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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way, but he has just said that this Bill would not be enacted except in the worse case scenario. My understanding is that it is likely that this Bill will be enacted the day after tomorrow. That is not the worst-case scenario; or, rather, it would be the worst-case scenario if it was enacted without our amendments.
Lord Redesdale: My Lords, the noble Baroness has put forward her opposition to the Good Friday agreement. If her viewpoint is that decommissioning, or a form of decommissioning, will never take place, she obviously has no faith in the signing of the Good Friday agreement in the first place.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, that is such a parody of what my noble friend has said. She just corrected what the noble Lord said in a matter of fact. Then the noble Lord waffles on about the Good Friday agreement and gets it horrendously wrong.
Another issue that has been raised concerns the release of prisoners. We on these Benches believe that the release of prisoners cannot be included in this Bill. In another place the prison sentences legislation was mentioned as a reason to halt prisoner releases. However, it is our view that the release of prisoners is bound to the cease-fire and that prisoner releases should be halted only on the breaking of the cease-fire.
I echo the sentiments expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, and the noble Baroness, Lady Denton, on the restraint shown by those taking part in the Drumcree march. The newspapers reported how few instances of violence occurred this year as opposed to the same occasion last year.
This Bill does not just contain provisions as regards a failure of Sinn Fein to decommission. It will assure all parties not just that decommissioning will take place but that all the political commitments in the Good Friday agreement will be met.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, especially those who supported the intentions of the Bill. Before I deal with some of the specific points that have been made I shall answer the question that has been put by a number of speakers concerning government amendments.
This afternoon the Prime Minister gave an indication of the amendments that the Government are thinking of introducing tomorrow. He said that the Government would table amendments today in line with the Good Friday agreement that will reflect many of the comments that were made on all sides of the House in the debate yesterday. Those amendments will focus upon making sure that decommissioning takes place in accordance with the timetable to be laid down by de Chastelain; will make it clear that any breaches of that timetable will lead to the automatic suspension of the institutions; and will ensure that we can clearly and formally identify the parties that default either in decommissioning or in devolution.
I appreciate that I was asked for more specific information. But I think that the House will understand that the Government are still discussing and considering the precise wording of the amendments. It is a little too early at this point for me to be able to indicate with absolute clarity what those amendments will be. I do not
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I think we will go further than that. I was quoting what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said today. The noble Lord is enough of an old hand at this business to know that I cannot at this stage go any further. Of course he realises that. It is a good try but I am not going to fall for that one.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He has, as usual, tried to be as helpful to the House as he possibly can. But perhaps he could help us a little further, if not now then a little later on. Can he give the House some indication of when the wording of the amendments might be available? If it is to be later tonight, that would be helpful to those of us who wish to take part in the remaining stages tomorrow. We need to consider not only whether we can go along with the amendments--which I hope will be possible--but, if we cannot, what our reactions will be.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I will certainly do my best to find out and try to give an answer--if an answer is available--before I sit down. The noble Lord will appreciate the difficulties. Discussions are still going on and, indeed, in fairness to this House, it is only right that the Government should also consider what has been said here today. That may influence any amendments the Government may feel able to bring forward tomorrow. If I can be helpful to the House before I sit down I shall certainly endeavour to be so.
Noble Lords, of course, have understood the enormous efforts which the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have made in order to give effect to the Good Friday agreement and to take it further. No one can say that the Prime Minister has not put all possible effort into trying to bring the matter forward.
A question was asked about the position of the SDLP. It is not for the Government to comment on the views of the SDLP. I shall simply refer your Lordships to the speeches made by both John Hume and Seamus Mallon in the other place yesterday for an indication of how the SDLP will take this forward.
The Government do not appease the IRA; we do not appease any paramilitary organisation. We are seeking to bring forward a permanent peace for Northern Ireland on the basis of an agreement that was supported by the vast majority of the political parties in Northern Ireland. That is what we are seeking to do. I believe firmly that the Good Friday agreement and what we have done since represents an attempt to achieve a balance in Northern Ireland--not simply to put pressure on one party, but a balance--and all sides had to make
Before I deal with specific points, perhaps I may give the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, an answer. We will try to get out the amendments by this evening. However, they are still under discussion. If I have any further information before I sit down, I shall certainly give it to the House.
Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, perhaps I may intervene on that one point. Can the Minister say whether or not an indication of the nature of the amendments at the very least will have been relayed to Mr Trimble so that it could possibly be of help to him during the course of his meeting?
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am being asked all kinds of specific questions. I cannot give an absolute undertaking that that is the case. If I can give the noble Lord any undertaking to that effect before I sit down, I shall certainly do so. The House will appreciate the difficulties we are in with trying to move forward on the basis of the debate yesterday in the other place. We are trying to move forward in terms of the specific amendments which will be forwarded here today. That involves a great deal of discussion and consideration of the issues. I do not want to build up enormously high hopes that all the wishes of this House can be met; I am sure they will not be. A few of them may be; I cannot go any further than that.
Before dealing with the specific points, perhaps I may welcome the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. I think this is the first occasion on which he has spoken for the Opposition on Northern Ireland issues since he was appointed to his post. Certainly it is the first time he has taken part in a formal debate. I welcome that. We have already had some informal discussions--I am sure they will continue--and I congratulate him.
I also thank the noble Lord for what he said about wanting to continue a bipartisan policy. It was slightly frayed at the edges on occasion, I would say, but--
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