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Indeed, we made that clear at the end of Operation Banner. In a Statement to this House on 31 July 2007, my right honourable friend the Minister of State for Defence, Bob Ainsworth, said that after 1 August the vast majority of military support in Northern Ireland would be broadly comparable to the assistance that is currently provided in Great Britain, tailored for the particular circumstances in Northern Ireland. He also

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made it clear that the provision of explosive ordnance disposal—the kind used to deal with the car bomb in Castlewellan—would continue.

Whatever concerns honourable Members may have expressed last week—and it may be appropriate to comment on the serious distortions and misleading reports in some of the media at that time—I hope that they will now feel reassured about the role of any technical support being used to tackle the current threat. As the chief constable has repeatedly said, this is not about the return of troops to the streets but about protecting the public proportionately and protecting those who provide that protection, such as police officers and those who work to protect the international community or on international theatre operations.

It has been 12 years since the death of a soldier in Northern Ireland. This has been a very dark few days for Northern Ireland, but it is a temporary darkness at the end of a tunnel of considerable light. The peace process and political progress, as part of shared power, have transformed Northern Ireland. The perpetrators of this attack believe that they can stall that progress and, in stalling it, instil seeds of self-destruction. Indeed, they have clearly chosen to act in this evil way only because the politics of a shared future is working. The determination and resolve of all political leaders in the face of this brutal act is working proof of a unity of purpose.

We are all united in our resolve that the criminals will not succeed. Our confidence will be stronger, our resolve even greater, and while the House will understandably be sombre as a result of this murderous attack, the greatest memorial to Patrick Azimkar and Mark Quinsey and their families will be in our determination to unite behind the peace process and political progress in Northern Ireland. Let us make sure that those responsible for this attack are not given any opportunity to stall or prevent the progress of Northern Ireland. Let us join together; let this House send an unequivocal message. The men of violence will not succeed. These criminals will not succeed—not now, not ever”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

6.02 pm

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, I join the noble Baroness the Lord President and other noble Lords in sending our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of Sapper Patrick Azimkar and Sapper Mark Quinsey, and to those injured in this most cowardly of attacks. The murdered men were about to travel to Afghanistan to serve their country and to support the Afghan people. The awful events of the weekend remind us, once again, of the bravery of all those who serve in the Armed Forces, the PSNI and the security services. We also thank the emergency services and medical staff; we are, indeed, all indebted to them.

The Independent Monitoring Commission review confirmed our concerns about the dissident threat. We have raised those concerns here and in another place. The attack follows a succession of near misses on police. The chief constable of the PSNI has been consistent and increasingly public about the threat posed by dissident republican groups. That must tell

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us how seriously he viewed the severity of the situation. I confirm our firm support for the operational independence of the chief constable. Like every other chief constable in the United Kingdom, he must have the right to enlist the help of specialists. Can the noble Baroness confirm that the decision of the chief constable to call in reconnaissance experts would not have been affected had criminal justice and policing been devolved?

The aim of these attacks is to try to disrupt normal policing, forcing police into barracks and armoured vehicles away from the public. We must not allow that objective to succeed but, rather, we must ensure that a balance be struck between the need to increase protection for officers and to ensure that the police are visible and known to their communities.

The Government raised the threat level from substantial to severe last week. Was that change due to specific intelligence received or a response to the general security situation? Were civilian guards briefed on the current threat level and individual establishments chased up to ensure that it was understood and that appropriate measures had been taken to account for it? Given the understandable and desirable pursuit of normalisation, which we on these Benches strongly support, will the Government conduct an immediate review of the security arrangements at police stations and military installations? Lastly, in this context, what are the implications for defence installations in the rest of the United Kingdom?

The attackers showed a chilling ruthlessness in shooting their victims a second time, on the ground. Do the Government not agree that such cold brutality suggests that these were experienced terrorists? The crime scene will reveal valuable ballistic and forensic evidence. The experience from previous investigations shows that speed is of the essence. Will the noble Baroness confirm that these murders will receive top priority and that the most competent and experienced officers will be in charge of the investigation?

I confirm that the position of the Official Opposition is to support the Government’s efforts to bring these criminals to justice. We believe that they have no support in the wider community. The support for the police investigation from all political parties is welcome. The key to defeating terrorism in Northern Ireland lies with all parts of the community. I endorse the Secretary of State’s appeal yesterday for anyone with information on these criminal acts to come forward; even the smallest piece of information could be vital and might help to bring this investigation to a swift conclusion.

Thanks to the peace process, which was begun by the previous Government and continued by this one, Northern Ireland has been transformed. An unrepresentative minority of dissidents are determined to undo the good work of the past 15 years. It is incumbent on us all to respond to this shocking attack by going about our business normally, but with increased vigilance; the good work of recent years must continue. Terrorism in any form must never succeed.

6.06 pm

Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. We on these Benches agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments expressed by the Secretary of State. We must first

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extend our sincere sympathy to the families of Sappers Mark Quinsey and Patrick Azimkar, the two soldiers who were killed on Saturday night. Those two young men were doing their duty and serving the whole community, before proceeding to Afghanistan. Our condolences go to their families, friends and colleagues—some of whom are still in Antrim, some already in Afghanistan. We also send our thoughts and sympathies to the families of those injured in the attack and continue to have in our thoughts the staff of Antrim Area Hospital, who continue to care for the wounded. We are indebted to all of them.

We utterly condemn this outrageous atrocity. As we saw and heard from the people of Antrim in the media this morning, this attack has been roundly condemned and received no justification or support from any quarter. These brutal murders serve no cause, nor have they resulted in anything but suffering for the families involved. We add our voice to those who have appealed for anyone with any information about this shocking attack to report it to the police, and to co-operate with the police investigation. We also reinforce our support for the chief constable, Sir Hugh Orde, and his PSNI officers who have been subject to several—thankfully, so far, unsuccessful—attacks in recent months.

Under no circumstances—I echo what has already been said—should these atrocities disrupt the continuing peace process in Northern Ireland and the move towards full devolution. I have two questions for the noble Baroness. First, will she confirm that any additional resources that are needed for this investigation will be given to the PSNI? Secondly, does she agree that the people of Antrim have sent a great message to those who carried out this barbaric act? By coming together in a quite remarkable and quiet dignity, they have shown that nothing will set the peace process back and that there is no appetite from the people of Northern Ireland to go back to the violence of the past.

6.09 pm

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am grateful to both the noble Viscount and the noble Lord for their strong support of the Statement. I wholeheartedly endorse the thanks that the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, gave to the emergency and medical staff.

We all endorse the statement that the operational independence of the chief constable is absolutely necessary and will and must continue. I confirm that the chief constable, post-devolution, will be able to request further technical back-up, if needed. He will enjoy the same rights as any other chief constable in the United Kingdom.

On the change in threat, I confirm that the decision was taken on the basis of the past nine months. There was no prior intelligence about this attack. As for security at bases, it is the practice that after any incident there should be a reassessment of the security arrangements. And yes, absolutely top priority will be given to these investigations, with the most experienced personnel.

The noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, is right that these atrocities must not disrupt and derail the current peace process. Like the noble Lord, I watched

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the television yesterday and saw quite extraordinary scenes of people of all faiths gathered outside the barracks. That is a clear statement of the determination of the people of Northern Ireland not to go back but to move forward and to have confidence in the police process.

6.11 pm

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, I have already had the opportunity this afternoon to express my sympathy, and I do so again with those families who have suffered. With every ounce of sincerity that I can muster, I appeal from these Benches that there should be no retaliation in Northern Ireland for the dreadful execution that occurred at Massereene barracks. It is important to us all. It would be an insult to the families of those who have lost loved ones if any retaliation took place.

On the issue of intelligence, I have had 12 responses to Parliamentary Questions in the past three or four months; 50 per cent of these have been non-answers in so far as I have been told that this is an operational intelligence matter. Particularly in the light of the Prime Minister’s unequivocal statement that these killers will be brought to justice, I should like to know the state of intelligence in Northern Ireland at the moment. We have had the chief constable for months tell us about the dangers. We have had the recent warning. We have had an unequivocal statement by the Prime Minister. Yet one Parliamentary Answer that I got seems to contradict it all, saying:

“The PSNI is also unable to provide information on charges relating specifically to dissident republican attacks as they are not attributed to individual dissident groupings. The Public Prosecution Service does not record what organisation a suspect is believed to represent in its conviction statistics”.—[Official Report, 26/11/08; col. WA318.]

Is there not a contradiction? Are we not having a cover-up? Is there intelligence and, if so, why is it not acted on? Is there no intelligence and is that why we find ourselves with this guessing game, which was not at the weekend successful?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am delighted in many ways that the noble Lord speaks of the need for us in this House to take a very firm view on the need to ensure that there is no retaliation in response to these atrocities. I wholeheartedly endorse the clear and proper statement from the noble Lord and am grateful to him for expressing those views.

I sign off the Parliamentary Questions on Northern Ireland, so I know the noble Lord’s concerns. Of course, it would not be appropriate for me from this Dispatch Box to make comments on the security level or any other aspects of security. If later on today or at some time tomorrow we could have a short conversation, perhaps we could find some way forward. However, I must reiterate that there is no cover-up—absolutely no cover-up; it is just that security issues have to be dealt with in a very responsible and secure way.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I add my voice to the condolences that have been offered all round the House. We all heard yesterday and read in the papers

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this morning the statements made by the various Northern Ireland parties following these appalling murders, some of them in sharp contrast to what might have been said by individuals on similar occasions in the past, and all the more welcome for that. Does the Lord President agree that the sincerity of those statements will be judged by the actions that follow, and particularly by the speed with which any information that comes to anyone’s attention about who might have perpetrated these murders is given to the police to enable prosecutions to follow as quickly as possible?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: Yes, my Lords, the many comments and statements that have been made are a testament to the way in which we have moved forward and the speed at which we have moved forward. I also agree that the sincerity of statements will be judged by actions, and we look forward to those who know the people involved in these atrocities going to the PSNI. I wholeheartedly agree that the statements made are extremely important, and are tangible proof that the peace process has worked, is working and will work.

Lord Kilclooney: My Lords, I express my sympathy to the families of the two soldiers who were tragically killed and wish to let the families know that we in Northern Ireland admire very much what their sons were doing and how much we abhor what has happened. There is widespread distaste at what occurred at the weekend across the whole of Northern Ireland, in both communities. However, one has to say that there seems to have been a lack of security at Massereene barracks. We should not hesitate to say that. There had been a severe warning, and what kind of security existed at the barracks at that time must be fully investigated.

On the same day, 30 young policemen were killed in Baghdad. So often it is the same pattern: they were congregating or queuing up outside the entrance to a police station in Baghdad. That seems to occur so regularly in Iraq. The trouble is that in a situation in which there is a serious threat from the Real IRA, you should not be meeting or congregating outside barracks or police stations.

An incident such as this gives a resolve to politicians from all parties to ensure that the Belfast agreement proceeds successfully in Northern Ireland. However, at the same time, there is an adverse effect that must be a warning. People are concerned and become more divided when instances such as this happen. The one message that I got in Northern Ireland today, mainly from the unionist community, was that they were told that the Provisional IRA had done away with all its firearms and explosives. This new Real IRA has Semtex—and now we see that it as automatic weapons. Was that Semtex and were those automatic weapons owned previously by the Provisional IRA, or has the Real IRA imported into Northern Ireland new explosives and new automatic weapons?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, we all share the distaste which has been expressed by the noble Lord and his admiration for those young men and the way in which they chose to be part of the British Army serving our country. Security at all Army bases was

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increased in the week before the atrocity as a response to the increased threat levels. In addition, following any such attack, the security at all barracks is looked into again, and I am confident that that is taking place now. As to whether the Semtex was a new source or whether these were missiles or guns which had been in use in the past, I do not know. If I can, I will come back to the noble Lord in writing. I will seek what information I can and put a copy of that letter in the Library. But whether I will be able to provide that information, I am not entirely sure.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, I make an obvious point. From this tragedy, there is one ameliorating feature: the two communities of Northern Ireland are probably closer together now than they have been at any time over the past 40 years. In relation to a matter which has already been alluded to, tangentially, in the Statement, will the Minister confirm that the Government of the Republic of Ireland will relentlessly pursue the authors of this murderous episode?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the noble Lord is right that the communities in Northern Ireland are closer now than they have been for many years. The resolve shown by the two communities yesterday shows us that this closeness will continue and that they will not allow themselves to be drawn apart as they were in the past. In relation to the pursuit of the perpetrators, we do not know where they come from, but I am confident that there will be proper co-operation, if necessary, with the police in the south as well as with the PSNI. I am sure that the two forces will work very closely together if it is found that the perpetrators either came from or escaped to the south.

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, your Lordships will, I hope, have noticed the many supportive comments which have come in the past day or so from the United States Congress. Can my noble friend assure us that the people who made those comments will receive the gratitude in writing of her Majesty’s Government for taking the position that they have?

The only other small point I make is that I am always distressed when I see that the media use the expression that people claimed responsibility for a disgusting act. In my language, you claim responsibility for something that is creditworthy and you admit responsibility for something that is disgusting. I hope that our Government will, in future, use that sort of language. There was a slip in the Statement that my noble friend made. Also—and I hesitate to take issue with my long-time friend, the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis—these were not executions, they were murders.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am sure that the Government will express their gratitude to those people in the United States whom I quoted earlier—the Secretary of State and President Obama. Language is always important. I was repeating the Statement that was made in the other place, but I will certainly draw attention to the issues that have been raised. I completely understand where my noble friend is coming from. Claiming something and admitting it are very different things.

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I take this opportunity to respond to an earlier question from the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney. The Government have no reason to doubt the IMC and IICD reports regarding PIRA decommissioning. The IMC made it clear in 2006 that small quantities of PIRA weapons were held back by local groups in defiance of leadership instructions.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, this latest outbreak of violence has been universally condemned. I was therefore very glad to hear that its investigation will receive top priority. However, the Statement reveals that there has been approximately one such attack per month since last year by republican splinter groups. Can the noble Baroness confirm that those past incidents will receive the same kind of priority in their investigation, particularly compared with the time and effort that has been invested in so-called historic inquiries?

No one today has so far mentioned the civilian guards who are apparently looking after military establishments. Can the noble Baroness say whether these people are all armed? What are their instructions on the use of force and, particularly, the use of weapons?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: I am confident that investigations into the attacks mentioned in the Statement are already receiving priority. These attacks have, to some extent, been successful, but I draw your Lordships’ attention to many attacks which have not happened, precisely because of the excellent policing of the PSNI in Northern Ireland. Too often we forget that fact.

In relation to the guards who were guarding the barracks. I understand that it is normal practice. Barracks are often guarded by security personnel rather than by soldiers. As to what their instructions were or whether or not they were armed, I do not know, but I will come back to the noble Lord in writing.

Banking: Asset Protection Scheme


6.28 pm

The Financial Services Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Myners): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury on the asset protection scheme and the agreement, in principle, reached on Saturday between the Treasury and Lloyds Banking Group. The Statement is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, the Chancellor is travelling to Brussels, ahead of the meeting of the European Community Finance Ministers tomorrow, to discuss the G20 Finance Ministers’ meeting this weekend. He has therefore asked me to make this Statement.

The asset protection scheme was announced in January. In his Statement on 26 February, my right honourable friend gave details of the participation of the RBS Group, and he mentioned the negotiations under way with Lloyds. The approach we adopted with Lloyds is similar to that with RBS. Discussion involved a large amount of complex detail and it was important to take time to reach a satisfactory conclusion. An agreement, in principle, has now been reached

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which helps ensure financial stability, safeguards the interests of the taxpayer and supports the real economy by increasing lending.

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