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Lord Monson: My Lords, the noble Lords, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, Lord Molyneaux and Lord Fitt, powerfully drew our attention to the extraordinary series of concessions, not least the legislative concessions, made to Sinn Fein/IRA. Having observed them at reasonably close quarters over the past three-and-a-half years, I cannot believe that in their hearts most members of this Government welcome so many concessions to such a group. One can only suppose that they are acting under duress but that, for reasons of maintaining public confidence, that cannot be admitted publicly.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Rees-Mogg: My Lords, I support the amendments moved by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, on somewhat different grounds. I believe that a serious constitutional position arises and I very much hope that the Members on the Liberal Democrat Benches will consider these issues. In recent years we have adopted a strong principle that our constitution rests on equality and that there should not be discrimination in terms of gender, race or, indeed, colour. However, there is an inherent proposal in the Bill that there should be a discrimination in terms of geography.

The European Convention on Human Rights, which we have adopted into our own law, seems to me also to be based on a principle of equality; that is, it is against human rights for a legal provision to be made which has radically different effects on different groups on a purely arbitrary basis. I believe that these amendments would improve the Bill substantially by bringing it nearer to the constitutional equality which it has been a major aim of the present Government to secure in relation to other matters.

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Let us look at the experience of other countries. A major issue which has arisen in the United States is whether there should be equality under the constitution. In the 1954 case which resulted in a declaration that there should not be segregation in education, it was determined that "equal but different" means "unequal"; that is, it cannot be claimed that something is all right although it is a discrimination because, in some other sense, it is equal.

In this case, I do not believe that it can even be said that the treatment of the non-Northern Ireland parties and the parties in the rest of the United Kingdom is equal. However, if in some sense that could be held out to be so, the position would remain essentially unequal and essentially a discrimination.

Therefore, the question which arises is: if we pass the Bill as the Government would like in an unamended form and if the Government persist in their view that they will not accept all or any of the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, shall we be passing a Bill that meets the tests of law, including the tests of the convention on human rights? That is a matter which may come before your Lordships' House in another way through the ordinary process of litigation.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I strongly support the amendment. I believe that on the last occasion that we discussed this matter, I asked the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, whether Sinn Fein/IRA had supported, and had said that it would support, the proposal that Catholics should enter the RUC. I received no answer to that question. Sinn Fein/IRA has given that answer since and it has been no surprise to most of us.

Perhaps I may suggest strongly that, if the House does not accept this amendment, the people of Omagh will lose all faith in the process of justice. I am afraid that it is no good to say that Sinn Fein is a political party struggling to escape from its unwelcome IRA encumbrance. Sinn Fein/IRA consists of the very people who, when the people of Omagh appealed to both Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness to set the witnesses free and tell them they could testify, said that they would not do so because they did not recognise British justice.

If Sinn Fein is a political party in the United Kingdom which does not recognise British justice, I suggest that it is the last party to which we should give special concessions. The people of Omagh will judge us. They will say, "You passed the terrorism Act; you said how hard you would be on terrorism; and the terrorism Act says that money to these people will be stopped. But when an opportunity comes, instead of stopping it, you actually create a position in this Bill in which they will receive favourable treatment and be able to obtain money". That will be absolutely incomprehensible and I suggest very strongly that it would be utterly wrong to accept it.

I hope that the Government will reflect on the fact that Sinn Fein/IRA has now come out into the open and said that it will not support Catholics in the RUC.

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At the same time, the best of the RUC are going. One thing which Sinn Fein/IRA has been calling for is the disbanding of the Special Branch. We can expect a good deal of action in the United Kingdom which may not be very agreeable and it will serve us right.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I strongly support that question which my noble friend Lady Park has addressed to the Government. She is asking what kind of message the Government expect will be received in Northern Ireland. With respect, I do not believe that the emollient efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, will be of any great assistance to them.

I found the speech of my noble friend Lord Mackay very convincing indeed. It was a real effort to recognise the difficulties which the Government face in relation to this appalling problem. He went a long way to make it easy for them by not pressing for the omission of Clause 70.

As this debate has gone on, it has taken on more and more of the quality of a nightmare. I have begun to wonder more and more whether I am taking part in or listening to a procedure which is real.My noble friend on the Front Bench talked of another huge concession without any return so far, nor expected. It is just another huge concession. I wonder how on earth the noble Lord on the Front Bench, admittedly not a senior member of the Government, will have the gall to answer that challenge. He must reply also to the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, who pointed out that this was a concession--I believe I have his words correctly--to our taskmasters in the various terrorist groups. When the noble Lord replies, I hope that he will remember what the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux said; namely, that this is another huge concession to our taskmasters in the various terrorist groups. We heard too from the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. He never fails to move me because he speaks from terrible experience.

What I find odd--maybe I am wrong; I hope I am--is that in a short time we shall have the spectacle of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, representing the Government of this country, representing all of us in a manner of speaking, in delivering the message that this Government are prepared to facilitate the collection and passage of money by Sinn Fein or its agents from foreign countries for whatever use may be contemplated. It is all very well for the noble Lord to shake his head. I hope he will lend some force to his apparent rejection of what I am saying when he gets to his feet and defends what most of us believe to be totally and absolutely indefensible.

In conclusion, I want to say that the message which the noble Lord will be delivering this afternoon, in the event that he does not, on behalf of the Government, accept the amendment, is one which for all of us now involves unlimited shame and may well, in the future, provoke physical results of which we shall all bear the consequences.

Lord McNally: My Lords, since it was pointedly asked which way noble Lords on these Benches will vote this afternoon, I can tell the House that we shall be supporting the Government.

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It is very easy for those on the Conservative Benches to make emotional speeches. It is worth considering--and it is now on the public record--that it is now nearly 20 years since a leading member of the government of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, the late Lord Whitelaw, entered into direct negotiations with the IRA. Sometimes, some of the speeches this afternoon from those Benches have had the whiff of one more push; that, somehow, there is an alternative which is easily available to a government with more backbone militarily to defeat the IRA.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I merely wish to ask the noble Lord whether he does not draw a distinction between negotiating with what were then people who might conceivably behave in a civilised way eventually and people whom we now know do not behave in a civilised way. We have had years of experience.

Lord McNally: My Lords, I believe that terrorists behave in an uncivilised way full stop. But politicians have a duty not to support them, as the noble Baroness said from a sedentary position, but to try to find a way forward to peace. Of course, just as Lord Whitelaw must have done 20 years ago, the present Government face that horrific dilemma of negotiating with men of violence. Those are difficult dilemmas. I often think of George Woodcock's description of good trade unionism being shabby compromises. There is a lot in the peace process which is shabby compromise. But the peace process is about giving some kind of breathing space for the normality of politics to return to Northern Ireland.

We know that around that process, there are those who will be determined actively to destroy it. The fact is that to give peace a chance, the Executive and the political process, such as it is, with its defects, must be given a breathing space. We believe that this is part of a package of legislation, as has been pointed out, and it does provide such a breathing space. It will be abused; attempts will be made to undermine it by the men of violence; but it gives the men of peace something to hang on to and to build on as well.

As the Neill committee recognised, we all know that it is possible to dog-leg funds through the Republic of Ireland and for the terrorists to cheat. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, mentioned, action can be taken. The joint demarches by the British Government and the Government of the Irish Republic are examples of that.

I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, made an extremely effective speech. On these Benches, we must take a balance of judgment. It is not right on one side. If it were that simple, we should have either defeated the IRA or returned Northern Ireland to some perfect democracy. But neither is on offer at the moment. What is on offer is a peace process which needs help. Because we believe it needs help and because we believe that this Government are trying to make that peace process work, we shall be with them in the Division Lobby today.

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4 p.m.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I want to speak personally and not on behalf of my party. I have made my personal position clear to my noble friends, and they have accepted it. Having signed the report of the Neill committee, it would not be honourable for me to vote in a manner inconsistent with the report to which I have put my name. In no way is this a criticism of my party or of the stand being taken by it on this issue. Had I not been a member of the Neill committee I should have been in an entirely different position. Personally, I shall be unable to vote on any Division on these amendments.

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