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It has been a long and hard road with, as we have seen, many tortuous twists and turns. But that is as nothing compared with the future. Of course I wish everyone involved the best, but I have to agree with my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew that the assembly, which starts business on Thursday, is on approval from the Ulster Unionist Council. I am very much afraid that we have not seen the last of these orders under the Northern Ireland Act 1998.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I rise to give the order full support and to join other noble Lords in paying tribute to all those who have participated in this process, going back many, many years. I pay tribute to the noble Lord the Minister for the hours of time that he has given in his job as Minister in Northern Ireland and for the way in which he has dealt with all of us who have had our anxieties on the way. I pay tribute to him also for the way in which he has come to the Dispatch Box on so many occasions and informed the House of the present situation.
I was returning from a conference in Birmingham on Saturday when the news came through that the Ulster Unionists had taken their decision to trigger the process today. The order is before us in the House today because of a great leap of faith that had already been taken by Mr Trimble. That was followed by him persuading his colleagues at that meeting on Saturday that this was a leap of faith worth taking and that the risks involved were worth facing.
We should not underestimate what happened that day. Those of us who are seasoned observers of the Irish scene know full well that predominantly two reasons made possible that vote on Saturday. The first reason was the promise that was given by Mr Trimble himself that unless there is measurable progress towards decommissioning, which is the key to success in what is happening today, his letter of resignation--already written and sealed--will be activated. He gave his colleagues that promise that that is what he would do.
The second reason that persuaded his colleagues to support him so wholeheartedly on that day was the promise given by the Secretary of State, Mr Mandelson, who in fact said that he would stand and support Mr Trimble if he should have to activate his resignation letter. Similar promises were given following the Good Friday agreement by the Prime
I want to ask a straightforward question of the Minister, and I know that he will answer it unequivocally. The question is: will the Secretary of State stand shoulder to shoulder with Mr Trimble, who has acted with great courage, if by February there is no measurable progress towards decommissioning?
The only other point I want to make concerns default. I understand now, because of the way in which this whole legislation is working--both the Act of Parliament and the order that is before the House today--that should one or more paramilitary organisations default on decommissioning, all the institutions have to be stood down. The noble Lord the Minister will know that I have some reservations about that, but I accept it because that is where we are. However, I also want to say to the Minister that I do not believe that the innocent should suffer. It is absolutely right to say that no one should profit from defaulting on progress towards decommissioning, but neither should innocent people suffer. I should like to have some assurance from the Minister that should there be defaulting by one or more of the paramilitaries, causing almost simultaneously the standing down of the institutions--which has to happen because of the way in which the legislation will work--those who are innocent will find themselves being invited to re-establish an assembly and an executive that will continue to rule, parochially and locally, in Northern Ireland.
Lord Desai: My Lords, I welcome the order and join others in paying tribute to my noble friend Lord Dubs. I want to say just one thing, which is that although we all wish that decommissioning will proceed as promised, we also know from the history of Northern Ireland that the IRA, as a concept, is a slippery and dynamic thing. There will be other IRAs, even if this one decommissions. The most difficult thing for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the other politicians to ascertain will be whether the IRA is decommissioning and the Real IRA is not decommissioning. I believe that the major danger is not going to be IRA/Sinn Fein but a new dissident faction that could arise whose members will continue to be terrorists. I think it will take great courage on behalf of everyone to be able to say that the more the small element can be isolated and the Assembly can be kept, the better will be the chance of finally seeking an end to the entire culture of violence in Northern Ireland.
All I am saying is this: decommissioning is something which I very much hope will not prove to be the sticking point. It must be something which is faced with a flexible understanding of history and of possibilities.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am most grateful for what I believe is the unanimous support of all those who have spoken for what the Government have put before the House today. Admittedly, that support was sometimes couched in terms indicating some qualifications; nevertheless, I am grateful for the welcome that the Government have received for their proposal from all sides of the House.
Perhaps I may first deal with the question of the Patten report, not because it was the only issue, but because it has been mentioned so frequently. I should like to deal with that first and then deal with the other points that have been made in the debate. Concerns about the Patten report were mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Laird, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, and the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, together with many other speakers. Of course the Government fully appreciate the sensitivities surrounding the report and we shall handle all such views and concerns very sensitively.
The maintenance of law and order must remain a priority. We shall take account of the prevailing security situation when considering the imple- mentation of some of the recommendations in the report which deal with the level of policing and so on. The Secretary of State will be guided, as always, as was the previous Secretary of State, by the advice given by the Chief Constable, among others. We shall consider the comments made about the Patten Report. We have been listening to views right up to today, and the Secretary of State has said that he will, following the end of this month, let his views be known as soon as possible. Of course, he will take into account the comments made by many people, including those made by Members of your Lordships' House. I can give your Lordships that assurance.
We are delighted that Her Majesty has thought fit to give her recent award to the RUC: a very well-deserved award. I should like to endorse once more the many comments made over many years about the bravery of the RUC during the past 30 years; the number of lives of RUC officers that have been lost and the number of its officers who have been injured, some of whom are living to this day with very serious injuries indeed. That is right, and it is right that this should go on the
Let me now deal with some of the more specific points that have been made during the debate. A number of noble Lords asked about the possibility of default, whether in the implementation of decommissioning or on devolution. I can give my assurance to the House that those who default will not profit from that default. The Secretary of State has set out what we will do by way of suspending the institutions in the event of any default. He went on to say that the Government will take the legislative action necessary to do so as soon as it becomes apparent that this is required. I am happy to repeat that assurance.
The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, asked about possible checks and balances. I believe that he referred in particular to checks and balances as regards action by either DUP or Sinn Fein Ministers. Of course DUP and Sinn Fein Ministers are members of the Executive and yesterday all of them took a pledge of office. That pledge included a number of requirements. I shall mention three of them: first, to participate with colleagues in the preparation of a programme for government; secondly, to operate within the framework of that programme when agreed within the Executive Committee and endorsed by the Assembly; and, thirdly, to support, and to act in accordance with all decisions of the Executive Committee and Assembly. I hope that that will give some assurance to the noble Lord and to other Members of the House who queried whether the Executive would have powers over decisions by individual Ministers. Clearly, the Executive has not yet begun to operate so we shall have to wait and see how it works, but I hope that those assurances will satisfy the concerns expressed by the noble Lord.
The noble Lord also asked about the committee structure. There is to be a committee structure in the Assembly with one committee corresponding to each of the 10 government departments. The chair of each committee will be a member of a different political party from that of the Minister. That will provide an element of checks and balances in the way those procedures will operate.
The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, asked a number of questions about the Patten Report and the RUC. I believe that I have dealt with most of the points that he raised. I thank once again the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, for the tribute he paid to the Government and others for the work that we have done, and I shall reciprocate by paying tribute to him for the work he carried out when he was Secretary of State and on which we have built. I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Lord on the need for a quick start to decommissioning. Senator Mitchell has said that the process should begin with the appointment of authorised representatives on 2nd December. I look forward to that taking place and to rapid progress thereafter. I have full confidence in General de Chastelain and the decommissioning commission which has the responsibility of overseeing this process, including arrangements for the timing of actual
My noble friend Lord Longford asked about decommissioning by loyalist paramilitary organisations. I can confirm to my noble friend that, in the report of the international body on decommissioning, Senator Mitchell spoke of mutual decommissioning. That is what we want to see. An obligation to decommission has been placed on all paramilitary organisations, be they republican or loyalist.
The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, sought an undertaking that the Government will not appease terrorists if they do not give up their arms. I believe that I made it clear in my speech, and the Secretary of State has done so in another place, that no one who defaults on decommissioning will profit from it. I am happy to repeat that undertaking. I will also repeat the undertaking I gave a few moments ago on the state of readiness of the security forces; namely, that the security of Northern Ireland and of its people remains our primary concern and responsibility. Any changes in security arrangements will reflect improvements when they occur in the security situation.
The noble Lord, Lord Renton, referred to the contribution of the Irish Government. I am happy to join the noble Lord in commending the role of the Irish Government in securing the agreement and the positive outcome of the review. For many years we have worked very closely indeed with the Irish Government and I do not think that the Good Friday agreement or what has happened more recently would have been achieved without such very close co-operation between the two governments. It is widely recognised that the Irish Government have helped to underpin the way forward.
The noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, made several important comments, with which I wholeheartedly agree, that the crucial element in the settlement is the way that it provides for the expression of cross-community consent to ensure consensus and to guarantee that the minority has a say in the way in which Northern Ireland is governed. In effect, we shall see power sharing and a new partnership. That underpins both the Good Friday agreement and the way forward.
My noble friend Lord Merlyn-Rees asked what would be needed to collapse the institutions of the agreement if that should prove necessary. Such a move would require primary legislation. On 22nd November the Secretary of State said in another place that both the British and Irish Governments would take the necessary steps to ensure that the operation of these institutions ceases should that be necessary. It would require legislation and action by treaty on the part of both governments.
I believe that I have dealt with the specific points raised in our debate and I should now like to make a few general concluding remarks. I agree that David Trimble has shown enormous courage. He has had to deal with very difficult situations and he has brought forward the entire process. I should like to endorse the many tributes that have been paid to him today for the courage he has shown. I also thank noble Lords who have said kind things about me. We do our best and I am grateful for the comments that have been made. I must say that I feel that this might be almost an epitaph. I missed the comment about agriculture that was made on the radio, and I am amazed that anyone could make such a comment. Farmers in Northern Ireland have faced great difficulties.
I should like to respond to a comment made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield on the part played by the Churches. I agree that all the Churches have played an important part in the peace process and it is right that we should express our gratitude to them for their efforts.
Finally, I should like to pay tribute not just to the big names but also to the ordinary people of Northern Ireland. Over the past 30 years they have borne an enormously difficult and heavy burden. Despite that, they have shown a resilience and a positive approach and a welcome for the peace process. That, in turn, has stimulated the politicians to move forward, as they did the other day. I should like to end by paying tribute to the ordinary people of Northern Ireland. The Government will not let those people down.