HL Deb 12 February 1996 vol 569 cc408-20

4 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on the Northern Ireland peace process made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, I will make a Statement on the bomb explosion in the South Quay area of London last Friday, the declared end to the IRA ceasefire and the implications for security and the peace process in Northern Ireland.

"There is no doubt the evil act in London was the work of the IRA. It has all the hallmarks of their operations with the callous sacrifice of innocent lives. The bomb followed shortly after an IRA statement, given to the Irish broadcasting organisation on the evening of 9th February, that the complete cessation of hostilities ordered in August 1994 was now at an end. The IRA admitted its responsibility on 10th February.

"The facts of the incident are briefly these. Around 17.45 last Friday warning calls were made that a large bomb had been placed at South Quay Station, Marsh Wall in London. Local police arrived at the scene shortly after six o'clock, and anti-terrorist branch officers shortly after that. At around 18.30 a suspect vehicle, a Ford flat-backed lorry, was identified, and the immediate area cleared. While the area was being evacuated, the vehicle exploded, causing extensive . damage to buildings in the area, and a large number of casualties.

"Two people were killed, and 43 injured, two critically. Three police officers were among the casualties. The House will join me in extending our deepest sympathy to all the innocent victims and their families. It is little short of a miracle that the casualty list was not much longer. I would like to pay tribute to the efforts of the emergency services. Despite being hampered by a fractured gas main at the scene, they responded magnificently and they richly deserve all our thanks.

"This may not be the last such atrocity. More may follow, both here in the mainland and in Northern Ireland, if the IRA ceasefire is not renewed. We will do all we can to prevent them and to catch all those responsible. The protection of the public will be our first priority.

"In Great Britain, security has immediately returned to pre-ceasefire levels. In Northern Ireland itself, we had been careful from the very first moment of the ceasefire to take no irreversible steps to downgrade our security capability. All necessary measures to cope with the present situation are now in place. The RUC is on full alert. We have sought to make an appropriate and proportionate response to the increased threat without disrupting daily life more than necessary.

"The IRA has brought the 17 month-old ceasefire to an end. There is no shred of an excuse for this return to violence, least of all now, when all-party negotiations were clearly in sight.

"After the August 1994 ceasefire declaration, we called repeatedly on the IRA to make clear that it was permanent, despite criticism by some for doubting IRA good faith. We did doubt its good faith, and the IRA did not say it was permanent. Nonetheless, after a prudent period of time, in order to move the process forward, we were prepared to act on the working assumption that the ceasefire would last.

"In the months that followed we reduced the more visible and inconvenient aspects of security. We took soldiers off the streets and opened all the border crossing points. We did everything possible to create new jobs in Northern Ireland through renewed inward investment and helped to produce a remarkable economic upsurge. We talked to Sinn Fein leaders at official and ministerial level. We constantly sought to move the peace process on to the all-party negotiations that everyone agrees are necessary.

"No one—no one—took more risks for peace than this Government. But we never lost sight of the fact that the IRA commitment had not been made for good. No responsible government could have done otherwise. That was why we and others saw a start to the decommissioning of illegal arms as a way of creating confidence in Sinn Fein's acceptance of democratic peaceful methods, and showing that the violence really had ended.

"But all the time that Sinn Fein were calling for all-party talks, we knew that the IRA continued to train and plan for terrorist attacks. Punishment beatings and killings continued. It remained ready to resume full-scale terrorism at any time. We could never be confident that its behaviour was that of an organisation which had decided to renounce violence for ever. This was not a true peace.

"I regret to say that the events of last Friday showed that our caution about the IRA was only too justified. The timing of the return to violence may have been surprising. The fact that violence could resume was not.

"We must now continue the search for permanent peace and a comprehensive political settlement in Northern Ireland. Let there he no doubt that the Government's commitment to this is as strong as ever.

"We will work for peace with all the democratic political parties and with the Irish Government. But a huge question mark now hangs over the position of one of the parties: Sinn Fein. Its leaders have spoken often of their commitment to peace and peaceful methods. But they have always ducked and weaved when they have been questioned about the IRA and their methods. After the events of last Friday, their ambiguity stands out starkly.

"The test for eligibility to take part in all party negotiations was set by the British and Irish Governments in paragraph 10 of the Downing Street Declaration: they should be democratically mandated parties which establish a commitment to exclusively peaceful methods and which have shown that they abide by the democratic process.

"Sinn Fein's leaders claim that they did not know about the bomb at South Quay and the IRA's ceasefire statement. But they have refused either to condemn or to dissociate themselves from either. Sinn Fein must decide whether it is a front for the IRA or a democratic political party committed to the ballot not the bullet. Meanwhile, one thing is clear: in the absence of a genuine end to this renewed violence, meetings between British Ministers and Sinn Fein are not acceptable and cannot take place.

"That is also the position of the Irish Government. They have made it clear to Sinn Fein that their attitude and willingness to meet at political level will be determined by whether the IRA ceasefire is restored. We and the Irish Government are at one on this: the ball is in the court of Sinn Fein and the IRA, if indeed that distinction means anything. It is for them to show, through their words and actions, whether they have a part to play in the peace process or not. I am not in the business of slamming doors; but the British and Irish peoples need to know where Sinn Fein now stands.

"The people of a democracy are not passive spectators to events. They have the right to make their views clear on issues like this. The people of Northern Ireland, from both communities, have consistently done so. The popular will for peace has never been clearer. The peace process will go on. I commend all those who have had the courage and sense, in the face of this latest atrocity, to work to prevent a wider return to violence.

"My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and I have met all the parties in the last two weeks. This process will he intensified with those parties which have not, for the present, disqualified themselves. The aim is, as it has always been, to establish the necessary confidence to enable negotiations between all the parties to start.

"I want everyone to be absolutely clear on this point. The objective of all our actions and policies before and since the ceasefire has been to get to a position where all constitutional democratic parties can get round a table together. Everything else is a means to that essential end.

"I told the House on 24th January that, if the paramilitaries would not start decommissioning their illegal arms, one alternative way forward was through elections to give the electoral mandates and confidence which could lead straight, and straightaway, to negotiations. As proposed by the Mitchell Report, decommissioning could go ahead in parallel with those negotiations.

"The proposal has been consistently misrepresented by Sinn Fein and misunderstood more widely. I repeat now that its purpose is to lead directly and speedily to negotiations between all parties committed to peaceful and democratic methods, aimed at reaching a comprehensive political settlement. An elected body would have to be broadly acceptable and would be strictly time limited. I am not proposing an assembly with legislative and administrative powers. Any suggestion of a return to old-style Stormont rule is manifest nonsense.

"The proposed elections are a door to full negotiations. I continue to believe that they provide the most promising opening available. We will pursue the proposal and seek to persuade all concerned that it is indeed a way forward, not a means of delaying progress.

"Our ideas are still in discussion with the parties; but I do want to assure the House that there are ways forward to negotiations with all the parties, and that these could include Sinn Fein but only, of course, if there is an unequivocal return to the ceasefire.

"Others have ideas too, including the Irish Government. Our minds are not closed. Nor, I know, are theirs. I have talked to the Taoiseach twice since the bombing. We plan to meet in London soon to discuss all the possibilities. I intend to find a way through to the negotiations with all those committed to democracy.

"The peace process in Northern Ireland has received a serious setback from the men of violence. But it is not over, not by any means. We have seen the benefits of what has been achieved since the ceasefire: the freedom to live and work normally, and to enjoy life; increased prosperity and new jobs; and new hope for the future. These must not be thrown away.

"This Government will not be deterred by terrorism. The people of Northern Ireland have tasted peace, a peace that changed their lives. I have told the House before that I will leave no stone unturned in the search for peace. That is true today and will remain true in the future. The people of Great Britain and Northern Ireland deserve no less".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.13 p.m.

Lord Richard

My Lords, perhaps I may begin by thanking the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made by his right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place. As the noble Viscount underlined, this is a sad day and a grave occasion. When we adjourned last Thursday, I do not believe that any of us could conceivably have expected that today we would have to listen to a Statement of this nature. Perhaps I may express once again—that is, if it needs repeating—our total condemnation of this unjustified and unjustifiable action by the IRA. I join the noble Viscount in expressing our deep sympathy and condolences to the families of those who were so tragically killed, and also to all those who were injured in the attack.

Listening to the Statement, I cannot help reflecting that it is fortuitous that the death toll was not a great deal higher. The fact that it was not was hardly due to any deliberate moderation on the part of the IRA. To explode a bomb of that size in such an area at 7 o'clock on a Friday evening, the intention must have been to cause casualties.

If we are all saddened by the ending of the ceasefire, we must now ask ourselves: where do we go to from here? The peace process has been gradual. Given the historical background, it could not have been otherwise. Indeed, getting the peace process off the ground in the first place was an historic achievement for all concerned. It is possible that progress has not been fast enough for some; perhaps a little too fast for others. However, there is no excuse for renewed violence by the IRA. As a matter of priority, Sinn Fein must give an unambiguous guarantee that it is committed to the peace process.

We on this side of the House have always supported the Government in their policies towards the peace process. That support is again forthcoming today. This is not the time to apportion political responsibility for the breakdown, and I do not intend to go down that particular road today. There will be plenty of time for analysis and consideration in the future. I merely express the hope that the Government will succeed in relaunching the peace process and that this severe setback will not prove fatal. It may require new thinking and a change of attitude by some of those most closely involved. If that is what is necessary, I hope it will be forthcoming.

The Government are consulting closely with the other parties involved. I reiterate our view that it is vital that the two governments proceed together. The co-operation and the co-ordination so far have on the whole been impressive. It is crucial that that should continue. Secondly, I re-emphasise—if it needs re-emphasising—that it is now for Sinn Fein to establish its commitment to a peaceful process for change. Thirdly, we should not forget the people of Northern Ireland. It is they who have suffered much in the past; it is they who are watching apprehensively the events taking place today with mounting concern as to what the future might bring. I believe that we owe it to them to use every endeavour to resume the search for peace.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, my experience in making statements after terrorist outrages—which, 20 years ago, I did with depressing frequency when dreadful incidents in Birmingham, Guildford and the Tower of London followed fast on each other's heels—has led me to the view that little constructive is likely to emerge from such aftermath exchanges. Indeed, they are liable to become almost a competitive exercise in expressions of the horror that we all feel. Therefore, I propose to be brief.

Friday night's bomb was a bitter disappointment, although not, perhaps, an entirely unexpected one. Even if it marks—which I hope it does not—the end of the phase of hope, 17 months without violence has been gained. That in itself fully justifies the effort. But those 17 months have also underlined just how heavy would be the price of returning to the old pattern of intermittent horror. The price for Belfast above all but also for London and other major English cities, and perhaps even for Dublin, would be very heavy. It is not just the threat of death and mutilation, but the return to a whole dreary regime of life under semi-siege, symbolised by the reappearance of armed check-points in the City of London.

I hope and believe that the Prime Minister will make every effort to put the peace process back on the rails. I welcome the assurances to that end in the Statement. However, I am disturbed by the gap which has opened between the British and the Irish governments. The Irish Government are clearly deeply affronted by what Sinn Fein/IRA have done. But that has not brought them closer to London.

When Mr. Major announced his attitude on the Mitchell Report on 24th January, I, together with nearly everyone else, endorsed his proposal for Northern Ireland elections. I believe that I was wrong to do so. At any rate I was wrong to endorse such an exclusive concentration on the electoral route. It was a mistake to single out that one aspect of the Mitchell package, particularly as the problem of Northern Ireland is not that of identifying the majority—everyone knows what the majority is—but the infinitely more subtle and historic problem of getting that majority to live in peace and mutual tolerance with the large minority, and indeed vice versa. In the peculiar circumstances of Ulster, just counting votes will not do that.

Finally, disunity between the Irish and the British governments could be just as damaging to the peace process as bombs and bullets, deplorable though they are and devoutly though I hope that the ceasefire will be renewed.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to both noble Lords who have spoken for the spirit in which they have approached the tragic events of last Friday. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, doubted the value of what he called these aftermath exchanges. I have to admit to a degree of sympathy with what he said. Nevertheless, the fullhearted support which the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and, with one exception—to which I shall return in a minute—the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, have given this afternoon is enormously helpful to Her Majesty's Government in expressing the united horror of the British people to terrorist methods which are wholly alien to the traditions of parliamentary government in this country.

I, of course, wholly endorse the condemnation that both noble Lords gave, and I need not report that. However, I wish to underline something which my right honourable friend said in his Statement and to which the noble Lord, Lord Richard, drew attention a moment ago. Someone up there was watching over the East End of London. It does not make it any better for the dead and the injured but we were extraordinarily lucky not to have suffered more severely than we did. I wish to emphasise how much we owe to the courage of the police and of the rescue services, particularly of the police who with reckless disregard for their own safety cleared the area and investigated it to discover where the bomb was.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am delighted to hear that the House wishes to be associated with those remarks. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, made an important point when he emphasised that it is for Sinn Fein to establish once again its commitment to peaceful methods. Bombs create a reaction. The danger always has to be that if one explodes a bomb one will ultimately encourage other people to start doing so in return. It is not only viciously dangerous for the victims but it is also viciously dangerous for the future of parliamentary government in our country. I am delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Richard, associate himself so eloquently with that principle this afternoon.

The other point the noble Lord made is one that I also wish to associate myself with. Anyone who has visited Northern Ireland since the declaration of the ceasefire will, I suspect, be more struck by one phenomenon than any other; and that is the extraordinary change of atmosphere that has taken place over the past 17 months. It is not only the remarkable economic changes that have begun to occur, many of which have been directly encouraged by my noble friend Lady Denton who is responsible for these matters in the Northern Ireland Office, but also the almost spontaneous way in which those who are responsible for domestic industry, commerce and inward investment have realised what an admirable place Northern Ireland is, without the bombs, for industry and commerce to flourish. It has taken little time for peace to enable that to happen.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, emphasised that the two governments in Dublin and London should proceed together. It is clearly important that that should happen and I wholly endorse that wish. My right honourable friend in his Statement made it perfectly clear that he has been in contact with the Taoiseach since the explosion of the bomb. I can certainly undertake on behalf of my right honourable friend and on behalf of Her Majesty's Government that we shall endeavour, as best we can, to ensure that Dublin and London can proceed together and can promote the democratic principles which we both hold dear.

I return to the query of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, with regard to whether we were right to place so much emphasis on the electoral route. It might just be worth asking your Lordships what the practical consequences are of no talks happening at all. The practical consequences of no talks are a continuation of the horrors that the Province has endured since 1969. If talks are to happen, they have to include all parties who are committed to parliamentary government and democratic principles. It is no good for—to name names—the SDLP to be prepared to turn up under certain circumstances if the Unionist parties are not prepared to turn up. The same is true—if I may say so—vice versa.

How are we in practical terms to find a way for all-party talks to occur? There may be other ways than the electoral process. If there are other ways which can produce that result, we as the Government are entirely prepared to look at them in the most constructive way possible. As my right honourable friend constantly says, there is no question but that we are open to all suggestions. However, one thing is perfectly clear. If we are to produce a settlement, it must be a settlement which enjoys the consent of the people of Northern Ireland—the people of both main traditions. We have a way in this country by which we have managed in the past—not always perhaps elegantly, but on the whole successfully—to secure that consent by which governments have acquired the authority to govern, and that is through the ballot box.

If an elected body, which is elected through the ballot box, were to come into existence—as I made clear on the previous occasion that I stood at this Dispatch Box talking about Northern Ireland matters—and if options are open to negotiation about how we should proceed to negotiate from the existence of that body, and just supposing that the body itself agreed to mandate certain delegations from among its membership to take part in all-party talks, then at least those who negotiated would clearly have the consent of those who had elected them. I would merely say to your Lordships that that consent is one which I, for one, would be much happier to stay with than the consent which had been bludgeoned out of people by the explosion of bombs made of semtex.

4.29 p.m.

Lord Eames

My Lords, I assure the House, in line with the Statement we have just heard and the comments from the noble Lords, that nowhere in the United Kingdom has the disgust, the anger and the frustration at the events of Friday been more obvious than in Northern Ireland. I wish to assure this House that from a Province which for 25 years has suffered the hardship, the cruelty and the unending hurt of terrorist attack, that is a sentiment which was spontaneous. It came from Roman Catholics, Protestants, nationalists and unionists, and it came from north and south of the border. I wish to assure the House that those who carried out the atrocity on Friday did not have the mandate of the vast majority of the people of Ireland.

Secondly, on behalf of so many to whom reference has been made perhaps I may use this opportunity to express feelings of sympathy and sorrow to the relatives of those who lost their lives and to those who were so horribly injured. However, as we were so rightly reminded a few minutes ago, we must look ahead. I do not believe that the peace process is dead. I base that remark not just on political niceties but on what I know from my day and night ministry in the Province to be the yearning and feeling of ordinary people who, for a considerable number of months, have enjoyed a sense of freedom that some of them had never known.

Behind the headlines so much that is good and worthwhile has been achieved across the traditional gaps in society. Many noble Lords who have served in Northern Ireland or who have had contact with it will know that incredible cross-community contacts have been made possible during the period of peace. Because of that and because of the overwhelming feeling of disgust and disappointment at this moment, I am absolutely convinced that the House must be reminded that there are two sides to the peace process. First, there is that referred to by the Prime Minister in terms of contacts between governments and political parties. Secondly, there is the ongoing battle for the hearts and minds of the people. To a large extent, that battle has been won. I plead with the House to give every encouragement to the peacemakers who, with great personal courage, have achieved so much.

I echo the plea that the British and Irish Governments do everything possible to ensure that they are perceived to be acting in concert. Nothing plays into the hands of those who wish to dissuade the process of peace so much as the perception of division. There will he differences of approach; I beg and pray that they are minimised.

As expressed so frequently in this House with compassion, knowledge and understanding, trust has been the real casualty of the past 25 years. I appeal to paramilitary organisations which have made certain statements, particularly over the weekend, not to be drawn into the trap that is being set for them of retaliation or of becoming involved in attacks elsewhere. Through their political representatives they have shown surprising political knowledge and foresight. I beg, on behalf of so many people in Northern Ireland, that they do not fall into that trap.

In thanking the Prime Minister for his Statement, perhaps I may ask that, if it turns out that an elected assembly or forum is the right process to adopt, the formula for it will be definite, clearly stated and full of reassurance to the nationalist community, and that it will be elected for a limited, set period to do its task.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I do not believe that the House could have been treated to a more authoritative or respected voice on this occasion and we are indeed fortunate to have the noble Lord adding to our deliberations today. I must be brief because many noble Lords wish to speak. I wholly take on hoard what the noble Lord said about the entire population of the island of Ireland being disgusted. I wholly agree that we must look ahead. As my right honourable friend said, we do not believe that the peace process is dead. Indeed, it is important that we ensure that the terrorists should not be able to demonstrate that they have a veto on the peace process. A minority of the population of Northern Ireland should not be allowed to dictate to the majority by these unacceptable methods.

I too pay tribute to the cross-sectarian achievements which the noble Lord mentioned. That has been one of the most dramatic developments not only during the past 17 months but, in certain areas of the Province, well before the peace arrived. As we are all well aware the noble Lord, Lord Eames, has made his own contribution to that.

I accept, as did my right honourable friend, that it is absolutely essential that the two Governments should proceed in tandem. As I have made clear in previous Answers, we will do our utmost to make sure that we keep the Dublin Government as fully informed as we are able about what we intend to do and that there should be no surprises as far as they are concerned. I also associate myself with the noble Lord's comments about paramilitaries from the other side of the divide. I hope only that the restraint and wisdom that they have shown so far will continue.

Lord McConnell

My Lords, I too welcome the Statement and join in the condemnation of this most callous and brutal bombing which has taken place in the City of London. I join in paying tribute to the emergency services and extend condolences to the relatives of those who were killed and to those who were injured.

The one thing that we must be quite determined about is that the Government do not give way to violence. The proposal that there should be elections may be right or it may be wrong. Personally, I am convinced that they are right. However, no matter which, it would be a great weakness on the part of the Government to give way and to say, "We are not going to have elections as a result of this bomb". That would point out a way for the future; that if you really want something you plant a bomb or indeed several.

I was disappointed to hear the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic say that to proceed along the course of elections would be adding petrol to the flames. I hope that he will reconsider that comment because it means that one should give way to terrorism. One can give way to argument and to democratic voting but I hope that we shall never give way to terrorism. Therefore, I hope and trust that the Government will stand firm against any menaces of this kind which are meant to produce political ends. I was glad to hear the noble Viscount the Lord Privy Seal say that the Government would not negotiate with Sinn Fein until it is clear that it has given up violence for good.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I believe that perhaps the Provisional IRA is under the strong misapprehension that exploding bombs in London or in the Province of Northern Ireland will induce Her Majesty's Government to change their stance. I hope that the events of the coming days and weeks will disabuse it of that; and that it will realise that the only way in which it can participate in the government of the Province and of the political processes of the United Kingdom is through the use of the methods which we ourselves employ through the constitution of this country.

Lord Eden of Winton

My Lords, while the Prime Minister's personal and passionate commitment to peace has been further underlined in the Statement read to this House, will my noble friend take this opportunity roundly to condemn the calumny which was given widespread currency over the weekend: that the Prime Minister had somehow devised a series of obstacles designed to hinder progress towards peace which in its turn justified the fiendish and cowardly action by the IRA?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, of course. We must be well aware in this House that there is only one organisation responsible for last Friday's outrage, and that is the IRA itself. No matter how many arguments others may have against the approach of this Government to the peace process, such arguments could never justify the use of bombs and bullets.

I must emphasise that if Sinn Fein were as truly committed as it claims to be to exclusively peaceful methods it would, after all, accept that and condemn the IRA for its actions on Friday and for calling an end to its ceasefire. I have yet to hear such a condemnation.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, the massive wave of revulsion which has swept these islands since last Friday must surely indicate to the IRA that however many bombs it lets off here or in Ireland, or however many people it kills, at the end of the day it cannot succeed in bludgeoning a democratic people to accept its demands.

However, I believe that that should be made clear, and as yet it has not been made clear. In his original comments on the Mitchell Report, the Prime Minister laid stress on the elective process. He should have laid even greater stress on the six principles enunciated by Senator Mitchell. Those principles make it very clear that anyone who does not accept a rejection of violence has no part in the democratic process.

I have fought many elections in Northern Ireland. While in this present atmosphere I have slight reservations, I am of the opinion that if an election were held, and every candidate had either to reject or accept those six democratic principles enunciated by Senator Mitchell, it would give a clear indication that the people of Northern Ireland either accepted or rejected violence. That is what the six principles are about.

It has been most importantly stated this afternoon that day in and day out it should be made clear to the Nationalist population in Northern Ireland that there is to be no return to Stormont. Those who are opposed to these elections—Sinn Fein and others—are stressing that that is the real purpose behind the process.

As regards the noble Viscount's remarks, Sinn Fein has said that it cannot condemn this atrocity because it would lose credibility with the IRA. If it does not condemn this atrocity, it will lose credibility with all free democratic people in these islands.

I freely support all those who say that the peace process is not ended. It will take a Herculean effort by all concerned to bring it back from the death throes in which it has been placed. But I believe that we can succeed in replacing it again.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord. His personal experience of being a victim of terrorism is probably greater than any of us in this Chamber.

He is right about the six principles. They are six principles which the Government immediately accepted on publication of the Mitchell Report. I am happy to reiterate our commitment, and to draw the House's attention to Senator Mitchell's suggestion not only that all parties should sign up to those six principles but (and I quote the word he used) that they should also honour them. I believe that the noble Lord made his point far better than I could have done.

As the noble Lord will have noted, my right honourable friend emphasised—he said that we should all emphasise it and I am happy to repeat it now—that what is proposed in the possible elected body which is for discussion (which we do not insist on but it seems to be the only realistic possibility open to us at the moment in the absence of any other suggestion) does not mean a return to Stormont. It is a body whose purpose is clear: to form a basis for teams to negotiate on an all-party process. I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving me the opportunity of repeating that.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, the noble Viscount the Leader of the House rightly referred to public opinion in Northern Ireland. It is absolutely crucial in the coming hours, days and week or so, that the revulsion expressed in this House is expressed in every quarter in Northern Ireland, and that it finds a focus. The focus must be, "Give us back our peace". The focus must be a message to the IRA that the people of Northern Ireland will not tolerate a reversion to the dark ages through which they have lived.

In that context, will the noble Viscount refer to the constructive role that the President of the United States could play in that respect? Many fears have been expressed in this House and elsewhere that the role of the American Administration might not be constructive in Northern Ireland. I believe that it has been very constructive. The visit by President Clinton to Northern Ireland showed the most extraordinary outpouring of popular sentiment for the peace process. Are Her Majesty's Government working with the American Administration to make sure that in the days to come the White House will not return to any semi-flirtatious relationship with Sinn Fein but will focus all its efforts on trying to mobilise opinion in Northern Ireland behind a resumption of peace, let alone the peace process?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for enabling me to answer that point. Of course we welcome the constructive role that the United States has played and continues to play. Any further contribution that it can make along the same lines would he extremely welcome.

The main message that we need to get across is exactly the one that President Clinton expressed so eloquently to the men of violence when he was in Belfast. I believe that I quote him exactly in saying: "You are of the past. Your time is gone".

As the former most reverend Primate of all Ireland said a moment ago, the people of Northern Ireland, above all, can make it plain that this kind of behaviour is no longer acceptable to them.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, my noble friend referred to the undesirability of circulating reports which suggested that there could ever be any political reason for a resort to mass violence. Is the Minister aware that in the course of bulletins over the weekend the BBC consistently pressed people to give precisely that kind of answer? If he will not take my word for it, I am sure that a transcript of yesterday's lunch hour programme on Radio 4 would give him ample evidence.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I was not fortunate enough to listen to that programme. However, I can give my noble friend the undertaking that I shall certainly examine what he said and write to him.