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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful, as always, for an interesting debate. All noble Lords have made at least one comment with which I agree.

I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, who said that the present situation is a great disappointment. Other noble Lords agreed. It is a disappointment but it is not a terminal catastrophe. The noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, made some extremely powerful points. He said that the level of unemployment had substantially declined and that the population had increased. He also referred to the good economic outturn. He is right to point out that had those results been brought about in any other part of the United Kingdom they would have led to great rejoicing. That point should not be overlooked. We do Northern Ireland a great disservice by not constantly repeating the points that the noble Lord mentioned.

I hope that we shall continue on a bipartisan basis. We never departed from that when the previous government were in power. It is extremely important to put party political advantage on one side. I suggest with great respect that as regards the people of Northern Ireland it is deeply irresponsible not to do our utmost to maintain a bipartisan approach.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for giving way. I make it absolutely clear that we have no intention of breaking the bipartisan agreement. I said that we would support the

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Government. We welcomed the appointment of the new Secretary of State. However, we reserve the right to be critical of certain tactics that may be used; that is our job.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I accept that entirely. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, in my extensive dealings with him both in the Chamber and outside, has ever varied. But I agree with what other noble Lords have said; namely, that sometimes language needs to be considered with great care—I do not address my remarks to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran—and needs to be used—I refer to places other than this House—with great care and scruple.

The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, referred to disbandment and decommissioning. I do not know the motive of the IRA in saying that it was withdrawing communications with General de Chastelain. A short time ago I had the great privilege of spending a good deal of time with General de Chastelain and asking his opinions. I simply do not know the tactical basis of what was done. However, I took the trouble to watch the recent programme on Martin McGuinness in which he said that his war with the British state was over. If he meant what he said, it is fairly unambiguous and, I should have thought, is cause for optimism.

The noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, asked me about the elections, as did other noble Lords. I shall deal with that as a distinct topic. The elections are still set to take place on 1st May 2003. Suspension of the Assembly does not change the fact that elections are set by law for 1st May of next year. I do not want to intrude into private grief between the noble Lords, Lord Kilclooney and Lord Smith of Clifton. I hope that I am far too wise—at least in this context—to get involved in that. However, I can tell noble Lords that today the Secretary of State will announce his determination with regard to salaries and allowances. I do not know what that will be but as soon as that announcement is made, I shall ensure that a copy of it is placed in the Library of this House so that noble Lords will have an early indication of it.

The noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, asked me about the North/South Ministerial Council. It cannot meet at the moment as it is composed of Ministers from the devolved administration and Ministers from the Government of the Irish Republic. There are none of the former, therefore it cannot meet.

As regards what may have been said in the United States, I have tried to obtain information on that, but I have no knowledge of it, nor does anyone from whom I am able to obtain information.

The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, mentioned—as, I believe, did others—what was going on in Colombia. I simply remind your Lordships that a trial is about to start there. I believe that it is better if I do not comment on that.

A number of questions were asked about what the Prime Minister may or may not have said to Mr Durkan in—I use quotation marks, as did the noble

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Lord, Lord Kilclooney—"a private conversation". As I understand it, the Prime Minister's consistent approach has been that there was a range of circumstances, which had to be examined carefully. The Government's conclusion at the end of the day—I adamantly believe that it is the right one—was to go for suspension.

The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, said that it is important that devolution should be returned as soon as possible. I could not agree more. That is—to answer the question of another noble Lord—the Government's strategy. I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth for his support and to the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, who has frequently assisted me outside the Chamber with his views—he has enormous experience of Northern Ireland. He is right: Dr Reid was an extremely effective and powerful Secretary of State.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Dubs and to other noble Lords who spoke of the qualities of Paul Murphy. I know of those qualities personally. When there was a Conservative government and we were in opposition—it seems a long time ago now—he and I were colleagues on the shadow Northern Ireland team. He is a man of great qualities and he is admired, respected and trusted across the whole community.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raised various questions. I agree with him about the importance of the Policing Board. It is essential that it should operate on a cross-community basis. We constantly urge Sinn Fein representatives face to face—I have done so myself—to discharge their obligations and join the Policing Board. I am not entirely without optimism that that may come about. I have no timetable.

The noble Lord also asked about bringing back the Assembly for one day. To put that in context, noble Lords will remember that the Belfast agreement required the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission to draw up proposals for a Bill of Rights to be enacted in Westminster legislation. Broad consultation is continuing. I do not see the virtue of bringing back the Assembly just for one day when in any event—

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I did not mean that that should be done just for one day. I meant that it should be done for long enough to draft a whole Bill; it will be a complicated Bill.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I understood that the noble Lord was speaking metaphorically; I simply went to his point. I understood what he meant, which was that there should be a recall for a specific purpose and none other. My answer remains the same. I do not believe that there would be great virtue in recalling the Assembly for that purpose because in any event we do not know the timetable by which the Human Rights Commission will report on that point.

As I said, two new Ministers have been appointed. It is essential that the people of Northern Ireland—I say this with great respect because I do not live there—are entitled to have good governance, which, with the

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present suspension of the Assembly, needs to be discharged by Ministers who have ample time and energy to devote to the problems and difficulties of Northern Ireland. I take the point about the civic forum.

What my honourable friend Jane Kennedy said was simply a repetition of a section of the Prime Minister's speech. The noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, said that devolution had been a great success; I agree with him. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, for suggesting that one could learn a great deal from the Welsh blueprint. That will be a source of great comfort to our colleagues who make the National Assembly for Wales work.

The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, said that he would not exhibit pessimism. I agree. He said that the Government must not try to hide reality; I hope that we do not. My noble friend Lord Dubs fully dealt with that.

The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, asked what the Government's strategy was. As I said, it is to work with all due determination—and, of course, with a balanced judgment—towards elections in May and the restoration of devolved government, which I believe all noble Lords want. He also spoke about the necessity of the recreation of trust. That is so, and that is what the Government are determined to do.

I have dealt with all of the observations of noble Lords because I believe that on such an occasion it is better to deal with points as fully as I can rather than simply to make general remarks.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Northern Ireland Act 2000 (Modification) Order 2002

Lord Williams of Mostyn : My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the order laid before the House on 15th October be approved [38th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Lord Goldsmith: Personal Statement

4.36 p.m.

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I wish to make a personal statement.

In answer to a question from my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours this afternoon, I said that I did not give a view as to whether the prosecution case against Mr Burrell should continue. In doing so, I was under the misapprehension that I was being asked about the decision last year to begin a prosecution. In fact, I now realise that I was being asked whether I was consulted on the decision to pull the case. I apologise to the House for that misunderstanding.

I am anxious to state the correct position as soon as possible. The correct position is as follows. I first learnt about the case shortly after my appointment.

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The Director of Public Prosecutions had drawn the case to the attention of my predecessor in May last year. Thereafter, the case was included in a list of high-profile cases in respect of which brief reports are provided to Law Officers on a monthly basis. We were not asked for and did not give our views about whether the case should proceed. On Tuesday last week, the Crown Prosecution Service and counsel drew my attention to the new information that had been disclosed by the Palace to the police. Naturally, my views were sought on how to proceed in the light of that development, and I gave them. But in the end, as I made plain should be the case, the decision was made by the Crown Prosecution Service following further consideration and having taken leading counsel's advice.

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