rule would have happened in 1886 in peace and quiet. The problem has always been the fear of two minorities: the Southern Irish Catholics' fear of being beaten up by England and the English being frightened of Ireland in the old days, because the population of Ireland was very nearly as high as that of the rest of Great Britain-- certainly two-thirds in the early 19th century.

In 1641 hundreds of Unionists and Protestant people were murdered. That is why they fought so strongly at Enniskillen, Aughrim and Derry. Even in 1922 there were 100,000 small Protestant farmers in Monaghan, Cavan and Donegal. Those people were bombed and burnt out.

The reason I drag up these historical instances is not to show off, to show that I know these obscure facts, but to try to help explain why the Unionists feel so frightened. They have felt frightened for a long time. They have made concessions to Mr McGuinness, who I know was wanted for murder when the Grenadiers were in Ulster 20 years ago, and Adams, who was quartermaster of the West Belfast Brigade. They have sat down with some pretty unpleasant people. They have conceded what we in this country have never conceded; they have conceded that they cannot kick out their government. If there is a general election for the assembly in Northern Ireland, it will not result in a change of government. They do not have that democratic right to change the assembly. They have been landed with it. We say that it is democratic, but it is not what we call democratic. We can sack Mr Blair, as we sacked Mr Major, and long may that last. They cannot do that. They have conceded all of these things.

The reason why decommissioning, to paraphrase Churchill, like the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and South Tyrone, re-emerged after the ebb tide of war was that in the beginning decommissioning was too difficult. It could not be got through, so an attempt was made to finesse it. Ultimately, something as important as that cannot be finessed. As the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, said, the pikes go back into the thatch. I do not think it matters if there is a Thompson machine gun from the civil war of 1922, or even a rusting Lee-Enfield from the pitiful attempt by the IRA in 1949. What matters is large quantities of Semtex; that is nasty and dangerous stuff which can do a lot of damage.

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Why is there suddenly this rush? The whole of the process of Ireland, at least since I came to this House, has been one rushed Bill after another. When I first came here there was the suspension of Stormont-- I believe it took place on a Saturday. Suddenly, Bills were rushed through. I repeat, as a sergeant major long-since dead said to my grandfather, there has always been murder in Ireland. There seems to be no point in rushing things. Why do we rush a Bill which says that if the bad guys behave badly, the good guys suffer?

I only wanted to make those two points. First, to put some plug and hope that somebody will know a little about why the Unionists behave as they do. Secondly, to ask that simple question: why do the good guys suffer if the bad guys misbehave?

6 p.m.

Lord Rathcavan: My Lords, I shall declare my interest as having spent much of my adult life in Northern Ireland and during the past 30 years or so there have been many moments of despair. No one who lives in Northern Ireland can avoid the edges of violence and not have friends or relatives who have suffered terribly.

When I visit the Western Isles of Scotland which, on a fair day, I can see from the top of the hills behind where I live, I envy the normality of life and the thriving tourist industry which supports so many in that beautiful part of the world. Our part is just as beautiful, but the tourists no longer make Northern Ireland a first choice destination for a holiday break in what should be the peak season of July and August.

The huge majority in Northern Ireland greet the opportunity for a new dawn with passion. I had hoped that this Bill, hastily drafted though it was and after so many positive achievements by government in the past year, would seize that opportunity. In its present form it has clearly failed to do that and is flawed. I agree with much of what has been said by many noble Lords today, particularly by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, who did so much to lay the foundations on which this Bill has become feasible; and the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, who has such huge and first-hand experience of political life in Northern Ireland. His comments in these debates are always invaluable.

I welcome the Minister's commitment to bring forward amendments tomorrow at Committee stage. I hope he will capture some of the creative thinking that has been expressed here today and not repeat the negative mantras--that it is not in the letter of the Good Friday agreement--and that the Government cannot touch the independence of the Independent Commission on Decommissioning. The plausible reassurances spoken by the Prime Minister at various moments of pressure during the past year are just not contained in the drafting of this Bill.

I believe that the majority consensus of noble Lords who have spoken want the Government to indicate a more specific timetable for decommissioning. Expressions like, "a matter of days", "a few weeks" or "as soon as practicable" are not good enough. Everyone admires the commitment and the independent skills of General de Chastelain. In fact, I understand he is an

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accomplished player of the pipes--I am not sure whether they are the Ilian pipes or the Scottish pipes; perhaps both--but he has put aside his favourite hobby for the duration of his task in case his music is perceived as partisan to one side or the other.

However, I am sure his commission would not object to having further directions from government for the next vital stages of decommissioning. After all, only last month the Government asked the commission to delay and possibly amend its recent report.

I believe that the consensus today is that the procedures in this Bill for the suspension and review of the executive are too cumbersome, too uncertain and contain too many cul-de-sacs. It is a dangerous maze. As the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, put it, if this part of the Bill is to inspire confidence it must be in cast iron and automatic.

The Bill must contain some reassurances, also in cast iron and not in candle wax, on the suspension of prisoner releases. It can be done, as many noble Lords much more experienced in drafting legislation than I have said. Unless some concessions along those lines are brought forward in amendments tomorrow, the Unionist Party, and its leader in particular, will be put in an impossible position. Comments and spin from Sinn Fein today and in recent days are ominous and threatening for much of what this Bill is trying to achieve.

I hope that the Minister and his colleagues in government will reflect deeply on what has been said here today and that he will not repeat the fudges, but will amend this Bill in a form that can be embraced by all parties in Northern Ireland.

6.5 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I wrote to the Minister with apologies to say that I would be five minutes late. Unfortunately, there was a two-hour delay from Brussels. I apologise deeply to him and to the House and ask whether I may be allowed to speak.

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