Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Lord Bishop of Lichfield: My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Longford, showed characteristic courage in mentioning the place of prayer in his own participation and concern in this process. I want to add that many people on both sides have prayed for peace. The Church and many outside the Church will be committed to continuing to pray for the new arrangements as they have prayed for peace up to this point.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, this is either a great day for the future of the Province of Northern Ireland, for the island of Ireland and for the United Kingdom, or it is a tragedy. If it turns out to be a great day, we can look forward at long last, as many speakers have said, to a period of peace and prosperity after 800 years of agony, of which the past 30 have been a leitmotiv behind the political lives of every Member of your Lordships' House.

As we all recognise, this agreement is an enormous prize and one emphatically worth taking risks for. It has been made clear during the course of today's contributions that risks have been taken everywhere; no more perhaps than by the Ulster Unionist Party. Like other noble Lords, I pay tribute to Mr David Trimble for his outstanding courage and leadership.

The biggest risk that all of us are taking in supporting the order today--it is certainly one that I support--is that terrorists on both sides, in spite of all that has happened over the past few years, are still prepared to hold the Armalite and Semtex in reserve in

30 Nov 1999 : Column 735

case they cannot achieve their objectives through the ballot box alone. It is "belt and braces" of a particularly horrific kind which all those who take part in the political day-to-day lives of this country do not even begin to think is an option open to the rest of us. The least we can ask is that those taking part in parliamentary government in the Province for the first time should abjure that option if we are to look them in the face and deal with them on equal terms in our political day-to-day transactions.

If decommissioning does not take place; if a timetable is not established and adhered to; and if the process is not certified as being complete by General de Chastelain by the May deadline, today will turn out not to have been a great day in the history of our country and of Ireland, but to have been a tragedy, not least because we will once again have raised expectations in the hearts of the people of the Province only for them to be dashed. I am therefore wholly in agreement with those noble Lords who have made it plain that the matter now rests firmly in the hands of terrorist organisations on both sides of the sectarian divide, and in particular with IRA/Sinn Fein. If they do indeed show that they have given up the Armalite in favour of the ballot box, we will welcome them unreservedly into the councils of the devolved Assembly; if they do not, then those who have said that the risk was not worth taking will have been tragically vindicated.

I hope that the Minister, who has always been extremely patient in his dealings with the House on Northern Ireland matters, can give us an undertaking in his reply that, if the paramilitaries do not begin to decommission according to a timetable established by General de Chastelain, the Government will not yield to what I am sure would be an overwhelming temptation to try to appease a little more and to stretch the elastic of tolerance a little further. They have asked an enormous amount of those of us who have always doubted whether in fact the paramilitaries on both sides really intended to give up their weapons and abide by the same political rules as the best of us. If they fail to do so this time, unless the Government support those who have taken the risks that all of us have recognised this afternoon, surely they will letting us and the system down--a system by which we hope that everyone will abide. If they do that, I hope that they will also recognise that there is a possibility that the risks we are all taking this afternoon will not be seen in the event to be justified.

If that tragically turns out to be so, I trust that the Minister will also be able to give us an assurance that, until decommissioning has taken place and the paramilitary organisations on both sides are seen to have given up the option of the Armalite in favour of the ballot box, the security services both here and in the Province will be kept in a finely-honed state of repair so that they are able to counter what will, unfortunately, certainly turn out to be a resurgence of the terror that we all fear.

30 Nov 1999 : Column 736

In that respect, I also hope that the Minister will be able to give an assurance that the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which was awarded the George Cross--so richly earned, we all agree--will continue to be recognised as the first line of defence against terrorists on both sides of the sectarian divide, not only for those in the Province but also for those of us on this side of the water. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will be able to repeat the undertakings given by his right honourable friend the Secretary of State in that respect, which were quoted by my noble friend Lord Glentoran.

This could be a great day. With the benefit of hindsight in six months' time, I hope that it will indeed have turned out to be so. If so, no one will be more delighted than I finally to pay tribute to all those who played such a part in taking the risks which brought about that success.

4 p.m.

Lord Blease: My Lords, I add my voice to the words of welcome and support that have been expressed for this order, so excellently introduced by my noble friend the Minister. A new page in the troubled history of Northern Ireland was vividly presented yesterday and has been suitably processed in this House today. In searching for, strengthening and establishing a democratic political framework suitable for the situation in Northern Ireland, this order now seeks to provide the elements that will regularise the situation. In that framework, elected representatives of the Assembly may promote, uphold and effectively pursue policies and programmes for social justice and equitable human relationships.

There are now some 21 Peers in this House who have, over the past 30 years, held and experienced ministerial office in Northern Ireland. We heard earlier from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, about his experience. I wholeheartedly support and welcome the words with which he presented the framework for this piece of legislation. At this time, it is invaluable for us to understand that we in party politics--that is, assuming that we are all involved in the political arena--are not suitable for presenting the forms of reconciliation that are necessary in an ecclesiastical framework. I hope that we are engaged in the role of providing accommodation for the building of co-operation between political organisations; in other words, building on the establishment of a framework of co-operation, which can progressively bring about new understandings in political life.

The framework in this particular order is restricted to the situation in Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Assembly will not be dealing with many of the matters that have been mentioned here today. During the initial proceedings of the Assembly yesterday, I feel sure that noble Lords will have noted that the Presiding Officer, Lord Alderdice, conducted the business with studied expertise, understanding and much sensitivity. His name has already been mentioned, but I believe that he undertook an outstanding piece of work yesterday in

30 Nov 1999 : Column 737

reconciling--if that is the proper word to use in such a situation--the various interests involved in those discussions.

We should also note that there are many effective, trained and knowledgeable civil servants and other personnel who are available to undertake the duties of the devolved Assembly. The matters devolved to the Assembly and the procedures for implementation have been set out in strict terms. Issues arising from the Patten report and various other matters will be debated at Westminster in due course. They will not be allowed to present themselves, in the first instance, during the Assembly's discussions. Finally, I join other noble Lords in giving this order suitable support.

Lord Renton: My Lords, should we not gratefully acknowledge the encouragement and support given by the Government of the Republic of Ireland in this matter? Indeed, does the Minister agree that, without their help, this agreement would not have been achieved and that decommissioning can succeed only with their co-operation?

Lord Laird: My Lords, I am delighted to be able to support this order today. I am from Belfast and I have been a member of the Ulster Unionist Party for 35 years. I have spent all my life living in the Province and have many relations there. I should like to underline the remarks that have been made in the House this afternoon about the turmoil inside the Unionist community that has been caused in the past few months, especially in the past few days, by the very difficult and courageous decision that Mr Trimble and his official Unionist Party have taken.

As I said, I have been a member of the UUP for 35 years. I cannot emphasise strongly enough the turmoil and the difficulty that has been caused. I have lived through and witnessed sights that I would not wish to describe to anyone in this House. I have lost work colleagues, relations, friends and next-door neighbours in tragic circumstances. Yet it is to the great credit of the party to which I belong, and to the inspirational leadership of David Trimble, that we have reached the position in which we find ourselves today.

I should like to think that Her Majesty's Government will recognise fully the courageous stand taken by Mr Trimble. I hope that they will also recognise that as regards anything that is likely to happen in the future if Mr Trimble's courageous stand is not matched by terrorists of all hues over the next few months, those of us who believe in the democratic process and have striven hard to return Northern Ireland to the democratic rails and to get that society back on the rails should not be penalised in some way. I support and identify with those noble Lords who have said that it is important that those democrats do not pay the penalty for the failure of terrorists to decommission.

I also identify with the tributes that have been paid to those noble Lords who have played a role in the affairs of Northern Ireland over the past 25 years. In

30 Nov 1999 : Column 738

that regard I do not wish to leave out the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, whom I am glad to see present today. The noble Lord played a significant role in the affairs of Northern Ireland at a difficult time. He performed his task tremendously well in difficult circumstances.

I also wish to pay tribute to the Minister, who is, and will be for the next few hours, an extremely good Minister who has been well received in Northern Ireland. Yesterday I heard an agriculture correspondent on a local radio station describe the Minister as a very popular Minister. I wonder how many agriculture Ministers can be described as popular in the current climate! That is a tribute to the noble Lord. I ask the House to recognise the role that he has played and his popularity. We are excited at the prospect of having affairs in Northern Ireland back in our own hands but there is a sadness at losing old friends such as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs.

I wish to underline the remarks that have been made about the Patten report and the difficulties that may lie ahead if the totality of that report is implemented with regard to the police force. This could constitute a major problem which could stand in the way of the future development of Northern Ireland. Again I refer to the turmoil in which the Loyalist and Unionist community has found itself over the past few months. We do not wish to push those good people, to whom I belong, any further through unnecessary, ill calculated and ill judged reforms on important aspects of policing in Northern Ireland.

We all appreciate that the days ahead will be difficult. We are only at the start of a long and turbulent voyage. However, there is much goodwill. I appreciate the remarks that noble Lords have made about the future. I wish the process well and I shall certainly support the order.

4.15 p.m.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page