HL Deb 21 November 1996 vol 575 cc1412-48

7.24 p.m.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham rose to call attention to the prospect for the peace process in Northern Ireland; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Your Lordships will have observed that during the course of the week this item has mysteriously metamorphosed through the usual channels from being an Unstarred Question, which would have put a tight corset on our debate. The corset has been loosened and it has now become a debate on a Motion which I am glad to move. I feel that one of the regrettable features of the way in which we deal with Northern Ireland business in this House, quite apart from the strange hours of the day at which we normally do so—for those who do not regularly come to Northern Ireland debates, this is luxuriously early in the day for us to discuss Northern Ireland business—is that we generally discuss specifics such as a government Statement or one of the flow of orders by which the Province is so inappropriately governed under the present arrangements. That being the case, we rarely have the chance to discuss the general state of affairs in Northern Ireland. I am glad that the Motion gives us a chance to do so.

This is an important moment in the so-called peace process. I believe that the question in a nutshell is this: can progress be made before the British general election and the Irish election which will follow it? Some may feel that the alternative is not too bad: to put the whole project in cold storage for a year, then try to warm it up again in the new political situation, whatever that may be.

I fear that that is not an option. In my belief we either move forward or we are likely to see a further retreat behind the barricades of the past and a relapse into sectarian zealotry and the barbaric acts with which we are familiar from the past 25 years. Consistently, the story of Northern Ireland over the past 25 years has been that, when hope is denied, despair fills its place.

We have an impressive list of participants in the debate. I thank those noble Lords who have put their names down. Perhaps I may say in particular how much I look forward to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Alderdice, the leader of the Alliance Party. He has been a consistent and eloquent voice in Northern Ireland against sectarianism and in favour of inclusion. He has been a consistent and benign influence for principled compromise between historical adversaries. He has been active in the whole peace process in a way which reflects great credit on him and the Alliance Party. I know that he will make a major contribution to this House, as he has over many years in Northern Ireland.

Let me start my own analysis of the prospects in Northern Ireland with something which is obvious to me but which is often ignored. Peace and political progress in Northern Ireland depend on one relationship above all others. No, it is not the relationship between Mr. Hume and the Republican extremists. Nor is it even the relationship between the British and Irish Governments, important though that is.

It is the relationship between sensible unionism and moderate nationalism. That means in party terms between the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP. That is what matters above all. Can they agree to share power and live together in the same space on the basis of equal inclusion? We all know that the context matters a great deal; that the nature of the relationship with and between the parent countries of the respective traditions is important; that the degree of respect and protection for both majority and minority rights is crucial; and that the presence or absence of violence is a vital factor. But nothing can take away from the primacy of the central relationship between moderate unionists and their nationalist counterparts. Anything which detracts from them settling down to build an accommodation is frankly displacement activity and even potentially a distraction.

That is why I believe that the message of the past few months is so mixed. On the one hand there has been the deeply depressing spectacle of Sinn Fein and its IRA allies slipping back into hot words and dangerous deeds—like the Bourbons, learning nothing and forgetting nothing. For those who have not heard, tonight we have news of a 600-pound car bomb, fortunately defused, outside the RUC headquarters in Londonderry. The menace of violence is there in a very real way.

But, on the other hand, there has been maintenance, however tenuous, of talks and even the first glimmering of genuine dialogue, albeit of a largely procedural nature, between constitutional nationalists and unionists. That must be welcomed. Indeed, I believe that it is one of the reasons why some of the militant Republicans now seem to be trying to find their way back into the process. The synchronised McGuinness—Mayhew dialogue of recent days may or may not lead somewhere. We shall all have to see. I do not regard what has happened tonight as particularly encouraging.

But, for myself, I believe that Sinn Fein could only be readmitted to civilised discourse if the proof of its seriousness was represented by some combination of three things: first of all, words—unambiguous adherence to the Mitchell principles; second, deeds—unequivocal commitment to a parallel decommissioning process; and third, time—the elapsing of peaceful time. Who can judge yet if Sinn Fein is serious enough to realise the depth of the distrust that it must now allay by the right words and deeds and the passage of peaceful time? In that context, I want briefly to refer, in comparison to Sinn Fein and the IRA, to the very great restraint that has been shown by the former Loyalist paramilitaries. That restraint over the past few months, when some of their supporters must feel that tit for tat must obtain again, has been, to say the least of it, impressive.

Reverting to Sinn Fein, I believe that the show must go on with or without it. We must never again allow a Hume-Adams strategy to so overwhelm the agenda of both governments and both communities, let alone the US administration, that everything and everyone is paralysed until Messrs. Adams and McGuinness smile upon us. Waiting for Gerry is not a strategy; it is a recipe for disaster. So if the show is to go on, it demands movement and compromise from those who want peace and stability. A stable settlement in Northern Ireland is absolutely essential to the inward investment and prosperity for which the noble Baroness labours so tirelessly, effectively and, if I may say so to her, so often unacknowledged. It is good to have the chance to do so here this evening.

I say to my nationalist friends in the SDLP, "This could be your moment. Sinn Fein is currently discredited. You have the opportunity for making sure that peaceful constitutional nationalism is a bridge between a past of division and a future of reconciliation." To my unionist friends I say, "Please, please respond to the mood of the people of Northern Ireland who want to move on rather than march to the old atavistic drums of the past. You have won the prize of no surrender. You have won the prize. Northern Ireland will remain part of the United Kingdom so long as that is what the people want. So now set that agreement in foundations of stone by making the compromises essential to share power and create equal rights, so that the people of the rest of the United Kingdom feel proud of Northern Ireland and the people of the Republic of Ireland can experience your confidence and friendship rather than the suspicious distrust of the past." To the governments, I would advise, if I may, "Stay close together. Don't follow the IRA will-o'-the-wisp into the bogs. Let it come to you, if it will. Be ready to modify the North-South All-Ireland strand of the negotiations, so that cross-border institutions are seen primarily as practical means of necessary co-operation rather than as an attempt to create shared sovereignty."

In my opinion, the primary role of the Irish Republic should be as a co-guarantor of a new settlement rather than as a co-administrator of Northern Ireland. I believe that the Dublin Government under the able leadership of Mr. Bruton and Mr. Spring are ready to be realistic in that respect. Canon Frayling, in a notable sermon in Westminster Abbey in July, talked of the sense of betrayal felt by unionists over the years and the sense of injustice felt by nationalists over the years. He also said that politics alone cannot heal the wounds. Of course, he is right on both counts. But even if constructive politics are not sufficient, they are necessary. This is a time when the leaders of both main communities, like the Alliance Party which the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, leads, need to listen to the people of Northern Ireland, who, in my belief, are ready to go that extra mile for peace. They must not be let down.

My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

7.35 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, we look forward very much to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice. We are very fortunate that he is here today.

Two weeks ago Mr. Spring said that Sinn Fein/IRA received 17 per cent. of the total vote in the last election. Mitchell McLoughlin, while complaining of disenfranchisement, claimed that between 35 and 40 per cent. of the nationalist population in the North supported the Sinn Fein/IRA. A poll since the election showed that it was running well behind the SDLP. Sinn Fein/IRA has a party which represents no more than one-third of the nationalist vote, one-sixth of the whole electorate in the North. So why is it deemed impossible for the parties already attending the talks to speak for or represent the nationalist community in negotiating the future, especially since the leader of the SDLP has retained throughout the years of political negotiation both close links with Sinn Fein and a close working relationship with the Irish Government as well as our own?

Why are the two governments, and no doubt the American Government and the European Union also, striving so hard to get Sinn Fein/IRA into the talks at any cost? Mr. Spring says that it is because: if you want an accommodation that has the broadest possible support, the 17 per cent. should be reflected in the negotiations that lead to the accommodation". He does not say what the effect would be on the other 83 per cent. if Sinn Fein/IRA were to be brought in on any grounds other than the terms that have been laid down time and again in the Mitchell principles and by the governments.

The 83 per cent. might find it hard to understand why a party whose credibility as a political force rests almost exclusively on its claim to be able to influence the IRA—a claim which it effortlessly couples with disclaimers of any influence on that body—should expect to be allowed to dictate its own terms on the timing of its entry. Mr. Adams boasted, when he was asked at his book launch whether he would condemn the amassing by the IRA of 10 tonnes of explosive, that he had avoided the politics of condemnation before now and would continue to do so. How true! He never condemned Canary Wharf, Manchester or Lisburn; nor the punishment beatings. Was he perhaps not free to do so? Of course, he makes an exception when it comes to condemning the British for being prepared to defend the citizens of the United Kingdom as it is their duty to do. I hope that we shall not let down our security or our military guard.

We have come to live in a looking-glass world, or perhaps it would be true to say that we are being manoeuvred to look through the wrong end of the telescope. The reason why Sinn Fein/IRA has, in Mr. Spring's view, to be at the talks, whether or not that might drive the other parties away—and then, of course, they would be blamed for destroying the peace process; geese are not allowed to object if the fox is invited into the coop—is that Sinn Fein has friends, the IRA, who are accustomed to kill whatever gets in their way and to negotiate through the bullet, not the ballot. In fact, it is perfectly prepared in every sense to kill as many innocent people as will secure media attention. That is what makes that grotesque little party so special. And the IRA can make trouble in the Republic too, despite the fact that Sinn Fein/IRA is even less representative of the democratic vote there than in the North. I could wish, incidentally, that the media would question Sinn Fein as toughly and rigorously as they do all other political figures.

Sinn Fein/IRA has three conditions which must be met before there can be any prospect of a ceasefire, according to Mr. McLoughlin, which are: a guarantee of inclusive talks involving Sinn Fein; a time-frame for political settlement; and confidence-building measures. Mr. Adams has added a further condition: that the Taoiseach's brief must include defending the rights of the nationalists in the North. No one must defend the right of the majority in the North. On the contrary, as Gerry Adams said at the Sinn Fein conference in 1995, the British Government must be pressurised to adopt a policy of disengagement based on Britain becoming a positive persuader for ending the Union. At that meeting he spoke of an all-Ireland struggle and stated clearly that Sinn Fein's objective was to bring about an inclusive and negotiated end to British rule in Ireland and to seek to replace it with a new and agreed Irish jurisdiction. He said: negotiations need to take place in a climate where no section of our people hold an undemocratic power of veto". Ironically it is Sinn Fein/IRA which at present wields without scruple, through violence and the threat of violence, that undemocratic power of veto. All those who are urgently trying to make the peace process work should not forget that. Sinn Fein is prepared to be quite as undemocratic in the South, though hitherto the IRA has refrained from actual violence there—with one exception—in order to retain the freedom to operate from and train in a safe base. Mr. Adams said: Sinn Fein seeks the transformation of all Irish society, not only in the occupied areas but throughout the entire island". The present Taoiseach said loudly, after the Lisburn bomb: We, the people of the Republic, have no agenda for a progressive take-over of Northern Ireland against the wishes of the majority there. There is no pan-nationalist agenda. Any government I lead would never be part of such an agenda". That is what I call a confidence-building measure, and a great credit it is to him. I wish we could hear Mr. Spring say the same thing. Martin McGuiness said in February 1995: What is our agenda? We want the ending of British rule in our country". Let us examine Sinn Fein/IRA's latest three conditions which must be met before there can be a ceasefire. First, it wants a guarantee of inclusive talks involving Sinn Fein. Why should the other parties, including the Loyalist paramilitaries who have so steadily refused to be provoked into violence, allow the conditions to be set by the very party which is preventing any move to peace?

Next, it wants a time-frame for a political settlement. How can anyone set a date when the complex problems and difficulties of many years have to be resolved? If the date chosen is too soon, it will lead to recriminations and be used as an excuse for renewed violence, if no other excuse is handy. Thirdly, it wants confidence-building measures. Everyone but Sinn Fein and the IRA has leaned over backwards, including, let it be said, the Irish Government in their moves to legislate for decommissioning and their reference, at least, to eventual action to put the issue of Articles 2 and 3 to a referendum.

There is then the Loyalist offer, tabled as long ago as February 1995, to put the whole issue of decommissioning to an international body. We had the Mitchell Report; we had the President of the United States waving White House wands, only to find, poor fellow, that he had conjured up not the good fairy, but a wicked stepmother who was preparing for Canary Wharf at the very time that Gerry Adams was posing for pictures with him.

We have had the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, whose report Sinn Fein alone rejected. We have had, above all, wise negotiators in the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and his Ministers, and I pay my tribute to them tonight. It is not true to say that Sinn Fein/IRA—those infinitely skilled word- spinners—need a clear statement of the conditions required for entry into the talks. The Prime Minister said that we need an unequivocal ceasefire which is verifiable. What could be clearer or more reasonable? Mr. Hume has spoken of the need for litmus tests for the other parties on their commitment to the peace process. The IRA plays judo with us, requiring both the governments and the parties already involved in talks to prove their bona fides. The only people who can move us on, the only ones who can enable the peace process to be put into gear and move off are the IRA. It is the IRA's credentials which need testing. As the Prime Minister said, it is difficult to reconcile Sinn Fein's rhetoric of peace with the IRA's preparations for murder.

I am half persuaded that it would be no bad thing to call Sinn Fein's bluff—early rather than late—and once there is a ceasefire, let them into the talks to expose their real agenda; that is, a non-negotiable, undeviating determination to end Northern Ireland's present status within the Union, whatever the wishes of the majority, and to impose a united Ireland. Like the North Vietnamese, the IRA only negotiates to win. Once it finds it cannot secure, not partial, but total victory through talks, it will, I fear, revert to the only form of combat it knows—and it will be well prepared. If it has meanwhile succeeded in the negotiating phase in causing the other parties to withdraw from what could prove a travesty of democratic discussion if it was present, that too would be a victory. If it can provoke the Loyalists into breaking their ceasefire, it would be a disaster.

I strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, in believing that we should believe in the talks and carry them on. Therefore, though I admire the cool courage, patience and determination to find a way to talk and to be seen to satisfy in so doing the universal longing for peace for ordinary people on both sides, I fear the scenario is not encouraging. It could be another tactical ceasefire, probably preceded by a series of bombings which will be attributed, unless very successful, to mavericks. There will be the entry of Sinn Fein/IRA into talks and the presentation by them of a series of non-negotiable demands which the majority and at least one of the two governments cannot reasonably accept and which might lead to the break-up of the talks. Lastly, there will be the reversion to armed struggle, a renewed IRA campaign and inevitably in that case a Loyalist response.

Hence I hope that both governments will think long and hard before watering down the conditions or at least the timing for entry after any ceasefire until some verification has been provided. Meanwhile, let us get on with the talks as they are. The two governments should be seen by the majority who feel threatened already to be proceeding cautiously and not bounced by either Mr. Spring or Mr. Hume into premature action. I believe it is right and will be seen to be right to lean over backwards to let in Sinn Fein/IRA, after a ceasefire, once they comply with the necessary conditions.

At least by going as far as we have to meet the Irish Government, which is in general receptive to Sinn Fein for a variety of reasons, we ought to be able to expect from them a far more active policy of support; for instance, possibly the trying and imprisoning in the Republic of wanted IRA men when they cannot bring themselves—for good political reasons—to extradite. They cannot claim to advocate the interests of the North without accepting some responsibility for acting to contain and frustrate the IRA operations based in the Republic. The Garda is, of course, already doing something towards that.

The people who have had a taste of peace and prosperity, the Loyalist paramilitaries, who have shown such restraint, the American Government, who can so powerfully influence events, and the Nationalists, who trust the SDLP and the Alliance Party rather than Sinn Fein to represent them, must all see that everything has been done to bring Sinn Fein in. But it must not be perceived to be appeasement. The 83 per cent. must be given reason to trust the Government—indeed, the two governments—to remember that they are the majority and they have rights. If they lose faith in good government, that will be the real IRA victory.

7.48 p.m.

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, the first thing I should do is extend a warm welcome to the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice. I also want to take this opportunity to thank him sincerely for the patience and skill with which he has led the Alliance Party on a difficult path over the years, though I feel he has not as yet harvested the fruit.

The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, comes to the House with a great deal of up-to-date knowledge of the political position in Northern Ireland. I believe also that he has interests in some health matters as well. But his words will carry particular weight and be of great value to those who follow Northern Ireland affairs in your Lordships' House. I very much look forward to his maiden contribution on a very complex subject which is so near to his heart. If I have one caveat at all, it is this—and I speak as a Welshman. I believe that the Welsh branch of the Celtic family has an ancient and sceptical attitude towards your Lordships' House. I sincerely hope that the noble Lord can contribute to our work without in any way weakening his beneficial influence in Northern Ireland—because it is there that we want the enlightened leadership.

Over the past few weeks we had been expecting a definitive statement by the Government about the peace process. But that was not to be. Then the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, asked this simple but penetrating question: what is the outlook for the peace process in Northern Ireland? I find his question an extremely difficult one to answer, so I much look forward to the Minister's response to it.

Speaking on what is visible about the peace process—a great deal is not visible—I am saddened that the hopeful signs are so few as the obstacles are more and more visible. They have been mentioned this evening—the breakdown of the IRA ceasefire, then the events of last July surrounding Drumcree, the subsequent boycott of the shops and the continued discovery of arms. The cumulative effect of these events is that the general public are in a fairly pessimistic state about the political position in Northern Ireland. All this suggests to me that the peace process is proving far, far more difficult than most of us foresaw three years ago, two years ago or even a year ago. I am sure that there are lessons to be learnt for the two governments and for the political parties from the failure to make progress, but I have no wish to allocate blame—I have no wish to be involved in any argument—for the failure.

However, this week, like, I am sure, many others, I have been reading and re-reading carefully the report of the speech which the Secretary of State delivered at the Manchester Luncheon Club last Friday. I have a great respect for the Secretary of State's tenacity and for his judgment. I believe it to be an important speech for two reasons. First, the Secretary of State declares that we now have a basis for negotiations. Can I tempt the Minister to tell the House what precisely the Secretary of State had in mind when he used those words? In my view, the speech is important for another reason. The Secretary of State deals at some length with Sinn Fein's position, as outlined in the speech of Mr. McGuinness the previous night, a speech described by the Irish Foreign Secretary as "significant and important". It seemed to me that the Secretary of State's words throughout his speech—or what has been reported of the speech—are measured. The speech is carefully constructed. The analysis is a careful analysis. I welcome the tenor of his speech. But it is nevertheless not clear to me how great is the priority which the Government attach to the entry of Sinn Fein to the all-party talks and whether there are any significant differences between the two governments about that. I wonder whether the Minister can comment on that.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Holme, that an agreement between the SDLP and the Unionists would be a huge step forward. However, I have to say for my own part—I speak for myself and not necessarily for the Labour Party—that I happen to support those who believe that both governments and the Northern Ireland parties should continue to seek ways and means of bringing Sinn Fein into the talks. If it be true that one or both governments are today in indirect touch with Sinn Fein, does this not indicate that the obstacles may not be insurmountable? Unless its voice is heard in the talks, after it has been given reasonable opportunity to take part in them, I believe that the prospects of a just and lasting settlement will be fairly remote. I leave that matter there.

There is at least one other development which is required, and required before next summer. Nowhere were the difficulties facing Northern Ireland more vividly demonstrated than in the marches last July. The rule of law had a substantial set-back. The RUC's chief constable found himself in a hopeless position. In a sense the marches issue goes to the heart of the deep-seated differences between the two communities in Northern Ireland. It has fallen to Dr. Peter North, the vice chancellor of the University of Oxford and one of the most distinguished jurists of our time, together with two assistants, to review the current arrangements for handling processions in Northern Ireland and establishing principles which will reconcile the exercise of almost mutually incompatible rights. If a way can be found which will not be a victory for one side and not a defeat for the other, that will be a huge development and it will strengthen the peace process.

To find or design such a way is an exceptionally complicated task, but the Secretary of State has called to his aid some of the best legal brains in the country. I trust very much that their task is not an impossible one. When do the Government expect to receive Dr. North's report? If it recommends legislation, will that lead to a process of consultation, or will the Government proceed to introduce a Bill to give effect to the recommendation of Dr. North's committee if it is acceptable to the Government?

I do not wish to raise any other point. I thought it was worth mentioning those matters and I did of course mention them to the Minister so that she would be aware that I proposed to raise them.

8 p.m.

The Earl of Perth

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, for introducing the debate. Secondly, I look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice. They are difficult matters to have to tackle. Finally, I apologise for being unable to stay to the end of the debate. I was advised that it was likely to finish earlier and therefore I shall try to be brief.

I wish to raise only one issue in relation to the peace process. It arises from the 1995 annual report of the Chief Constable, Sir Hugh Annesley, of the RUC. Perhaps I may first recall the causes of the disturbances in 1968 and a report made in 1969 by the commission entitled Disturbances in Northern Ireland, which is Command Paper 532. That is often known as the Cameron Report, as he was the chairman of the committee. I shall not go into its contents. It showed only too clearly that for 40 years Catholics had been second-class citizens; that is, since Lord Brookeborough and his government took control. He should have been able to do much more for us—I speak as a Catholic—but, as the report shows, Catholic citizens were second class judging by the numbers in the Civil Service and the police force. The numbers taking part were laughable.

I believe that as a Catholic I have a duty to ensure that something like that never happens again. Using as yardsticks the composition of the Civil Service and the police force as regards Catholics and Protestants, one can see that during the past 25 years immense progress has been made. The composition of the Civil Service is about 60 per cent. Protestant and 40 per cent. Catholic. Given past history, that is a considerable achievement. It is well done and everyone should be proud of it. However, sadly, a very different state of affairs exists in the police force, the RUC. It is about 6 per cent. Catholic and the rest Protestant. I understand that during the last 18 months the figure for the number of Catholics has improved and that we welcome.

Why is it so difficult to get Catholics to join the Police Force? I shall quote from two paragraphs in the 1995 annual report of the Chief Constable. At page 14, he states: Regrettably, it is necessary to highlight the practice of pressurising local people in some areas not to engage in police/public consultation. This odious practice is not only clearly unacceptable, but it deprives members of the community of the benefits of information on important subjects such as drugs, child abuse and crime prevention. I salute the courage of those members of the public who have so firmly resisted this blatant attempt to thwart their freedom to talk to, and listen to, whom they wish". An even more important paragraph appears in Appendix 1 at page 102. It states: I am sensitive to the real difficulties experienced by some people in considering a career in the RUC. I can assure those in such a position of our ability and preparedness to help them to overcome these difficulties. I am committed to making the organisation as representative of the population as possible. A more representative police service, however, should also be the aim and responsibility of the whole community". That is an extremely important point. He goes on to state: I invite everyone, including those who criticise the religious balance within the RUC, to note what we are doing to bring about change, and also to reflect on how they may assist us in making further progress". That is the point that I wish to stress. It is for all citizens of Northern Ireland to try and encourage Catholics to join the RUC. It is the duty of the priests, the schools and responsible citizens wherever they may be so that the whole population will trust the police force. In the peace process, nothing is more important than a properly balanced police force. Everything that the Government can do to ensure that must be an essential and vital part of the peace process.

Lord Monson

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, is he aware that perhaps the main reason why Roman Catholics do not join the RUC in greater numbers is that those who do are branded as traitors by the IRA and INLA and are therefore at even greater risk of assassination and attacks upon their families than are their Protestant fellow officers, particularly those who choose to remain living in Catholic areas?

The Earl of Perth

My Lords, I fully realise that and the great difficulty and danger faced by Catholics who wish to join the RUC. However, the Government and chief constable have made progress and I beg all those in the Protestant and Catholic communities who are working so hard together to ensure that we achieve a balanced force in the RUC.

8.8 p.m.

Lord Alderdice

My Lords, first, I thank your Lordships for your welcome to this House. I appreciate it greatly. Secondly, I thank my noble friend Lord Holme of Cheltenham for bringing forward this topical Motion at this time. I know that a considerable number of noble Lords have a great deal of experience in Northern Ireland. As I look around the Chamber I see some who hail from our beloved Province. I see others who for a long time have had an interest there and those who have had experience as Ministers of Her Majesty's Government. I wish to refer in particular to the Minister. She has gained enormous respect right across the community in Northern Ireland for her indefatigable efforts to build up its economy, not least in its largest industry, agriculture. Her efforts are deeply appreciated.

Those who know Northern Ireland appreciate the enormous complexities, nuances and sensitivities of political life there. They are a minefield for the unwary and even sometimes for the wary. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Holme for showing not only his customary courtesy and political astuteness but also for an unfailing surefootedness in Northern Ireland politics and in dealing with Northern Ireland politicians across the divide. All will appreciate the considerable achievement that he has gained. Of course, we are all aware of his considerable achievements elsewhere, too.

I must also make mention of another Lord who is no longer with us. Henry, Lord Dunleath, was a member of my party and effectively the voice of the Alliance Party at Westminster for many years. Subsequent to taking his seat in your Lordships' House he stood for, and was elected to, Ards District Council where he served as a constituency councillor. He was also elected to a number of other assemblies in Northern Ireland. From 1982 to 1986 he served as Deputy Speaker in the Northern Ireland Assembly. He was a towering and significant figure in the business and agricultural life of Northern Ireland and also in the sporting, arts and charitable fraternities. We mourn his passing. We cherish his memory and pay tribute to his service in your Lordships' House, in Northern Ireland, and indeed to the continuing service of the Lady Dunleath.

Not only was he one who moved away from traditional boundaries and crossed the borders of class, creed and political allegiance in the course of peace and reconciliation, he was, for all who knew him, a remarkable individual and a remarkable individualist. That was one of the things that made him a particularly precious symbol of our party because we believe very much in the cherishing of individual differences. It is these things which enrich our society and it is at the heart of what I and my colleagues believe. Unfortunately, in Northern Ireland it has become common to reduce all the variations of religious belief, class, gender, cultural, sporting, artistic interests and political conviction to the traditional sectarian divisions of Protestant Unionist and Catholic Nationalist thus splitting the community and setting the scene for endless feuds.

How does this manifest itself in political life? In recent years the British and Irish Governments have sought to work together to try to address our difficulties and this is extremely welcome. However, Unionists find themselves opposing this co-operation because they believe that Her Majesty's Government should be backing their case because, after all, they are the ones who wish to remain within the United Kingdom. They become suspicious, angry and very fearful when they believe that that is not so. Nationalists, however, welcome the co-operation between the two governments because it means to them that a sovereign, independent Irish Government is available specifically to address and represent their interests. But in our view if the British Government see themselves as there to represent the views of Unionists and the Irish Government is there to represent the views of Nationalists, that is a recipe for deepening the split and institutionalising the polarisation of our society. In passing, I may also say that such a thing would leave little opportunity for the representation of those of us who do not particularly want to view ourselves as either Unionists or Nationalists, but liberal-minded, tolerant Ulster people. We want to see both British and Irish Governments being sensitive to the needs of all sections of our community, not each government acting as a supporter to one side against the other.

There are, of course, sections of our community whose actions do not excite sensitivity, but rather a rightful and frosty opposition. I refer to those who see violence as a legitimate political instrument. Since 1992 the notion developed that it might be possible to get an agreement which would not only bring our troubles to an end, but canvass the support of people right across the divide, from Mr. Adams and his colleagues in the Republican movement to Dr. Paisley and those on the right wing of Unionism and Loyalism. I was always sceptical of this view, but I am not one to sit on the sidelines and snipe just because an analysis is not my analysis or a strategy is not my strategy.

As soon as the violence was stopped I entered into discussions with Mr. Adams and his colleagues and with the Loyalists, publicly and privately, week upon week, for something up to 17 months. It is with some sadness that I have to say to your Lordships that during that time, while I find developments with the Loyalists, I find no indications that the republican movement is truly prepared for the kind of honourable compromise which is a pre-requisite for a settlement to our problems. Rather, it seemed to me, that despite the kind of memorandum of understanding which there had been in South Africa, which we had attempted to emulate by putting together the Downing Street Declaration, subsequently a framework document, and indeed in the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation in Dublin—a report which we had hoped that Sinn Fein could address and support—we find the republican movement turning back to violence and indeed a new form, the tactical use of the armed struggle.

Be aware that simply because there is no return to an ongoing campaign that does not mean that the trouble is truly less. It is simply that it is frequently found more effective to have a tactical use of the armed struggle which keeps the agenda and the focus firmly on the republican movement.

It is for that reason that I find myself returning to what I regard as the firmer and more solid ground, not the attractive illusion that we can bring together everyone unanimously. I know of no place in the world where it has been found possible for everyone to sign up to a resolution. In the Middle East, Hamas and Jewish fundamentalists still find themselves opposing everything. It was the case in South Africa that the white Right and elements on the other side, too, refused to go along with a legitimate, reasonable and honourable compromise. I believe that we may have to accept that it is not always possible—in fact, it is rarely possible—to get everyone to agree. Indeed, it can be the case that going for the ideal is in fact courting disaster. I fear that what has happened in the past two or three years is that the community has divided itself even more deeply than was the case before.

Why should that be when there was the chance of peace? When governments were seen to be addressing those who were on the extremes they felt themselves to be the big fellows. They felt themselves to be the ones who were running the show and those who were in the broad centre of politics found that their message—and I speak here not just of my own party, but of the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP—was of less interest to government and to the media. When people discovered that they found themselves moving to the extremes as well. It is not a counsel of perfection to address the concerns of the extremists and to ignore the desires of the majority of people on both sides and across the community as a whole.

The current government have devoted a great deal of time to Northern Ireland. Perhaps no Prime Minister since Lloyd George and, before him, Gladstone, has devoted more energy to addressing our problems than Mr. Major. He is to be commended by all sides for that. I trust that, whatever the vicissitudes of politics over the next 12 months and whoever it is who heads Her Majesty's Government, they will continue to make a non-sectarian and non-partisan approach to Northern Ireland a matter of the highest priority until the matter is resolved as fully as it can be.

But that is most unlikely to be successful unless we press ahead now with those of the broad centre who are prepared to build a sufficient consensus. We must deal immediately with the necessary structures and legislation which would facilitate the decommissioning of weapons in the event of a ceasefire. I and my colleagues have described in a detailed document elsewhere to the two governments and the other parties how that might be done. We are engaging in discussions each day to try to bring that closer. We must get beyond that and into substantive talks before the Christmas Recess, because I have to say to noble Lords that if that is not achieved, whether through the stubbornness and lack of courage of some Unionist leaders or because of Nationalist leaders chasing the end of a rainbow, this whole process could be in the most profound jeopardy.

The result will be much more serious than the running out of steam to which the Secretary of State referred yesterday evening. It will result in an ever-deepening polarisation of our community, the re-emergence of more serious and widespread violence, extending (as it has done before) to this side of the water and to the Republic of Ireland. Perhaps most seriously, it will result in a snuffing out of the hope which burned so brightly this time last year when the President of the United States of America, Mr. Clinton, turned on the Christmas lights in Belfast. The next few weeks will determine whether or not this Christmas sees a renewal of hope. I know that I and all concerned can depend upon your Lordships' encouragement in all our efforts to achieve that aim.

8.20 p.m.

Lord McConnell

My Lords, on behalf of the whole House I should like to extend congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, on his very interesting maiden speech. He has a good deal of experience of negotiations in Northern Ireland. I am sure that we all look forward to hearing him speak again in this House in the future.

Since 10th June, the Ulster Unionist Party has been engaged in multi-party talks at Stormont with the sole aim of securing an equitable, inclusive and peaceful future for each and every tradition that makes up the Northern Ireland community. In recent years we have developed proposals for a regional assembly in which all could share on an equal basis. The key is the principle of proportionality: an assembly elected by proportional representation, with no executive or cabinet in the conventional sense, but a body which would work through committees, the members of which would be appointed in proportion to their party's strength; the chairman and deputy chairman of the various committees being elected from the parties comprising the assembly. Every party with significant support could participate at every level. However, we think that it should be essentially an administrative body rather than one with legislative or financial power. Financial power should rest at Westminster for the foreseeable future and all major policy issues should therefore be decided here. So, it is not a choice between devolution and integration; what we propose contains elements of both.

We also consider that the European Convention on Human Rights should apply to Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, however, that cannot be done unless it is made to apply to the whole of the United Kingdom. I do not see why the Government should object to applying that to Great Britain or why they hesitate to apply it to the whole country.

Our proposals would involve replacement of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, under which the government of the Irish Republic have a secret part in the government of part of the United Kingdom without any reciprocal obligations, without doing so openly in any democratic process, and still maintaining their territorial claim to part of the United Kingdom. That must be swept away. We believe that there should be co-operation on matters of mutual interest such as tourism and agriculture, but that that should be done openly and democratically, not secretively.

I was interested to hear the noble Earl, Lord Perth, talk about the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I hope he knows that in 1921, when the government of Northern Ireland was established, the then Prime Minister, Viscount Craigavon, reserved one-third of the places in the RUC for Catholics but they refused to take them up and have been very reluctant to join ever since, despite encouragement. Some of those who joined were probably very brave to do so, particularly if they lived in an area dominated by Sinn Fein, because they left themselves open to considerable danger. It is our desire to have the police representative of all elements of the community. It seems absurd to say that because Catholics have been reluctant to join they are being treated as second-class citizens. I submit that that is an affront to common sense.

Another difficulty at the moment is that the SDLP is now boycotting our only Province-wide democratic body, the Forum. It finds serving on a health committee with unionists unacceptable. That does not augur well for the chances of meaningful discussions about forms of government. I hope that everybody will see sense and that we can get down to what is an essential and important task.

We must move ahead with negotiations between responsible and law-abiding citizens whatever their political views, rather than trying, as the Government appear to be doing, to entice terrorists to join in. Surely they have learned something from the last ceasefire. It was a "ceasefire" in the sense that there were not so many bombings, but there was still intimidation. There were still punishment beatings and firms were still being blackmailed. There has now been a great increase in what is called "ethnic cleansing"—in other words, the boycotting of Protestant shops and businesses in the west of Northern Ireland with the intention of driving the Protestants out of those areas. I find such things beyond comment.

What we want is a genuine and permanent ceasefire. If it is to be permanent, those involved must show that they do not require weapons and explosives for future use. It is hypocritical to say, "We are going to have a permanent ceasefire, but we are keeping all our weapons and ammunition just in case it turns out not to be permanent". We want something that can be guaranteed to be permanent.

I have great pleasure in saying that I appreciate the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Holme, tabled this Motion to give the House the opportunity to consider this matter.

8.29 p.m.

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, first, I join the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, on a most excellent, interesting and well delivered maiden speech. The noble Lord is most welcome and we look forward to hearing his views on Northern Ireland for many years to come.

When I read the Motion tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Holme, on the peace process, I had to ask myself: what is the peace process? One might wonder how one can have a peace process without a war. My conclusion was that the peace process is fragmented into two very different parts. The first entails the containment of terrorism in Ireland. The second should be an attempt to create a peaceful environment in which Nationalists and Unionists can live together positively and fruitfully. On the plus side, at the moment some of the political parties are talking to each other. I understand that some useful work is taking place in the Forum. The Government of the Republic of Ireland are still giving strong and supportive leadership and, with the re-election of President Clinton, there is hope that the Americans will continue to have a positive influence.

Sadly, on the down side the terrorists have a well thought-out strategy. They have not given up, and I do not believe that they ever will. They will probably have to be defeated in one way or another. They have a well thought-out strategy which they have pursued with some success, despite the brilliant work of the intelligence services and security forces. It appears that the current terrorist plan is to have a mixture of fewer high profile incidents and periods of tactical ceasefires. Nobody should be fooled by that. It is linked to a rather nasty phenomenon—I do not know a great deal about it but I have heard and seen some evidence of it—known as popular violence. It involves inciting riots, barricading particular sectors and getting people in the street involved in destabilising the country. No one should be fooled by that either.

It is right that Ministers should be involved in high level talks with the elected politicians and the government of the Irish Republic in their attempts to find a solution to the problem of Irish terrorism. It is also right that as long as Sinn Fein represents an active terrorist movement it should not be at the table. It would be wrong, however, to allow the Dublin Government any say in the internal affairs of the United Kingdom. Further, it is wrong to give an aura of respectability to ex-terrorists. I believe that the population of Northern Ireland as a whole has been horrified at the respectability accorded certain leaders of the Sinn Fein movement over the past year. Whatever success may be achieved and whatever agreements may be reached by government in their negotiations, there will be compromise. It will not be possible to impose that compromise on the population from the top down.

I turn to what worries me perhaps more than most. I believe that my noble friend Lady Denton knows what I am about to say. Part of the objective that the noble Lord, Lord Holme, pronounced at the beginning was the coming together of the SDLP, the Nationalist movement and the Unionist parties, gaining a better understanding of each other and learning to live together. I, and I am sure others, have evidence that local authorities around the Province have done a great job. In many areas Nationalists and Unionists have found ways of working together on many important subjects. At times they have even brought in Sinn Fein. However, in Northern Ireland there is still a huge democratic void. To all intents and purposes, the country is run by the Northern Ireland Civil Service, with the exception of one or two departments from time to time. I have nothing against the Northern Ireland Civil Service, but it is not its role to run a country like Northern Ireland so that it is accountable only to visiting Ministers of the United Kingdom Government.

It is important that the Government address that problem and encourage local authorities to live and work together by returning to them greater authority, accountability and financial control, even if it means entering into another major reorganisation of local government. But in the democratic process in Northern Ireland we are seriously deprived of the budgetary controls and accountability that is expected of our local authorities.

I digress for one moment. As a Millennium Commissioner I have travelled the kingdom fairly widely and met a good number of local authorities who are dealing with major projects. I have seen the style, standard and size of budgets of local authorities across the country. Many of the projects that come to the Millennium Commission which are worth many millions of pounds, have been supported, backed and prepared by local authorities. Some have nearly 50 per cent. local authority funding. That has not happened in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is short of projects of any size and scale in terms of the Millennium Commission. I am convinced that in part the reason for that is that the Northern Ireland Civil Service is central government and many local authorities do not have the wherewithal to put together projects which similar bodies can put together this side of the water.

My plea to the Government is that they should look hard, seriously and quickly at how the democratic process can be significantly improved. We do not want the country to be run in future by the Northern Ireland Civil Service. I am sure that the Northern Ireland Civil Service does not want to run it either. We want elected representatives who are clearly accountable, and that is very much overdue.

I also ask the Government to put a little more effort, and perhaps a little more money if necessary, into balancing the propaganda account in Washington. My noble friend the Minister has done excellent work in America on the industry side in trying to bring inward investment to Northern Ireland, but I believe from what I read in the press that the propaganda remains unbalanced. We want a truly balanced propaganda machine in America.

8.37 p.m.

Lord Cooke of Islandreagh

My Lords, this is proving to be a very interesting debate. I and I am sure all noble Lords are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Holme, for initiating the debate. I listened carefully to all that he said. In many respects he put his finger on it. One question that he regarded as critical was whether it was possible for the unionists and the SDLP to agree. I believe that they can. I believe that that view is shared by most of the Unionist Party and the SDLP, but not in the shadow of violence. It is that which makes it so very difficult. I believe that it will continue to be difficult as long as the violence is there. For one thing, the SDLP must look over its shoulder at what will happen to its seats at the next election if it does something which Sinn Fein alleges is not the proper thing for nationalists. It is the shadow of violence that makes the position so difficult. If Sinn Fein is not in the talks, they will fail because of the shadow of violence; if Sinn Fein is part of the talks, they certainly will not succeed, because it is difficult to believe that Sinn Fein can in a short time become a truly democratic party.

Any debate on Northern Ireland affairs is made more difficult by the expression "peace process". It suggests that in Northern Ireland we are at war. That is not so. Northern Ireland is at peace, as we who live there know. But the community is under attack, or the threat of attack, by the IRA. That is not the same as war. Ninety five per cent. of the people fervently hope that the IRA will decide that nothing is to be gained by force, and that it will lay down its arms and cease other activities, such as the horrific punishment beatings and orchestrated boycotts. That is hoped for, too, by the vast majority of people throughout the island of Ireland. Permanent rejection of violence by the IRA and the acceptance of democracy by Sinn Fein are the prerequisites of peace and stability. Only then can inclusive talks hope to succeed.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the Protestant paramilitaries are just as illegal and form just as criminal an organisation? What does he propose to do about them?

Lord Cooke of Islandreagh

My Lords, I believe that they have answered that question themselves by the way in which they have held the ceasefire, and are working hard on the perhaps more unruly elements who are also carrying out punishment beatings. That has to stop on all sides.

Unfortunately, Sinn Fein-IRA does not even recognise the right of the majority in Northern Ireland to be part of the UK. Many months were spent by the Dublin forum last year, when all other parties and the Dublin Government recognised the right of majority in Northern Ireland to determine their future. Sinn Fein was the only party to refuse to accept that. That is not a good omen.

Again, Sinn Fein has recently restated the conditions under which it would be prepared to consider a ceasefire. The Government must not impose any preconditions to its immediate entry to inclusive substantive negotiations, but Sinn Fein has stated its own preconditions. They include no internal settlement, by which it means that Dublin must be involved. In the list of critical items, it includes adjustments to the constitution, changes to the police, and the release of political prisoners, which is its way of describing convicted terrorists.

After agreement has been reached on all those matters, Sinn Fein states that it will be prepared to discuss the removal of guns and explosives. Can anyone expect the democratic parties to accept that list? It would prove that violence pays, with the inevitable consequences.

There are only two options for the UK Government. The first is to make it clear that those conditions are not acceptable and to take whatever action is necessary to persuade Sinn Fein-IRA that armed force will achieve nothing. The alternative is to give in to the IRA in the form of successive fudges and confused statements with double meanings.

The general feeling in Northern Ireland—it is a deep feeling, I am sorry to say—is that our Government are heading down the appeasement route. If that should prove to be so, it is dishonest and will lead to even greater problems. I must state that, because it is worrying that such a feeling exists. Of course it would be dishonest because it would put blame for the failure of talks on to the pro-Union parties, which may refuse to talk to a party that in their eyes has not shown sufficient commitment to the democratic process, or, if talks do commence, may refuse to discuss constitutional matters, and again will be blamed for the failure of the talks.

The breakdown of the talks would be serious, because, as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said in his excellent speech, that would lead to a worsening of community relations and further exasperation. I implore the Government to be careful to ensure that the form of the talks is such that there is hope of success. It is time for us all and for the Government to be realistic and to face facts. The leaders of the IRA are intelligent. It is their belief that violence has paid.

I mention two things which are a direct result of the IRA's campaign of violence—the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the Frameworks Document. The Anglo-Irish Agreement enabled the Dublin Government to gain a foothold in the affairs of Northern Ireland, and the Frameworks Document as good as promised a step towards dual sovereignty in the form of cross-border institutions with executive powers. In parenthesis I say that everyone in Northern Ireland is in favour of extensive cross-border co-operation to mutual benefit but not in the form of cross-border institutions with executive powers.

The belief of the IRA that violence has paid should help the Government to reject a policy which is not helping. They should devise one which will offer hope in the future. It must be one which will ensure that the IRA is contained or otherwise dealt with.

I listened with interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, had to say about democracy. I will not add to what he said because I have spoken on the subject before. Many people have been doing their utmost to encourage an extension of local government powers. One thing I can add is that the forum which was set up in Northern Ireland, perhaps without government support, has proved to be a great success, in that it has given all parties, except the SDLP, an opportunity to discuss matters of importance and interest. It has given young people their first chance to sit down together to discuss subjects of mutual interest. It indicates that if those young people had a vehicle by which they could have some influence on local affairs, that would be a step forward.

There is some good news which deserves comment. The intelligence services, in collaboration with the police, have forestalled several major attacks and recovered significant quantities of arms and explosives. In the Republic, the Garda have done well recently with finds in Donegal to the north and County Louth to the south. Congratulations to them and best wishes to them for continuing success. Intelligence success could make a positive contribution and mean real containment of the IRA.

8.48 p.m.

Lord Robertson of Oakridge

My Lords, the excellent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, had one disadvantage. It showed me how little I know about Ireland. I ask noble Lords' indulgence to speak on this subject. I thought that it might be worth looking for a few minutes at what has happened in South Africa over the past 10 years to see whether we can learn some lessons from it to help those dealing with the situation in Northern Ireland. I spent 10 years as a child in South Africa, so the country has always been dear to my heart.

The situation in South Africa 10 years ago was apparently hopeless. It looked as if there could be no worthwhile political progress without a civil war. However, 10 years later, although there is more violence and lawlessness than one would like, there is nothing like a civil war. Fortunately for South Africa, 10 years ago they had a number of leaders of good will and vision. The breaking of the logjam came in an unpredictable way from an unlikely source. Members of the Dutch Reformed Church started to realise that the policy of apartheid was not only unfair, it was unworkable. They even convinced some of their colleagues in the Dutch Reformed Church and there was the extraordinary sight of Dutch Reformed ministers getting up in their pulpits and apologising to their congregations for having misled them about apartheid.

That action met with real Christian understanding from Dr. Mandela and his friends. It is to their greatest credit that, having already suffered unjust imprisonment for many years, they put all bitterness behind them.

Furthermore, there were political leaders from all sections of the political spectrum who were men of prayer. When Mr. de Klerk was asked recently whether the end of apartheid was brought about by sanctions he said, "No, but by deep self-analysis before God on our knees".

The divisions in Ireland are of course extremely complex and deep-rooted. There can be no quick fixes. However, the leaders of Ireland and Britain contain God-fearing men and women capable of emulating their South African counterparts in building bridges between the different sectors of the population. Many bridges are needed. Whatever has happened in the past 25 years, our record in the longer term is by no means without blemish. One has to think only of the massacres by Cromwell, the penal laws and the famines of the 1840s. We have often in our rule of Ireland been unfeeling and uncaring, and sometimes downright cruel. Moreover, over and above the troubles that one reads about in the newspapers and sees on the television, there is a spiritual battle which St. Paul tells us is the one that really matters. It is to be fought with spiritual weapons—truth, righteousness and so on. To go into the fray with unserviceable weapons is to court disaster and to go in as though you are fighting with one hand tied behind your back. The only way to get out of that situation is through forgiveness.

Now I must make one point which can be misunderstood; that is, the hurt has not all been on the Catholic side; the hurt has been on the Protestant side as well. Any action taken must reflect that. I know that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have expressed their personal regret for the actions that have marred our record in Ireland, as has the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. I admire them for that stand. However, in my view what is required is a national act of apology and regret endorsed by the highest authority in the land.

The South African story points to the value of forgiveness and indicates also the importance of people—the ordinary people as well as the leaders—getting together if only to learn that across the divide there are other human beings. We should be grateful to those who are working in Northern Ireland to establish those day-to-day connections.

Finally, there is a need for everybody involved to be gathered together in prayer. Then, and I believe only then, will the wounds and divisions be sufficiently healed so that the peace process can go on. I am glad that the next speaker is the noble Earl, Lord Longford, because he is on record as saying that forgiveness clears the air. I very much look forward to hearing what he has to say. I thank your Lordships for listening patiently to me.

8.55 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, we all respect the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, partly, perhaps I may say without embarrassing him, because of the great way with which he copes with a disability which may afflict any of us at any time, particularly someone who is 90 years old like myself. However, we also admire him because of the clear Christian voice which emanates from him.

He pleaded for an act of apology from this country. I cannot help but remember what I wrote at the end of a book which I published in 1935, which is probably before some speakers were born. I wrote at the end of that book: It remains for Ireland to do herself justice as a nation for that she has not yet done. It remains for England to make atonement for that she has not yet made". As regards this country and the Irish Republic, the Irish Republic has done itself justice and this country has made atonement as far as necessary. In any event, it is not oppressing Southern Ireland any more. As regards Northern Ireland, that remains an open question but I see very much what the noble Lord has in mind.

We do not have unlimited time and many important points have been made. I should like to go on thinking about the points made, for example, by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and many others. But in the short time available, I shall make two submissions.

On the one hand, the gap between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland is nothing like as deep as people suppose. It is nothing like, for example, the gap between the Greeks and Turks in Cyprus or between Jews and Arabs. I speak as someone who was brought up an Irish Protestant but has been an Irish Catholic resident here for many years; my brother, a Protestant to the day of his death, was made a senator by Mr. De Valera. There was a minute's silence for him in Dublin when he died. Therefore, I am connected with this problem from both sides of the religious aspect and many other aspects, and have been all my life.

What are the two points that I would like to make? As I say, I submit that the gap is nothing like as deep as people suppose. Some years ago I founded a centre for homeless young people in London. There were two main social workers—a Protestant girl from Queen's, Belfast, and a Catholic girl from Queen's, Belfast. They became great friends. When the Protestant girl went back to Lurgan and married, the Catholic girl was her sole bridesmaid, and as chairman of the centre, I was invited to the wedding. I was given this tie, an Irish rugby union tie, by an Ulster Protestant. I am very proud to think that that is its origin, and I have worn it ever since. In that Protestant church in Lurgan there was that Catholic bridesmaid and me. I was elderly even in those days and I was prominent. It was impossible to believe that people could be killing each other not so many miles away.

Therefore, we must ask why there is trouble—not trouble in the political sense—but why are people killing each other. A former Prime Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, said a very wise thing when he went to Northern Ireland for the first time as Home Secretary. He came back and said there are too many guns.

Why are there too many guns in Northern Ireland and not in Southern Ireland and England, Scotland and Wales? The noble Lord, Lord Cooke, spoke about the IRA as though they are the only gunmen. I wish that the noble Baroness, Lady Park, who cares so deeply about such matters, had been with me when I stayed some years ago—and she may believe me or not—with one of the leaders of the Ulster Volunteer Force. I spent an evening with him and his friends. He asked me whether I knew Carson who helped to bring the guns to Ireland in the first place. The guns were brought to Ireland by the Protestants, by the Ulster Volunteers, before the first war. The noble Baroness, Lady Park, might not have blamed the Catholics for all the violence in Northern Ireland if she had realised that that is where the guns first came from.

Again, and more recently, the noble Baroness may have cared to be with me when I visited IRA prisoners and Protestant paramilitary prisoners. Indeed, some time ago I met a Protestant paramilitary prisoner who had killed four Catholics on military instructions. Well, of course, a Catholic had done the same to them. It is a both-ways traffic. It would really be insulting the intelligence of this House to suggest that it was all one way. Naturally in England the IRA are the danger. One can understand that: the IRA is thought to be the danger here. The Protestants are not killing anyone in England. However, I rather hope that our Unionist friends—those very enlightened people from Northern Ireland—will not come here and, too often, give us the impression that all the shooting and killing in Northern Ireland is done by Catholics. Despite the recent Protestant ceasefire, they must know that Protestant paramilitaries have killed more than the Catholic paramilitaries. That is just a fact, but you would not gather that from our Unionist friends. Those are the actual facts. Here is this terrible mutual killing between people who do not really hate each other; it is just a horrible tradition. How can we solve it?

I come now to the solution. It lies in the way outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Holme, at the beginning of the debate. We must bring together the moderate Protestants, the Unionists and the Social Democratic Federation. It sounds so easy. Why not? Let us take Sunningdale which is my own solution in just three words, "Back to Sunningdale". However, people do not like going backwards, so let us say, "Forward from Sunningdale". I do not think anything better has been devised. It was a coalition, a Protestant majority and a Catholic minority, including the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, who was very prominently involved in all that, but he will speak much more about it in a moment. That worked extremely well but it was sabotaged by the Ulster Unionist strike. Those are just the facts. Indeed, going back a little before that, why did the British Army go in such force to Northern Ireland? To protect the Catholics against the Protestants. Let us at least be clear and try to balance the argument in this tragic situation. There are villains on both sides. We must not suggest that they are all on one side for that would be unworthy of the intellectual standards of this House. No, the answer is back to Sunningdale, or whatever you like to call it now, with a formula like that devised by the noble Lord, Lord Holme. That is one way.

I should like to make one further point before I sit down. There is one aspect of this which is all-important. It is the only way to remove the fear that undoubtedly leads to some psychological support for the IRA among the Catholics. They are a minority and the Protestants are much stronger; the British Army had to be brought in to protect them. We must remove that fear. That could be done through an arrangement such as Sunningdale. We must also remove the counter fear—the Protestant fear—that they will be overwhelmed by the south of Ireland. If we get rid of the fear, then we will get reconciliation. As I said, the answer lies along the lines pointed out at the very beginning of tonight's debate by the noble Lord, Lord Holme.

9.2 p.m.

Lord Rathcavan

My Lords, while listening to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, I was reminded of my late grandfather, who lived to the age of 99. When I looked into his safe I found an armament which related back to the Clyde valley. I have been reminded of the problem of guns as mentioned by the noble Earl. I am afraid that it goes back an awful long way. I would prefer instead to add my congratulations to those already expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, on his maiden speech. I should at once declare a prejudice in the noble Lord's favour in that we were both reared in the same district of County Antrim. My late father was a founder and the first leader of the party which the noble Lord now leads with such ability and distinction.

The noble Lord's professional qualifications as a leading psychiatrist also give him the opportunity to analyse and diagnose, often with brutal clarity, the political behaviour of other Northern Ireland politicians. I suggest that noble Lords should consult him. But, above all, the noble Lord is a force for the good of the peace process. He represents—maybe not always with votes, but with the subconscious support of—the intelligent, moderate and reasonable people of all persuasions. This group is fed up with the posturing, the obstructions and the delaying tactics which have often dominated the talks to date. A sense of urgency and purpose has been so painfully lacking.

I have lived for much of the past 30 years in Northern Ireland. I had, as a journalist in both Dublin and the North on the staff of that great organ, the Irish Times, a taste of the normality, the co-operation and the progress in the late 1960s; a time when we in Northern Ireland were in command of our destiny and of our relations with our neighbours in the South. That situation must again be the way forward and an objective of any new structures. After that period of hope I had to endure the strife and chaos of the next 20 years. For the last eight years I was chairman of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and was able to participate in reconstructing a new, modern and thriving tourism industry. I celebrated the 1994 ceasefire and saw tourism grow by 67 per cent. in 1995, but I was devastated by the end of that brief period of peace and particularly by the events of Drumcree last July. I wish I could relate that the wheel had turned full circle in those 30 years. But it has got stuck.

I am sure that the Minister, who is responsible for the economy and for tourism—indeed, many noble Lords have mentioned how much the noble Baroness does, and I would like to associate myself with those remarks—was as outraged as I was, and many others, by the return to violence this year. It was clear that the tensions which led to Drumcree were so much worse than in 1995 because Sinn Fein/IRA had gone back to violence. There are many who conclude that Drumcree was planned and orchestrated by Sinn Fein/IRA. There may also be those who criticise the chief constable for not having thought through the issues which led to disastrous decisions.

But the Government must ultimately bear the responsibility for their miscalculations. To many it was, at the least, disingenuous for government to pass off as an operational matter what was, by consensus, the most significant single political event which has landed us on a giant snake in what has become in recent years a game of political snakes and ladders.

Drumcree has infuriated, and even made extreme, all moderate people of both persuasions. It has polarised many communities and created no-go areas and boycotts. It has produced a poisoned atmosphere and feelings on the ground worse than I can ever remember. But there remains a hope that after that brief experience of peace in 1994–95 there is an overwhelming desire to return to normality and to support whatever it may take to bring us there.

Two lessons have been learnt: first, nothing cements peace more than a return to economic normality. The momentum of inward investment, unfortunately, has been stalled. Drumcree did enormous damage to the confidence factor so essential to inward investment. We must restore confidence. The announcement last week, in which the Minister participated, of the new Tourism Brand Ireland was an important step in that direction. I am glad that I was able to participate in the incubation of this project which gives Northern Ireland for a modest sum a piggy-back on a major £15 million campaign over three years plus to promote Ireland as a single destination, in partnership with the tourist boards North and South. What enormous benefits travel and tourism can bring both economically and politically. Travel in all its dimensions is a great healer and remover of prejudice for everyone involved.

Secondly, we have learnt that when you take away violence, you take away the border. Why cannot Sinn Fein/IRA learn that? The harmonious cross-border activity that surged during that busy period of peace, in particular in tourism, has been dissipated. The blocked roads and security controls have not returned, but the return to violence effectively brought the border back again.

Northern Ireland cannot be isolated economically or politically from the United Kingdom, of which it will remain an integral part, or from the Republic of Ireland, with which it is irrevocably interdependent. We cannot move forward to solutions towards living together peacefully unless we are economically closer; and all-Ireland tourism is an integral part of that process.

For a little place of 1.5 million people, Northern Ireland has produced a great number of highly dedicated, motivated and talented people. I do not refer just to Mr. Ferguson or Mr. Dunlop, to the dozen or more American presidents who have their origins in Northern Ireland, or to the many generals and field marshals of the Second World War—Alexander, Adair, Montgomery, Templer and others—but to many Members of this House and a few in the other place. I refer to people like the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, the noble Duke, the Duke of Abercorn, who has presided over the reconstruction of Belfast as chairman of the inner-city development company, my noble friend Lord McConnell, and the right honourable Member for Wiltshire, North in another place, Richard Needham, who is also known to noble Lords as the noble Earl, Lord Kilmorey, from his Irish Peerage. Since 1986 he has been the architect of so much of the economic renaissance in Northern Ireland which the noble Baroness the Minister has been taking forward so gallantly. Our elected representatives owe it to all those people to make some fast and constructive progress in these talks; and at least I know that the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, will play his part.

9.12 p.m.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, I have spoken so many times on Northern Ireland issues since I came to this House in 1983 that I sometimes weary of listening to myself. When I heard that so many noble Lords were to take part in the debate I had decided to listen and to say nothing. However, having listened to the debate I have been struck by the fact that had this debate taken place in another part of this building there would have been numerous interjections asking the honourable Member to give way. But this is a polite House. We can say what we believe without fear of interruption.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, on his speech, and on his political stance in Northern Ireland—I cannot call it a career. No one could take offence at what he said. I agree with every single sentiment. As I sat on a Back Bench looking at his luxuriant head of black hair, I could not help thinking to myself that this is his first debate on Northern Ireland; he is a young man. When he has spent many years in this House he will either be very grey or very bald, and the problems of Northern Ireland will still be with us. Again, I congratulate the noble Lord. I do not dissent from a single sentiment that he expressed this evening.

Nor is there any dissension in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Holme, who introduced the debate, and my remarks. I took a note of what he said. He talked about the speech by Martin McGuinness in the Republic of Ireland and that by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The most important thing that he said, which encompasses everything about this debate, was that a 600lb bomb was found in Derry this evening. That is the story of Northern Ireland and its problems. Sinn Fein will say that they want talks. The Secretary of State, using coded language, may say that he wants talks, too. But the fact that there was a 600lb bomb there is indicative of what Sinn Fein is about. They want to intimidate, to force their views on Northern Ireland. There must be talk in Belfast and Derry tonight that they were trying to bring about what they call "a spectacular". Fortunately, tonight the bomb did not go off and did not kill people. But had it gone off, they would have said, "We are people of peace. If you don't want this to happen again you had better talk to us". Mention of the bomb was the most significant thing said in the debate.

I listened to the remarks of other noble Lords who spoke, and particularly those of the noble Lord, Lord Rathcavan. I knew his father, who was the originator of the Alliance Party. He expressed exactly the same sentiments. To consolidate the noble Lord's remarks perhaps I may say that 1996 was the most dangerous year in Northern Ireland that I have seen in my political lifetime. This year, after Drumcree, we were on the verge of a civil war. It was far worse than 1974, when loyalist mobs brought about the downfall of the Sunningdale executive which we had so laboriously created.

That brings me to the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Perth. He referred to the fact that Catholics had not joined the RUC. They did not join for a very good reason. You cannot be a Catholic, live in a Catholic area and put on the uniform of an RUC officer. Nothing gives the IRA greater delight than to murder a Catholic wearing a uniform of the Crown.

That said, the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, was a former Minister of Home Affairs in a Unionist administration in Northern Ireland which violently and vindictively discriminated against Catholics in Northern Ireland. I was a Member of the Northern Ireland Parliament when that was happening. The legislation on the statute book of a Unionist administration in Northern Ireland at that time was totally discriminatory against Catholics.

In Drumcree the Unionist mobs once again took control of the streets, as they did in 1974. The RUC were placed in the impossible position of trying to assert the rule of law. What happened? Protestant policemen living in Protestant areas of Northern Ireland were subject to violent attacks from the Orange mobs. The chief constable of Northern Ireland had to leave his own home because of attacks by Protestant mobs. So let us not put all the blame on the IRA.

I notice that the Government Chief Whip is making signs to me; however, I wish to say this. I said then, and I say now; I repeat and will continue to repeat—the last elections that were held in Northern Ireland were deliberately designed to bring murderers into the election process. I said that in this House at the time. The Government should never have engaged in an exercise to bring murderers into the democratic process. Those people have been guilty of the most atrocious murders. Now, it makes everyone sick to see them walking into 10 Downing Street with their briefcases and pinstripe suits.

I have been an opponent of the IRA all my life, and will continue to be an opponent of the IRA. But if John White, the murderer of my close friend, is welcomed into Downing Street, I have to agree, although it goes against my every instinct, that Gerry Adams may be entitled to go there. At least he has 116,000 votes behind him. John White does not have that support. The Government should never have designed an electoral process that would bring murderers to the conference table.

Attacks have been made here on the IRA, with which I agree. But let us not forget that we talk about decommissioning, taking arms from the IRA, but there is also an arsenal of arms within the Loyalist community. We should take the arms from them and decommission across the board, including all the so-called Loyalist paramilitaries.

I have the greatest respect for the noble Baroness, as does 100 per cent. of the population in Northern Ireland. I hope that she will not regard any of my comments tonight as being an attack on the Government's policy. I believe that she has done everything she can to bring together the various sections of the Northern Ireland community.

I am sorry to have taken so long but I must turn to what the noble Earl, Lord Longford, said. The best and most hopeful experiment in Northern Ireland that we have ever had since the creation of the Northern Ireland state was at Sunningdale. There, the moderate Unionists and the moderate Nationalists, led by myself, went to Sunningdale. After many obstacles, we brought about the Sunningdale executive. I believe that at the end of the day that is the only answer to Northern Ireland's problems: moderate Unionism and moderate Nationalism.

I end with a note of warning to some of my former colleagues in the SDLP. There is talk now that at the forthcoming election, whenever it may be, the SDLP and Sinn Fein will do a deal on seats in Mid Ulster, Fermanagh and South Tyrone, and the newly created seat of West Belfast. If there is any electoral pact or deal by Sinn Fein and the SDLP, it will do nothing but further divide the communities. I advise the party which I formerly led not to engage in that exercise. If we want to bring about reconciliation in Northern Ireland, let the moderates—Unionists and Nationalists—take a stand against the extremists.

9.21 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, for his notable maiden speech and, in all humility, for something of much greater value and worth—namely, his long labours in the vineyard.

The progress of the peace process is not to be seen as a simplistic matter. I absolutely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Rathcavan, said: the peace process must depend on immediate and long-term factors. It is important that it should take place on the basis of economic improvement. All credit to the Minister for her efforts. It must have been galling indeed to see Drumcree making inward investment slow, cautious, suspicious.

Perhaps I may give one example of where at the moment there is legitimate resentment in Northern Ireland about the treatment of beef farmers. Everyone taking part in the debate knows perfectly well that the regime of beef tracking, beef passports, in Northern Ireland is of such a different nature that a different solution ought to be carefully examined. There is a good deal of resentment in the important beef industry which is capable of spilling over and making the peace process more difficult in an indirect way.

My belief and our belief on these Benches is that we must return to the Mitchell principles of last January. At the time, for some of us here—and certainly in retrospect it has become stronger—our feeling was and remains that the Mitchell principles were mishandled by the Government. That is not a reproach, it is a description. We need to know carefully, because these are delicate times, what indications the Government are getting from the United States about the continuing involvement of Senator Mitchell himself. If he is not to continue, what is to be the fate of the six principles? What is the United States indication to the British Government about what its continued involvement is intended to be? Those are very important questions which the people of Northern Ireland are entitled to ask and to have answered. What is the attitude of the present government in the Republic about the amendment of Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution of the Republic? We on these Benches and the two governments have urged the parties in Northern Ireland to proceed on decommissioning in line with the compromise proposals in Senator Mitchell's report. There is no way forward apart from compromise.

I believe that any suggestion that there should be decommissioning of arms before Sinn Fein is allowed into talks will simply mean that Sinn Fein will not take part in the talks—I believe that to be an objective description—and we shall be back where we were 12 months ago.

Another question, which is distinct because it gives rise to great suspicion, is what exactly is the basis of the alleged contacts between Sinn Fein and the British Government via the agency of Mr. John Hume? What exactly is going on? We are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, for this debate and I believe that it was he who spoke of the curiously orchestrated coincidence in time between the speech of Martin McGuinness and the speech of the Secretary of State. If those questions fester suspiciously in people's minds, I believe that that is by and large counter-productive.

One of the real problems is the looming imminence of the general election in this country and, to a lesser extent, the elections in the Republic in 1997. There is a very deep feeling in Northern Ireland—it may be right or wrong—that we are now seeing a drift in government policy: wait and see; wait for the election. There is a distinct and deep sense of a dynamic lost and energy dissipated.

Of course we on these Benches support the restoration of an IRA ceasefire. Of course we commend the restraint of the Protestant loyalist paramilitaries. I do not believe, despite what the noble Earl, Lord Longford, said, that there is anyone in your Lordships' House who does not know that in recent years there have been more murders of Catholics by Protestants than the other way around. I myself do not believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, is entirely ignorant of modern Irish history.

I believe—despite the bomb today, which was an outrage, as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, pointed out—and it is only a subjective belief, that there is a sensible prospect of an IRA ceasefire in the not very distant future. Of course it will be tactical. Most ceasefires are in these conditions. But the fact that your opponent takes a tactical step means that you need to take your own tactical steps, not simply to ignore it. If there is a ceasefire, we must not lose the offered opportunity a second time.

I reiterate the clear policy of the Labour Party enunciated as plainly as may be by Mr. Blair on a number of occasions: there will be no change in the constitutional arrangements in Northern Ireland without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland. That is given; but we cannot simply stagnate.

Drumcree was an avoidable error. We had called for a review of parades since June 1995. On an earlier occasion—I shall not weary your Lordships again—I reviewed the correspondence between Dr. Mowlem and the Secretary of State, which continued for a year. Nothing was done, Drumcree was a disaster. The chief constable at that time was put in an impossible position and I believe that it was an unjustly impossible position. I welcome the appointment of Mr. Flanagan as the new chief constable. I find him—it is not patronising—to be of an intelligent and reflective mind.

There are many things outstanding. I shall not touch on matters which have been raised earlier by your Lordships in this debate. We have the review of parades—the North Inquiry—but that is not to report until next year. It will be an act of senseless irresponsibility if appropriate and acceptable arrangements are not in place in ample time before next year's marching season begins.

There is the question of the race relations order, bringing in—soon, I hope—effective anti-racist legislation in Northern Ireland. The Chinese inhabitants of Belfast are entitled to domestic peace as much as any Roman Catholic or Protestant. We have to grapple with the future of policing in Northern Ireland, which, even this evening in our brief, panoramic review, has caused much feeling to be aroused, as reflected in some of your Lordships' speeches. My belief is that it is fundamental to questions of trust and confidence and therefore of peace and harmony that the police service in Northern Ireland has as wide a public popular acceptance as possible.

It is very important that behind the peace process the rule of law stands; that terrorist crime is detected, prosecuted and punished on the basis of generally accepted standards. I welcome the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd. It contains specific recommendations of enormous importance. The single most important recommendation is that the interception of communications legislation 1995 should be amended to allow intercept material into evidence as part of the prosecution case in a criminal trial. I have never understood why that was not the position and am happy to say that when Mr. Straw, Dr. Mowlem and I attended to give evidence to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, that was the stance we adopted. Stopping, searching and questioning is to be subject to external approval if the noble and learned Lord's recommendations are upheld. The prohibitions on terrorist finance will be extended to foreign as well as domestic activity.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, recommends that internal exile should be discontinued; that the power of executive detention or internment be discontinued; and that the Diplock courts be phased out. Have the Government a concluded view on that? If the Minister says that it is too early because the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, only lately came to hand, I entirely accept that. However, I shall be grateful if she will write to me in the usual way.

My 10 minutes have come and gone and I shall not need any signal before sitting down in a moment. I want to say this. The Government can rely and continue to rely on the bipartisan approach which it has had from Labour these past years. But I reiterate in no spirit of partisan criticism that drift is dangerous. It is becoming increasingly frustrating to large segments of public opinion in Northern Ireland. There is a feeling—whether it is right or not in a sense is not the point—that pressing and legitimate needs in Northern Ireland are not being attended to because of the domestic run-up to the general election. That is extremely dangerous, whether the perception is right or wrong. I shall be grateful therefore if I may have as much precision as possible in the Minister's answers tonight, not for my purposes nor for your Lordships' purposes, but for the wider purposes of those who live in Northern Ireland.

9.33 p.m.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, this has indeed been an important debate and the noble Lord, Lord Williams, is right to draw attention to its importance to the people in Northern Ireland as well as to your Lordships in this House.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Holme, for moving this Motion, for affording us an opportunity for an exchange of views from the knowledge that is in this House and for arranging to loosen the corset so that those views could be delivered in depth—and in no greater depth than from the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice. I was delighted to be in the House when he delivered his maiden speech. I congratulate him on it. I have had the opportunity in Northern Ireland to benefit from learning of the noble Lord's views on many occasions. The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, is right to say that it is important that his work in Northern Ireland continues while he discovers the displeasures of shuffling backwards and forwards. It is extremely fortunate that he should now have the opportunity to address a wider audience. I know that was appreciated tonight.

I must confess failure. There is no way, without keeping the House here until midnight, that I can possibly answer all the issues raised. I shall try to cover as many as possible and noble Lords can be quite certain that I shall fully read Hansard and respond to any points I may miss.

I join noble Lords in condemning utterly the placing outside a police station in Derry of a very large bomb and I praise those who secured it and prevented any tragic consequences. There are many leaders working for peace: our Prime Minister—I thank noble Lords for their tributes to him—the Taoiseach and the President, who all believe that there is no future for violence and that the working together closely of the two governments of Britain and Ireland is an important part of that peace process. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Williams, that, whatever the impression, there is no sense of drift within the team of which I am a member. We believe, as many noble Lords have said, that waiting until the election for progress is much too dangerous a process to contemplate. I can assure the House that the number of hours which my colleagues—and I praise them—devote to trying to move forward the political process is enormous.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, said that the process is difficult and slow, but I would draw his attention to the fact that we are rewriting centuries of history. That is not done easily and it is not, I fear, to be done without steps backwards as well as forwards. What is important is that we never give up and never lose heart. We note that many people in the community too often say, "Our leaders will have to catch up".

The Government's aim in Northern Ireland is to secure a comprehensive and widely acceptable political settlement which satisfactorily addresses all the issues of concern to the main participants. Recent security events only reinforce the urgent need for dialogue through the multi-party talks. I assure your Lordships that the Government will not be deflected from their search for a lasting political settlement. Progress in the talks has been slow at times—painstakingly slow—but they are complex and difficult negotiations. The Government welcome the progress to date. It shows that the determination to advance the process is there, but there is still a long journey ahead. Without the talks, there is no hope of constructive advances. If such hope were taken away, the consequences would be bleak.

There is a heavy responsibility on all participants not only to continue the talks but to move on to the substance of the issues. That has been brought forward. The talks process provides the best opportunity for a generation to reach a comprehensive and widely acceptable political settlement which could underpin lasting peace in Northern Ireland. I should like to pay tribute to the way in which the bipartisan approach is possible. The support of the Benches opposite makes that process so much easier. We appreciate the commitment that the noble Lord gave once again.

Sinn Fein continues to exclude itself from talks. A party which reserves the right to resort to violence if its demands are not met cannot be permitted into democratic negotiations, as my noble friend Lady Park so rightly said. It will be invited to take its place in the process if, but only if, there is an unequivocal restoration of the IRA ceasefire. And, following the breakdown of the previous ceasefire and the violent incidents since, your Lordships will readily understand that considerable reassurance would be required by everyone that any new ceasefire was truly unequivocal. The Government would need to examine carefully the wording of any ceasefire declaration, as well as events on the ground. Deeds matter as well as words.

The Government always wanted an inclusive process and the talks were set up to be inclusive. I draw the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, to the fact that part of that inclusiveness is the participation of women in the talks. I firmly believe that if more women were involved in the discussions the path to peace would be shorter. It is regrettable that Sinn Fein has chosen to exclude itself. That will not be allowed to block the process. Those currently participating in the talks represent 85 per cent. of those who voted in the election, along with the two governments. A valuable and workable agreement can be made in Sinn Fein's absence.

The progress made so far in the talks should not be underrated. Complex rules of procedure have been agreed and much consideration given to the critical issue of the decommissioning of weapons. That necessarily takes time, but I believe that there is an understandable concern across the community in Northern Ireland that we should aim to achieve more. There is a great wish for advance and all of us involved in the talks must be ready to respond to it. I join noble Lords in praise of the Loyalists' holding of the ceasefire. It may be difficult for some people and I understand that. However, the strain of the achievement shows greatly in their faces and their determination has been helpful to the people who live in Northern Ireland.

Several noble Lords questioned government contact with Sinn Fein. After the ending of the ceasefire in February the decision was taken that there would be no ministerial contact with Sinn Fein unless and until there was a full restoration of the ceasefire. The possibility of official level contact remains open, but there is no contact at present and we have no plans to meet Sinn Fein. Following the end of the ceasefire, the Irish Government took the same position as the British Government; that is, no ministerial contact but the prospect of official level contact left open.

As a major party leader in Northern Ireland, we would meet John Hume on a regular basis, and we are always interested in what he has to say, but there is no question of a secret deal with Sinn Fein. We have had no meetings with Sinn Fein or the IRA and while there is no ceasefire we do not anticipate any. Our position on the talks and a settlement is absolutely clear and on record and it is not open to negotiation with Sinn Fein or the IRA.

Decommissioning is understandably of crucial significance to participants in the talks. Because of the sensitivities surrounding this issue, at the end of last year the two governments asked the Independent Body, comprising Senator Mitchell, Mr. Holkeri and General de Chastelain, to examine how arms decommissioning might be achieved. The Government have made clear their support, along with that of the Irish Government, for the compromise approach to decommissioning put forward in their report and called The Mitchell Compromise. The parties were asked to consider an approach under which some decommissioning took place during the process of negotiation rather than before or after. During the past few weeks the parties at the talks have been putting forward their views on decommissioning. I wish to acknowledge the helpful and constructive efforts made by the party of the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, towards the resolution of the current differences in the talks on decommissioning.

I hope that they will contribute to an eventual resolution of those differences. We are doing all we can to find a way forward.

I stress that we are not looking, as some noble Lords suggested, for defeat or humiliation, but for the way forward. The noble Earl, Lord Perth, questioned the fact that there had been times when Catholics had not had the opportunities which he felt were their right. As we build a peaceful and prosperous future every citizen of Northern Ireland will benefit. The noble Earl apologised for his absence. Applications from Catholics to join the RUC in January 1994 were 12.3 per cent. of the total and in January 1996, 22 per cent. It is so important that the RUC has the confidence of the society in which it operates. I know that that is the aim of the chief constable.

It is very difficult to join the RUC. Many people from both communities have made four or five applications to do so. It is an organisation with high standards and it has opportunities for people for the future. The RUC is taking affirmative action, notably positive action advertising, to state that it welcomes applications from under-represented groups, by religion or gender. That is important.

My noble friend, Lady Park, questioned the relationship with the Republic of Ireland on security matters. We enjoy excellent co-operation with the Irish Republic on security. We have every reason to be grateful for the recent arms find by the Garda. There is an existing statutory provision for the trial in the Republic of those charged with crimes in the North in certain circumstances. As my noble friend rightly said, the commitment of the Taoiseach to this process cannot be doubted.

The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, questioned whether the future lay in dismissing the Anglo-Irish Agreement. It is accepted by both the British and Irish Governments that that agreement will be looked at again in the light of the achievement of a negotiated settlement. That is set out in the framework document. I join the noble Lord in condemning the boycotting of community activities in any part of the Province. It does great damage to local community relations. The unfortunate appearance of such action does not help the future of Northern Ireland.

The noble Lord put forward proposals for a new form of local administration. That was an issue confirmed by my noble friend Lord Glentoran. We come to the political talks with no predetermined plans for a settlement in Northern Ireland. If such a scheme is put forward in the talks it can certainly be considered as part of the settlement. Ultimately, however, a settlement will only work if it commands support in both parts of the community. The talks will aim for that.

As regards the better protection of human rights, we should recognise that the existing situation is highly effective. There is a vigorous and fearless legal system. We have a Statutory Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights which does much valuable work. We have long said that we would be prepared to enhance mechanisms for the protection of human rights under a future political settlement in Northern Ireland. In the current political talks the question of which rights need further protection and how that might be achieved will be open for discussion. No particular kind of solution is ruled in or ruled out.

I draw attention to the reason why there is a democratic deficit. It is for fairness. It is because there were situations where people were operating for the benefit of one section of the community only. It is important that we do not return to that situation.

I praise the partnerships, which are now working effectively. I praise also the economic development bodies which have been put together by councils. I ask only that my noble friend Lord Glentoran takes me off the list of visiting Ministers. I was well taught in my first week by the Reverend John Dunlop that when I left the mainland to return to England, that was an unfortunate event.

We are delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, took part in the debate. We admire the movement for peace in South Africa and we respect the individuals who showed such courage and bravery. We can always learn from them, but there are fundamental differences between Northern Ireland and South Africa. In South Africa, the majority of the population was denied democratic rights. I do not think that it is fair to the African National Congress to indicate that Sinn Fein is in any way to be compared with it. Perhaps I may also advise the noble Lord that there is much in the long and often tragic history of Ireland for deep regret and the British Government share in that regret to the full. There has been much pain in Northern Ireland and one cannot legislate for forgiveness. It has a personal timetable which people must reach for themselves. Many people do reach forgiveness in a way which is amazing and which restores one's faith in human nature.

The speech of the Secretary of State in Manchester was carefully drafted. This game is one of walking on eggshells, and we do it with great care.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams, asked about the current position with regard to Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution. It is in the framework document. The Irish Government envisage making changes to their constitution to reflect the principle of consent in the context of a settlement. Mr. Bruton, the Taoiseach, reaffirmed that position last month to the Dáil and indicated that more specific amendments to Articles 2 and 3 were being considered.

The noble Earl, Lord Longford, referred to statements made some time ago. I must confess that at that time I had not yet learned to read, but I do know that if one dwells in history, it can become the future—and that is not the way we want to look forward. I assure the noble Earl that no one is outside the law, although some would like to think that they are. We have no league tables for killing. We regret any wasted life.

Both the noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, referred to the Sunningdale Agreement and suggested it as a model to follow. I acknowledge their vast knowledge of history, but it is nevertheless a fact that the arrangements associated with Sunningdale did not provide the basis of a lasting settlement. We now have to deal with the situation as we find it. The present talks process was constituted so as to permit the achievement of the widest possible degree—

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, in what sense did not the Sunningdale Agreement provide the basis of a lasting settlement? It was sabotaged by the Ulster Unionists, but we have no reason to suppose that that would happen again. I would say that it did provide the framework for a lasting settlement. Therefore, perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness, with the utmost respect, why she said that it was not the basis of a lasting settlement, given that it was sabotaged.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, one may regret the fact that it was sabotaged, but it was not a lasting settlement. If it had been a lasting settlement, the people of Northern Ireland would be living happily and peacefully and we would have achieved what we continue to work to achieve.

It will be for all participants now, for the people of Northern Ireland and of the South in a referendum and for Parliament to decide what the elements of a settlement might be. The Government do not believe that they can impose a settlement.

I turn now to the noble Lord, Lord Rathcavan, with whom, as he so rightly said, we have had much pleasure in working to build the tourism industry. I must point out that that industry has been built up since 1989. Last year showed us what could be achieved in the future given a peaceful settlement, but tourism in Northern Ireland has been growing because the product is brilliant. He is right to point to the fact that the best cement for peace is provided by jobs. Inward investment is tougher but we are approaching the figures of the last record year. Moreover, I am delighted to say that our programmes for targeting social need within inward investment are working. Europe opened the borders and we opened the roads. The trade deficit with the South is disappearing, and I am sure that it will soon be gone. I believe that we should not look back to 1996. In November it is time to look forward to 1997.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams, praised the farmers of Northern Ireland. I have reason to know them well, and I am grateful for their patience. I should point out that, as part of the United Kingdom, much money has been provided by the Treasury to support the beef industry in Northern Ireland. We are working to take forward a certified herd scheme to allow us to go back to market.

There was an urgency to the review of parades. The review team is operating to a very tight deadline and is expected to report in January. As noble Lords have said, it is important that we do not sit and look at the problem. The subject of race relations will shortly be coming before your Lordships and will also include measures to protect travellers in Northern Ireland, which is important.

We shall miss Senator Mitchell if he goes. He has rendered enormous service to Northern Ireland, and we are very grateful to him, but the Mitchell principles now go way beyond one man. I believe that they have the strength to survive. Having said that, I stress that we have no reason to know whether or not he is going, but that is the fear that people have.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams, raised the question of the Lloyd Report. As my right honourable friend the Home Secretary said, it was a very comprehensive report. It will take time to study, to consult upon and to make recommendations. I will write to the noble Lord in greater detail.

Noble Lords have been very patient, but this is a subject that demands patience and commitment. Several of your Lordships were kind enough to make personal courteous remarks about my performance. There is no more satisfying or challenging job in the world than this, and I count myself very fortunate to be doing it. I suggest that the debate that has taken up much of this evening is a political process that must move forward, but the peace process is in the hearts and minds of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland. We have a democracy in Northern Ireland. There can be no end to a peace process in a democracy. After the ceasefire the people of Northern Ireland crossed the road and talked to and worked together with others. In many instances they continue to do so, showing restraint even in the most difficult situations and building upon that process for their children and grandchildren. We support them, praise them, work with them and have faith in them. I know that your Lordships' House welcomes the opportunity to send a message of support to those people. The future will be driven only by their consent, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Holme, for giving us the opportunity to debate the subject this evening.

Lord Robertson of Oakridge

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I should like to put a question. She referred to legislating in terms of an act of repentance or apology. Does the Minister acknowledge that the national day of prayer held during the war was not the subject of legislation but was organised on a national basis?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, if I have not made myself clear. I did not propose legislation. I believe that forgiveness and repentance are personal agendas. In recent months we have witnessed more ecumenical activities in Northern Ireland than ever before and have seen people taking part in prayer together.

9.59 p.m.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, in her admirably comprehensive reply, the Minister managed to stop well short of midnight. Nevertheless, the hour is late, so perhaps I may just thank all noble Lords who took part in what has been an exceptionally rich and interesting debate, which I am sure we all look forward to reading carefully in Hansard. In particular perhaps I may again thank and congratulate my noble friend Lord Alderdice on a most memorable maiden speech. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at ten o'clock.