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Lord Glentoran: My Lords, first, I still hate doing such business on a Thursday morning. At the same time, I thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal and his staff, the Clerks and others who have been so helpful in bringing together the manuscript amendments and other matters in a considerable hurry in the early hours of this morning. I agree with a great deal of what the noble and learned Lord said. It is true that the House and parties have worked together in a positive way over the past few weeks while the Bill has been going through your Lordships' House.
I do not intend to make a long speech. However, when I last spoke on the Bill I made one point very strongly. My honourable friend in another place, Quentin Davies, although taking rather more time, made the same point. We do not in principle object to the Weston Park clauses. We do not like them; we wish they did not have to be. However, if they are the price of Sinn Fein/IRA, or their scribe P O'Neil, coming to the table and delivering what the world knows they have to deliver in order to have peace and democracy in Northern Ireland, then so be it.
Her Majesty's Opposition, the Conservative Party, are in total disagreement with Her Majesty's Government over the timing in bringing forward those clauses. We do not consider that it is sensible to continue to meet Sinn Fein demands until they deliver. For those noble Lords who may not have done so, I have read Martin McGuinness's speech to the Ard Fheis. I have read much of Adams's speech to the same gathering. I also read in The Times Martin McGuinness's recent interview. Nowhere did I find any indication of any softening of the stance of Sinn Fein/IRA. The last time I spoke from this Dispatch Box I admitted to being optimistic; perhaps we were moving forward. I believed that. But I was very disappointed by the speeches of Martin McGuinness.
In practical terms, I also thank the noble and learned Lord for accepting the Liberal Democrat Amendment No. 48A to which I put my name. It is extremely helpful. I know that David Trimble is not happy about it; he rang me. However, I feel happier with that than with nothing. But I stress that it is very much second best. I wish to demonstrate that that is how the Opposition feel about these clauses. I shall seek to divide the House on one, two or perhaps three amendments. How we accomplish that will be fairly complex. I am not certain when I say that I beg to take the opinion of the House but I wish to do so when appropriate on Amendment No. 14A.
If something exciting happens, or is due to happen, in the near futurethat is, before EasterI shall have been proved wrong in what I have been saying and I shall be delighted. I believe that Her Majesty's Government should not be giving anything at all to Sinn Fein/IRA until they deliver.
Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, I, too, thank the Leader of the House, his staff and the Clerks for assisting us with a very tricky piece of legislation. I, too, am not confident that I shall be able to follow the procedures as well as I would have wished.
We shall be generally supportive of the Government with regard to Amendments Nos. 13, 14 and 48ZA, and so on. The noble Lords, Lord Rogan, and Lord Maginnis, have adopted the wording of an amendment I tabled earlier and subsequently withdrew in terms of Amendment No. 48A which provides a neater formulation. I echo the view of the Leader of the House. At this time, before the package is announced from the two governments in a week or two's time, we must proceed as though things will lead to a restoration of devolution and normality. That is what we are about today.
I acknowledge that Amendment No. 14C, tabled by the Unionists, which details acts of completion, describes the actions that we would regard as the minimum criteria for accepting that acts of completion had occurred. We still need to see that those things have happened; our withdrawal of the amendment in no way undermines our conviction that those actions from the paramilitaries are fundamentally necessary.
However, it is not just the Secretary of State and the political parties here in Westminster that must be satisfied by the acts of completion but, more importantly, the political parties in Northern Ireland. That is why we withdrew our earlier amendment and tabled Amendment No. 48A instead. Following the talks at Hillsborough, the parties must go forward together. That is an imperative. The details of the package will be published shortly. Everyone will know where they stand. Each piece of the package will be considered in the context of the other pieces.
Critical to that is movement on the part of the paramilitaries, but the parties will have to decide whether they can accept the whole package and move forward together, instead of cherry picking. They will have to decide how important are the institutions of government to Northern Ireland. For far too long and on too many occasions, Northern Ireland has had help from outside in order to move onfrom the Governments in Westminster and Dublin; from Senator George Mitchell; from President Clinton; and from General de Chastelain. If we can rely on press reports about the package to be published, there will now be an outside body to keep an eye on the parties and ensure that they are all behaving themselves and living up to their responsibilities under the Good Friday agreement.
All those involved in the peace process have worked tirelessly, and we deeply appreciate the time and effort that they have spent on Northern Ireland, but there comes a time when the political parties in Northern Ireland must themselves take responsibility for the peace process. They must decide whether to move forward together or whether to allow the process to stagnate. They must all take steps to demonstrate that they are acting in good faith and do enough to ensure that that good faith is accepted by others involved in the process.
Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, on the first day in Grand Committee, I recall raising the issue of the text for consideration. I was then extremely worried about that text and the concessions that it provided for those who wereand still arenot unequivocally committed to the peace process. I was worried that the text for consideration would be introduced in another place and that we would not have an opportunity fully to discuss the matters arising therefrom. I was assured by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal that we would have the opportunity fully to discuss those matters. Whatever was the intention, that is not how matters are working out in effect.
The Bill as it now appears before us has increased from a 28 to a 41-clause Bill. That is the increase in size since 5th December last year. As amendments show, the Government are introducing a further six new clauses and two new schedules. In the time allocated, Part 2 was virtually unconsidered in your Lordships' House; it was considered only briefly on Report. The schedules were not considered again. In another place, Part 2 and the schedules were raced through without sufficient scrutiny.
We have here 13 clauses and three schedules that have been virtually unconsidered. That must be of considerable concern for those who recognise the sensitivity of the situation in Northern Ireland. We understand that the Bill, almost in its entirety, is the product of the Government's guarantees and promises, not only to the Social Democratic and Labour Party but specifically to Sinn Fein, at the Weston Park conference. It derives from elements of that conference to which my party was not given accessnor, indeed, were we made aware of the promises that the Government were making.
Whereas we have some assurances that acts of completion will be required before many of the less palatable aspects of the Bill are implemented, I am not terribly sure about those guarantees. Especially in another place, acts of completion have been described as "processes of acts of completion" or as "in the context of acts of completion". For us to get the sort of guarantee that we require, we need to be told that what is meant by those expressions is "subsequent to acts of completion"; otherwise, we believe that there will be a rush towards handing further concessions to Sinn Fein in the hope that this, that or the next concession will drive the water over the dam.
The reality is that within the past month, there have been significant finds of new Provisional IRA arms, explosives and explosive devicesnew material in hides in Belfast. We have had a period in which the IRA has engaged in the most sinister spying on Members of Parliament, prison officers and police. It has happened so often during the past 30 years that I seldom comment on it, but just this week I have been given information that the IRA is in possession of yet more information about me. I often wonder why that is necessary; I live a fairly open life. None the less, I draw attention to that simply to demonstrate the type of people with whom we hope to deal.
I am enough of a democratmy party is sufficiently democraticto accept that when there are acts of completion, things will be different. I may not like some things that happen. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal referred to what happens in England and Wales. Could he illustrate the point by telling us the number of murderers, people convicted of fraud or hooliganssimilar to those that we saw outside the football match last eveningwho become members of police boards or district police partnerships? The noble and learned Lord knows that that is not a meaningful illustration of what could happen in Northern Ireland, where the political pressures and the need to make political points are such that we will be inundated with applications, should the concessions be made, from the most despicable individualsthe scum of our society, to put it bluntly.
The reciprocal of that must be to ask whether ordinary, decent, law-abiding members of our community will feel it worthwhile risking their safety by serving on police boards or district police partnerships. Those are some of the questions that need to be posed and, more importantly, answered by the noble and learned Lord.
Perhaps I am jumping ahead when I refer to the amendment tabled by the Liberal Democrats that has the agreement of the Conservatives in this House but I wonder whether it is recognised that the amendment puts so much pressure on Ulster Unionists in terms of re-establishing the Assembly. Unless we receive, not guarantees set about by process of, or in the context of, but unequivocal guarantees, we shall have to ask whether we can risk re-establishing the Assemblyand I have ever in my political life been an advocate of devolved and responsibility-sharing governmentinsofar as it may lead automatically to the most undesirable people becoming involved at the very heart of law and order. For them to become involved at the heart of order endangers not only our police, whom we send out to protect society, but the whole fabric of our society and the integrity of the democratic process in Northern Ireland.
Those are the serious issues that cannot be fully dealt with in the time we have available to discuss the multitude of amendments and business being considered here today. I await with interest to hear how the noble and learned Lord can reassure me and my party on this issue.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Clifton, for their remarks at the outset of their speeches when they paid tribute to my private officewhich is in fact a single person, Nicki Daniels. There is no Northern Ireland secretariat or Minister attached to the House of Lords, so Nicki Daniels has to do an enormous amount of workalways courteously, cheerfully and efficiently. I am also very grateful for what was said about the
I want to go to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, a moment ago. There is no constraint at all on time. Starting at 11 o'clock on a Thursday, we have ample time to discuss all the issues. I have always been able to provide appropriate, decent time for all our considerations.
Let us go to the fundamentals. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, said that no concessions must be made to Sinn Fein/IRA. Absolutely. And they are not. The commencement order was written in at the specific initiative of the Secretary of State to meet those concerns. I repeat: Royal Assent does not bring about even the possibility of the Secretary of State taking action. Then it requires the affirmative procedure to be gone through. I have already assured your Lordships that we will have appropriate time to discuss matters at that stage.
We need to remember this in relation to the mechanism provided by the amendments: can the Secretary of State come to his initial conclusion by way of very fine judgment that it is appropriate to bring in the commencement order? If yes, he has to justify that to both Houses. He knows perfectly wellI say this respectfully to the Commonsthat the scrutiny in this House will certainly be informed and detailed, as it always has been. At that stage, we shall have to come to our conclusions as to whether or not his political judgment was correct. I repeat, no concessions have been made.
The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, askedhe may know the answer, because he frequently does when he teases mehow many murderers, fraudsters or hooligans serve on British police authorities. He normally takes the police authority for Surrey. I do not know why we always rely on Surrey for these disagreeable examples. The answer is, probably very fewif any. My proposition was not that such people sit on police authorities but that they have the opportunity to do so, should they be qualifiedeven though they have previous convictions.
The question resolves itself to these propositions. Do we want to move forward? Are we able to believe that in the not-too-distant future the opportunity will be there? If the answer to those questions is yes, we need to give this powerand it is only a prospective powerfor the Secretary of State to adopt.
I shall deal specifically with the question of the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, about pressures on the Ulster Unionists if the Smith-Glentoran amendment were carried. It is not pressure on the Unionists. It is giving them and other political parties power and influence about a very significant decision. That is why I ventured to suggest earlier that Amendment No. 48A is very subtle and sophisticated, because it gives power
I absolutely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, that he has spent a very long life in politics supporting devolved and responsible institutions. We are here providing for the possibility that responsibility may be more widely sharedbut only on the basis of demonstrated fact.