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Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, on these Benches we shall support the extension of the decommissioning period for a further nine months. However, in the spirit of bipartisanship it must be asked how long the Government envisage the situation continuing. It is questionable how far the peace process is served by such regular extensions, which are becoming all too predictable. Certainly, it hardly enhances the standing of Parliament to be associated with what is becoming something of a charade.

It is equally true that too much has been invested politically in the act of decommissioning per se, which, as almost everyone acknowledges, would be almost wholly symbolic. The reality is that Provisional IRA weapons are not, and have not been, in use for some time--although, as the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, said, there may have been some seepage to other Republican paramilitary bodies. The fact of non-usage has to be acknowledged, as does the increased activity of the loyalist paramilitaries, which again does not assist in progressing the Belfast agreement. Both points need to be factored in to the equation that comprises contemporary politics in Northern Ireland.

Let us hope that after the general election a more normal politics can be established so that people can get on with building a democratic society. I know that that is asking a lot in the context of Northern Ireland, but it means a reduction in symbolism and its associated rhetoric. That would be a real act of decommissioning.

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Can the Government estimate when substantive moves in decommissioning are likely? What position will the Government take if nothing positive has occurred by 27th February next year? I regret to say that in the light of experience that is not a hypothetical question.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, as has been said, the introduction of the extension order merely confirms the well-founded suspicion that the parent Act of 1997 was always intended to be a moveable feast. It is for that very reason that the government of the day--and they are not the only guilty ones--found it necessary to come back and literally humiliate Parliament by inviting Members to engage in something that was clearly unworkable and could not be sustained. It is a further insult to law-abiding citizens that terrorists are to be granted still further amnesty, despite the fact that not one ounce of Semtex and not one bullet has been surrendered after all these years.

Against the advice of those of us who had first-hand experience in these matters over many years, both Houses of Parliament--I suppose with the best of intentions and a degree of optimism--gave unconditional approval to the Belfast agreement, which insisted that all weapons must be handed over by 22nd May 2000. Sadly, that date came and went and every single undertaking was dishonoured. All that happened was that when both governments sounded tough we had the appearance--but only the appearance--of movement on the part of the terrorists, both republican and loyalist. That appearance usually took the form of a mere telephone call to the de Chastelain commission, which was always welcomed and labelled by the commission as "encouraging developments"--that was the summary of a mere telephone call. A telephone call was "sold" by government Ministers and others who should have known better as "a breakthrough".

On a lighter note, I suppose that we can safely assume that as the next deadline approaches in June, one Mr P O'Neill--who I understand from the list is not a paid-up member of the army council but lends his pen name to all communiques of any significance--will have collected sufficient coins to telephone de Chastelain and the telephone call will pass as another "encouraging development". Should the supply of coins be sufficient to finance a lengthy discussion, I believe that the de Chastelain commission would feel bound to proclaim "a breakthrough".

The noble and learned Lord echoed yesterday's Statement at the Dispatch Box in another place by the Northern Ireland Office Minister responsible for security, Mr Adam Ingram, who quoted the joint statement on 5th May last year by the British and Irish Prime Ministers that,

    "the remaining steps necessary to secure full implementation of the Agreement can be achieved by June 2001".

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Mr Ingram added:

    "That remains the Government's position. We are absolutely clear that we want to see substantial progress on decommissioning by June [this year]".--[Official Report, Commons, 2/4/01; col. 134.]

The significance of these undertakings will not be lost on the Northern Ireland electorate in the month of June. If the two governments indulge this time in any form of fudge or slippage, they will expose to electoral annihilation those Ulster politicians who have been forced repeatedly to make concessions, only to be abandoned and betrayed. Unfortunately, that will be the view of the electorate.

The electorate needs to know, not in June but now, exactly what will happen, not if but when the latest deadline produces no result whatever. Will Her Majesty's Government calmly accept the collapse of the Belfast agreement, the Assembly and the Executive, complete with its two IRA army council members? If there are no plans for a workable alternative, I have to ask the Minister--I understand that there may be limits on what he can say now--whether the Government have prepared a contingency plan, as all governments do in all circumstances, for continuing sound administration in Northern Ireland, appropriately protected from the mushrooming paramilitary bodies and gangs? In that context, I want to emphasise that one of the most dangerous groups of gangs are those of the drug barons on the so-called loyalist side, particularly in North Belfast. There are Members of this House who have more detailed knowledge of the threat posed by those bodies in that part of the city.

The Government will find such a plan for the future good governance of Northern Ireland set out in the Conservative Party manifesto for 1979. It recognised the unworkability of full-blooded legislative devolution and proposed instead a modest administrative structure not far removed from the present, seemingly workable, structure that operates in Wales. I have quoted a political party, but the idea was endorsed by more than just members of that party. Section 22 of the 1979 Conservative manifesto was endorsed by 14½ million electors in the United Kingdom in general.

My suggestion might appear to ignore the continuing menace of political armies, but fortunately--and encouragingly--in the past few weeks we have seen a very convincing remedy to terrorism. The limited incidence of foot and mouth in the area on the Irish frontier caused the immediate sealing of the frontier by a massive array of security forces based in the Irish Republic. So effective has been that operation, mainly on the Irish side of the frontier, that the repeated question has, quite understandably, been asked: why was this not done years ago to prevent the terrorist murders of over 3,000 British citizens? Given that terrorists operate in the main from the Irish Republic, where de Chastelain and company confirmed that all of the arms dumps are situated, surely the continued sealing of the frontier by

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Irish security forces, both Garda and army, would be the logical consequence of the utter collapse of the decommissioning fiasco?

Finally, I have to say that there would be full co-operation from the law-abiding citizens of Northern Ireland in any course upon which Her Majesty's Government decided to embark, both as far as concerns real security and the work of stable government in Northern Ireland. It is no excuse to say, as has been said by a Member of this House who is presently absent from the Chamber, that those plans made in 1979 were not enough. Of course, they were not enough to fulfil the ambitions of people on all sides of the argument. But had they been implemented, they would have started on firm foundations and literally thereafter there would have been no limit to what could have been achieved.

3.30 p.m.

Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, I believe that everyone present agrees about the disgust we feel for the lack of decommissioning of terrorist weapons. This extension order shows how government policy has failed in this respect. I do not say that in an effort to try to get at the Government: it is a fact that that has failed. I should like to add one point. This decommissioning is only the tip of the iceberg of terrorist infrastructure, which includes such issues as intimidation, fraud and smuggling.

Let us take the latter as an example. I trust that noble Lords will at least believe what I am about to say, and that they will definitely share some affinity with it. I have in mind foot and mouth disease. The smuggling that is endemic in South Armagh is the cause of Ireland's problems with foot and mouth today in its totality. As I understand it, what happened is that lambs were bought in Longtown market. They were then transported to Northern Ireland to be slaughtered. According to the driver of the transporter, who appeared on television, he arrived too late to go to the abattoir. He took the lambs to South Armagh so that, so far as he was concerned, they could be put in a field for the night.

At that point, or sometime shortly afterwards, the tags were removed from those animals and they were sent on to the Republic of Ireland. It would appear that the farmer, or someone close to the field where the lambs were placed for the night, decided to keep about 35 of them--perhaps because they were nice ewe lambs, or whatever. It was one of those animals that subsequently developed foot and mouth disease. The remainder of the lambs are untraceable at the moment because the tags were taken out of their ears. In all probability, they went on--some of them definitely did--to an abattoir in Roscommon where they were slaughtered. However, there is no record of them because their tags were removed. A large hunt was subsequently launched for the lambs purely because there is no record of their being killed. That sort of activity has been going on for years in--dare one say it?--terrorist-controlled South Armagh.

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When lambs are slaughtered in the Republic of Ireland, the belief is that they are then sold as "Irish lamb" to the French, or whoever. Not surprisingly, that has an added value because the French prefer Irish lamb. However, they are being conned: they are not Irish lambs. It is smuggled meat. This is the cause of our foot and mouth outbreak in Ireland. As I said, arms decommissioning is just the tip of the iceberg.

The Minister mentioned the benefits that we have received in Northern Ireland. I agree with the noble and learned Lord in that respect. For example, we have the Assembly and we are able to manage our own budget. But what many people do not understand is the fact that the people of the North and South of Ireland are still being held to ransom by every other activity that these evil men lay on us. It is perhaps the unseen side of the story that people do not realise is still going on. I believe that we have not had one single weapon handed over. We shall not get anywhere until we have achieved that objective.

The decommissioning of weapons is vital. This Government must push for it. They must insist upon it. Although I support the extension order, we cannot continue extending it. Food health and hygiene--whether it is a matter of BSE, foot and mouth, or illegally-imported meat--is so important at the borders of this country with the rest of Europe, or outside it. If we do not sort out the problem now, it will happen again.

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