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Baroness Amos: My Lords, I agree that we are so close that it would be a pity if we were not able to come to a conclusion. As I said in answer to questions from the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Smith of Clifton, we will try and try again. It is good that the

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parties will continue to talk. As the Prime Minister said earlier today, we are working on finding a way to disclose on the issue of decommissioning.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, the Irish and British Governments set up the monitoring commission to observe whether the acts of completion were being carried out as part of the run-up to, and condition of, the election. But in his speech Mr Adams dismissed the monitoring commission with the greatest contempt. Can the Lord President assure the House that, nevertheless, the IRA will be required to allow people in the Irish communities—who are still being terribly treated by IRA paramilitaries—to testify to the commission? Is that one of the requirements to be placed on Mr Adams as proof of genuine good faith?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the noble Baroness asked me earlier in the week about the commission. I hope that she has received my letter in response.

The draft international agreement establishing the commission was published early in September. Once signed and ratified the agreement will formally confer functions on the commission and set out the terms of its operation. I do not want to anticipate its terms of operation. There was a recent announcement in regard to the setting-up of the commission and the work it is anticipated it will do. I should like to check the facts relating to the noble Baroness's question and write to her.

Lord Rogan: My Lords, I, too, welcome the Statement. I agree with the Minister that recrimination takes us nowhere and that we should try to make progress. But that does not take away the disappointment that everyone in Northern Ireland—and, I am sure, in the House—felt at the turn of events yesterday when General de Chastelain failed to give transparency to the IRA's act of decommissioning.

Like other parties, Ulster Unionists wish to see the election of a government in Northern Ireland. However, what we saw yesterday fell far short of our expectations. We expected greater transparency from the IRA and greater clarity from the IICD about precisely what had been decommissioned.

The Prime Minister has continually pointed to a lack of confidence among Unionists in Ulster. If, as the Prime Minister suggested last night, the IRA has undertaken a substantial act of decommissioning and is now finally and fully committed to the political process, will the Government now assist in rebuilding lost confidence by disclosing the details of yesterday's decommissioning event?

The Prime Minister, Ministers and officials continually refer to the decommissioning legislation as constraining their ability to disclose fully the decommissioning information. Can the noble Baroness pinpoint where in the legislation this confidentiality clause actually is? Can she further tell us to whom or to what exactly this confidentiality

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clause applies; or does it just apply to the IICD and General de Chastelain, thus excluding the Prime Minister from this obligation?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, for his general comments and his recognition of the work which has gone into this process. I entirely agree with him about the nature of the disappointment.

It is open for a group to decommission with confidentiality. This was agreed to and, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made clear in another place earlier today, he is not at liberty to disclose without the general's permission.

As I said earlier, the Government would like more transparency. We will work to achieve that greater transparency because it is an important way of restoring confidence. I can only repeat what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said earlier today—that we will work on finding a way to disclose.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, does the Lord President of the Council agree that the vast majority of ordinary people in Northern Ireland want to see an end to political and criminal violence? Further, can she confirm that I am right in thinking that there have already been three substantial rounds of IRA disarmament, but on the other side of the equation, I believe that so far only nine obsolete weapons have been produced for destruction by loyalist paramilitaries? Does that not indicate a rather asymmetrical situation, and does she see a prospect for remedying that?

Finally, can the noble Baroness confirm that full and final closure of the conflict is intended to encompass such events as beatings, shootings in the leg, exilings, death threats and intimidation? Is that not a consummation greatly to be desired?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I think we are all agreed that the statement made by Mr Adams yesterday, which was endorsed by the IRA, that there would be full and final closure of the conflict, marks a very significant and welcome step forward. In terms of the application of that to specific areas, which is what the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, is asking me, I am afraid I am not able to go into those specific areas, but if I can give the noble Lord any further information, I will be happy to do so.

I entirely agree with the noble Lord that we are all seeking an end to the political and criminal violence in Northern Ireland. That is something the people of Northern Ireland desperately want.

On decommissioning, it was confirmed yesterday by General de Chastelain that the quantity involved was considerably larger than that dealt with in the previous decommissioning event. I hope that reassures the noble Lord that the decommissioning process applies not just to the IRA but to all paramilitary groups.

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Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, in welcoming the Lord President's Statement, I, too, was very pleased to learn and hear about the discussions that had taken place between Mr Trimble and Mr Adams. We are told there have been several. However, I also saw that that could create problems because others have not been involved. What I did not bargain for was that as a result of those discussions and what was supposed to happen yesterday, it would appear that the two parties did not know what they had agreed. This seems very strange indeed.

There is supposed to be choreography; it seems to me that what was lacking was a clerk to the choreography. Could the Government assist in making certain that where these things happen, people at least know what they are supposed to have agreed, because that—to me, at any rate—was the tragedy of what happened yesterday?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the important thing as we see it is that the Government's role is to try to facilitate the process where the parties are talking. That is very much the approach that we have taken.

I am unable to comment on the noble Lord's point with respect to a clerk being needed to take a note of the conversations. The important thing is that these conversations are taking place at all. I think and hope that as a result of yesterday the parties will now look very seriously at what has happened and will think through what steps they need to take to build on the confidence which is already being created to enable us to take the process to the final step.

Lord Fitt: My Lords, since the signing of the Belfast agreement, it has always been known by elected representatives in Northern Ireland that the question of decommissioning would be of crucial importance in bringing about any settlement. Indeed, the paramilitaries—the IRA—had given an undertaking that total decommissioning would take place within two years. Repeatedly in this House, it has been drawn to the Government's attention that the whole question of decommissioning must be made more transparent. I have a copy of Hansard in my hand, containing a speech I made in this House on 12th September, when we came back after the summer recess. I stressed that it was crucial that the people of Northern Ireland should be made aware of what took place under the aegis of the de Chastelain commission.

I heard only yesterday—as, I think, did other noble Lords—that the secrecy built into the de Chastelain commission was insisted upon by one of the paramilitary organisations. The very fact that secrecy was built in has led to great suspicion, but then all communities in Northern Ireland, particularly the Unionist community, feel very insecure. I listened to some of the speeches made in the other place this morning; we were told that if the IRA decommissioned, the loyalist murder gangs—the paramilitaries—would decommission in support of that. Does anyone really believe, at this moment in time, that the loyalist murder gangs of the UDA and UVF will rush to decommission because of what happened yesterday?

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Northern Ireland politicians were placed in a very distressing situation yesterday. The noble Baroness said that the British Government had no involvement in the discussions between the two parties. Then why have all these meetings been taking place in Downing Street over the past weeks? The two parties that were involved were in and out of there like yo-yos. However, other political parties, such as the SDLP, the party which I formerly led, and the Alliance party—I agree with what has been said on the Liberal Democrat Benches—although instrumental in and constructive about the process, were totally excluded. What happened yesterday—and I hesitate to predict this and hope that I am wrong—means that in the forthcoming election Sinn Fein will take seats from the SDLP and the so-called Democratic Unionist Party will take seats off the official Unionist Party. In what situation will the Government and the people of Northern Ireland then find themselves?

I refer to the fact that the Government agreed that the de Chastelain scheme would be surrounded by such secrecy. I repeat what I said on 12th of this month in relation to the Monitoring Commission—that if the same secrecy is going to surround the activities of that body, there is too much secrecy in Northern Ireland. The people who are in a position to decide to cast their votes must be made totally aware of what is happening, so that they can vote in their interests in Northern Ireland.

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