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Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, it is with great delight that I receive the support of both the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish and the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie. I very much appreciate their welcome of this measure which, as I have said, is very much a tidying up exercise.
The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, in moving this order I shall also speak to the second order standing in my name on the Order Paper. These orders were laid before the House on 5th June. Both orders cease to have effect if they are not approved by resolution of each House of Parliament within 40 days of their being laid. I am seeking the approval of this House today. Approval was sought and granted in another place last week.
Under powers conferred by Section 2(2) of the Northern Ireland Act 2000, the Northern Ireland Act 2000 (Restoration of Devolved Government) Order 2000 repeals Section 1 of the 2000 Act, thereby lifting the suspension of the operation of the devolved institutions.
Almost exactly one month ago, on 29th May, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland signed the restoration order which returned devolution to Northern Ireland, bringing about the end of the period of suspension. From midnight the members of the Northern Ireland Executive Committee automatically resumed their posts. Salaries and allowances were returned to their pre-suspension levels and all of the committees of the Assembly were once again able to meet.
The first plenary meeting of the Assembly was held the following week. These early meetings have shown that members are keen to get down to business, dealing with the real bread and butter issues which affect everyone in Northern Ireland including economic, social and regional development, health and education. The brief period of suspension has done nothing to diminish their energy or enthusiasm or their commitment to work diligently for the good of the people of Northern Ireland. I am sure that this House will join me in wishing them every success, both now and in the future, in building the future prosperity of Northern Ireland for the good of all of its people.
The second order before this House, the Northern Ireland Act 2000 (Modification) Order 2000, has been made by the Secretary of State to ensure that actions taken by him under powers granted to him during suspension by the Northern Ireland Act 2000, cannot be annulled or revoked by the Assembly. These actions would include, for example, the Secretary of State's determination to reduce salaries and allowances for the duration of the suspension period.
I by no means wish to suggest that Assembly members would have contemplated retrospectively awarding themselves full salaries and allowances for that period. However, it would be seriously remiss of any government not cover all eventualities in this way, under the law.
The modification order also ensures that orders in council made by the Secretary of State under the schedule to the 2000 Act during suspension are not affected by restoration. This ensures that the Flags (Northern Ireland) Order 2000 cannot be revised or annulled by the Assembly.
As noble Lords will no doubt keenly remember, this House approved the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Appointed Day) Order 1999 in November of last year, bringing devolved government to Northern Ireland for the first time in almost 30 years.
It was a momentous occasion; namely, the return of power to the people of Northern Ireland. We all hoped and prayed that Northern Ireland was finally entering a new era of democratic and locally accountable devolved government, where disputes were aired in the debating chamber and not on the streets. But it was not to be, at least not yet. However, I do not believe that the optimism we felt at that time was misplaced.
We had come a very long way and the sight of historically opposed parties facing each other for the first time both across the Assembly chamber and across the Executive Committee table only served to underscore this.Indeed, the Assembly and Executive Committee quickly settled down to the serious business of government and showed early on that they were prepared to work together for the good of the community as a whole.
Devolution proved not only to be popular but also to be effective. It was consequently hugely disappointing for everyone to see the devolved institutions suspended so soon. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State in another place stressed from the outset that the suspension of the institutions was a temporary measure only, designed to save them from a collapse which would have been far more damaging. He made clear that the Government's unswerving commitment would be to work to bring about the restoration of the institutions at the earliest possible opportunity and on a lasting basis and to tackle head on those issues which had led to the decline in confidence and consequent suspension in the first place. I am delighted to be before noble Lords today with these two orders to help this commitment to become a reality.
I believe that we have succeeded in returning confidence that devolution is here to stay and that we can move forward in implementing all the other aspects of the Good Friday Agreement. Many people have worked tirelessly to bring this about. The Northern Ireland political parties and the two governments put in enormous time and effort to reach agreement on the way forward.
The personal involvement of the Taoiseach and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister demonstrated the importance that we and the Irish Government attach to securing the best outcome for the people of Northern Ireland. The Irish Government worked closely with us at every level throughout this process. Their commitment to the Good Friday Agreement and to implementing that political settlement is beyond doubt. Their contribution has been invaluable.
The determination of the pro-agreement parties to fulfil their commitments under the Good Friday Agreement has also been crucial in bringing about the right circumstances for the restoration of devolution. Throughout the process the pro-agreement parties maintained their commitment to forging a better future for Northern Ireland, to removing the guns from politics and establishing a lasting and peaceful political settlement for the people of Northern Ireland.
The commitment made by the IRA in its statement of 6th May to put its arms completely and verifiably beyond use was undoubtedly significant, as was the signalling of their good intent in offering an early confidence building measure. The House will be aware that this commitment to initiating confidence building has now been honoured.
On Sunday, President Ahtisaari and Cyril Ramaphosa, appointed by the two governments as independent inspectors, reported to the Decommissioning Commission that they had successfully completed the initial inspection of several weapons dumps. They confirmed that they were shown a substantial quantity of IRA arms and explosives and they were able to verify that these weapons were safely stored and could not be used without their detection. I will repeat just one short significant quote from their report. It is that the confidence-building measure is,
The signs are good. These first steps are encouraging and significant. However, we cannot afford to become complacent. The removal of all arms and explosives from Northern Ireland for good is of paramount importance to this Government and will remain so. Nevertheless, it is clear that we now have words and deeds to illustrate the IRA's commitment to peaceful means and to putting their arms beyond use. In turn, the two governments have made a commitment that the agreement will be implemented in full and we are moving as fast as we can to achieve that.
The draft orders before the House today represent a triumph of democratic politics over the politics of fear, violence and intimidation. But there will be more hard work ahead. Of course there will be arguments and disputes between the parties in the Assembly but that is the stuff of politics. A debating chamber or committee room, as this House knows, is precisely the place where such disputes should take place.
More seriously, just last week we had further evidence of the continuing threat from dissident Republican terrorists. The UFF statement showed that at least one of the loyalist ceasefires cannot be taken for
The Good Friday Agreement and devolution have shown that it is possible for all shades of political opinion to work together to forge a better future for all of the people of Northern Ireland. Political leaders in Northern Ireland are committed to this, and so is the Government. That is why these orders are important.
Restoration of the devolved institutions promises a lasting political settlement for Northern Ireland based on the principles set out in the Good Friday Agreement; consent, equality and parity of esteem. I commend these orders to the House.
Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 5th June be approved [21st Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord Falconer of Thoroton.)
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