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Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I did not mention anyone's name. I said that, clearly, the transcripts of the tapes as they were reproduced in the Sunday Mirror indicated that a particular prisoner was absolutely committed to continuing the armed struggle, and he was released. It was not appropriate to take the matter forward; however, at some time it would be appropriate to inquire whether the Secretary of State was aware of the views expressed by that prisoner at the time of his release.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am not sure that it is helpful for me to proceed with this matter. I shall ensure that the noble Lord is given more information. However, I repeat, it is my understanding that the Sunday Mirror got hold of the wrong individual. If people are released under the Government's scheme for the early release of prisoners, the independent body that is supervising the process has to be satisfied that the prisoner will not resume paramilitary violence. It is on the understanding that they will not resume violence that these people are being released. So if there were an indication that a prisoner in that category had made that comment, I would be very surprised if the independent body would have designated him for release.
The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and other noble Lords asked for a definition of "decommissioning". It applies to paramilitary organisations. It has nothing to do with arms legally held by the police or the Army. It is to do with guns and bombs held illegally by paramilitary organisations. The wording in the Good Friday agreement refers to the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations. The joint statement of 2nd July refers to the decommissioning of paramilitary arms. There is no question but that it does not refer to any weapons held by the police or the Army in Northern Ireland.
A number of noble Lords asked how General de Chastelain can be "held to account"--I believe that that was the expression. As a noble Lord intervened to say earlier, he is held in the highest possible regard by all parties in Northern Ireland. I am not aware that anybody has cast doubts on the general's integrity or the thoroughness of his approach. I am not aware of anybody who lacks faith in his ability to do what is being asked of him.
But it is an independent body appointed by the British and Irish Governments. Under the agreement establishing that body, General de Chastelain is required to report periodically to both Governments and through whatever mechanisms they may establish for that purpose, the other participants in political negotiations in Northern Ireland. Therefore, it is clear that proper
As regards co-operation between the British and Irish Governments and the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, they have been working very closely together. We are entirely at one on the policy and process that we are discussing. We are continuing to maintain close contact at all levels. The Irish Government share entirely our commitment to implementing the Good Friday agreement as soon as possible. We have kept them in touch with developments on this Bill and we continue to do so. We have not formally sought their agreement to it: we seek that only from Parliament.
The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, in a very interesting speech, referred to the position of the SDLP. I believe that I dealt with that in saying that it is not for the Government to deal with what that party believes. I refer the noble Viscount to the comments made in the debate in the other place. He said that he was suspicious that we were giving way to terrorists. That is emphatically not so. We are not giving way or conceding to them; we are trying to maintain total integrity in the process that we are putting forward.
I say to the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, that General de Chastelain is dealing with the disarmament of all paramilitary organisations, loyalist and republican, and not just with the decommissioning of IRA weapons. He is dealing with the problem across the board.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked why there was a hurry. I believe that the answer is clear. Fifteen months have elapsed since the Good Friday agreement. It is simply not proper that we should wait and do nothing. We have made repeated efforts. We made them at Hillsborough some weeks ago. As a Government we have made repeated efforts, in concert with the Irish Government, to bring the Good Friday agreement forward to enable an assembly to be set up. The experience of that agreement is that by setting a deadline it concentrated minds and we achieved that agreement. I do not believe that that would have been achieved had not Senator George Mitchell set a deadline for the local politicians. I believe very much that by setting a deadline now we are increasing the chances of moving forward. To say that we are in a hurry after 15 months is misjudging the time-scale.
I am very pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Denton, spoke this evening. I am delighted that she is here and at what she said. I smiled at one point when she spoke about if she were doing my job in Northern Ireland. People there remember her with enormous respect and affection. I am frequently asked about her and how she is. I pass that on in public. She was held in very high regard. Hers was a difficult act for me to follow in taking over at least some her responsibilities when I had the privilege of being appointed to my job.
Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that. I shall be grateful if he will convey to those people the affection in which I hold them and to wish them every success in this final manoeuvre.
The noble Lord, Lord Moran, asked about Articles 2 and 3, as did other noble Lords. The position is that the international agreement attached to the Good Friday agreement makes clear that those articles will be repealed when the agreement comes into force at the same time as the transfer of powers in Northern Ireland which, under the timetable referred to in the Prime Minister's statement, will be next Sunday. Our own constitutional changes in Sections 1 and 2 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 come into effect at the same time. There is no slippage on that.
I believe that I have dealt with the point made by my noble friend Lord Merlyn-Rees about the decommissioning commission. There is full information about that in the report that was published recently.
The noble Baroness, Lady Park, said that the Sinn Fein/IRA agenda does not include decommissioning. As The Way Forward makes clear, all the parties have reaffirmed three principles, one of which was the decommissioning of all paramilitary arms by May 2000. If that document is put into effect, which this Bill is designed to support, we shall all know once and for all whether the IRA will decommission. We shall put it to the test. That is what many people want to see happen. It seems to me--and it commands pretty widespread support--that by putting the paramilitary organisations to the test we shall know very quickly whether or not they are prepared to decommission. That is the clearest way forward and that is why we are bringing forward this legislation. That is what the people of Northern Ireland are entitled to expect after all the waiting. They want to know whether or not the paramilitaries will decommission. If we can move to setting up an Executive we shall know very quickly afterwards, as I said a few moments ago, whether there will be decommissioning. I believe that there will be: but let us not take my belief. Let us put the organisations to the test as they have not been tested before. That is the basis for the Bill and why the Government want to move forward with it. That is why I hope that the House will give it a Second Reading.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, in short, approval of this order is required to enable direct rule in Northern Ireland to continue until the Assembly and Executive come fully into being. At the moment direct rule is due to end on 16th July, but the proposal put to the Northern Ireland parties by the British and Irish Governments on 2nd July set 18th July as the date for devolution. Therefore, if we did not approve this draft order there would be a hiatus in the governance of Northern Ireland, albeit for two days.
While we fully intend devolution to take place on 18th July, we believe it to be prudent to extend direct rule for a full year against the possibility--a small one, we hope--that devolution does not take place according to the time-scale proposed by the two Governments. Therefore, while approval of this order in theory results in direct rule being renewed for a whole year, in practice the Government hope and expect that it will be suspended by devolution on 18th July.
The people of Northern Ireland need and deserve political structures which are more accountable to them and more responsive to their needs. Against this background, we fervently hope and trust that this will be the last time that it is necessary for a government to come before your Lordships' House for approval of the statutory provisions that underpin direct rule. I commend the order to the House.