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First, I am concerned—as was the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit—that Sinn Fein/IRA, should it take the great leap, will have an immense advantage because of the difference between the electoral funds available to it and those available to the republican SDLP. I hope there will be early legislation to end the advantage enjoyed by Sinn Fein/IRA—if possible, before the next election in Northern Ireland.

I wonder, too, whether we are likely to create a situation in which Sinn Fein/IRA agrees in principle this week to the St Andrews agreement—including, in principle, the pledge of office—but, when it comes to it, refuses on the day of investiture, perhaps basing that on the refusal of those elected to Westminster to take the oath in the House of Commons. They will know that no one will then be able to bring themselves to dismantle the whole Assembly for the sake of, as it will say, a few words. Have we a strategy for that? I contend that it must be required, as the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, said, to give some proofs.

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Martin McGuinness has said that criminals should be judged by a jury of their peers. That is Sinn Fein/IRA speak, and it means nothing in practice. We need the Government to require an immediate commitment that no obstructions will be placed in the way of the trial for the McCartney murder, nearly two years ago, or the Omagh trial. In that case, although the Real IRA was acknowledged to be the culprit, the PIRA would not allow witnesses to come forward because, as Gerry Adams confirmed in my presence last year, it does not recognise British courts or British justice. A specific commitment on these issues today would make it much more likely that Sinn Fein/IRA would not be able to renege on its pledge of office. Otherwise, I do not believe in it for a moment.

Moreover, it cannot be right for the highest policeman in the land—acting, I am sure, in the cause of peace—to offer to speak about the police to the IRA. It will earn him nothing but contempt from it, and why should it need such a meeting at this stage in the years since the Belfast agreement?

I shall not speak further because we need to get on to the business of today. However, I wish to express my concern about paramilitaries continuing their practice of exiling and persecuting those who cross them and Sinn Fein/IRA’s refusal to allow back people exiled to the UK years ago on the ground that, as Mr McGuinness said, it would not be good for the community—a point of view that apparently in no way conflicts with the IRA’s campaign on behalf of the on-the-runs.

According to the IMC’s latest report, the so-called dissident republican groups continue to recruit, arm and train and remain dangerous and ruthless. The IRA would never tolerate dissidents, but finds it very useful to encourage the myth that those groups are independent. We cannot make any concessions that will weaken or remove the power of the state to contain and counter terror through the law. Incidentally, I hope that thought has been given to the final outcome of the Bloody Sunday inquiry and where decisions on any action it may call for will lie. It should be with HMG and should in no way be exposed to the possible wishes of Sinn Fein/IRA.

I add to what my noble friend Lord Tebbit said to remind the House that many IRA fighters trained with Hezbollah and Mr Gerry Adams made an interesting visit to Palestine about six weeks ago. It would be very interesting to know which friends he was visiting.

4.54 pm

Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, I had not intended to speak, but I wish to mention two matters. First, as an ex-member of the Policing Board, I reiterate that Sinn Fein’s support for policing and law and order must not be a fudge and must be demonstrated in practical terms. Words are not good enough. People in Northern Ireland ask how, within this timetable, any reasonable person can be persuaded of Sinn Fein’s long-term commitment to policing and law and order. There is no time for it to do so in a practical sense. It can only talk about it between now and then. That is worrying many people in Northern Ireland.

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I find it incredible that Clause 15, which is about language, should be in the Bill. I no longer speak for the Policing Board, but I remember, and from its perspective, I find the clause extraordinary. We are piling a lot of effort, legislation and money into two languages that have no bearing on intercommunity relations. In Northern Ireland, as in Great Britain, there are ethnic minorities: Chinese, Lithuanians, Latvians and Poles. In those communities, there are people who do not speak a word of English. Yet each person that this money and legislation is going towards speaks a perfectly normal, common language and they can communicate with each other. In Northern Ireland—it may surprise your Lordships—we have the fastest growing race/hate crime issue. We have large communities in small villages who speak only one language. They import priests so that they can understand church services. I am delighted about that. But what are we doing about funding and legislating for these people? Have we forgotten that there are more communities than the two that refuse to get on with each other for other reasons?

The Government should address that matter. I do not think that this is the place for that clause. Having said that, I support the principle of the Bill, which is to get our Assembly back into operation.

4.55 pm

Lord Kilclooney: My Lords, I want briefly to follow the noble Viscount on the question of language. In Northern Ireland today the main language is English. The second largest language is Chinese—Mandarin; it is not Irish. More people listed on the census speak Mandarin than speak Irish. The noble Viscount is quite right: minority languages in Northern Ireland should be taken into account.

I totally support the spirit of the Bill. I look forward to the return of devolution at Stormont in Northern Ireland. The Bill is well intentioned. There are obviously many problems. I am quite concerned at the negative approach by many of those who took part in the debate in another place yesterday.

The IRA is fundamental to a solution. Sinn Fein/IRA must accept and support the policing and court systems in Northern Ireland. It must be remembered—and this is the bad news—that the IRA has not gone away. Gerry Adams, no less, has confirmed that. Its full structure is still there. It may have decommissioned some of its armaments but the IRA is still there, and that is a worry for the majority British community in Northern Ireland. The Sinn Fein/IRA leadership has been with ETA. As the noble Baroness, Lady Park, said, it has been in Palestine in the past few weeks. Of course we know it was in Columbia. The International Monitoring Commission is not monitoring the IRA’s activities outside the island of Ireland. Will it investigate the presence of the IRA in the guise of NGOs in Iraq training terrorists how to let off bombs through mobile phones to attack the American forces?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I gently remind noble Lords that normally it is a courtesy to the House to indicate, when they wish to speak in the gap, that they speak with the leave of the House.

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4.58 pm

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am very grateful for noble Lords’ contributions. Notwithstanding the implied criticism, the searching questions and the doubts that exist, the general theme—I do not want to be misunderstood—has been to support the Bill as far as it goes. The Bill is important—we accept that. Some of the issues raised will be more appropriately dealt with in Committee. That is not a fudge. There are a couple of points I can deal with. Obviously amendments can still be tabled. I want to be as helpful as I can.

I will be very brief about language. There has been an implied comment that this provision has appeared from nowhere. The St Andrews agreement contained a commitment to introduce an Irish language Bill to enhance and protect the development of the Irish language and the Scots language, heritage and culture. So there should not be surprise about this. Work has begun on a consultation paper to be issued before Christmas this year. The consultation will be an open process and the paper is likely to contain a range of options and potential provisions which might be included in the Bill. There will be a period of 12 weeks for interested parties to submit their views. The Government expect to have a detailed policy proposal out by March 2007 and, if possible, preparation of a Bill will commence before the end of March. So there is a Bill round the corner, but a Bill was clearly forecast in the St Andrews agreement.

As ever, the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, was very kind and the House listened to him with respect. He said that he had two fundamental questions; I have to say that I counted three. The key one was probably: will the pledge of office apply to MI5? The pledge, as amended by the Bill—in referring to the pledge it is implicit that it is as amended by the Bill, which is a substantial amendment—refers to the support for policing in line with paragraph 6 of the St Andrews agreement, which I read out and which refers to,

We cannot be clearer than that in today's context.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. Is he saying specifically that those words include MI5?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I think that it is implied in the legal definition of supporting all the policing and criminal justice institutions. If I start to qualify that, one gets into a minefield. That is the clarity of it: referring to,

We can then have a debate about which are the institutions. We recognise the elephant on the doorstep, but I recognise what are the institutions in terms of criminal justice and policing in this country—our country. That point can be raised in Committee.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I have just been given a very good reason, which it is probably more polite not to comment on, why there is no specific mention of MI5. I understand.

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Lord Rooker: My Lords, I do not know whether I gave a good answer or not, then. Obviously, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran.

We can have a detailed debate in Committee; we are not limited in that. I fully accept and confirm once again that, if all this collapses—if there comes a point when it is not worth continuing—that will be recognised and the plug will be pulled. The Secretary of State made that abundantly clear and if anyone wants confirmation of that, I invite them to read what he said in yesterday's Hansard from the other place at cols. 420-21. I do not need to repeat that. The point is that, if the plug gets pulled on the devolution process, our commitment remains that the parliamentary process for dealing with direct rule in respect of Northern Ireland must change. We fully accept that. It is quite unacceptable as it is. In the period up to March, we have no plans for further change but, if the plug is pulled, we will change the parliamentary process in line with the commitments that we have already given.

Of course it would be better for Sinn Fein—I say for Sinn Fein—sooner rather than later to make its position abundantly clear. It is in its interest. It is not for me to lecture to it. It is not helpful to put a date on that. We have set out dates in the Bill: two days’ time; 30 January for the dissolution to start the election process; 7 March for the election; 14 March for the appointment of Ministers; and 26 March for the return of devolution and the pledge of office.

I fully accept many of the points made by and certainly would not seek to argue with the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, given his immense experience of being First Minister in Northern Ireland. The process will be watched, it is true. I do not want to get involved in differences between the parties. Many aspects of the Bill have been requested by political parties; that is why the Bill is here in this form. I shall not spell out which parties, but they have all had a finger in the pie. That was made abundantly clear to me by the Secretary of State and was made clear in the other place yesterday.

On the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, we have got to this stage and it is worth trying. This is the final lap. We have made it absolutely clear that if the dates are not met—the first is two days away and to get that far needs just the indication of a nomination—we will have to ask ourselves whether it is worth continuing.

I interrupted the noble Lord, Lord Laird. I must repeatedly make it clear—because, to be honest, words that are said get out there into the media and positions are then changed—that this issue of on-the-runs is not returning. I cannot be clearer than that. We were absolutely clear about that when the legislation was withdrawn. I accept that the Bill was put forward; I am not arguing about that. The position has been made abundantly clear. I cannot get into what other people have said in other countries, because I do not know. I have not discussed this with them. I want to make this absolutely clear so that there is no doubt and no need for amendments on this in Committee; the on-the-runs Bill is not coming back to this Parliament.

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Lord Trimble: My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way on this matter. I entirely accept his statement that that Bill is not coming back, and for good reasons. It would, however, be helpful if the Minister could allay the concern that arises largely from the letter that the Secretary of State sent to certain persons in North America, in which he said—I think I am quoting him correctly—that the Government were still committed to resolving this issue. He did not say how it would be resolved, but there was some commitment to do so. That is what is generating the concern. I do not know whether the Minister could allay that concern now, but it would be helpful if at some stage he could.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I will be more than happy to attempt to do that at some stage, and I will try to do so this evening if I can. The central issue about the Bill itself will not return, but I will seek to allay those concerns if at all possible.

I shall be brief because I can cover some of the points made, particularly about funding, when we discuss the amendments—I believe that some amendments have been tabled that relate to funding. We can then go into some detail. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, asked how the Secretary of State will know whether the pledges are honest. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. The pledges must be made. I suspect that they will not be followed by anyone saying that they have said these words but they are worthless. I do not think that anyone will be in that position, but, as I said, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. The pledges must be made, and we will reach that point fairly soon if all the other processes are taken in the timetable that we have.

On the meeting with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I will see if I can come back to that in Committee. As I understand it from a meeting that I attended on Monday with the noble Lord, Lord Laird, and the Secretary of State, and from some of the positions taken by the Chancellor in the context of Northern Ireland, the financial structure is quite different in Northern Ireland in terms of the flow of money and the budget arrangements. Certainly those issues were discussed. I am not responsible, and I cannot account for, what might have been reported. The noble Lord mentioned spin. The fact is that we must discuss the economics of Northern Ireland. The economy is very successful, but it is very top-heavy in terms of public expenditure. The balances are on the private sector, which gets snuffed out, and that is no good for the growth of the economy. These issues will certainly have to be addressed by a new Executive anyway, because they will be responsible for the budget and for many awkward, key decisions that must be taken.

The noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, mentioned funds. I will come back to that issue. I cannot add anything to the Secretary of State’s response to her question about the report on the Bloody Sunday inquiry. I understood him to say that it would be at the end of next year. I was not the only one present, but that was what was said.

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I fully accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, about other minority languages in Northern Ireland. Anyone who has been there—I flitted in and out of Northern Ireland for 12 months as a direct rule Minister and visited factories and other areas—will be more than aware that the second language in Northern Ireland is certainly not Irish because of the make-up of the people who have come to Northern Ireland to work and support the economy. From that point of view, it is a sign of success.

This Bill delivers a timetable for the arrangements set out in the St Andrews agreement. We will have a transitional assembly, an election in which people can make their views known, the nomination of an Executive, and a stronger and much more comprehensive pledge of office than was the case hitherto, including support for policing and the rule of law as I have set out at some length. There is no doubt about that and I hope it is accepted. Moreover, we will have a restored Northern Ireland Assembly. In short, we will get an input of democracy into Northern Ireland above that which has lasted for 30 years in the area of local government. I pay tribute to the 582 councillors who have been the only vestige of local administration over all that time, notwithstanding the representation at Westminster. They have carried the burden of the democratic process way above and beyond the call of what their powers actually were. Now we want to get the governance of Northern Ireland at the Northern Ireland level by Northern Ireland politicians. That is what the people of Northern Ireland deserve and frankly that is what this Bill will provide.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn until 6.10 pm. In moving this Motion, perhaps I may point out that amendments may be tabled until 5.30 pm.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 5.10 to 6.10 pm.]

Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Bill

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Boston of Faversham) in the Chair.]

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Next Northern Ireland Assembly election to be in March 2007 etc]:

Lord Trimble moved Amendment No. 1:

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The noble Lord said: I shall be reasonably brief in speaking to Amendment No. 1. It would add two new subsections to the clause relating to the conduct of elections, particularly with regard to the financing of political parties, and refers to the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006, which was enacted earlier this year.

Section 11 of that Act provides for the disapplication period to end on 31 October 2007. At that time the disapplication of certain rules on donations to political parties which applied to the rest of the United Kingdom but not to Northern Ireland was to end. Certain requirements for declaration and publication did not apply to Northern Ireland for obvious reasons, and the 2006 Act provided that the disapplication of those provisions would end in October next year.

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