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Lord Hylton: My Lords, like many others who wish to see the full implementation of the Belfast agreement by all parties to it, I regret the renewed suspension of power-sharing. When this happened the Government promoted two of their Back-Bench Members to fill the ministerial vacancies. In doing so, they missed an opportunity to continue the principle of power-sharing, which might have been done by appointing two new Ministers capable of representing all traditions, including the two main political and religious ones, in Northern Ireland. That might have happened by making use of the flexibility available through the membership of your Lordships' House.
Power-sharing remains, however, in one important sectornamely, in the make-up of the police authority. I trust that this will long continue because it is so important for the acceptance of essential policing by all sections of the population. As policing is not and never was a devolved matter, I suggest that it is the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government to ensure the continued representation of all major strands of opinion in that authority. I urge all political parties to support that aim.
As to the Assembly itself, I follow the general line of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth. Would the Government consider recalling the Assembly for one specific purpose even while power-sharing remains in temporary abeyancethat is, to draft a Bill of Rights tailor-made for the needs of Northern Ireland? It is remarkable that this subject is one on which all political parties in Northern Ireland have long been agreed, at least in principle. It is not
I commend this idea to your Lordships and to the Government as something which could usefully employ the energies of the elected Members of the Assembly and, at the same time, prove a catalyst to wider political agreement and inter-communal trust.
I also urge the Government not to forget the Civic Forum. Surely this consultative body could examine the performance of the many statutory boards and quangos in Northern Ireland, some of which, at least, could become more user friendly.
In short, the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland Ministers should not feel themselves too fettered by direct rule. On the contrary, they should use imagination to preserve all possible strands of power-sharing, public dialogue and consensus.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I find myself in warm agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, on two points. I deeply regret the departure of Dr John Reidalthough I welcome his successor, naturally, and I hope that the change will work well. I also agree with the noble Lord very strongly that where the decommissioning matters is on the streets of Northern Ireland. The need to disarm the paramilitaries is an issue which it is logical to consider now while we are thinking of what to do next and, I hope, of what bargains may be struck with Sinn Fein/IRA.
It is evident that there will be bargains. The Minister, Jane Kennedy, was reported in the press as saying in Dublin last week that the Government, rightly, remain fully committed to the peace process and to the idea of delivering the outstanding commitments in the agreement, not in stages but all at once. I know that that is an echo of a sentence in the Prime Minister's speech, but I find it disturbing. I very much hope that no commitments are being made to deliver all at once until we have seen some action from Sinn Fein/IRA.
Lord Kilclooney: My Lords, the debate is somewhat depressing. I am sorry to say that what has happened was prophesied by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, some months ago when we debated the Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill, and by other noble Lords from Northern Ireland. I, for one, do not welcome the order to suspend devolution in Northern Ireland.
There have been some interesting comments in the debate. I followed with interest the reference of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, to human rights. I ask him to study the Belfast agreement in further detail. As one who worked for several years towards reaching that
The spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, the noble Lord, Lord Smith, was clearer today in his attitude towards a condominium. I thank him for making it perfectly clear that he is opposedand strongly opposedto a condominium of joint rule by the Dublin government and Her Majesty's Government in Northern Ireland. That is progress from what we heard last time. I remind the House that careless talk about a condominium creates problems within Northern Ireland. If ever there were a condominium proposedas seemed to be the impression in the last debateit could lead to civil war and nothing less. I remind noble Lords that when the Conservative governmentand it was the Conservative governmentimposed the Anglo-Irish Agreement in Northern Ireland providing for much less than a condominium, it led to tremendous civil strife in Northern Ireland and had to be removed. It was as a result of the influence of the present Government during the talks at Stormont and the conclusions of the Belfast agreement which brought that agreement to an end. So let us have no careless talk about a condominium.
The salaries of Members of the Assembly at Stormont have been reduced. It is all very easy to say, "Oh, forget about themgive them no salary." But they were elected until May next year. They are still operating from their offices, representing their constituents. I had a telephone call this morning from a MLA asking me to assist with a visa for two people in the city of Armagh. If you take away their salaries and destroy the elected representation in Northern Ireland of all the political partiesthe Ulster Unionists, DUP, Alliance, SDLP and the various groups that represent paramilitary organisationsyou are actually undermining the infrastructure of democracy in Northern Ireland and what degree of experience and leadership there is within the political parties. I do not think that it helps democracy in Northern Ireland simply to take the easy way out and say, "Do away with their salaries. Do away with all locally elected representatives in Northern Ireland". That is too pessimistic an approach for what may happen in Northern Ireland next year.
Devolution has been a great success. Our employment has increased. Our population has passed 1.7 million people. We now have a lower unemployment level in Northern Ireland, believe it or not, than the average in the European Union and a lower unemployment level than in many regions of Great Britain. There has not been net emigration, which I knew for most of my lifetime, but net immigration. More people are coming into Northern Ireland now than leaving it.
Investment has increased; tourism has increased. So even devolution has a successful side to its performance. But it has fallen, as prophesied, for two reasons. I am sorry to have to mention the second one. The first one is well knownthe fact that Sinn Fein-IRA are inextricably linked and that a spy ring was discovered within the offices of the Northern Ireland Secretary of State and Sinn Fein-IRA got their hands on secret documents and messages between the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the President of the United Statesand many other issues as well. That is what happened.
But the Government also helped to bring down power sharing and the Belfast agreement because the policy of Her Majesty's Government in recent years has been to diminish the Britishness of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. That was not part of the Belfast agreement. The agreement firmly said that Northern Ireland was part of the United Kingdom and that that status could not be changed without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland. But then the Government proceeded to remove the Union flag from buildings. We pointed out to the Lord Privy SealI fear that he did not accept the seriousness of it at the timethat in removing the Crown coat of arms from Crown court houses, as he proposed and pushed through this House against our opposition, he was further alienating unionist opinion against the Belfast agreement. So the agreement lost support.
The Patten report has been mentioned. It did not comply with the Belfast agreement. It was contrary to some of the issues in the agreement. For example, it did not suggest that there should be equality of opportunity. That is what the Belfast agreement said. What did the Patten report say? It said that everyone had to be treated equally: nationalists and unionists must be equal. That is different from equality of opportunity.
I suspect that later this month Her Majesty's Government will be bringing forward new legislation in relation to policing in Northern Ireland. I hope that the Government are listening carefully because if the new legislation involves further compromises towards Sinn Fein-IRA, that will help to bring down the Northern Ireland Policing Board, the one last remaining power-sharing operation in Northern Ireland, as the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, mentioned. I hope that if any new legislation is forthcoming, it will also address the needs and requests of the majority Ulster Unionist community.
I ask the Lord Privy Seal to let us know what is happening to the North-South Ministerial Council. As he knows, it is linked to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Since the Northern Ireland Assembly has now been suspended, I assume that the North-South Ministerial Council will also be suspended in the interim.
Like other noble Lords, I welcome the appointment of Mr. Paul Murphy as our new Secretary of State. We worked with him very closely in preparing the Belfast agreement, and he is very welcome back. I hope that
I return to the point made by the noble Lords, Lord Fitt and Lord Rogansuspension as against exclusion of Sinn Fein-IRA. The Ulster Unionists, the DUP, the Alliance Party and now apparently the Prime Minister were in favour of exclusion. Exclusion would have meant devolution continuing in Northern Ireland if the SDLP were not simply the yes men for Sinn Fein. That appears to be the case because the leader of the SDLP, Mr. Mark Durkan, announced at his party conference on Saturday that the Prime Minister was suggestingI assume in a private conversation at 10 Downing Street but he let it out of the bagthe idea of exclusion but that the SDLP was not prepared to support such a proposal. That means that the SDLP in essence was in favour of Sinn Fein remaining in the Executive in Northern Ireland.
My last point is in relation to an election in May next year. In a letter from the Privy Council last week, I was told that 20 per cent of the people of Northern Ireland have not registered this year for the next election. Already 20 per cent are not on the electoral register. That shows a decline in an interest in democracy in Northern Ireland. People are tired of all the in-fighting and disappointments. How can you have public interest in an election to a body that does not exist? I fail to see how we can proceed with an election in May next year unless in advance of that date the power-sharing Executive has been restored to Stormont. If we were to ask the people of Northern Ireland to vote in an Assembly election next year and tell them, "Well, there is no Assemblyjust vote and see what happens in the years ahead", we would get a very poor response.
Let us definitely have an election next May, as the noble Lord, Lord Smith, suggested. I would like to have it. But, first of all, let us ensure that we have something there that we are going to elect people to attend and participate in.
In the meantime, I would not be as pessimistic as some noble Lords. There have been advances in Northern Ireland over the past few years. I am still optimistic that something may happen next spring, after January, that will make it possible for the power-sharing Assembly to be brought back into operation.
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