HL Deb 17 October 1994 vol 558 cc33-85

4.35 p.m.

Debate resumed.

Lord Colnbrook

My Lords, perhaps we may return to the subject of Northern Ireland. I start by reiterating what has been said by every speaker so far and that is my delight that there is now no violence going on in Northern Ireland after so many years. That is the greatest pleasure and delight to everybody. I am sure that everyone will join me and the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition in paying a tribute to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in this regard. He alone among Prime Ministers over the past years has created conditions in which this situation has arisen. Enormous credit is due to him.

However, it is also fair to say that credit is due to successive British Governments over the past 25 years, of whichever party, because they have at last got it into the heads of the IRA that the British people will not give way to violence. A great many people have made that mistake over many centuries, but they should know by now that we do not give way to violence. The real pity is that it has taken so many years and cost so many lives—many of them innocent lives—to get that message through to the IRA. However, that has been accomplished and now we are all looking to the future.

I also agree with the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition that the first essential for the British Government is to establish the real thinking behind the IRA and Sinn Fein. Many voices are saying, "The shooting and the bombing have stopped; you must get on with political discussions immediately". Those voices come from Ireland, overseas, from the United States, and from Mr. Adams. All kinds of people are saying that, but I believe that the Government are right to be cautious.

Perhaps noble Lords will consider the following. Which of us would be happy to sit down and conduct negotiations with somebody who has been trying to get something from us by force but who then says "Well, I would like to talk about it instead" yet who refuses to say that he will start again if he does not get everything he wants? I believe that that is called blackmail, is it not? Is not blackmail demanding money with menaces?

Mr Adams is not demanding money, but he has made plenty of demands. Nobody can deny that the menaces are not there. The IRA has enormous quantities of weapons stashed away somewhere. Furthermore, they have a large number of people who are skilled in using those weapons. They are still about. Who knows, but that they may one day say, "We are going to start again". That is why I believe it is absolutely essential that the Government are satisfied that the real intention of Sinn Fein and the other paramilitaries is to talk, to see whether progress can be made and to accept, if necessary—and it will be necessary—a way forward which will not give them everything that they want. If the Government can so satisfy themselves—and I hope that they can—then, as the right reverend Prelate said a moment ago, the real difficulties start.

A great many people seem to think that this trouble has been going on for 25 years. Oh no! Not 25 years. Not even 70 years. Not long after I was appointed to Northern Ireland I was having an informal conversation with some Ulstermen. They were not political activists, just ordinary Ulstermen pursuing their careers and businesses in the ordinary way. I said to them that I did not know how long I would be their Secretary of State. I did not know whether it would be two years, three years or four years. I said that I did not know how much I could do in that quite short time to solve a problem that as far as I could see had been going on for 400 years. One of the Ulstermen interrupted me. He said: "Oh no, Secretary of State, not 400 years; 800 years". Whether he was right or not, I cannot say, but everyone knows that the political differences between the two traditions are long-standing and wide.

One of the disadvantages of the differences being so long-standing is that these difficulties are more or less ingrained into the people from birth. I am sorry to say that there is another one that I would mention. It is that many people are frightened. I do not mean frightened of being shot or blown up. The Ulster people are much too robust and brave for that. They carry on with their ordinary lives and have done for all these years despite all those difficulties. What I mean is that they are frightened of the future.

People of the nationalist tradition are frightened that one day the British Government will succumb to the voices that come from this country—I am sorry to say that some of them come from my own party—and say, "Oh, you must run Northern Ireland just as if it were Sussex or Derbyshire". In other words, they must have local authorities with a great deal of power. The nationalist tradition had that as well as Stormont. They know that what happens if one does that in Northern Ireland is that they are discriminated against. There is no doubt about it. In the days of Stormont and the straightforward system of electing local authorities, they were. I am sorry to say that even when I was there 15 years ago it was still happening.

Local authorities in my day had, and they still have, very little power, but I can think immediately of two examples where a Unionist-dominated local authority sought to exercise its tiny powers against Catholics. That is only 15 years ago. So it is no wonder that those people of the nationalist tradition in the Province who fear that that may happen are frightened. On the other hand, those of the Unionist tradition too are frightened. Although they do not need to be, they are, because they think that one day a British government will say, "We wash our hands of the whole lot of you. Join the rest of Ireland and get on with it".

As I know, and as I am sure all my predecessors and successors know, in Northern Ireland one has to start every speech by saying that the constitutional position of Northern Ireland will not be changed except by the will of the majority. If one does not say that, one is asked why one does not say it. In fact it must be clear, I would hope, to everyone that that is never going to happen. It has been reinforced most recently by the Prime Minister. I am glad to see that the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party agrees with that. But my point is that for those two reasons those two traditions are frightened of the future.

If you are frightened and you are in a moderately safe place, even though it may not be as comfortable as you would like, and someone asks you to move, you do not, do you? You stay in your hole because it is safer. When these discussions take place, everyone will have to move a bit. No one will get everything that they want. Everyone has to move, and persuading frightened people to move is very difficult. So I think that there is no question about it: these discussions, when they take place, as I hope they will, will be very, very prolonged. Anyone who believes that the discussions can solve so long-standing a problem in two or three months will be gravely disappointed. I hope expectations that that can be done will not be built up because that will not help, it will only hinder. The discussions will take a very long time.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will have to dig deep into his reserves of patience. Luckily he has them. I know that My goodness, he will need them. I cannot foresee or tell the Government what the outcome of these discussions should be. As the right reverend Prelate and others have said, this must be to a large extent for the people of Northern Ireland themselves. It is not for me or any of your Lordships. All that we can do is to thank heavens that the atmosphere is such that the discussions can, I believe, start soon, and give every support that we possibly can to those conducting them.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, I too welcome the opportunity to participate in this most important debate following the announcements by Provisional Sinn Fein, the Provisional IRA, and the combined Loyalist military command, to cease all operational hostilities. First we should give credit and thanks to Ministers, both in the Republic and the United Kingdom, to the Province's politicians and to Church leaders in Northern Ireland. There is, as a result, unbounded national relief. The possibility of a permanent peace has been an unbelievable happening to those in Northern Ireland. We all hope sincerely that we have seen the end of Provisional IRA and Ulster Volunteer Force terrorism in our country.

The Official Opposition in Parliament have recently reaffirmed their historic commitment to the unification of Ireland by consent. They support the principles contained in the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which states that there can be no change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland without the consent of the majority of its people and that it is for the people of Ireland alone to exercise their right of self-determination, and they welcome the Irish Government's recognition that that right must be exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland.

I believe that every word of that statement will be endorsed by Her Majesty's Government. That is of paramount important at this crucial time of peace-seeking. It is now clear beyond doubt that Parliament stands four square behind the democratic principle of that self-determination, and that there is a clear bipartisan policy on that stand. Therefore neither the Provisional IRA nor the Ulster Volunteer Force can exploit any differences between the main political parties if and when the constitutional talks begin.

It is also patently clear that Provo terrorism's goal of a united Ireland is unlikely to be achieved and, in the Taoiseach's words, not even in a generation's time. I believe not in the foreseeable future. With that being understood by all political parties, and that fact gradually sinking in to the minds of the Provisional IRA's hawks, the cautious attitude of Her Majesty's Government is eminently sensible.

We must not underestimate the great problems that lie ahead. So far, a ceasefire has been declared by the Proves and the Loyalists. This could well be only a temporary halt in the Provos' campaign. The advent of peace in the Province is dependent upon them. The Loyalists have been the reactors, and their recent increased militant reactions could well have forced Provisional Sinn Fein to the negotiating table. We must also bear in mind that no permanent ceasefire has so far been announced. Gerry Adams will not use the word, because he cannot guarantee it. Provisional Sinn Fein has not laid down its arms. The Provos are on a command of wait and see, fingers on triggers and safety catches, and sitting on an arsenal of 1,000 Kalashnikovs, two tonnes of Semtex, machine guns and rocket launchers.

The UDA and the UVF waited six weeks before making their cessation announcements, fearing that the Provos' statement could well have been another tactical weapon, a device for rest and consolidation. Some still believe it will prove to be that. But I believe that the Prime Minister's announcement of a referendum on the future of Northern Ireland has undoubtedly helped. Therefore, will the Government discuss disarmament first and prevent the threat of a renewal of violence from hanging over the talks? The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will have a pistol at his head, the Provisional Sinn Fein will want to make progress for the Provos; constitutional concessions or else. If there is a "working assumption" that the ceasefire is real why not all disarm—the Provisional IRA and the Loyalist military groups—and call upon the INLA to do the same? I believe that the first call should be, "Lay down your arms".

The Provisional Sinn Fein must be made aware of the feelings of the majority of the electorate. Northern Ireland is a democracy, not a dictatorship. Provisional Sinn Fein could have campaigned democratically to increase its political profile and democratic strength peacefully and without the violence of its military arm. It is still free to do so and if its policies gain political credence its democratic strength will be enhanced. That is the democratic path that Provisional Sinn Fein should now announce and take.

We—and especially the Americans—must recognise that the Provisional IRA is not the Irish Republican Army but a military breakaway group whose objective is to obtain a united Ireland by force; Brits out of the Province first and then take on the South. That was hinted at by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark. The Provisional IRA has still not renounced that objective. Furthermore, the Irish National Liberation Army is another splinter group of the Provisional IRA and has been determined to prove more militant than the Provos. It is not interested in constitutional talks, no announcement has been made of a ceasefire and it remains a loose and dangerous cannon in the Province.

Where do we draw the line showing that terrorism does not pay? The loyalists have seen that Provisional Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, has successfully bombed its way past the ballot box. What will their reaction be if Provo advances are made? They are still suspicious of secret deals. How will the UVF and the UDA be involved, especially knowing that their concern that a foreign country is interfering in their country's affairs? They will want to be involved. If the talks founder, if the Provos are not satisfied and believe that they have been let down and possibly fooled, will they not raise their arms again? A united Ireland is still their goal. Therefore, it is imperative that, even if talks are delayed, consideration is given to a surrender of arms, lifting the threat of killing.

Of course, there is an allied problem. Can Provisional Sinn Fein carry the Provo hawks with them? They are the ruthless criminals, the mafia men who are rich on rackets—protection rackets, black taxis, drug smuggling and dealing —which are all run and controlled from the barrel of a gun. In due course, that problem must be faced too.

We shall be constantly on a knife edge as these talks get under way. A Provisional Sinn Fein official recently threatened that if there was no agreement with Her Majesty's Government—really, on its terms—a new generation of Provos might "act very differently". And, as I have said, all weapons are still at hand.

I believe that Her Majesty's Government have been absolutely right in urging caution as regards the question of the ceasefire. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said: We are not satisfied at the moment. We do not know for sure that we will ever be satisfied ✶ I think a lot of caution is in order from us. After all, it is our country's people who have suffered. We are going to be cautious and not seize upon the first opportunity to suppose that these people have given up violence for good". That statement has my total and unfettered support.

With that sensible cautionary stance, I also urge that the Government go slow—if there is any movement at all—on the constitutional changes which may dent or destroy the symbolically important Government of Ireland Act 1920. I am aware of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the Downing Street Declaration, enshrining the principle of consent. But I ask the Government not to tamper with the 1920 Act as I believe that serious consequences will follow, for it is the bedrock of consolidation for the Province. I say that because it is unlikely that Albert Reynolds will agree to an unambiguous commitment to remove Articles 2 and 3 from the Republic's constitution, which is its claim to jurisdiction over the whole of the island of Ireland.

When the two governments produce their framework document, which will be the basis on which the talks will take place, there is bound to be a list of demands. Although the generally agreed objective of a devolved democratic institution will be constantly in mind, the likely early demand from Provisional Sinn Fein to obtain some satisfaction for the Provisional IRA will be British troops off the streets and back into the barracks, with prospects of amnesty and prisoner paroles and releases. Therefore, we can foresee a long, wearisome, sensitive and difficult series of meetings treading a path between the two basic desires of Unionists and Nationalists. The Unionists will have no truck with hints of a united Ireland and the Provisional Sinn Fein will want to see a united Ireland on the horizon: otherwise, to them, all will have been lost.

Finding common ground will be a difficult task. I believe that for many months the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has patiently, skilfully and quietly helped to bring us to the prospect of peace in Northern Ireland. His undoubted special legal skills will be required in the months ahead. He knows that he has total parliamentary backing in his endeavours.

Perhaps I may conclude by quoting from the Loyalist Military Command's cessation of operations statement. It states: Let us firmly resolve to respect our differing views of freedom, culture and aspirations, and never again permit our political circumstances to degenerate into bloody warfare". We can all say "Amen" to that.

4.58 p.m.

Lord Craig of Radley

My Lords, I too thank the noble Viscount the Leader of the House and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for instigating this debate at such a timely moment. Following the Loyalist ceasefire announced only last Thursday, it is even more timely. What prescience.

Among the many who will welcome the developments of the past few weeks will be the men and women of the Armed Forces. During the past 25 years they have been involved in a constant round of emergency tours in Northern Ireland. It is gratifying and a privilege to be able to echo the praise of the noble Viscount the Lord Privy Seal for all the skill, courage, dedication and commitment which have been the hallmark of the security services during so many years. Nor shall we easily forget the hundreds of servicemen and women who were murdered or injured as they went about their dangerous and difficult tasks. Let us hope that their sacrifice and that of all the other victims of violence will not have been in vain and that peace and prosperity will be found for the Province.

I believe that the Government are absolutely right to approach the new developments with caution and circumspection. Once lowered, even for a short period of time, our security arrangements could not be resurrected instantaneously to full effectiveness. We must of course not forget that the role of the Armed Forces in Northern Ireland is in support of the civil authorities. The Armed Forces have helped to contain the security dangers. Of themselves, they could never achieve a lasting solution to the problem of Northern Ireland. That has been and will always remain a political issue for resolution.

All of us will wish to see the police able to support and maintain law and order without having to be supported by the Armed Forces. But we should not underestimate their task. Even if the bullet and the bomb have been given up, how far will the extremist elements go to maintain their influence and finances by intimidation, thuggery and robbery? Such crimes lie fully in the domain of the police, so they will continue to be hard pressed.

However, scope for Service reductions in the emergency tours and in the large-scale deployment of troops and helicopters in the Province could materialise soon. I am sure that the Ministry of Defence planners have those possibilities very much in mind. But I am sure also that they and the Government have no intention of responding to the ridiculous demands of Sinn Fein that all troops should be withdrawn from the Province and even that there should be not a single soldier remaining. It is outrageous that any parallel should be drawn between the murderous operations of the IRA and the essential activities of the Services in support of the police. Adams was reported to have repeated that demand only last week. I hope that the Government will continue to make absolutely clear their position on that issue.

I hope too that the Government will give the most careful consideration to the size and shape of the defence units and establishments which should form the long-term peacetime Service presence in the Province for so long as it remains a part of the United Kingdom. As elsewhere in the United Kingdom, Service units should undertake training and exercises in Northern Ireland, both flying and ground, demonstrating to those who have representation in Parliament the normal peacetime activities of their Armed Forces.

Indeed, it would be marvellous if we could build in the excellent arrangements which our search and rescue helicopters enjoy in the Republic when they are operating in the South-West Approaches and the eastern Atlantic. Should we perhaps not contemplate joint training and exercises with the Republic, possibly in a United Nations context, in which one day we may be possibly be asked to work together in some distant trouble spot? Apart from any military benefit, such arrangements would do much to strengthen ties across the Border.

I recognise, with the draw-down in the Armed Forces and with the turbulence that has followed in the wake of the series of defence reviews and defence cost studies, that now is not an easy moment to contemplate further adjustments to take account of the need to deploy units and to undertake normal peace-time training in the Province. But I hope that the Government will think carefully about the contribution to normalisation which should and can be made by the Armed Forces as the future for the Province unfolds. I hope that Ministers will soon be able to make clear their position in that regard.

5.5 p.m.

The Marquess of Downshire

My Lords, although I have never given the nomenclature of my speech a second thought, it has occurred to me that the word "maiden" is delicate, which leads me to believe that your Lordships will, in your customary fashion, give me a quiet over.

Perhaps I may say how indebted we are to my noble friend the Leader of the House for tabling this Motion. For my part, I felt compelled to take part for a variety of reasons, not least because of my family ties with the Province, and also because I believe that the events which have brought us to the present position need to be examined full)' so that further progress can be made.

It would be fair to say that Ireland as a whole, as other noble Lords have said, has had a turbulent history and that fact has been emphasised by its continuance in Ulster. There are a multiplicity of reasons for that phenomenon, although some try to award part of the blame to the equivocal manner in which Ireland has been treated successively by England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom. I would not subscribe entirely to that view, although I believe that, in establishing a link between England and Ireland, fundamental mistakes were made at the start which are taking many centuries to resolve.

But surely the overriding issue is the establishment of peace in Northern Ireland, allied to the paramount need to give the people a political voice so that they can be heard and thereby take their rightful place in the Union, if it is to be that, and in the wider context of the world order.

It would be quite wrong if the strenuous lengths to which the United Kingdom has gone in endeavouring to preserve the status quo in Northern Ireland as regards its position in the Union were to be jeopardised by hasty moves on the part of any of the participants in those on-going multilateral talks. However, somebody must hold the ring and produce a formula which will be acceptable to all parties. It seems to me that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister's suggestion that a referendum could be held in the Province to decide the key issue—that is, whether it is the wish of the electorate to remain in the United Kingdom—is a possible way of establishing its will. Such a process would be both speedy and overtly democratic and would start the process of determining the future of the Province. At the same time, the leaders of the indigenous parties making up the spectrum of Ulster politics must be encouraged to gather round the table in an endeavour to reach at least a compromise which may lead in turn to a more permanent agreement.

Your Lordships may say that that is premature prior to the holding of a referendum. But I believe that, whatever the outcome of the ballot, a need for co-operation will still exist.

Of course, it is inevitable that there are those who pay only lip service to the peace accord. But I believe that the longer both ceasefires prevail, the greater the opportunity for those mavericks to see the advantages which will emerge. At the same time, your Lordships may say that time does not stand still and there is a compelling need for action to placate that element of the electorate. On that valid point, does the opportunity not present itself quite soon to indicate at the very least how a democratic framework for the Province might look?

In saying that, I should like to see the representatives of those organisations who are truly identified with the Six Counties invited to participate. I believe that that is the policy of the United Kingdom Government. For their part, I should like to see a token of the UK Government's earnest in the shape of a solid intention to withdraw that proportion of the Armed Forces from the Province which is over and above what is required for the defence of the realm. However, I would not advocate any move in that direction unless an arms amnesty was announced simultaneously.

There is no doubt that the joint declaration marks a sea change in contemporary Irish politics. The opportunity it affords for all who hold both the Province and Ireland as a whole most dear they will ignore at their peril.

5.11 p.m.

Lord Merlyn-Rees

My Lords, on behalf of the House, I should like to express our pleasure at the speech just made by the noble Marquess. His family ties are with a most important and beautiful part of Northern Ireland, but also a part of Ireland where the Troubles have shown themselves not only in recent years but over the centuries. The right reverend Prelate spoke earlier and said that it is most important—indeed, it is vitally necessary—that those with a knowledge of Northern Ireland, and not from outside as with many of us, should speak on such matters. He was absolutely correct. It is only in Northern Ireland that the matter will be resolved. The family ties of the noble Marquess are with Northern Ireland. We listened to him with great interest and I hope that we shall hear from him again. Perhaps I may just apologise for arriving late this afternoon. I consulted the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, the Leader of the Opposition and other Ministers because I knew that I would be late due to the fact that I had an engagement in my old constituency which, as chairman of a charity, I felt that I had to attend.

As a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I should like to pick up one point that came from my successors. They said how important it is that there should be a bipartisan policy on Northern Ireland. Of course, policy and political considerations on other issues are very important, but they are partisan in a contrived sort of way. There must never be that sort of thing with regard to Northern Ireland as there was, though perhaps not contrived, 100 years ago in this House, as the picture on the wall in the Corridor outside shows; namely, the division in the rest of the United Kingdom in relation to politics in Northern Ireland was real and had a great effect on one of the major political parties of the day. That is certainly not something that we should emulate today.

One could try to suggest what has brought Sinn Fein and thus the IRA to their present position. Perhaps they took the advice that I am sure was given to successive Secretaries of State—indeed, it certainly was to me— that there is no military solution in Northern Ireland. If there is no military solution for the Army, there is no military solution for the IRA or the other paramilitary groups. I do not know why such a debate should arise now. With the Loyalists I have some idea. I have had contact, although not in the past two or three years with, oddly enough, the Loyalist paramilitaries. I believe that what has affected them is the realisation, as a result of what the Government and Mr. Molyneaux have said, that there is no deal and that the position of the Union is not at risk.

I know that my noble friend Lord Donaldson met Mr. Gusty Spence in the Maze, as I did. He is remarkable man. He was in prison for the murder of a Catholic barman and received an 18-year sentence. My noble friend Lord Fitt knows Mr. Gusty Spence as a cult figure in the Loyalist areas. He has played a part in the matter. We should recognise that fact; indeed, the words that he used were most moving.

On the Union, I have never changed my mind since first confronted with the Ulster workers' strike when the majority community combined together. People tell me that, "You can't hand over Northern Ireland because you have no power to do so". That is so. It would be utterly impossible to hand over Northern Ireland to the South. It might look good on paper, but it could not possibly be done. But, equally, the minority cannot be ignored. Northern Ireland is a place apart, albeit a part of Ireland.

To talk about devolution in the context of devolution for Wales or for Scotland is misconceived. For one thing, the Border is in the wrong place. Of course, there is no right place; but it is in the wrong place. That is something of an Irish-ism. If that were not so, "devolution" would be much easier. As I said, Northern Ireland is a place apart. How the matter of the Union and the position of Northern Ireland can be handled is really at the heart of everything that will be discussed in the months and years ahead.

The Irish Taoiseach has made a helpful statement on the matter, as was pointed out by a previous speaker. However, I have noticed that the leader of Sinn Fein disagreed with it. That raises an issue which will arise time and again during the months ahead. Who speaks for the Irish Government? Is it the Taoiseach and the Tainaiste (the deputy Prime Minister), or is it the leader of Sinn Fein with about 2.5 per cent. of the votes in Northern Ireland but nevertheless with military backing?

I met the IRA with the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, in Phoenix Park at dusk one evening. One gets an eerie feeling in Phoenix Park. At the end of the discussion— and I do not know whether I have ever told my noble friend Lord Fitt this —Mr. Wilson, as he was at the time, raised the question of the position of Gerry Fitt; for example, was his life at risk? He said, "Politicians don't worry us, the men with the guns are the ones that count". Therefore, the IRA do count, as do the Loyalist paramilitaries.

The Union is the stumbling block. As I said, I have met members of the IRA; indeed, I met them twice. My officials talked with them for a long period at the end of 1974 and during the greater part of 1975. The notes of those meetings are available. I looked through them to see what was discussed. At the end of the day what broke up those meetings was the fact that nothing could be given on the Union. The discussion was about how to return to normal life. For example, would they be allowed to carry guns? The answer I gave was that they would have to go to the police station and obtain a licence if they wanted to protect their lives. It is not easy for people on either side who have been involved in killing over the years. They must be afraid that someone will come to their home in the Ardoyne, or wherever, and fire through the front door. It will not be easy to bring about the end of violence in Northern Ireland. The problem is how to get back to normal life. As my noble friend Lord Mason pointed out, there are those on easy money; for example, the shebeens and so on.

My father was a Welsh coalminer but also a soldier in the Irish Brigade. He was present at the 1916 Easter Rising before he returned to France and fought there in an Irish brigade against the Germans. That is a most curious situation to be in. In 1922, at the end of the Black and Tans, let us never forget that one-half of the IRA went for peace while the other half continued with the civil war. There were more people killed in Ireland in 1922 than had ever been killed with the Black and Tans and the British Army.

History lies low over the Province. One keeps thinking about these things and perhaps one should not, but at least one has to bear them in mind when undertaking talks in the 1990s. In looking at my papers I noted that the other matter that was discussed was releases from prisons. In my day there was detention. I wanted to get rid of detention because I regarded it as a mistake. We ended detention but ending detention is a good deal easier than dealing with people who are properly sentenced through the courts. There is the parole scheme and the use of the Royal prerogative. In my view those matters can be handled in the course of time.

I believe we can also handle the role of the Army. In my day, and in the days of my predecessor Secretaries of State, the Army was not in support of the civil power. The RUC was not a good police force. It had degenerated into a paramilitary force. It was at the end of my time and at the beginning of the time of the noble Lord, Lord Mason, that the position was reversed after the police had been given larger numbers of men and had received training in normal police work. They are now one of the best police forces in the United Kingdom, but that was not the case at the time to which I have referred.

However, the Army is in support of the civil power now. It is not difficult to reduce the role of the Army and in many ways that is happening already. As regards the emergency battalions, if there were more transport aircraft they could return home but get back to Northern Ireland in a matter of hours. However, as I said, the role of the Army can be dealt with, as can the role of the emergency provisions Act in Northern Ireland. That is not a difficult matter. I noticed that one of the Members of the coalition of the Irish Government, Dick Spring, has announced that he will suggest in the Cabinet—I believe this is referred to as open government—that the relaxation of the rule of law as regards the arrest of members of the paramilitary forces should be ended. Let us never forget that the Irish Government had the most stringent methods of arresting members of the paramilitary forces, but if we used those methods in Northern Ireland there would be the devil to pay. Nevertheless those methods are used in the South of Ireland.

One could not repeat my next comment in Northern Ireland because people would think it was something one wished to do, but if ever there were a united Ireland, I tell your Lordships that the paramilitary forces on both sides would be dealt with in a very harsh manner, if what happens in the South of Ireland at the moment is anything to go by.

In my view the stumbling block is the Union. I admire the Secretary of State. One must not mention people who work for him but his Permanent Under-Secretary was once my secretary and I have a great regard for him. Those people will have put their mind to these matters. I do not know when; the idea of a forum in the South of Ireland will fit in. It appears there is to be a forum again and some of the parties from the North will be invited to participate. I know straight away what the answer will be as regards some of those parties. However, others will attend. Must the forum finish its discussions before there are other discussions in which the British and Irish Governments participate? There will have to be discussion and of course once the discussions start—this is apparent from the papers I have been considering— the Irish Government and the British Government will have to be in charge of them. A discussion with no one in charge—I am not talking about deciding things, but about being in charge—will end in disarray at the end of the first day. Someone must be in charge. Will the membership be the elected parties, participants from both parts of Ireland, the IRA and the Loyalists? What about the INLA, as has been said before? There are many matters to decide.

These days I listen to the "Today" programme in bed, although I did not used to do so. That programme upsets my twilight sleep when it is suggested that if only someone acted quickly this matter could all be over by 9 o'clock, and by tea-time there could be a great conference at which everyone would shake hands. This matter will take a long time to resolve, not because people are naturally "conservative" with a small "c" but because it has been going on for a long time.

There is a new environment and there is a great deal of hope but many people are dead, many people have been killed. Let us never forget the festering that exists in the hearts and minds of many people in Northern Ireland. The right reverend Prelate has reminded me— this had started in the days of the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw—that the heads of the Churches came to see me to discuss the situation. I do not think this had happened before the days of the noble Viscount. They were all Ulstermen talking together and I was an outsider. They said, "Never forget what has happened in the past. The pike goes back into the thatch ready to be used at a later date". We have to make absolutely sure that it is not just a case of the pike going back into the thatch, but that we create a genuine peace in the latter years of the 20th century. That will take time but we should not be ashamed of that.

5.24 p.m.

Lord Cooke of Islandreagh

My Lords, I join with others in thanking the noble Viscount the Leader of the House and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for making this debate possible. I was much encouraged by what the noble Viscount the Leader of the House had to say. I noted that in most of what he had to say he was supported by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. I believe that if the Government can proceed in the way that the Leader of the House indicated today, supported by the Labour Party, that in itself will be most helpful.

Recent developments in Northern Ireland have been dramatic. For the first time in 25 years we are free from terrorist attack and only we who live in Northern Ireland can really appreciate what this means. We all hope that this removal of terrorist threat is permanent. As of now we cannot be sure of this but I think we all know that the longer it continues, the more difficult it will be for terrorists to get support for further action.

Each one of us in Northern Ireland has been affected to some extent during the past 25 years of terrorist activity but the community generally had learnt to live with this and it became part of life. Determination to overcome terrorism never faltered. It is only after the ceasefire that the growing sense of relief permits us to realise what we had to put up with. We are all now walking with a lighter step and are able to think of other things. But we can never forget that 3,000 people lost their lives from terrorism, including over 1,000 members of the security forces. The scale of the suffering is hard to grasp.

It is not surprising that political progress was almost impossible in face of terrorism. However, with the cessation of violence we can now begin to think and talk sensibly about political development. The change in feeling in Northern Ireland in recent weeks is due not only to the ceasefire. Uncertainty about the status of Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom has been removed in recent weeks which is an enormous relief to the greater number in Northern Ireland who support the Union.

It would be almost impossible to exaggerate the damage caused by the Anglo-Irish Agreement which was signed in 1985. A treaty was negotiated in secret with the Dublin Government undertaking to consult and involve the Dublin Government in discussions concerning government of part of the United Kingdom. We in Northern Ireland were not consulted; not even the most senior Northern Ireland civil servants in the Northern Ireland Office were allowed to know what was being negotiated. It is not surprising therefore that the unionists—I say unionist with a small "u"—throughout Northern Ireland ceased to trust their government. They asked, "If government can do that to us, what else might they be doing?"

The Prime Minister has now made it clear that the citizens of Northern Ireland have the right to remain in the United Kingdom as long as they wish. What is more, the Government of the Republic of Ireland now accept that citizens of Northern Ireland have the right to remain part of the United Kingdom as long as that is their wish. The Prime Minister in his speech of 16th September has undertaken to consult the people of Northern Ireland by referendum before any new arrangements for the government of Northern Ireland are put into effect.

It is difficult for those not living in Northern Ireland to understand the effect of those statements. We hope that uncertainty about the status of Northern Ireland is now over. It is apparent that that has been a factor in the decision of the Loyalist terrorists to call a ceasefire. I ask Her Majesty's Government to continue to treat us as they have in recent weeks, never again to resort to deceit or underhand dealings, to support the Union in accordance with the wishes of the majority in Northern Ireland and not to appear to be neutral. They should not use phrases such as "the Government have no selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland". That statement caused a great deal of alarm and anxiety.

I wish to congratulate the Prime Minister on the skilful manner in which he and the Government have handled Northern Ireland affairs in recent months. His statements have been timely and clearly expressed. The Secretary of State, Sir Patrick Mayhew, has understood the difficulties and has contributed much to the changes which have taken place. It is indeed a pleasure to congratulate the Government, in contrast to the many times I have felt it necessary to criticise their policies. Appreciation and thanks are also due to all those who have worked so hard to persuade the terrorists to cease their activities. In addition to those in the headlines there are many others who have worked silently to that end.

The majority in favour of remaining in the Union is now probably greater than it has ever been. Throughout the troubles people have kept a close eye on the political scene in Dublin, and we are now determined that we do not want anything to do with Dublin politics. That is not a sectarian or religious matter; it is the feeling of people throughout the Province, except for a small minority, particularly those who have been held in thrall by the IRA for many years and who have been brought up and taught to be anti-British.

I mentioned earlier the improved atmosphere in Northern Ireland. On Saturday the Ulster Unionist Party held its annual conference. More than 500 delegates attended. It was an excellent conference, with healthy Ulster humour never far from the surface but not preventing serious and thoughtful discussion of important issues. The theme of the conference, "Our duty to the greater number", was taken to heart and the party will be working to welcome all who support the Union. Our leader, Mr. James Molyneaux, Member for Lagan Valley, was acclaimed by all present for the vital and important part he has played in the progress made in recent months.

The question in everybody's minds is, what next? The coming months will be difficult. The Government have to make carefully balanced and thought out decisions. The Prime Minister's statement: I will take it in my own time but will not tarry a day longer than is necessary", commends itself to me. One of his early tasks will be to ensure that hundreds of tonnes of arms and several tonnes of Semtex are accounted for. I do not see how former terrorists can join constitutional politicians in talks while guns and explosives remain readily to hand.

The ceasefire must be built upon step by step. There is much that can be done to improve government in Northern Ireland with democratic involvement. The objective must be to provide fair and equal treatment for all under the laws of the United Kingdom, so that anyone can have any aspiration provided he or she behaves in a peaceful manner within the law.

For two years or more it has been the Government's objective to publish a framework document after agreement with Dublin. However, it must be noted that there is still no agreement on that. I took careful note of what the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said in suggesting that the Government should not attempt to achieve full agreement because that was probably not possible. When that framework document is presented, whether agreed or not, it is to be put before the constitutional politicians who are then expected to discuss and agree future arrangements covering all relationships in the Three Strands but with nothing to be agreed until everything is agreed. I believe that it is far too ambitious to expect agreement to be reached on relationships in the Three Strands at one time, and I beg the Government to rethink the way forward and proceed in a more practical manner. I was encouraged by the Secretary of State's remarks on Thursday last when he emphasised that it is important to proceed step by step.

If we are to achieve agreement on the first stage, which is the development of devolved government in Northern Ireland, it must be recognised that there is no place for Dublin involvement in the internal affairs in Northern Ireland, any more than there is a place for the United Kingdom to interfere with the internal affairs of the Republic of Ireland.

It is clear from statements from Dublin that the Government of the Republic are demanding the setting up of formal cross-border institutions with executive powers. There is almost universal opposition to this, and I beg the Government not to proceed with any such institutions. At the non-political level there is scope for all kinds of collaboration and for working with appropriate bodies in the Republic of Ireland. There is already co-operation at many levels and the ending of violence will accelerate that. Business organisations work closely together; there is collaboration on tourism, and local councils work with their opposite numbers across the border on matters of common interest. At various times I have been involved in such arrangements, and I can assure your Lordships that the ordinary people, North and South, have no problem working together for mutual benefit. The sensible course is to encourage all such informal arrangements and only at a later stage, when experience shows that formal arrangements would be helpful, should any action be taken at the political level.

In the next few months there will be many difficulties to overcome. However, I shall not spend time speculating about those difficulties. Those of us in Northern Ireland understand them only too well. I repeat the words of others that there must be no giving way to demands for the policing of nationalist areas or other such arrangements.

If the Government can proceed with the skill and understanding that they have shown in recent months, then I believe that real progress can be made so that we in Northern Ireland can face the future with hope and confidence.

5.37 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, it is now many months since in a Northern Ireland debate I was listened to in stony silence—which in your Lordships' House normally means profound disapproval—when I described my right honourable friend the Prime Minister as a brilliant negotiator for his great achievement of the Downing Street Declaration. I said that I felt that that declaration would break the log jam in the beleaguered Province. I believe that my thoughts on that occasion have to some extent been vindicated.

Seven weeks ago the IRA announced a ceasefire, which is still holding. That is another vital step forward on the way towards Northern Ireland once again becoming a normal and fully integral part of the United Kingdom. On Thursday last we had another piece of good news; namely, the announcement of a ceasefire by the Loyalist terrorists. The latter have always said that they saw their role as responding to the activities of the IRA. In their announcement on Thursday they said: the sole responsibility of a return to violence lies with the IRA". If that sounds as though I condone the actions of Loyalist terrorists, I shall put your Lordships' minds at rest. I certainly do not. But we must all pray and work towards ensuring that violence does not recur.

Over the past 20 years violence has indeed begat violence. The question now is whether peace will beget peace. That is the question which we are debating today. That there is peace, and an economic dividend to go with it, is beyond doubt. That was apparent very early in the process. I have in front of me an article from the Belfast Telegraph of 20th September which states: The number of shoppers in Belfast city centre rose last week by 5 per cent. over 1993, as bag searches came to an end in some large stores such as Marks and Spencer and CastleCourt. 'We believe this is directly related to the ceasefire and it's very encouraging', said [the] chief executive of the Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce. At the same time, and almost in juxtaposition, the article states: Security firms have continued to recruit workers—despite a decision by some stores to cut back guards following the IRA ceasefire. Both Securicor and Group 4 Securitas have placed recruitment ads in the past few days". I am glad to report that so far as concerns Securicor, I was told by their marketing director only last week that that was still going on. It is a small start to revival, but a start, nonetheless. However, I believe that we would delude ourselves if we thought that peace was so established as to be permanent at this moment. Not using the enormous pile of arms that are available to terrorists on both sides is one thing. Having an amnesty and handing those arms in is quite another. I am sure that the Government are quite right to be cautious on that issue. Permanency, as the Taoiseach said on Thursday, will be achieved only when all the weapons are handed in. There is an obvious temptation to rush at that but if we have learnt anything over the past two decades in Northern Ireland it is that rushing things is counter productive.

In passing, it is in my view sterile to try to look behind the IRA ceasefire and seek to put reasons on it. For now it is an established fact. However, violence has not ceased and what the IRA sometimes refer to as their policing of the nationalist areas continues. The noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, spoke witheringly on that; I agree with every word he said. Baseball bats and thuggery generally are still in evidence. That matter must be dealt with.

What really matters is where we go from here, politically. The attitude of mistrust by Unionists of Nationalists and Nationalists of Unionists continues and will remain until a proven, stable democracy exists in the Province. I was heartened by one thing that I heard my honourable friend David Curry say only last week. He stated: Local government is the bedrock of democracy". Therefore I am encouraged, despite what my noble friend Lord Colnbrook said earlier, to repeat my previous thoughts: that stability will not occur in Northern Ireland until local government there is rebuilt. We all know that it is de minimis now. Planning, housing, education, libraries, social services and policing are all centralised. There has been very good reason for that in the past. The majority has so often deprived the minority of its fair share of those services. Memories are long and strong in the Province. The fear that it would do so again is uppermost in people's minds. Let us not forget that the minority is Loyalist in parts of Northern Ireland. The fear of death may have gone, but the fear of deprivation remains.

Would the populace accept increasing the powers of local government? I believe that it would—not, however, based on a rejigged Stormont, or anything else with a built-in electoral bias. That has been tried, and failed, more than once over the years. I should like to see my right honourable friends promote in the framework document a slow but increasing role for local government perhaps on the Scottish or Welsh model, coupled with a strong Northern Ireland Office with reserve powers to put matters right when they go wrong. There is already a proven model in the Department of Health and Social Services. I have to confess that it was not the easiest moment in my political life when I had to go to my Secretary of State and ask him to back me in serving a direction on a health and social services board to enforce competitive tendering. Once was enough, and the implied threat of doing that again was sufficient to keep the board within the law, without the interference of the department or its Ministers. Nor indeed do I believe that that experience was resented by many people in the Province. There was grudging acceptance initially, certainly. However, over time it reverted to a belief that my noble and honourable friends had long held that it was right and proper to test the cost of public services, and if possible —it often is not possible—to reroute the money into mainstream activities rather than to the peripheries.

Therefore a model exists, but whether the talks will embrace that arrangement remains to be seen. That is part of the trouble, is it not? Today your Lordships are trying to fulfil one of your constitutional roles: that of advising the government of the day. Alas!, we are speaking into a vacuum and we do not know what ideas are being worked up in the talks or what have already been discarded. While I do not expect my right honourable friends to reveal any of their hands before they are ready, I believe that we should be told if we are still in the ball game of nothing being ruled in and nothing being ruled out, or whether we have passed that stage. Since all the debaters have not yet been involved—Sinn Fein is an obvious example—I would expect that ideas would be welcome. However, I urge my right honourable friends to tell us of those which have been discarded when they feel that it is wise for us to know.

Talking of wisdom, I was delighted to hear that there are to be not one but two referenda as a result of the talks. I congratulate my right honourable friends on holding a referendum on the scheme that comes out of the discussions. I am sure that they are right. The plan must be broadly acceptable to the people of Northern Ireland as a whole, otherwise it will simply come apart at the seams and we shall be back to the drawing board again.

The first referendum was of course announced in the context of the Downing Street Declaration—that is to say, on whether the majority of the population still believe in a union with Great Britain. I believe that such a referendum is long overdue and might be held with advantage before the closing stages of the talks. However, whenever it is held, I am also inclined to think that it should not be a one off approach. I am sure that it would clear the air to make such a referendum a regular occurrence—perhaps once a parliament or every time there were a new Prime Minister. Such action would continually reinforce the hand of the government of the day and give much needed reassurance in the Province. Something must be done to allay what the Secretary of State called the other day, the dark fears and suspicions in the hearts and minds of so many in Northern Ireland". Following that, he said that we must go on giving reassurance. My suggestion is one way in which to achieve that aim.

I have spoken long enough. I do not see the need today to expand on the other two strands of the talks between London and Dublin, and between Belfast and Dublin. Suffice it to say that obvious though the need is for such talks, they will need the same dedicated skill in negotiation that we have seen until now between Belfast and London. I hope that the advice that my right honourable friends will take away from the debate today is, "Steady as she goes". Whatever our friends in the media may say about momentum, I believe that we in this House will unite in telling the Government, "You rush things at your peril"—and, more importantly, at the peril of those people who have suffered so much in Northern Ireland.

5.49 p.m.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, there has been an absence of gunfire in Northern Ireland for this past six or seven weeks. But that does not mean that there is anything remotely approaching that word with five letters, "peace". We have a million miles to go before we can achieve that in Northern Ireland. These past 25 years have left deep, gaping wounds on the body politic of Northern Ireland which will take generations, perhaps forever, to heal.

I realise that a certain number of people in Northern Ireland now say, "Don't say anything which could resurrect past differences or in some way affect the peace process". I do not accept that, because I believe that, unless we face up to what has been happening in Northern Ireland and what is liable to happen, as well as what we can do to allay the fears in both communities, then attaining that peace will be all the more difficult.

Let me put it in terms which I understand. Until two days before the dramatic announcement by the Loyalists in Northern Ireland that they were calling a ceasefire, I—like everyone else in Northern Ireland—had been a pessimist par excellence since the murdering began there. Two days before that announcement I watched the television screen and saw spokesmen for the Loyalist paramilitaries. One man shown was referred to as a co-ordinator for the Loyalist prisoners. Then the caption went up with his name and when I saw it my blood ran cold—it was John White. He was the man who so brutally and savagely murdered my colleague, Senator Paddy Wilson, in 1973. What a terrible effect that had on me when I saw him being given credibility in front of the television cameras as a Loyalist paramilitary co-ordinator. It had the same effect on my family, all my daughters and the rest of my family, who knew Paddy Wilson so well. They immediately got on the phone when they saw that. That was only in my case, just one case.

Then I thought of the two British Army corporals who were so brutally murdered on the Falls Road in Belfast. One of the men who pulled the corporals out of the car was accompanying Gerry Adams as a kind of bodyguard on his perambulations around the United States of America. Can one begin to imagine for a moment what the relatives of those corporals felt, and not only them, but all the other soldiers, policemen and civilians who had been killed? They left behind scores, hundreds, indeed thousands of grieving relatives who will bitterly resent any attempt to let Loyalist or Republican murder gangs come to the conference table to speak on their behalf.

However, something else made me cringe besides seeing that murderer on television. It was when Senator Edward Kennedy put his arms around Gerry Adams and welcomed him to America. What that man did in an attempt to save his own electoral fortunes was bitterly resented, not only by the Unionist people in Northern Ireland, but by many members of the Catholic minority. Gerry Adams perambulated through America and Canada. He claimed—and every time I heard it I cringed—to speak on behalf of the Irish people, underlining the "Irish people" or the "nationalist people". The reality is that the only credibility Gerry Adams has is with about 5 per cent. in the whole island of Ireland. The only reason he had for going to America or being involved in politics was that he had an army of gunmen behind him.

I realise that in the peace process Gerry Adams may have a part to play. I suppose there is a voice there; he has some form of electoral mandate. But I pose a question to the House and to the country, and I cannot give the answer. The fact is that Gerry Adams is the spokesman for an organisation that has murdered its way into the political arena in Northern Ireland. But he knows that he has a 5 per cent. electoral vote. The Loyalists have an even smaller vote, a very small figure. When they go to the forum to put forward their case, they will be very much in a minority.

My question is: are they prepared to abide by any resolutions which come from such a forum or will both sides go back and resort to violence? I pose that question but I cannot give the answer. I wish that I could, I wish I could say that, if they have now given an undertaking that they will abide by the democratic process, they will abide by their electoral position by sheer weight of numbers in such a forum. I am fearful that the Sinn Fein element in such a forum may not find its views totally rejected, it may find some sympathy from Fianna Fail or some of the other political parties engaged in the forum. Those may find that they have some empathy with the Sinn Fein point of view, but I hope that that will not be the case.

It is said that one of the issues for discussion in the forum would be the abolition of Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution, which lay claim to governing Northern Ireland. Some people here believe that the Irish Government can recommend to the Irish population that Articles 2 and 3 be withdrawn from the Irish constitution. I can tell noble Lords, particularly those on this side of the House, that Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution are equivalent to Clause 4 of the Labour Party constitution. They are icons. The Irish Government can recommend it, but there is no way they could ever win it. We saw what happened with Clause 4. As we all know, Clause 4 does not mean anything and Articles 2 and 3 mean nothing except in emotional and symbolic terms. I cannot see any Irish government, particularly Fianna Fail, recommending that those two articles be removed.

This past week I have watched the whole process and the people who have spoken. I too was amazed by some of the words which emanated from the Loyalist paramilitaries. I never expected that I would hear Loyalist spokesmen apologise for the ferocious murders which they carried out among the Catholic population in Northern Ireland. I listened to Gusty Spence, however, and I accept what he said and feel that he meant it. I also listened to David Ervine on television yesterday morning. If I ever heard a sensible voice emanating from the present troubles, it was that of David Ervine. I only wish that there were more David Ervines living in the Shankill Road and the Loyalist areas of Belfast who would have been able to stop the descent into Loyalist paramilitary murders. I believe that David Ervine may have a place in any future political discussions in Northern Ireland.

I appeal to the noble Baroness, however, that under no circumstances should those people take part who have committed ferocious murders on the Loyalist side or the Republican side. They have no mandate from the Irish people to take part in any solutions to the Irish problem.

I believe that some things said recently only exacerbate the existing tensions. The shadow spokesman on Northern Ireland, Kevin McNamara, made a statement last week that there would have to be a reform of the RUC; the RUC was unacceptable in nationalist areas. That is totally untrue. I spent many years of my political life in Belfast and the RUC were guilty of mistakes, but the overwhelming majority of the Catholic population realised that the RUC was the only legitimate force that they had and they accepted it. At the moment when Gerry Adams and his cohorts are demanding the withdrawal of the RUC and the Army from West Belfast, the elected spokesman for West Belfast, Joe Hendron, the West Belfast MP, has contradicted them and said that there is no big demand for the RUC to be withdrawn. I advise the Government to listen to the elected MP and not to Gerry Adams, who claims that he can push Joe Hendron aside at the next election and become the next elected representative himself. I hope that that does not happen, but that is certainly what he thinks.

A spokesman for the Labour Party has said that there has to be reform of the RUC and that first of all the "Royal" must be taken out of its title. That is totally insensitive to the feelings of the majority of people in Northern Ireland. I do not believe that the word "Royal" has any great significance in the name. After all, the British left the Republic of Ireland, but if you go to Dublin there are hundreds of places with a "Royal" prefix: the Royal Dublin Horse Show, and the Royal Dublin Yacht Club, for example. Many places have the word "Royal" in their name. But to say that the word should be taken out of the name of the Royal Ulster Constabulary is very insensitive at this time.

Another big demand has been made in America. How did Mr. Clark, who was involved in pulling the corporals out of the car to be murdered, get into America? The American Government have played a very ignoble part in this whole affair. One must never forget that when the Americans thought that their position was endangered by terrorists, they had no hesitation in bombing Libya, with the support of this country. Yet they can find it in their hearts to provide a passport to allow into the United States someone who was convicted of a ferocious murder.

The big demand that Gerry Adams made on television in America related to the fact that he was able to speak in America but was not able to speak in London since here there was an exclusion order on him. The British Government could make a deal with Gerry Adams. They could say that they would lift the exclusion order on him here if he would lift the exclusion order on hundreds of young Irish fellows from Belfast who have been excluded from that city because they do not agree with the IRA. The number of such young men excluded by Sinn Fein and the IRA runs into hundreds. If the exclusion order on Gerry Adams is to be lifted, let it be lifted on all those other people.

My noble friend Lord Merlyn-Rees has referred to what is going on now in Loyalist areas that are regarded as ghettos —the knee-cappings and the beatings up are not confined to Catholic areas in West Belfast; they also take place in Loyalist West Belfast. I do not think that the noble Baroness will find anyone in this House today who disagrees with the stand that has been taken by the British Government. I urge the British Government to move very, very cautiously, and to move in their own time.

I personally believe that the Irish Government have moved far too quickly. I know that they have a different constituency: they are on the island of Ireland and they do not have to take into account what has happened in Northern Ireland and here. They may feel justified in revoking some of their emergency legislation, as was announced last week. But I have to say to the Irish Government that they have not suffered the pain that we in Northern Ireland have had to suffer. If they had had to endure over 3,000 deaths and all the maimings that we in the North have experienced, I believe that they would have been just as reluctant as this Government are to accept the bona fides of the IRA. I urge the Irish Government to take into consideration the feelings of people in Northern Ireland.

I turn now to the question of a referendum. We have already had a referendum in Northern Ireland. It took place in 1973, and was known as the Border Poll. But in that poll there was only one specific question; namely, do you want to see the Border remain, or do you want the Border abolished? That was 21 years ago. At the time I was the leader of the SDLP. We knew that we would lose in any Border poll. Everyone knew that there were more Protestants in Northern Ireland, more Unionists, and that the minority who were opposed to the Border would lose. But the next referendum will not be on the question of the existence of the Border; it will be on whatever emerges, either from the framework document or from any agreement which is arrived at subsequent to the framework discussions.

I am about to make a statement with which the IRA will certainly not agree. My former colleagues in the SDLP know that it is true, but they do not want to say it out loud as it may have some effect on their electoral base. At least 30 per cent. of Catholics living in Northern Ireland do not want to see a united Ireland; they do not want to live in the Republic under any circumstances. They have their own reasons, based largely on the economic wherewithal that is available in Northern Ireland.

Here I have to say again that the present Prime Minister, John Major, and Albert Reynolds deserve great credit for all their endeavours in respect of the Downing Street Declaration. No other British Prime Minister, since the inception of the state of Northern Ireland has ever put the problem of Ireland at the top of the agenda. Everyone who has spoken here today has said that tremendous obstacles must be overcome before we can begin to see a glimmer of hope in the search for peace in Northern Ireland.

Since the onset of the shooting war in Northern Ireland I have always been pessimistic. I begin to see some ray of optimism. I believe that this Government deserve credit. But I warn the Government to tread very slowly, to be aware of the sensitivities and feelings in both communities, and not to give the impression that the individuals who have carried out such a murderous campaign are deciding the future in which they and their children will have to live.

6.8 p.m.

Viscount Brookeborough

My Lords, I too am very grateful to my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal and to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for introducing this debate. For the first time, it takes place without the fear of bombs and guns being used in the United Kingdom by Northern Ireland based terrorists. For those of us from Northern Ireland it is very welcome (even though it is quite late now) to have at least started the debate in daylight for a change.

Everyone would agree that the most important development in the past 25 years is the present ceasefire. In the views of many people the catalyst for this was not on its own the Hume-Adams talks but was, far more importantly, the Downing Street Declaration. For the first time ever, an Irish Government were prepared to state to the world that they condemned terrorism in Northern Ireland, the reasons for it and those who perpetrated it. Many other events have taken place since. But I am quite sure that it was that act—not without courage on the part of the two Prime Ministers —that tipped the scales.

Everyone in this House and in the United Kingdom is relieved that it has come about, in the short term at any rate. I can assure noble Lords that the feelings in the Province are even more so feelings of relief. But they are perhaps more tempered by the realism which can come only from closer involvement.

Having done a tour of duty in the centre of Belfast during the busy 1970s and having been involved for the past 16 years with the security forces in Fermanagh, I can tell the House that there is a lot more involved than the relief that all here get from not seeing the horrific news headlines. Gone for the moment is that cold fear of the telephone ringing in the middle of the night, being all too often the news of death or injury to a local friend, whether in the security forces or as a civilian. Gone for the present is that awful moment when one hears distant shots, the rumble of a bomb or the multiple bangs of rocket launchers. Those which were close enough to us came from Fivemiletown, Tempo, Lisnaskea and so on. We even heard the one at Teebane, where there was the horrific murder of so many construction workers who were putting up buildings in order to protect the soldiers whom we send over from this country. There are feelings of great relief in Northern Ireland because of the ceasefire. But there has to be a certain amount of caution.

The people have lived under a daily threat for a long time. Many working for peace have stood up to be counted. Their families have not known when they would return from duty, even from milking the cows, a shopping trip or their workplace. That is fact. The terrorists are indiscriminate murderers of old and young, even the children, let alone the security forces. We must remember that. They still have weapons and may use them again.

Let us consider what has happened. On August 31st the IRA, and last week the Loyalist terrorists also, said: "We will not kill anyone for the time being". In the case of the IRA, it was: "We have not achieved our aims by violence but we want to talk and reserve the right to kill again as and when we please to do so".

In order to move forward we must understand one very important fact. It can be said that at least 80 per cent. of the population do not want a united Ireland; a very small minority of the remainder—a tiny minority of that minority—will happily murder to achieve it when they please. After 25 years the Government must not rush ahead of public opinion. How can things all change so much in seven weeks? Dick Spring yesterday said that he intended to lift the Irish Republic's emergency legislation. Yesterday's Sunday Times pointed out—it was a fairly well founded report, there having been contact with Joe Cahill, who is in America as presumably one of their ambassadors—that elements of the IRA are ready to continue the killing if they do not get their way by Christmas. Their way is a united Ireland. Even the Irish Government say that that will not happen for years, if at all.

Emergency legislation, whether British or Irish, only comes into operation to counter terrorism. If terrorism stops, the legislation does not have to be used. However, it would be foolhardy of either government to repeal that legislation. It can stay in place as a deterrent. After all, we must remember that the power of internment has been kept not only on the statute book in this country but also on the statute book of the Irish Republic continuously—as a deterrent maybe or, if not that, then ready to be used.

It must be remembered that the IRA has a history of splits —split after split. It happened in the 1920s, the 1950s and the 1970s. I am quite sure that it has happened on other occasions. If a split now occurs and emergency powers have been withdrawn, we in Northern Ireland will pay the price. Every pressure should be put on the Irish Government not to carry out such a hasty and ill-advised move at this stage.

It is worth looking at one or two of the issues which will arise in the near future and on which a continued ceasefire may depend. A united Ireland the gunmen will not get, at least not while the vast majority of Roman Catholics, whom they claim to represent, do not want it. The terrorist weapons are a real problem. Until seven weeks ago those guns were held locally and would have been used as and when soft targets, security forces or anyone else let down their guard. Those guns are still there. Must we continue to live our lives under permanent threat of death? They have said that if they do not like the process they will start shooting again. Consider our situation on the ground. That must be taken into account.

Other weapons such as bombs cannot be handed in. Bombs are not made up until they are required. Mark 15 barrack buster bombs, which are intended to kill as many people as possible —into the dozens—are made for use. Semtex, which goes into them, does not degrade over a period of time. It is a different situation from that of the 1950s and earlier when gelignite was stashed away and became useless after a short period of time. This is a real issue and cannot just be brushed away.

Another issue concerns the prisoners. Some people believe that we should not be talking now about the prisoners. But they are doing so. We cannot deny it. Prisoners have to become an issue. The British and the Irish Governments must make it absolutely plain. The prisoners are convicted criminals. Many of them are murderers. An amnesty is out of the question. I personally believe that after a reasonable length of time—be it five years of peace—early release could be considered for the less serious offenders; but not for mass murderers. Should there be any breakdown of the ceasefire, those who are released could be re-arrested to serve the remainder of their sentence. That would not be internment and the world should understand that. At least we should not be cut to shreds in the world generally. It would merely be a sentence suspended.

I should like to thank the Prime Minister for his reassurance that the Union is safe provided that the majority wish it to remain. As I said, there is no chance of the majority voting otherwise. I also congratulate the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and the Chief Constable on their moves cautiously and judiciously to normalise day-to-day life at home in the Province. Border checkpoints basically are open. There are fewer military patrols and security measures appear to have become much less hard. I should like the Government to move further in that direction—not to go too fast, but to open more border roads that were closed and not only the ones that had checkpoints on them. I also ask the Government where possible to encourage the RUC to do its duty without military help. That is not always possible in all areas but if we do not encourage it, it will not happen as and when it should.

We must understand that at the moment a system of rent-a-mob is being used by Sinn Fein. They tried to take over a border watchtower a couple of weeks ago and have ambushed several urban patrols, once in particular endangering the lives of soldiers and policemen in Belfast. It is not possible to say that the military should just leave the streets.

We should be wary of Gerry Adams' call for no policing in Republican areas. That is Gerry Adams speaking and not the people. The people need protection from the henchmen whom he represents. Incidentally, to have people such as Mr. Peter Bottomley, MP, calling for a change of name does not do much to help.

A well-respected journalist, David McKitterick, wrote in the Independent on 30th September: They used an iron bar on Gavin Smyth's legs. The 16 year-old was forced to roll over three times so that they could break his legs from every side". I know that in West Belfast increasingly over the past few years, with improved conditions, the people readily call the RUC to household break-ins—ordinary decent crime (ODC as it is called). We should understand what Gerry Adams is on about. Gerry Adams would like the police force to be his crooks. We simply cannot allow it.

We must remember that the IRA's ceasefire talked about guns and bombs. It did not talk about racketeering, intimidation or about planning for a breaking off of the ceasefire. They said: "We are ready to do it at Christmas if we do not get what we want". Do we really believe that they will wake up on New Year's day and say: "Come on, we have not got what we want so we had better plan something". No—just like with every ceasefire that they have ever had, the plans are in the bottom drawer. The weapons are accessible even if they have been moved—and there is intelligence to say that that has been done. They will come out with a well drawn-up plan and we must not be caught wrong footed.

Great progress is being made in relaxing security measures. But I would plead with the Government not to reduce or withdraw measures which cannot be reinstated at the shortest notice. One has to ask what Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein are trying to do. I fear that John Hume has done a deal in the name of the SDLP. I am not sure also that his party will like it and such people as Joe Hendron and so forth. He may have said that his party will not fight all the seats in the next council or national elections. That would leave no alternative for many decent nationalists but to vote for Sinn Fein if they wished to vote at all, accepting that invariably people are aware of how other people are voting, not only in Northern Ireland but in this country also. And Gerry Adams may obtain a mandate out of that. I hope that that is not the case and I hope that John Hume is not carrying out a betrayal of that party which the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, started, with the best of intentions at the time.

We are told that there may be exploratory talks by Christmas. I would ask the Government to give us some idea of when the talks with the terrorists will take place. How will the Government ensure that the law abiding people remain reassured as to the content and not feel isolated? I accept that the talks cannot be totally public. But it will be the most important and difficult task for the Government to maintain credibility. It is like an elastic band and if it is too stretched it will break and the consequences will be dire.

I wish to mention briefly the economic side—the so-called carrot. The USA, the European Union and the Government, among others, are to throw lots of money at us. I for one will not be disappointed. But we must be careful. Great care must be taken if that happens to see that it does not become manna from heaven for the Mafia-styled tactics of the terrorist organisations. They are still intact, as everybody agrees, and the IRA has not said otherwise. Where does protection money go? Are they still beating people up to obtain it? The answer is yes.

The security related industries and the employees in those areas feel extremely apprehensive—I include the home-based forces as well. There are bound to be redundancies. But please do not forget those who contributed to law and order and peace. They stood to be counted through terrible times. Some people would not even sell flowers to go on the graves of such people.

Some say that Britain won the Second World War but lost the peace. In Northern Ireland we have a saying that bread once eaten is quickly forgotten. Do not let that happen in this case. Many people working in such jobs have short contracts. It is important to take care of those who paid the high cost in such ways as having to move house and leave traditional employment through intimidation and other terrorist activities.

In conclusion, let us not bury our heads in euphoria and in haste betray the integrity and courage of the people of Northern Ireland. The courage and character shown over the past 25 years will serve us well as long as the Government take heed of the earnest wish of the people for permanent peace and of their willingness to move surefootedly under control.

6.23 p.m.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I first spoke in your Lordships' House on Northern Ireland on 2nd February 1972 and I began with the words, in the grim atmosphere of to-day".—[Official Report, 2/2/72; col. 886.] It is good that now the atmosphere is less grim and more hopeful. I welcome the progress that has been made. I should like to pay tribute to all those in Northern Ireland who have refused to be intimidated; who have never despaired, and who have persevered in holding out the hand of friendship. Cross-community work, ecumenical work, efforts to meet the needs of prisoners, victims, displaced and divided people, have never ceased, even if at times they were checked by rampant violence.

Today, dialogue and listening are more than ever needed. Cross-cultural interpreters are necessary between groups who are sometimes divided by a common language. Those who have shared the heat and burden of the past 25 years have still greater contributions to make. After so much bereavement, injury and loss following after the conflicts of past centuries, it is inevitable that there should still be deep fears and mistrusts, some of which were mentioned in the debate. They need to be dispelled and who better to dispel them than the community groups, the voluntary bodies, the public servants and people of all sorts who have worked on in hope over the past 25 years.

Because of the residue of fear, distrust and suspicion mentioned by, among others, the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, I should like to speak about confidence-building measures. Almost all the various entities, within and even outside Northern Ireland, can do something to build up confidence. Her Majesty's Government made a good start, as mentioned by my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal in his opening remarks. There will be plenty more for the Government to do provided that the ceasefire continues and no one attempts to create provocation by either civil disobedience or other means.

Paramilitary groups can immediately contribute by refraining from intimidation and especially from brutal attempts at do-it-yourself law enforcement. Northern Ireland is perhaps the most church-going part of western Europe. The Churches there, together with their fellow believers in the Republic and in Britain, have a great opportunity before them. Will they rise to the challenge? Will they seize the fleeting moment to overcome the negative emotions of the past and lead us all into mutual forgiveness for the wrongs and injustices both of recent years and of previous centuries? Are the traditional Churches willing to learn from the experience of experimental Christian bodies, in particular the ecumenical communities, prayer and study groups and the integrated schools? This year's ceasefire statements contained hints of olive branches, as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, mentioned. But I suggest that much more needs to be done to create a forgiving climate as a first step towards political agreement.

I come now to the political parties and to their relations with government. The theory in recent times has been to work for a package agreement—nothing was to be agreed until everything was agreed. I would ask for exceptions to that approach, and in particular for a distinction to be made between confidence-building measures and the necessary elements of a permanent settlement. I imagine that there will be further talks about talks. Will Her Majesty's Government use this exploratory stage to ask the political parties what confidence-building measures they can suggest and which of those they would feel able to agree jointly? If that could be done I believe that it would help to lessen the apathy and cynicism with which political parties are all too often regarded. It would also show ordinary people that this peace process is something different from previous talks and negotiations. Tangible benefits are needed both during the negotiations and after a permanent settlement has been reached. It would be good if the political parties could be involved in producing some first fruits of co-operation.

It is relatively easy to draft ideal solutions and model constitutions abound—several hundred were listed during recent negotiations in South Africa. However, we are dealing with violent conflicts whose roots go deep into history. What is needed is a resolution which deals with the causes of contemporary conflict and which enables all parties and sections to emerge as winners. The best constitution will be the one with which the maximum number of people can feel at home. This will, I think, be an arrangement which respects the identity needs and gives adequate living space to all. The test, therefore, by which the conduct of all concerned can be judged during this very important interim stage and throughout substantive negotiations is: does what I am doing or saying move us towards resolution or away from it? If resolution is the goal, am I being constructive or negative?

I trust that this debate will be judged positive and will nudge us just a few inches closer to a satisfactory resolution. No one should be surprised if it takes a long time to resolve so bitter a conflict—here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees—but resolution is, I am sure, what we all desire.

6.31 p.m.

The Marquess of Donegall

My Lords, it is in the nature of a debate such as this that so much of what one was going to say has already been said that I shall not have to detain the House very long. But I should like to thank my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for initiating the debate. I should like to congratulate my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on his determination and, above all, on his patience in attempting to bring about a just peace in Northern Ireland. I should also like to congratulate my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, who seems to me to speak with the voice of moderation but who never gives way on essential points of principle. We should also be grateful to the right honourable Member for Lagan Valley who leads his party wisely in what is, for it, a very difficult situation.

If I have reservations for the future it is because I feel that in the coming months there may be—I repeat may be—great difficulties and dangers ahead. We have to accept that Sinn Fein/IRA—I bracket them together because they are more or less the same organisation even though they like to pretend that they are entirely different—are an evil conspiracy. They are also an illegal army with a cache of arms hidden in various dumps, a good many of which today are south of the Border and therefore the responsibility of the Irish Government. In fact the Garda have uncovered some of these dumps but there are still enough left to create mayhem if anyone wanted to use them. Therefore, I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mason, when he said that top of the list of what should be done is the surrender of all illegally held arms.

One asks oneself why Sinn Fein/IRA ever agreed to the ceasefire. I think that the Downing Street Declaration to some extent isolated them and I would also guess that they were under some sort of pressure in their own bailiwicks—the nationalist areas, especially West Belfast, where many people had been murdered by the Loyalist paramilitaries. The crux will come when the time comes to talk, if they do start talks. My concern is what the reaction of Sinn Fein/IRA will be when, faced by political realities, they do not get what they want. In that context I cut out of yesterday's Sunday Independent, which is an Irish newspaper, a report. A gentleman called Mr. Mitchel MacLauglan, who is the Sinn Fein northern chairman, said at a meeting in Londonderry that if they do not get what they want—he does not say it quite in these words but this is what he means—the Irish people would then have the right to continue the conflict. For "Irish people" he means Sinn Fein/IRA, who represent only 5 per cent. of Irish people throughout the island.

There is also the question of who, if there are talks, will talk for Sinn Fein/IRA. I am quite sure that Gerry Adams will want to be in on the act and we should have no delusions about Gerry Adams. Though he may be greeted by his friends and admirers in America and be acclaimed as a peacemaker—who can tell: perhaps in future years he might qualify for the Nobel prize—he is a terrorist: nothing more and nothing less. There were many people in and around Belfast who lost their lives and just as many who have been maimed and crippled for life at the behest of Gerry Adams. The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, said that he did not like seeing Senator Kennedy put his arm round Gerry Adams. Nor did I. I did not see it actually, but I did see Mr. Reynolds shaking hands with him on the steps of the Dail, and I did not like that either.

The Government, in their quest to bring about a just and lasting peace in Northern Ireland, have another cross to bear—the Irish lobby in the United States Congress. They have always been a hindrance to peace and co-existence on the island of Ireland, never more so than now. Most Americans are totally ignorant about Ireland—her history, her geography and her politics. One has only to talk to the tourists who come over to seek out where they think their ancestors might have been born. I do not think for one moment that President Clinton knows anything about Ireland, but I fear that he may get his information from the most disreputable politician on either side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, would the noble Marquess agree that the so-called four horsemen in the US Congress have done a very great deal over many years to reduce the flow of American money into the IRA's coffers?

The Marquess of Donegall

My Lords, I am not sure that the present American Government are doing very much. The previous American Government tried to stop it, but whether President Clinton is, I would not be so sure. Perhaps I generalise too much but I do not think that the present American Government are helping very much.

If, despite all these conundrums, my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, can in the end bring about a lasting peace which is at least tolerable to most of the people of Northern Ireland, their tenure of office will indeed be a landmark in Irish history.

Before I sit down I should like to pay tribute to the Royal Ulster Constabulary which is one of the finest police forces in the world—some would say the finest— and also to the Army. Both the RUC and the Army have suffered many casualties, some of the constables and reserve constables having been shot in front of their families. We hope and pray that we shall now have peace and that there will be no more casualties among the police, the Army or the civilian population.

6.40 p.m.

Lord Moran

My Lords, all of us, without question, must give an unqualified welcome to the proclaimed cessation of violence by the IRA (though not yet by the INLA, as the noble Lord, Lord Mason, reminded us) and by the Protestant paramilitaries. This is the least that the people of Northern Ireland deserve. Nobody, Protestant or Catholic, had any business resorting to terrorism in the first place. The fact that they have stopped murdering people—at any rate, for the time being—is a cause for satisfaction. If the abandonment of violence is indeed to be permanent and if the terrorist leaders are to turn themselves into constitutional, democratic politicians, then they will have no need of Semtex, Armalite rifles, heavy machine guns, mortars or surface-to-air missiles; and clearly the surrender or destruction of the stocks of arms on both sides can alone produce a real feeling of security and give credence to the claim by Sinn Fein-IRA leaders that "it is over".

We seem now to be moving towards negotiations which will include Sinn Fein-IRA and all the paramilitaries and it appears that these may start quite soon. The Government are being chivvied by Mr. Reynolds and Mr. Adams to get a move on, but I am sure that they are right to be cautious, as the Lord Privy Seal made plain in his admirably clear and substantially reassuring speech.

We all know the IRA's objectives, often proclaimed and spelt out in bloody acts of terrorism over 25 years. They say unambiguously that they want a united Ireland ruled from Dublin and the British presence, civil and military, removed wholly and permanently from Northern Ireland. The Irish Government's aims are also not in doubt, being spelt out in their constitution and the pursuit of these aims being a legal imperative.

But what will be the objectives of the British Government? These are anything but clear. To negotiate implies some willingness to give and take. What, I wonder, are we willing to concede to secure an agreement and what do we hope to obtain in the negotiations over and above an end to violence? Are we in fact prepared to concede in negotiation what we were not prepared to concede to direct acts of terrorism? I very much hope not.

Perhaps I may suggest two areas in which I believe we should stand absolutely firm in the negotiations. The first is the rule of law. Those who have been convicted by courts of law of offences should surely be treated no differently from other criminals, for we should all expect equal treatment from the law. There have recently been reports put about that there will be no amnesty, but special arrangements for the parole of prisoners. I should like to know if these reports are correct. I hope they are not.

Secondly, and of paramount importance, there is the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom. I was interested to see, in Saturday's Daily Telegraph, an account of a speech at the Conservative Party Conference by the Scottish Secretary, Mr. Ian Lang. He is reported as saying that the future of the Union will be put at the heart of the next general election campaign; that Mr. Tony Blair's commitment to create a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly would, loosen the bonds of the kingdom, leading ultimately to its disintegration and to have concluded: Let others fly their flags of convenience. Our flag is the flag of the Union … and we will fly that flag forever". Turning from Scotland to Northern Ireland, I do not recall Sir Patrick Mayhew using language remotely like that. On the contrary, the Government chose to give a foreign government, and one that actually laid claim to the territory of Northern Ireland, a substantial say in policy for Northern Ireland—and, like the Lord Privy Seal, I was unhappy about that—and, in the Downing Street Declaration, to make the curious announcement that they have no selfish economic or strategic interest in Northern Ireland.

This detachment is a far cry from Mr. Lang's declaration. Yet Northern Ireland, no less than Scotland, is part of the United Kingdom, and, if we loosen our bonds with Northern Ireland, this will, I am quite certain, begin the process of disintegration of the United Kingdom which Mr. Lang fears.

At any rate, I hope that the Government can reassure us that they will maintain the Union in its full integrity in accordance with the undoubted wishes of the great majority of the people of Northern Ireland. They will, I am certain, not forget the brave soldiers and policemen who lost their lives fighting terrorism, or the men, women and children who were murdered by terrorists. To the survivors, as the noble Marquess has just made clear, it must seem bewildering that the Government's policies have led to the metamorphosis of Mr. Gerry Adams from being the spokesman of an outlawed murder organisation to becoming a purported international statesman who is lionised by the media and received by the Vice-President of the United States. But they will expect British Ministers not to be taken in by specious arguments but to be steadfast in the defence of the interests of the people of our United Kingdom— all of them, including both the Protestant and Catholic communities in Northern Ireland. I trust that they will not be deceived in their expectations.

6.47 p.m.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, last Tuesday, when this debate in your Lordships' House was announced, the first thing I did was to put my name down since, as your Lordships will be aware, I have a long and continuing interest in the affairs of Northern Ireland. The next thing I did was to open a newspaper and find a rather frightening advertisement asking, "Why are you a bore?" It was an advertisement to encourage all of us perhaps to become shorter in our speeches and more articulate. It was an advertisement for a speaker's course.

Normally such an advertisement and such comments might well inspire a great deal of what has gone on in my career in your Lordships' House. Those of your Lordships who have had to present Northern Ireland legislation will have been aware of Appropriation Order No. 2. I can only describe the consequences tactfully as a Calgary stampede as your Lordships clear the Chamber. I hoped that that would not be the picture with this afternoon's debate, especially because of the kindness shown by my noble friend the Leader of the House, the Lord Privy Seal, in giving us the chance to discuss affairs in Northern Ireland especially at this time.

That advertisement was as good a motto as one might apply to years and years of Irish history. There are more experts on Irish history than in the whole population of Ireland. I have listened and I have tried to learn over the years from these experts about all these years of Irish history, depending how far one wants to go back.

For me the history of Northern Ireland, or Ireland, became a little less boring on 5th October 1968 when I took a look at the electronic media and noticed a civil rights march in the Waterside district of Londonderry. The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, if I may say so, actually starred in the events of that day. The events were commented on, discussed and described in great detail in an excellent booklet called Disturbances in Northern Ireland. That was a report from a committee under the chairmanship of Lord Cameron. He is still alive and well. He is the father of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Cameron of Lochbroom, who for several years graced the Front Bench and who has now distinguished himself in the judicature in Scotland. That was the title of the report which was presented to Lord Grey of Naunton, the Governor of Northern Ireland, in September 1969. It contains many fascinating paragraphs and lessons. The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, is mentioned more than once. He stars in the paragraphs, as does the honourable Member for Foyle, Mr. John Hume, no fewer than four times.

The chapter entitled "Causes of the disorders", in particular paragraphs 152, 153 and 154, goes a long way towards explaining the causes of the present troubles, as explained by my noble friend Lord Colnbrook. There are lessons to be learned by those of us interested in Northern Ireland. They were mentioned by my noble friend. They teach us to be cautious about the language we use in your Lordships' House or anywhere else. Each word spoken or gesture made can be risky and give rise to offence. My noble friend Lady Denton knows that the phrase "exploratory voyages" is burnt into the psyche of the fisheries division of the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland because of something I said within 20 minutes of appearing in my office in Northern Ireland. It caused a major panic.

On another occasion a presentation was made before me. A type of wildfowl called the Greenland white-fronted goose was mentioned. Alas, the typist made an error and missed out the letter '1' in "Greenland", and I talked about "the green and white-fronted goose". That, too, I am afraid caused offence. I have given two insignificant examples of what can give offence. Such matters all of us in public life, whether here or in Northern Ireland, can easily rectify. With those examples in mind, my admiration for Ministers and officials in the Northern Ireland Office is unbounded. It grows and continues. Day after day, month after month, year after year, those people seek political progress.

During the past 15 to 20 years I remember various concepts arising. For example, there was rolling devolution, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the continuing campaign, "Ulster says no". Hindsight and experience are two valuable attributes but they are two-edged weapons. Whatever happens, those of us who may then be in our dotage in your Lordships' House, and those who will come after us, will see the Downing Street Declaration as providing a firm platform and foundation for political progress in the affairs of Northern Ireland, Ireland and what my Irish friends call "these islands".

We should try to disregard what I call megaphone diplomacy. Much of this afternoon's debate has focused on paramilitaries. The basis of the negotiations being carried out by the team in Northern Ireland is, above all, our regard and support for the democratic parties—the silent, decent majority of the citizens of Northern Ireland who want to, and do, take part in democratic discussions.

Your Lordships will be familiar with the six counties of Northern Ireland. It is not inappropriate that today I found a clean necktie which was given to me by a district council in Fermanagh. It is one which is well known by my noble friend Lord Brookeborough. Many of your Lordships will know, as I do, the lovely town of Enniskillen. Those of us who have anything to do with Northern Ireland are familiar with an excellent newspaper which has a wide circulation in that county, in the west, and across the Border. It is called the Impartial Reporter. I am advised that between 14,000 and 15,000 copies go out each week. I know that it went to one of my noble friends who lived in Scotland. So he knew exactly what I was doing. It is a wonderful newspaper.

I read last month that a reporter from The Times paid a call upon Enniskillen and the Impartial Reporter. The newspaper takes a broad view. It no longer says, "Vote Unionist". It is widely respected and admired. The Impartial Reporter told us that since 1971, 83 members of the security forces had been murdered or had met violent deaths in County Fermanagh alone. A further 45 civilians had died. The newspaper did not say to which section of the community they belonged. That means that 128 people met violent deaths. Six admitted members of the Provisional IRA have met their deaths in County Fermanagh since 1971.

The newspaper pointed out the real fear felt by Loyalist Protestant farmers who are in the minority in that county. Their lives are at risk. I think it was my noble friend Lord Brookeborough who referred to people being murdered while on their tractors just because of the Church that they attend and their allegiance to the Crown. All of us were appalled by the events of November 1987 in Enniskillen and what is known as the Poppy Day massacre. I shall mention three groups in connection with that happening. First, we all remember Mr. Gordon Wilson and what he said after he lost his daughter as a result of the explosion. Mr. Wilson is a shining example of what can be achieved in Northern Ireland. The Irish authorities have made him a senator in the Dail. When Mr. Gordon Wilson had discussions with members of the Provisional IRA and Sinn Fein they virtually snubbed him and treated him with disdain. That is an example of one of the aspects of the problem.

Secondly, at the end of St. Stephen's Hall your Lordships will see a list of those Members of the House of Commons, sons of Members of the House of Commons and members of staff who were killed in the First World War. Among them your Lordships will find three Members of Parliament. One of them is Lieutenant Thomas M. Kettle. He was elected in 1906 as a Nationalist Member of Parliament for East Tyrone. He was killed in action on 9th September 1916. He was fighting with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. He was a Nationalist and a member of the Gaelic League. He may have had respect for us but I doubt whether he would have had any great love for Unionism or for us.

Thirdly, during one of my holidays abroad I went to the beach-head cemetery at Anzio just south of Rome. I had some family connections there. My noble friend Lord Westbury was extremely lucky in that he was not captured or injured there. There was an enormous number of graves of servicemen from my regiment. I gave up counting when I reached 30 members of the Irish Guards and the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers who were born in the counties of Donegal, Leitrim, Sligo, Mayo and Cavan. They were all citizens of the Irish Republic who went there to fight tyranny in Europe. I wonder what those three groups of people (Mr. Gordon Wilson, Mr. Thomas Kettle and all those other brave soldiers, sailors and airmen who fought in the Second World War) would think of the whingeing reply of the Provisional IRA and Sinn Fein to the events of Enniskillen, Warrington and Birmingham.

I am grateful to my noble friend the Leader of the House for granting us the opportunity to discuss the momentous events in Northern Ireland. I have enormous admiration for my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and his courage and persistence and no little tact. Above all, I am grateful to the Secretary of State and the team, including my noble friend the Minister. If I have bored your Lordships I apologise. But I do not believe that today's subject could ever bore any of us.

6.58 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, although many people in Northern Ireland have never heard a bomb explode or a shot fired in anger, a great many others all too often have. As the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, has movingly reminded us, hundreds of families in the Province have lost friends and relatives. So one is naturally enormously happy that the burden of fear and apprehension has been lifted from their backs for the time being and that people can at long last now relax a little in the way described by my noble friend Lord Cooke and the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough.

But as many commentators have reminded us, truce does not equal peace. A peace process does not necessarily guarantee eventual peace, whether it be peace with honour or any other variety. After all, no one seriously believes that the IRA has agreed to the truce because it considers itself to have been outmanoeuvred or defeated. Quite the contrary. Having well and truly intimidated and softened up the opposition, it sees talks, backed up by an unspoken threat of renewed violence if it does not substantially get its way, as a logical next step in achieving its ambitions, not overnight but within a relatively short timescale. It will be assisted in its endeavours by the fact that the truce and the nervous expectancy and publicity leading up to it has enormously boosted the prestige of the extremist groups, in particular the Republican groups.

Let us remember that Sinn Fein obtains about 10 per cent. of the votes in Northern Ireland. That is the same percentage as the British National Party and the National Front obtain in East London. Until about one year ago both groups of extremist parties—both consorting with men of violence and both believing in ethnic and cultural exclusiveness, although of a different kind— were regarded with contempt by most people. That applies in particular to the Irish group because it was responsible for so many deaths both directly and indirectly.

The position has not changed as regards the English extremists. However, the Irish extremists now shake hands with Prime Ministers and are feted and lionised by American senators, congressmen and Hollywood film stars and directors. One Hollywood star was reported as exclaiming, "Shaking hands with Gerry Adams was a rare and wonderful opportunity". Simon Jenkins wrote in the Spectator. Mr. Adams's reception in a land of the free was sickening almost beyond belief". Who could disagree?

The point is that all that adulation by important and glamorous people is bound to boost Sinn Fein's electoral support. One fears that the extreme Republican position has also been strengthened by the deplorable assertion in the Downing Street Agreement that Britain has no selfish, strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland. Can one imagine for a moment President Mitterrand or M. Balladur saying the same kind of thing about Corsica, Brittany or any other part of France where there has been separatist violence and terrorism? Of course not; the French are far too proud.

There would have been no harm in simply pointing out that Britain had no economic interest in the Province, any more than it has an economic interest in Merseyside or the former Durham coalfields. It might have been useful to demonstrate to ignorant outsiders that Britain is not occupying a reluctant Province against the wishes of its inhabitants for the sake of its oil wells or platinum mines.

However, the whole tenor of the statement went far beyond that, and, as I know from my correspondence, it caused great offence to large numbers of people in Northern Ireland, many of whose families have served the Crown on various battlefields for three generations or more and some of whom have paid the ultimate price. The statement made the Province sound like a kind of white man's burden—as though it were not part of the United Kingdom but more like Palestine in the quarter of a century leading up to 1947, with Britain trying to hold a ring between the Arabs and the Jews and being shot at by both sides for its pains, all the while being cursed by the Americans from the sidelines.

Apart from the effect of such phraseology upon the morale of the loyal majority of the Province, words such as this have a defensive, even embarrassed, ring about them. That must confirm the IRA's suspicions that the British governing classes have lost the stomach for the fight and lead the Americans, amazingly uninformed as they are, to believe that the "Brits" have something to be ashamed of.

Speaking of the Americans leads me to make a specific suggestion to Her Majesty's Government. Writing in the Spectator on 10th September Boris Johnson draws our attention to the extraordinary spectacle of the Irish Foreign Minister, Mr. Dick Spring, pacing a lawn at Martha's Vineyard in discussion with President Clinton. Their subject was the fate of British citizens living in the British Isles. No British Minister or Ambassador was present, or even a civil servant.

Most regrettably, the Americans seem to have been given a tacit go-ahead to interfere; and this despite the fact that even educated Americans are amazingly ignorant of countries outside the Western Hemisphere, as I know from my travels there. Most Americans genuinely believe that 95 per cent. of the population of Northern Ireland is Gaelic speaking, ultra-Catholic, anti-British Republican. In that misconception they are, of course, aided and abetted by the drama departments of the BBC and ITV companies, most of whose TV and radio plays until recently gave much the same false impression.

If it is wrong that Americans should interfere, it is even worse that they should do so from a position of ignorance. I strongly echo the proposal put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, that a Border poll should be held as soon as possible: we should not wait for any referendum that may emerge in a few years' time in consequence of discussions on possible new constitutional arrangements. The publicised results of the poll would bring home to the Americans and others the realities of the situation. As the Government are aware, no new legislation would be required for such a poll.

Despite the regrettable remarks about no selfish, strategic or economic interest, I am sure that most members of the Government are sincere when they profess devotion to the Union. But they must realise what a formidable grouping they are up against. It espouses what Andrew Marr, writing in the Independent on 31 st August, calls, "a pan-nationalist agenda for Ireland". That grouping includes not only the obvious people but also a number of others; for instance, cynics in the British establishment and the media whose not-so-secret message to unionists (with a small "u") is, "We do want to lose you and we think you ought to go"; a certain type of modern Conservative who believes that money is everything and that patriotism and a sense of nationhood are old fashioned and tiresome irrelevances; many powerful Americans, including Senator Edward Kennedy who some years ago proposed that the Protestants in Ireland who did not want to accept a united Ireland should be repatriated to England or Scotland—ethnic cleansing, as it were; and, last but by no means least, organisations with militarist titles in the Republic of Ireland. I refer not only to the Irish Republican Army but to the Soldiers of Destiny.

Some noble Lords may wonder why I use that term rather than the commonly used term, Fianna Fail. There are two reasons. First, consistency: when we are talking about the French Socialist Party we do not talk about le parti Socialiste, or the Freie Demokratische Partei when we are talking about the German Free Democrats. Secondly, and more importantly, it is to bring home to people what that party has historically always stood for. In its 1927 election manifesto it promised to annex Northern Ireland: by force obviously since there was no other way in which the Province could conceivably have been annexed. On obtaining an overall majority in 1933, the party led by de Valera realised that such a frontal assault was not feasible. Nevertheless, it set about trying to eliminate from the South everything with remotely British connotations. It made it clear in the 1937 constitution that it had similar long-term plans for the North.

We are now being told that the party has changed its spots, and it is true that there are a few encouraging straws in the wind. The long-standing boycott of Remembrance Day services by the Irish political establishment has, I believe, recently been abolished, and that must be welcomed. That is one example. But if there really is a change of heart, it should demonstrate its good faith, first, by abandoning all demands for any quid pro quo in revoking the infamous Clauses 2 and 3 of the 1937 constitution, in the same way as Chancellor Kohl rightly abandoned territorial claims on Poland after considerable criticism. As the noble Lord, Lord Mason, emphasised, there should be no question of scrapping the 1920 Act.

Secondly, it should be agreed that any cross-Border agreements should be voluntary: I was very glad to hear the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark make that point. Not only should they be voluntary but they should also be reciprocal, for in the past few years the concessions have been all one way. That insidious ratchet effect has operated against the Union for far too long.

7.11 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Leader of the House for enabling us to have this debate. I echo the well-deserved tributes to my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for their wisdom in promoting the declaration and also in refusing to be rushed into acceptance of the IRA ceasefire.

My concern is that we should recognise clearly that we are looking at a negotiating tactic by the IRA designed to secure the maximum political credibility and credit with their supporters in the US, in Ireland itself and in the world at large to enable them to extract concessions while still retaining the ability and choice to revert to violence or to threaten to do so at any time because they retain their weapons and their firepower.

Gerry Adams himself, as has been pointed out, incautiously admitted in the US that a new IRA leadership in a few years' time would not be bound by present agreements and could choose to return to what they are pleased to call military action. That is what they will say once their political initiatives are exhausted. Meanwhile, fund raising for the IRA continues, as does recruitment. One wonders what message Joe Cahill took to the US. We have heard nothing of his activities.

I am concerned about three aspects of the present situation. The first is that, while military action may have been suspended, violence against members of the Catholic community by the IRA bully boys continues. Those lawless acts are not repudiated by Sinn Fein. As many noble Lords have said, we owe it to all the citizens of Northern Ireland to protect them from people who have no status to judge, still less to punish.

My next anxiety is the ambiguity which has been allowed to surround the status of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness. Both have been active members of the IRA. They now purport to be nothing but members of Sinn Fein, a political party which, while speaking for the IRA, yet presents itself as negotiating with it over a period of nine months. The inference is that they are neither part of the faceless men of the army council nor have they any power except to persuade. If that is the case and Sinn Fein cannot answer for the army council nor commit it, then we are dealing simply with a small political group which has so far commanded only about 10 per cent. of the vote in the north and 5 per cent. in the south. Although in the new circumstances, they may well secure significantly more support in the south, they still cannot hope to command a majority. Why, therefore, do they and the IRA believe that it is worth coming to the talks and apparently suspending paramilitary activity? It is because they expect to secure concessions with the Armalite still held behind their backs.

Gerry Adams is often compared with Nelson Mandela and the IRA with the ANC. That is a false comparison since, in South Africa, there was no access to democratic power through the vote, while in Northern Ireland the vote has been available to all. Indeed, Gerry Adams could have sat at Westminster.

The true comparison is with the North Vietnamese politburo, which successfully extracted concession after valuable concession from Henry Kissinger at the Paris talks by claiming that they were the doves of the politburo who wanted peace but who could prevail over the hawks only if they could demonstrate that they could secure concessions. The truth is that they were neither doves nor hawks. They were a united politburo brilliantly able to exploit the Western habit of give and take in negotiation—only the North Vietnamese never gave; they negotiated to win.

Sinn Fein and the IRA are using the same tactic. It will allow them to appear to be reasonable men whose position is being undermined by the unreasonable refusal on our part to concede what they want. That will enable them to internationalise the situation and to bring American and Irish pressure to bear to push us further. It is essential that HMG and the Irish Government should identify and expose that disinformation campaign early before it can gain credibility.

I share the hope expressed today that we may call their bluff by insisting on a major handing in of weapons before any negotiations, as distinct from probing talks, are even considered. Not that that will necessarily prevent the resurgence of an armed IRA, as has been pointed out by many authoritative speakers. However, it would expose the truth about their claims to be peacemakers.

My third anxiety, which I share with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, concerns the future of the Army in Northern Ireland. I hope that a clear distinction will be drawn between withdrawing the Army, should conditions prove to justify it, from its more visible role in support of the civil power and withdrawing troops from Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and we have army units and an army presence in all parts of the UK. To withdraw from Northern Ireland is to accept tacitly the image which the nationalists wish to present of colonialist army occupation. I hope that no Treasury consideration and no ill-informed pressure from the American or Irish lobbies will be allowed to dictate such a move. It would be a fatal political error as well as a betrayal of all the people of Northern Ireland.

My last anxiety is as regards the dangerous ambiguity which surrounds the whole concept of Northern Ireland in the Joint Declaration. At one moment it is one of two parts of the island of Ireland. At another it is an element of: the people of Ireland, North and South"; at another, it is part of the Union. If the British Government agree that: it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively, to exercise their right of self-determination … to bring about a united Ireland", then what is the status of Northern Ireland? Above all, what has become of Northern Ireland's status as a component part of the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? I feel unease about the many small hints in the Joint Declaration which almost suggest that it is unreasonable of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland not to be part of a united Ireland in deference to the wish of a minority.

Of course, there are always those wise and well informed members of the Clinton Administration to consider, while they are in turn considering the need to secure the Irish vote in the US. Perhaps I may suggest that we should draw a parallel between Northern Ireland and Florida and offer to send a British delegation to Florida to decide upon the proper handling of the Cuban problem after, of course, full consultation with President Castro.

My chief anxiety is that, in the political phase of the battle with the IRA which we now appear to be entering, we should ensure that the truth reaches the world and expose at once every manoeuvre by Sinn Fein to purport to speak for the people of Ireland, instead of being little more than a mouthpiece of the IRA.

7.19 p.m.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, understandably, this has been a low key and only very cautiously hopeful debate coming in the immediate aftermath of the cessation of Loyalist violence and only six weeks after the IRA ceasefire. Every contribution has been important in creating common cause in this House. The debate has been enriched by the thoughtful and well-informed maiden speech of the noble Marquess, Lord Downshire, to whom I should like to add my congratulations.

It is a joyous moment for all the law-abiding inhabitants of Northern Ireland. Those like myself who love Northern Ireland as well as the Republic of Ireland from many years of close contact and friendship especially rejoice with them. As a Queen's Counsel of the Northern Ireland as well as the English Bar and a mere junior at the Irish Bar, there is one group whose courage, independence and integrity I should like to pay tribute to: the Northern Ireland judiciary. Its members have been particular targets of the IRA and have been attacked and murdered on a scale quite unknown in any other part of Europe, but they have been completely unflinching in their devotion to their arduous public duty.

As noble Lords across the House have said this evening, we all pray that the peace process will lead to a new deal for Northern Ireland in which violence is rejected for all time as a means to political ends, in which the values of both main traditions in Northern Ireland are mutually respected and where all inhabitants of both islands are able equally to enjoy the same basic human rights, irrespective of where they live—whether as European, Irish or British citizens. Everyone who has spoken today agrees that Northern Ireland should remain part of the United Kingdom unless the majority of the people freely consent to change.

It is a nice irony of history that your Lordships' debate takes place on a Motion moved by the Leader of the House the Lord Privy Seal. The noble Viscount is, of course, the great great grandson of the third Marquess of Salisbury. It is just over a century ago when it was the noble Viscount's great great grandfather who, as Leader of the Conservative Opposition, played such a major part in the rejection by this House of Gladstone's second Irish Home Rule Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, said, the dramatic painting of the Marquess speaking against that Bill hangs outside this Chamber in the Bishops' Corridor.

Many people today on both sides of the Irish Sea, including, I dare say, the noble Lord the Leader of the House, may regret the fact that this House rejected Gladstone's second attempt at constitutional self-government in Ireland within a federal union of both countries. If he will permit me to say so without impertinence, the noble Viscount is a living proof, as his speech today indicated, that the hereditary principle does not mean atavism.

When I read the passionate, prejudiced, partisan, dogmatic and immoderate debates on Ireland in this House of a century ago, I am reminded of the wisdom of an American judge, Judge Learned Hand. He warned that, the spirit of liberty is the spirit that it is not too sure that it is right". It seems to me that that warning is especially appropriate when we who are not Northern Irish discuss Northern Irish affairs.

Our two nations are confronted by problems which are deep-rooted in the violent and sometimes terrible history of the proud peoples of the ancient nations of Ireland and Scotland as well as England: problems linked with fiercely-held feelings of identity with clan, with culture, with language, with religion and with nationhood; problems aggravated by centuries of violence, injustice, exploitation, discrimination, hatred and bigotry; problems which are not amenable to simplistic solutions and quick political fixes.

The history of relations between Britain and Ireland is, to borrow from James Joyce, a nightmare from which we are trying to awake. The problems afflicting Northern Ireland are those which affect everyone on both sides of the Irish Sea, not only in Ulster, but also in London, Edinburgh and, I daresay, in Dublin. There is surely a need for plural systems of democratic, effective and accountable government based on modern concepts of citizenship and the rule of law.

The leading editorial in last Friday's edition of The Times rightly observed that the Prime Minister cannot afford to go to the conference table with the threat of renewed violence hanging over him. Equally, the Prime Minister cannot surrender the peace process to semantic argument over the precise nature of permanence. Mr. Major recently told us that he does not trade in adjectives. So he should not be unduly troubled by the difference between the word "permanent" and the word "complete". If the shrewd Mr. Molyneaux can accept the prospect of the Government sitting down to their first official negotiations with Sinn Fein with the issue of permanence unresolved, so surely can Mr. Major and Sir Patrick Mayhew with more than a twitter of wit.

No fair-minded person would accuse the Government of acting with reckless haste if they now begin the process of direct negotiation. The risk is rather that further delay would be rightly interpreted in Ireland as what is called in Irish "cnaimhseail"-ing, or grumbling for grumbling's sake. As my noble friend Lord Holme of Cheltenham said, the Government ought now to change gear so that talks might begin by the year's end.

When it comes to the substance of negotiations in the coming months, it will be important for all parties to avoid adopting the rigid and inflexible positions in line with their traditional and sometimes outmoded ideas about constitutional and political structures. In Ireland, the written constitution created by de Valera in 1937 proclaims a deeply religious conviction and faith, though, happily, since the referendum in 1972 it is no longer one which gives special privileges to the Roman Catholic Church. Less happily, the Irish constitution still lays claim to the entire national territory. In some respects, its attitudes on personal morality sit uneasily with the European Convention on Human Rights, which the Irish Government, like the British Government, have so far refused to incorporate directly into domestic law. I do not share the pessimism of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt—although I understand it—about the ability and willingness of the Irish Government and of the Irish people to amend their constitution including Articles 2 and 3—the Clause 4 of their constitution.

On our side in the United Kingdom, the unwritten Victorian constitution is based upon Dicey's English dogma of an omnipotently sovereign Parliament, on Whitehall's unitary and centralised state, on a concept of subjecthood rather than citizenship, and on preventing the Queen's courts from reviewing the constitutional legality of Acts of Parliaments even when governments wear the clothing of parliamentary sovereignty to breach fundamental human rights.

If the Governments, Parliaments and citizens of both countries are ever to achieve a sensible and lasting settlement which is acceptable to both communities in Northern Ireland and to the citizens of both countries as a whole, I suggest that it will be necessary to be boldly imaginative and open-minded, drawing upon the common law and parliamentary traditions of both islands while making more direct use of values and standards enshrined in the European convention and in the constitution and laws of the European Union.

As my noble friend Lord Home emphasised, it will also be important to review whether the full panoply of emergency powers really remains necessary in the new circumstances of the Province and whether the European convention can be made part of the law of Northern Ireland and, I would add, of Great Britain, and, further, the Irish Republic.

Perhaps I may break off briefly here to ask the Minister a question which I very much hope she will be able to answer this evening, or at least at some time in the near future. Will necessary funds provided by the European Union to ease the negotiations in Northern Ireland be treated by the Government as additional funds for that purpose and not be substituted by the Treasury for existing expenditure in the Province?

There can never be a return to the bleak 50 years following the Government of Ireland Act, in which the Westminster Parliament failed to exercise its sovereign powers and in which the Westminster Parliament permitted Stormont, as has been said, to infringe the civil and political rights of the Catholic minority, condoning religious and political discrimination, and diluting their voting power by abolishing proportional representation for local elections.

That is in the past. What matters now is to create the framework within which Northern Ireland will be democratically and fairly run, fully respecting and securing the rights of the Catholic minority and of the Protestant majority—a system of governing by consensus in which public powers are shared and not abused. The Government will have the support of my party and of the whole House in pursuing that important goal with courage, with energy and with all deliberate speed.

7.31 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, on behalf of these Benches, it is always a privilege to address this House on the subject of Northern Ireland. It has been a particular pleasure today because of the range and quality of the speeches which we have all listened to. I hope I may, with respect, point to one, the maiden speech of the noble Marquess, Lord Downshire, a speech which I personally found to be of interest and of great content, both of which are adjectives one cannot normally ascribe to maiden speeches.

I endorse, as I have on so many earlier occasions, what the noble Lord, Lord Lester, said about the quality of the judiciary in Northern Ireland. I speak from the same degree of personal knowledge as he, as I have practised in the courts in Belfast in the same way. Perhaps I can deviate for a moment to commend the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, on introducing a lighter note when he said he had seen an advertisement headed, "Why are you a bore"? The noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, who is always my mentor on these occasions, kindly produced the advertisement for me. Plainly the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, has benefited from the course as the advertisement promises it will work like magic to give one poise, self-confidence and greater popularity.

The noble Marquess used the phrase: "there may have been a sea change". That is what we all hope for. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Denton, like her predecessor in this House, the noble Earl, Lord Arran, has always emphasised the need for patience, and in particular a non-partisan approach to Ulster's problems. I know that I can trust her to agree that we have never tried to make a party point or take any form of political advantage from the miseries and anxieties of other people. Those miseries and anxieties were described yet again so movingly by the noble Lord, Lord Cooke of Islandreagh.

It seems that there is a new spirit abroad. It is a very tender infant and it needs to be succoured with care and looked after with patience. I think we all agree with that. The Leader of the Labour Party generously said at Blackpool recently that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, with their ministerial team, deserve full credit, which we wholeheartedly give. With respect, I reiterate that this evening. They are not the only ones who deserve credit. Other noble Lords have spoken of John Hume. He has been quite vigorously criticised in your Lordships' House on earlier occasions such as this but he has deserved credit. He was doing lonely work; he was likely to be criticised, and he was; he was thought certain to fail and he did not. I think a decent regard for his public service is something that one ought to mention.

We on this side of the House agree that caution is to be the watchword, but reasoned not fearful caution, otherwise we shall get nowhere. We on these Benches are particularly pleased—I think the noble Lord, Lord Lester, indicated this—to endorse the lifting of restrictions on publicity. Many of us on this side have thought in the past, and said publicly, that the ban on speaking, except through an actor's voice, gave only benefit to the apologists of terror and terrorism. It was a great propaganda coup in the United States of America where not everyone thinks well of us. The hardest, most difficult times that Gerry Adams has had in the past five years have been from television and newspaper reporters who have made him answer in his own voice, not hiding behind the shield we foolishly gave him. When those questions are put to him, often he has no reply and the thinness of his defence is exposed by the fact that journalists and newspaper reporters can put questions to him and say, "Listen to me, Mr. Adams. You just answer now".

When Mr. Blair stood for leadership of the Labour Party he stressed, almost as his first observation, that the problems of Northern Ireland and the pursuit of peace and reconciliation would be one of the first priorities of a Labour government under his prime ministership. That remains our full position. We endorse, as we always have, the Downing Street Declaration. It is historically not correct to point to it as being the declaration that the Government of the United Kingdom had no selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland. That was long past. It was first delivered, if I remember rightly, by Mr. Brooke, when he was Secretary of state for Northern Ireland, and was subsequently endorsed on a number of occasions by the Prime Minister long before the Downing Street Declaration was ever proposed. We are happy to re-emphasise to our friends and colleagues who live in Ulster that Labour Party policy is that there can be no change in the constitutional arrangements for Northern Ireland without the consent of its people.

I pay my own small tribute, if I may, to the way in which Mr. Molyneaux, with internal political problems of his own, has sought to be flexible and sought to deal with a changing situation. There are many, many problems to be addressed, such as the constitutional legislation of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland and the powers, functions and nature of devolved government in Northern Ireland. I respectfully underline and endorse the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, which have been made on earlier occasions as well as this evening, that if one gives people no power, one will attract no one of quality into government. We must look towards parity of esteem and equality of treatment for both traditions.

I hope I may mention my next point as I do not believe it has been mentioned this evening. I believe that it is foolish and myopic to believe that because there are two religious cultural traditions in Northern Ireland, each of those two is a monolith. It is quite the opposite in fact; they are not monolithic, they are internally diverse in the Protestant tradition as well as in the Roman Catholic tradition. As has been said by noble Lords earlier this evening, not all Roman Catholics have a particular view any more than all Protestants have a particular view. I think in the past, because of the polarisation which terrorism has imposed upon Northern Ireland, we have been too slow to recognise the internal diversity of different traditions. We must look to cross-Border co-operation, and if there is to be any constitutional amendment of the arrangements, to see that both governments are in a position to bind themselves to protect those altered arrangements.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, pointed to the surprising fact to many of us that half the population in Northern Ireland lives in wards either composed of 90 per cent. Roman Catholics or 90 per cent. Protestants. In fact, only 7 per cent. of the population live in areas where there is no such overwhelming majority.

We have to look to the policing of Northern Ireland. I want to repeat that no one can fail to pay tribute to the daily courage, endurance and decency of the policeman on the street in Northern Ireland. Those are only words, but they mean something.

Over the next few years we have to consider a different basis of recruitment to the police service in Northern Ireland. I agree that, as has already been said, we have to move, with deliberate speed and caution, to minimise the function of the armed services in protection of the civil power. In every conversation that I have had either with the armed services or the Ulster police service I have found that both agree with that objective.

In his key Coleraine speech almost two years ago the Secretary of State said: When terrorism is seen to have genuinely ended, there will indeed be profound consequences for the maintenance of law and order and for the administration of justice. Freed from the threat of death at every corner, the RUC would be free to give fresh priority to the quality and accessibility of its service. Normality could return. The emergency legislation would have served its purpose". Those are matters of profound and long-lasting importance to Northern Ireland as well as to the rest of the United Kingdom.

The emergency legislation, with extended detention, non-jury courts in serious criminal cases and internal executive exile has never been welcome, although our stance has always been that some of those features have been unfortunate necessities. We need to scrutinise that apparatus to see whether it can be dismantled or at least significantly redesigned. The problems of Northern Ireland have significantly distorted the legal process in England and Wales as well as in Northern Ireland. We need to be very careful about taking draconian powers, as we are being urged to do in the present Criminal Justice Bill, in relation to police stop and search when no reasonable suspicion is involved.

The role of the police authorities can usefully be extended. The more open they are, the better support the police service in Northern Ireland will have. The complaints system needs to be improved and brought up to date. No decent policeman and no decent police service has anything to fear from the improvement of a police complaints procedure.

No one can pretend that there are no problems that will not endure for the next 20 to 25 years. No one can look at the unemployment statistics, particularly in the younger age groups, without a sense of deep gloom. Unemployment of more than 25 per cent. is the best recruiting sergeant that terrorism has ever had.

I return to the maiden speech in which the term "sea change" was used. There are modest, reasonable hopes for a sea change. Perhaps the wind is kinder now, but no one on this side of the House deceives himself or herself that change will be brought about quickly. Caution is the watchword. Whether within government or without, anyone in Northern Ireland who looks for decent support will not look in vain to these Benches.

7.44 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Baroness Denton of Wakefield)

My Lords, I have never doubted this House's interest in Northern Ireland. Each time I return to London there is a queue of people looking to be updated on the situation in the Province. I also know, and now personally understand, how once having had the privilege of serving in the Northern Ireland Office the affection and regard you have for the people of Northern Ireland is with you for life.

It does not surprise me therefore that we have had such an informed and thought-provoking debate. I am appreciative of the many valuable and constructive contributions made today. So much has happened over the past few months that it is extremely helpful to hear the wisdom of this House.

In particular, I too pay tribute to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Downshire. I hope very much that with his knowledge of the Province we can look forward to future participation in Northern Ireland debates.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams, rightly says that in this House the concern for the people of Northern Ireland has always risen above party politics. I am grateful for that, and I am sure that the people of Northern Ireland are too. I am also grateful for the Labour Party's support for the Downing Street Declaration.

Your Lordships have covered much ground and raised many points. Were I to answer every one in detail tonight we would be here until midnight. With the House's permission, I shall deal with the main and recurrent issues and reply in writing to all the other points that have been raised.

Time and time again your Lordships expressed anxiety about the position with respect to weapons in the hands of paramilitaries. Her Majesty's Government have no hesitation in saying that no one who is committed to peaceful and democratic methods has any need to hold arms. We want to see the gun removed entirely from politics in Northern Ireland. The practical steps to achieve that will necessarily be part of the exploratory dialogue.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. She may not be able to answer the point, and if she cannot I shall understand. I was concerned as to whether giving up arms was to be a prerequisite to the starting of negotiations. In other words, would it have to precede negotiations or would it be part of those negotiations?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, as I said just now, it will necessarily be part of the exploratory dialogue.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, asked for further information about the joint framework document. The noble Lord, Lord Holme, asked whether it would include details of Strand One concerning relationships within Northern Ireland. The discussions that are taking place on the preparation of the document are, of course, confidential and it would not be right to go into detail. However, I can tell your Lordships that the document does not focus on the detail of Strand One, which is a matter for discussion between Her Majesty's Government and the Northern Ireland parties and has been the subject of discussion between my honourable friend Michael Ancram and the three main Northern Ireland parties. The framework document concentrates instead on Strands Two and Three; namely, North-South and East-West relations. The purpose of the document is to provide a common understanding of the elements of a settlement which will attract widespread acceptance.

I listened with interest to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Holme, about publication of the joint framework document. No decision has yet been taken by the two governments, but it is an issue which will be considered as the document nears completion.

Many noble Lords raised the question of the timing of exploratory talks. Our judgment of the right time to enter exploratory talks with Sinn Fein will be made in the light of circumstances. We have laid down no preconditions for their beginning other than that there should be a genuine and established cessation of violence. The reason for a time lapse between a genuine cessation of violence and exploratory dialogue is to enable commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic methods to be demonstrated. I assure the noble Lord that we are not grumbling for grumbling's sake. But we believe in a step at a time. That is a view that I have heard from most noble Lords today.

I was pleased to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Cooke of Islandreagh, that the statement and actions by my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have reassured those supporters of the Union that decisions on any settlement will be made by the people of Northern Ireland, and that no ceasefires have been bought. No price has been paid for them. There have been no secret deals, no secret assurances; and, to repeat a statement by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, no nods, no winks, no tricks with mirrors". I was delighted, as I suspect was the whole of your Lordships' House, that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark took part in the debate. I agree wholeheartedly with his view that the search for peace cannot be delivered by Government alone, but everyone has a role to play; and, as the right reverend Prelate said, may God be on the side of the peacemakers.

I know—I heard the fact again tonight—that the statement that the British Government have no selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland has given much cause: for concern in some noble Lords' minds. I believe that I can do no better than to repeat the explanation of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister when he said, We shall not impose our views on the majority in Northern Ireland but that, of course, does not and cannot mean that we are indifferent to their concerns and their future. We support the Union; and we protect its people. We support their rights with our cast iron constitutional guarantee. We support their economy and we support it generously. We deploy 18,000 of our troops in Northern Ireland because of our concern about the situation there, and we want to ensure that the people in Northern Ireland about whom we are concerned can have a safer and more prosperous future in which democracy can thrive. None of that is selfish; all of it is our responsibility". Since my right honourable friend made that statement, matters have moved quickly. But there can be no doubt of our responsibility in that area.

The question of emergency legislation was raised. The need for the Emergency Provisions Act has always been kept under review. We have stated that its provision will remain in force no longer than is necessary. But it is obviously too soon to speculate about the future of the Act which protects the law-abiding public from terrorists of all persuasions. We are guided in those matters by professional assessment of threat.

As the noble Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, knows, decisions on operational deployments and the nature and level of security force activity to prevent crime and protect the community are influenced by that prevailing threat. The security forces will, under the chief constable's direction, continue to act against those responsible for crimes with full vigour and with the Government's full support. If a genuine and permanent cessation of violence takes place, there will be major consequences for the maintenance of law and order and the deployment of troops. But there is no question of military support for the police being reduced while that support is needed.

I noted, too, with interest, the relevant issue raised by my noble friend Lady Park that so far as concerns troop deployment Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom.

Again, nervousness has been expressed about joint authority. I am delighted to tell the noble Lord, Lord Cooke, that both Governments have confirmed that joint authority is not on either Government's agenda. At the inter-governmental conference on 15th April, Dick Spring stated, Joint authority is not being considered". Apart from the question of practicality, the Government do not believe that any agreed outcome from further talks would embrace any sharing of political responsibility for Northern Ireland by the two Governments. However, the noble Lord rightly pointed out many economic benefits for some sectors to work together. We must avoid overlaying political matters on activities which bring mutual benefit and often jobs to the people of Ireland.

The noble Lord, Lord Lester, rightly paid tribute to the Northern Ireland judiciary. We would all concur. We are proud of the record of service that the judges in Northern Ireland have given to the Province.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked whether there were to be exceptions to the "nothing to be agreed until everything is agreed" approach for the purpose of confidence building. Participation in the talks process through which the parties will reach agreement on institutions will be the best confidence building measure. The issues would be agreed.

My noble friend Lord Brookeborough raised the issue of amnesty. Perhaps I may assure him that the criminal law will continue to be applied vigorously with the intention of bringing those responsible for terrorist crime before the courts. Those convicted of crimes must expect to serve their sentences in accordance with the law. The Forum for Peace and Reconciliation which is to be established in the Republic of Ireland was mentioned. That is entirely a matter for the Irish Government.

The noble Lord, Lord Cooke, raised the issue of responsibility for controlling the talks. Both Governments hope that the joint framework document which they are preparing will provide the impetus for the resumption of multilateral talks involving the two Governments and all the main constitutional parties in Northern Ireland. We shall certainly do all we can to encourage the progress of those talks towards agreement on a widely acceptable political settlement addressing all the relevant relationships. We are persuaders for agreement.

My noble friend Lord Skelmersdale and several other noble Lords raised the question of local authorities. Perhaps I may assure my noble friend that the Government wish to see greater power and responsibility in the hands of locally accountable representatives. But for any such arrangement to be stable and durable, it must enjoy widespread acceptance and operate within a framework of stable relationships. We believe that the best way to achieve that lies with the talks process, but meanwhile we consider every possible means to encourage people to be involved in their communities, including public appointments. We believe that it is important to encourage young people in particular to re-look at politics and to participate in Northern Ireland.

The noble Lord, Lord Lester, asked me for a guarantee that the European Union funds would not be a question of additionality. All aspects of additional funding in the present circumstances are under close consideration. As he will know, I am really saying that it is a matter for Treasury. I shall write to the noble Lord when the details are known.

Several noble Lords praised the RUC. It is praise well deserved. I stress that the RUC is open to all. I very much hope that it will now be possible for more Roman Catholics to play a full-time role in policing. I believe that that would be an important move.

The noble Lords, Lord Mason, Lord Lester, and others mentioned Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution which make territorial claim over Northern Ireland. I refer your Lordships to the Joint Declaration in which the Irish Prime Minister confirmed that in the event of an overall settlement, the Irish Government will, as a part of a balanced constitutional accommodation, put forward and support proposals for change in the Irish constitution which would fully reflect the principle of consent in Northern Ireland. The discussions on the joint framework document between the governments include constitutional issues.

The noble Lord, Lord Lester, raised the issue of the incorporation of the European Court of Human Rights. A common position on the incorporation of the European Court of Human Rights and other human rights issues will emerge during multilateral talks and it would be wrong to pre-empt that.

However, I wish to reply to noble Lords who raised the question of a Bill of Rights. While it would be wrong of me again to pre-empt future talks, I am well aware of the different parties' support for the principle of a Bill of Rights. On the other hand, as will be well appreciated, the issues are far from straightforward. The point that I should like to make is that there will be a chance for all the participants in the talks, including Her Majesty's Government, to evolve a common position on the human rights issues during multilateral talks, as there will be on a broad range of other issues.

These are all points which concern your Lordships. What must remain our highest priority is the views of the people of Northern Ireland. A majority of the people living there want to stay within the union. To quote my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, we are glad of it. It is a strength and it is an inspiration". I stress too that this is not an exclusively Protestant view. We also recognise that a significant minority aspire to a united Ireland. We have guaranteed the right of Northern Ireland's people to decide their constitutional future democratically. The principle of democracy was set out in the Downing Street Declaration, and on a recent visit to Belfast the Prime Minister reaffirmed that the outcome of the three-stranded talks process would be put to the people of Northern Ireland in a referendum.

So much has been achieved since the Prime Minister courageously delivered that Downing Street Declaration; courageous, because no British Prime Minister has built his or her reputation on solving the Irish issue but never has there been greater need for a solution. I salute the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach, who made that declaration with him. I also pay particular tribute to my two colleagues, Sir Patrick Mayhew and Michael Ancram, who tirelessly work towards finding the answer which restores permanent peace to a very special island. All those major players are of course assisted ably and unstintingly by a team of officials who live, breathe and, I suspect, sleep the problems.

As the noble Lord, Lord Holme, and the right reverend Prelate said, many have played a part in getting us so far. Yet we must acknowledge that it is a task with a long and difficult path ahead. Everything must be allowed to come to the table, everything must be examined and decided. There will have to be a swallowing of pride and much more by all participants. As my noble friend Lord Colnbrook pointed out, we shall all need patience. The resolution of the current situation has to be comprehensive and final if we are to achieve political stability in Northern Ireland. As we have learnt today, none of us who has not lived in Northern Ireland for the past 25 years can have any real conception of the pain, suffering or courage involved. We witness the major tragedies, but we can never begin to imagine how it feels to give birth to a baby whose father has been murdered—and many have; to sit or to walk next to a victim who is shot; to be married to a policeman or policewoman or a member of the security forces who may be killed for simply doing their jobs: protecting others.

Do not, I beg you, my Lords, underestimate the achievements of the police and security forces. If you were to see the list of weapons they find regularly, you would have a real measure of the number of lives that they have saved.

Last week I spoke in Belfast to the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists. They told me that at the height of the troubles, to get to the Royal Victoria Hospital they had to put their uniforms on at home to get past the paramilitaries. At the end of the shift they had to stay at the hospital until no more bullets flew past the windows. But no one ever called in sick.

We have seen a great victory for the people of Northern Ireland, who proved that violence did not and could not work. As the right honourable Member for Lagan Valley, Jim Molyneaux, said on Saturday, "Democracy has finally won".

Now we have hope. Belfast is already a different city, we shop without our handbags being searched; we visit hotels without going through the security hut; we drive home without frequent stops at checkpoints. But while that is tremendous news, we shall never stop in our determination to stamp out violence; and punishing people with beatings is violence. Ask the young victims and their mothers. The RUC will never slacken in its protection of the people and, as the noble Lord suggested, we shall continue our vigorous security policy. Nor would we hesitate to react strongly and quickly to any renewed threat of violence. We shall work towards peace with all our efforts; but we shall not be unprepared, should our hopes and those of most of the people of Northern Ireland be dashed. For we shall never forget that it is this Government which carries the responsibility for Northern Ireland. We shall work ceaselessly to find a settlement. We shall give the decision process to the people of Northern Ireland. That is democracy.

My Lords, we shall continue to need your understanding, your help, your analysis, your judgment and your prayers as we work for the permanence of peace. I commend the Motion to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.