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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
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 careI do not address my remarks to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoranand needs to be usedI refer to places other than this Housewith 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 wiseat least in this contextto 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.
The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, mentionedas, I believe, did otherswhat 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.
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 isto answer the question of another noble Lordthe 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 viewshe 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 oppositionit seems a long time ago nowhe 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 faceI have done so myselfto 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 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 IrelandI say this with great respect because I do not live thereare entitled to have good governance, which, with the
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 determinationand, of course, with a balanced judgmenttowards 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.
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.
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