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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I apologise for misphrasing what I said. The right course is to make all the parties to the Good Friday agreement stand by its terms. That is the way forward for Northern Ireland and that is what we should all be seeking to do.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, asked whether the United Kingdom Government share Mr Trimble's interpretation of what decommissioning means. We are as committed as he is to ensuring that decommissioning takes place because it is a vital part of the Good Friday agreement. The noble Lord said that he did not think that new elections would help in the present situation and asked for my comment in relation to that point. The legal position is that for six weeks a search goes on to try to find a new Executive. It is right that we embark on that course. Let us not speculate about what may happen at the end of it.
The noble Lord asked whether efforts are being made to ensure that in the United States of America our position is being properly put and that the US Government are kept informed. The Government are in close touch both with the US Administration and members of Congress. What is marked is that among many opinion formers in the US, particularly those involved with the Irish American community, there is a good understanding that progress has been made in implementing all parts of the agreement other than decommissioning. Therefore, a dialogue is going on. Both the government and the wider public in the United States are being kept informed and are being kept informed of what our position is.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, will we remind everyone that decommissioning actually means either handing over the arms or destroying them in the presence of witnesses? We are still allowing the IRA to talk in a general way about decommissioning when the conditions are right. First, the IRA undoubtedly does not mean that kind of decommissioning. Secondly, the IRA's conditions are the removal of the British Army from Northern Ireland and other demands of that kind.
What is happening about the police legislation? Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams are both saying that we have ratted on them, that we have cheated them and that they have not been given what was promised. In fact, we gave everything that was promised. As far as I remember--I should like to be
I am made very uneasy by the noble and learned Lord's constant reference to the fact that we need to listen to the IRA's concerns and we need to worry about whether it is happy. It is time we started worrying about whether the IRA is keeping its side of the bargain. Someone said on the wireless the other day that the experienced journalists say that the IRA never reacts to deadlines, to which someone with great good sense said, "In that case, what about having a few deadlines which the IRA does not like?" Unfortunately, we could not do that over prisoners. We have given all that away. But surely there are things we can still refuse to be easy about. If the negotiations that are going on behind the scenes are with the sole object of finding something else to please the IRA, I suggest that the Government will lose the support of the majority in Northern Ireland. That matters far more.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the people of Northern Ireland will remain wedded to the Good Friday agreement only if there is a sense that it is being implemented on all sides. That means implemented not just in relation to the institutions of devolution but also, just as importantly, in relation to decommissioning. Support will peel off from the Protestant community if there is not a sense that decommissioning is going on.
As far as concerns the method of decommissioning, under the Good Friday agreement, as the noble Baroness knows, there is an independent decommissioning body chaired by General de Chastelain. It is for him to decide the details of the methodology of decommissioning and whether progress is being made. It is right to leave it to him and his commission to determine what progress has been made and not to get into a debate about precisely what is meant by decommissioning.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. If he looks at the original document setting up the commission he will find that those conditions were set down then.
As regards the policing issues raised by the noble Baroness, she asked specific questions about what progress is being made in this area. Her principal question concerned the police board. The position is that the new police board has not yet been formed. It is a matter on which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State continues to hold discussions with the parties concerned. Our aim is for all the relevant parties to take up their places on the police board. That is because policing to which all the parties in Northern Ireland can commit themselves is obviously a prize well worth fighting for.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am certain that, given this difficult situation, the approach adopted by the Government is right. My noble and learned friend said that he did not want to make too many comments. Again, I understand exactly why that should be the case. It might exacerbate an already difficult situation. On the other hand, in six weeks' time, when the period he referred to will have passed, this Parliament will be in Recess. For that reason, it is hard not to want to make a brief comment at this point.
Perhaps I may put the following to him. If, in September, the Government were to be compelled to call an election for the Northern Ireland Assembly, that would take place at a time which would be of maximum disadvantage both to the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP. I hope very much that, despite the limited options open to the Government, they will appreciate that calling an election at a time when the two political parties which most resolutely support the agreement would do badly would not help the peace process.
Again, with respect, I must refuse to be drawn into speculation as to what may take place. At this stage, the right course is to use the coming six weeks to negotiate to see what progress can be made. It would not be helpful to discuss what the end result might be.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the Minister will be aware that Mr Trimble's signature to the Good Friday agreement was secured by a personal manuscript message sent by the Prime Minister through Mr Trimble to the people of Northern Ireland on that night. Can the noble and learned Lord tell the House
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the position is that the process engaged in by the Prime Minister and Mr Trimble led to the Good Friday agreement. Part of that involved the commitment to decommissioning, to which the note referred. All sides in the process should be seeking to ensure that decommissioning takes place. That is the view of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister; that is the view of Mr David Trimble. That remains the position: both wish to see decommissioning.
The Lord Bishop of Wakefield: My Lords, I have family and friends both in Northern Ireland and in the south. I know that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, was right to point out that not everyone wants peace. Some people in that tragic country are making a great deal of money out of perpetuating the strife. However, I believe that this Government have made genuine efforts to bring about peace and I hope that they will continue to do so by furthering the Good Friday agreement on all sides. Indeed, I have supported the Government in votes taken in this House on various aspects of the issue.
I understand from my links in Northern Ireland that there is indeed a good deal of backing and understanding for David Trimble's position. However, those in senior Church leadership, with whom I spoke a few hours ago, stress the urgency of still pressing on Sinn Fein the following plea: if you mean what you say, do please make a move now. At this stage, a simple gesture is all that is required. It is the view of those Church leaders that Sinn Fein may yet produce the hoped-for result. Pray God that that may indeed be so.
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