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Lord Hylton: I wonder whether the noble and learned Lord would feel able to accept at the next stage of the Bill a small amendment to Clause l(3), simply adding at the end the words,

That wording would meet the point I endeavoured to raise yesterday on Second Reading, to which the noble and learned Lord was kind enough to reply in responding to the debate.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: It is a novel way to propose an amendment by asking, "What about thinking about this wording at the next stage?" I dealt with this matter on the last occasion. I said then that the reason why the suspension is being considered is to allow a breathing space because of where we are in relation to the process in Northern Ireland. As I said at the time, Clause 1 prevents the Assembly meeting or conducting any business during a suspension. That means it will not be able to function in a shadow or consultative mode. The Bill is not about providing an alternative role for the Assembly; it is about providing a complete breathing space to allow people to focus their energies on resolving the current difficulties. In the light of that, I am not in a position to accept the suggestion of the noble Lord.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Ending suspension]:

Lord Molyneaux of Killead moved Amendment No. 2:

    Page 1, line 22, leave out subsection (1).

The noble Lord: For the sake of convenience Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 have been grouped together. I made clear yesterday that my reservation with this subsection is solely in connection with the word "review". I note that in earlier copies of the Bill--this is not just a niggling point; it is something that has puzzled many of us--the clause was printed in italics. The italics have now been dropped. I wonder whether they were intended to give a degree of prominence to that wording in another place, or whether the earlier version was drafted in haste. I suggest that it was somewhat unusual, but I shall not press the point.

I expressed the hope yesterday that it is not the intention to inflict upon the long-suffering people of Northern Ireland another dose of summitry which would be destructive of what little stability remains.

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American-style summitry--involving, as it does, the isolation of the participants and starving them of nourishment and sleep--is always welcomed by the news industry. However, the process invariably leads to the downfall of leaders and, on occasions, governments. Instead of dramatic summitry, I suggest that we need a period of reflection. Then we need a thorough examination of the mechanisms of devolution against the background of yesterday's turmoil in Wales and the Scottish "hot-pot" bubbling away nicely, soon to overflow.

Having been present during nearly all the debates on devolution in this Chamber concerning all three parts of the United Kingdom--indeed, four if we count London--it was, and is, clear to me that the problems are not really understood. Regrettably, Parliament has condoned or ignored certain facts of life. We certainly ignored the fact that the Stormont experiment had no counterpart anywhere in this world and that its flaws and unworkability made collapse almost inevitable. I can think of no nation that requires every party to be involved in cabinet or executive and where, if any one element withdraws, the whole structure collapses. Surely we can do better than that. I repeat my plea for modest beginnings.

I was greatly encouraged by the words of Mr George Howarth, the Northern Ireland Minister in the other place, who said on 8th February:

    "Right hon. and hon. Members can envisage circumstances in which some talks would need to take place away from the public gaze. In the past, some talks between parties have taken place in a way that protected the participants and allowed them the space to decide in which direction to move".--[Official Report, Commons, 8/2/00; col. 202.]

I believe we are entitled to assume that those wise words of a junior Minister represent the views of his fellow Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office and also--dare I suggest it?--the good intentions of Her Majesty's Government in general. I beg to move.

Lord Glentoran: I have great respect for the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux. I listened with care to the remarks he made. If I interpret the amendments correctly, they would effectively break with the Belfast agreement and could lead to its suspension. I have to point out that all the way through this process my party has linked with the Government in believing in the Belfast agreement and supporting all those who worked for it. We certainly could not countenance any alteration or amendment to the Bill that would endanger the Belfast agreement.

Lord Smith of Clifton: On behalf of these Benches, perhaps I may concur with the sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord, Lord Glentoran.

Lord Hylton: I am not quite sure what the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, is trying to achieve with these amendments. It is possible that they are just a probe. I am not quite clear as to their intention. Nevertheless, the noble Lord has drawn attention to an important point; namely, that the fullest possibly dialogue should proceed in parallel

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with any review. I say that because dialogue between citizens, politicians and members of parties is, I believe, capable of changing attitudes. Changing attitudes is extremely important for the generation of trust that we all know has been somewhat lacking. That is why I hope that the Government and the Secretary of State will do their very best to promote dialogue at all levels whether or not there is a review going on.

4 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: I do not know whether the noble Lord the Minister had noticed that I would be raising an issue at this stage rather than at the further reading because I think it is the time for it to be considered, and it is relevant.

I was not clear yesterday exactly what the two governments expected to review and under whose chairmanship they would do it. I am clear that if the Government has taken us up to the wire, purports to intend to call Sinn Fein/IRA's bluff and to challenge them to make good their implicit commitments, then they should not be offering yet another sop to Cerberus at this late stage that would commit Her Majesty's Government to fall short in its duty to defend the people of Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom whose people, by a substantial majority, voted to stay within the United Kingdom.

In the debate yesterday I referred to the possibility of tacit deals that might be proposed to equate the paramilitary arms with those of the regular forces and to lower our defences. I pointed out then that when the IRA speak of the issue of arms they are speaking about the armed forces of the Crown and the Royal Ulster Constabulary, not decommissioning their own paramilitary arms.

Press reports today suggest--and this is the point on which I should like the view of the noble Lord the Minister--that the Irish Government, in its usual helpful and generous way, is to propose a plan which would involve significant demilitarisation measures by the British in Northern Ireland. By a curious coincidence, Gerry Adams has also been talking about demilitarisation. He is usually aware of what is happening. It is also reported that any initiative from the Republican Movement will be strictly conditional on demilitarisation and the continuation of the new institutions.

The courageous decision, in which I found so much to praise yesterday, may prove to be yet another fudge, purporting to suspend the institutions and appearing to bring a minute amount of pressure to bear on Sinn Fein/IRA, but with both sides knowing that the decision to suspend the institutions is only a manoeuvre and that there is yet another deal under the table designed to give Sinn Fein/IRA yet more, in return for what?

Can the Minister tell us what is the position? I recognise that negotiations are secret and have to be carried on behind the scenes. But since they are creeping out of every crevice of the Irish Times and our own press, I think that we are entitled to have a view; and I did give the Minister notice that I would want it.

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I should like to know how the Government propose to justify dismantling defences in IRA "country" in South Armagh and withdrawing forces from a part of Britain while the situation is not, and cannot possibly be considered to be, normal. I have no doubt that the Treasury and the Ministry of Defence will be delighted for their own different reasons, such as severe overstretch in the army. It will be nothing short of disgraceful to offer Sinn Fein/IRA yet one more major act of appeasement. I should not be at all surprised if this--combined with the determination of the Government to proceed also to emasculate the Royal Ulster Constabulary to appease a tiny violent minority--will be the last straw for most of the people of Northern Ireland. I hope that the Government have reflected very carefully on that.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I shall first deal with the preliminary point about the italics which the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, raised. It is customary in another place for provisions which may incur financial expenditure to be printed in italics. Clearly, if and when a review is put in place, there will be associated costs. That was the only reason for the print being in italics.

The essence of Amendments 2 and 3 that we are taking together is to remove the requirement for a review. Suspension will come into effect only if it becomes clear that the political institutions no longer carry cross-community support and confidence. If that is, indeed, the case and the institutions are suspended, it will be essential that we bring the process back on track to a process of discussion and negotiations; in other words, a review. This was recognised during the negotiations that resulted in the Good Friday Agreement. That is why there is a whole section entitled "Validation, Implementation and Review". If suspension occurred without being followed by a review we could find ourselves in a dangerous political vacuum that could lead to the destruction of everything on which we have been working for so long. It would almost certainly cause the end of the Good Friday Agreement. I think it is that view that has led the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, to express the views that they have in this debate.

As has often been said, here and in another place, this legislation is not intended to suspend the agreement. It is intended to save the agreement. I am convinced that it is only through the twin proposal of suspension followed by review that we can reach a positive outcome, not by suspension alone. Consequently, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendments.

I deal with the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth. There have been articles in the Irish Times yesterday and other newspapers today. I make our position clear. The onus is on the paramilitaries to provide parity on whether, how and when they will decommission. All our efforts with the Irish Government are directed to achieving that. Security measures are determined by the level of

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threat. As the threat reduces, we will make progress on normalisation. We have already published a paper setting out our strategy for doing so.

There is no equivalent between security measures and the decommissioning of arms that we seek. In relation to security measures we act on the professional advice of the chief constable. We are determined not to relax our guard. The safety of the public is absolutely paramount. Decommissioning is essential because illegal arms, even if not used, are part of the threat. Substantive and verifiable decommissioning would have an impact on the overall level of threat alongside other important factors. I repeat that security measures are determined by the level of threat. We act on the professional advice of the chief constable.

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