HL Deb 25 June 1997 vol 580 cc1578-91

3.31 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard)

My Lords, since this is an appropriate time, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on the Government's continuing search for peace and a political settlement in Northern Ireland. The Statement is as follows:

"In my speech in Belfast on 16th May, I set out the principles of this Government's approach: first, the primacy of the consent principle, to make clear that any settlement must command the consent of both Unionists and Nationalists and cannot be imposed on Northern Ireland against the wish of the majority of its people; second, the need for urgent progress in the talks, in particular for the key political issues to be addressed as soon as possible; third, the absolute unacceptability of violence or the threat of violence in the democratic process; fourth, the desirability of talks involving all the parties, including Sinn Fein, if, but only if, there is an unequivocal IRA cease-fire; but fifth, the need to move on rapidly without Sinn Fein if not.

"I want to move as rapidly as possible to an agreed political settlement. The situation in Northern Ireland means that delay is not acceptable. I also continue to believe that such a settlement must be one with which all the people of Northern Ireland can feel comfortable and to which they can give their allegiance. The outline of a settlement is clear. The key elements are: devolution in Northern Ireland, including an assembly elected and operating on a widely acceptable basis; sensible cross-border arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. I believe there is a wide measure of agreement on these two elements, although there may be disagreement about the details. There will also of course need to he new arrangements between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, including formal constitutional acceptance on both sides of the principle of consent and a new more broadly based Anglo-Irish Agreement. These represent the three strands of the negotiations.

"Terrorism continues to haunt Northern Ireland. We were reminded of it again this morning when only prompt RUC action averted another serious attack. Ten days ago, we saw the despicable murder by the IRA of RUC constables John Graham and David Johnston. Five more young children without fathers. The whole House will join me in condemnation of this pointless and cowardly crime. Those responsible deserve our contempt in equal measure to the sympathy we feel for the families and their colleagues. We will do everything in our power to bring those responsible to justice.

"But this was worse than just another terrorist crime. The location and timing of the murders, close to one of the most sensitive areas for marches, can only be seen as deliberately provocative. But it was worse than that too. Let me explain to the House why.

"I announced in my Belfast speech that officials could meet Sinn Fein to ensure that there was no misunderstanding of our position, and to hear Sinn Fein's response to my statement that the settlement train was leaving, with our without them. This initiative was widely welcomed. Two meetings were held.

"Following the second meeting, to make our position absolutely clear and to remove any shred of justification for claims that it was not, I authorised the sending of an aide-mémoire to Sinn Fein to put in writing the Government's position on the points where Sinn Fein had sought clarification. The aide-mémoire was passed to Sinn Fein on Friday evening, 13th June, three days before the Lurgan murders. I have placed a copy in the Library of the House.

"It set out clearly and concisely the Government's position on confidence-building measures, decommissioning and how long we think the talks should last. It also repeated that Sinn Fein's entry into talks required an unequivocal case-fire, and that a period of time would be needed to ensure that this was genuine and that words and deeds matched. In order to put at rest fears that the Government might seek to spin out this process, it added that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland would come to a political judgment about Sinn Fein's qualification for entry in some six weeks. Assuming words and deeds were consistent with a genuine and unequivocal cease-fire, Sinn Fein would at that point be invited to join a plenary session of the talks. They would then need to make clear, as the other participants have done, their absolute commitment to the Mitchell principles. This aide-mémoire represented a reasonable approach, which had the full support of the American and Irish Governments, although the text of the aide-mémoire was entirely our own,

"Then came the appalling murders in Lurgan. These caused revulsion and outrage not just in this country but right across the world. That was clear to me in the US, where President Clinton condemned the cold-blooded killings in exactly the same terms as I did. It was clear, too, in my discussions with the outgoing Taoiseach, Mr. Bruton. The credibility gap the IRA and Sinn Fein have to bridge is wider than ever after Lurgan.

"Whatever Sinn Fein now say or do, I am determined to move on. It is essential to make political progress rapidly. The preparation for substantive talks must quicken.

"Last autumn, we and the Irish Government, building on discussion in the talks, began to develop a comprehensive set of proposals for the handling of decommissioning. Final agreement was reached on them earlier this week. The two Governments have today given these proposals to the independent chairman of the talks, Senator George Mitchell, for circulation to the parties involved in the talks; and will be commending these proposals to the other participants as a basis for agreement on this important and complex subject. A copy has been put in the Library of the House.

"Briefly, we propose the establishment of an independent commission, to make proposals for decommissioning and to monitor its implementation; and a committee of the plenary to deal with these issues, with a sub-committee specifically on decommissioning.

"The two Governments are fully committed to the approach to decommissioning set out in the report of the international body. This recommended, and I quote: 'an approach under which some decommissioning would take place during the negotiations.' The report foresaw mutual progress on decommissioning and substantive political issues leading to a progressive pattern of mounting trust and confidence. That is what the two Governments want to see. Under our proposals, a plenary meeting should be convened every two months to enable all participants to review progress across the entire spectrum of the negotiations, including decommissioning, and to consider whether the necessary confidence is being maintained. All participants, including Sinn Fein if they are there, will of course have already committed themselves to the Mitchell principles. These include not only the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations and the renunciation of force, or the threat of force, but also action to prevent so-called punishment killings and beatings.

"A second sub-committee will deal with other confidence-building measures set out in the Mitchell report. There can be no question of trading guns for political concessions in all this. There will need to be genuine progress in both decommissioning and the political negotiations if the process is to be successful. All the parties in the talks will have to face up to their responsibilities.

"If the proposals provide a basis for agreement, important preparatory work can take place over the summer. It will be crucial to put the machinery in place as soon as possible, in particular the independent commission. I appeal to all the parties to look at the proposals in a constructive spirit. I do not believe there is another way forward.

"Agreement would at last clear the way for substantive talks to start in earnest. I want them to begin as quickly as possible. I am also determined that, so far as we can influence the process, the talks will move as fast as possible. I can therefore announce today for the first time a clear timetable. The substantive talks should start in early September at the latest. In my view they should also conclude by next May at the latest, when the legislative basis for the talks expires. That is an ambitious target, but I have no doubt it is achievable if all concerned put their minds fully to it.

"As I said at the beginning of my Statement, there is broad agreement on the key elements of a settlement: devolved and fair government in Northern Ireland, sensible and significant north-south arrangements and a revamped relationship between the two governments. The outlines of a settlement are reasonably clear, even if many of the details will be fiercely fought over. Let us now get down to the substance without further ado or prevarication.

"And let me also repeat, in case anyone still has a doubt. Any agreement will be put to a referendum of all the people of Northern Ireland, as well as to Parliament. So the triple lock is secure.

"There is no time to waste. The situation on the ground in Northern Ireland is fragile. Everyone is conscious of the dangers of the forthcoming marching season. No one wants to see a repetition of last year's dreadful events. Here too the Government are determined to act. As the North report said, the best way to balance the conflict of rights and responsibilities involved in disputed marches is through local accommodation.

"The Government are absolutely committed to doing everything they can to encourage a local accommodation at Drumcree, as elsewhere, to take account of the legitimate concerns of all sides. Accordingly, the Secretary of State is today issuing invitations to discussions with the Orange Order and the Garvaghy Road residents at Hillsborough Castle on Friday. Nobody will be forced to talk face to face with those they do not wish to, but my right honourable friend will make a further determined effort to make progress. I appeal to all concerned to accept this invitation to talks. Accommodation need not be a dirty word where human lives may be at stake.

"This morning I met the 12 year-old girl, Margaret Gibney, who wrote to me and to other public figures urging us to commit ourselves to bringing about peace in Northern Ireland. I owe it to her, and this House owes it to her, and all who have influence and authority owe it to her, to put a stop to the killing and to put in place a lasting political settlement. She has enjoyed one year of peace in the whole of her life. When her children are born, I want every year of their lives to be a year of peace.

"So, this process has to get moving. The settlement train is leaving, with or without Sinn Fein. If they want to join, it is absolutely clear what they have to do. I have dealt straight with them. I expect straight dealing in return. We and the other parties will not be waiting around for them.

"There are of course risks in the approach we are taking. No lasting settlement can be arrived at without taking some risks. But I have no doubt the measures we have put in place are right. They provide the basis for a way forward and a settlement within a matter of months. That is what the people of Northern Ireland want, need and deserve."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.44 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I thank the Lord Privy Seal for repeating the Statement to your Lordships this afternoon. On those occasions when I was sitting where the Lord Privy Seal is sitting now, I very much appreciated the support—constructive as it always was—from him and his colleagues when they were sitting on this side of the House. We certainly wish to reciprocate in kind and hope that we shall be able to continue to do so.

Of course we wish the Government well in their endeavours. We are delighted that they feel able to try to build enthusiastically on the platform so painstakingly erected by the previous government, which we believe has already saved many lives in the Province and which clearly is in an extraordinarily delicate position at the moment.

We naturally share the horror expressed by the Lord Privy Seal and his right honourable friend at the recent murders, particularly those of the RUC officers, whose courage and disinterested attitude those who have any knowledge of the Province unreservedly admire.

It is perfectly plain to anyone who takes the slightest interest in these highly depressing matters that IRA/Sinn Fein clearly believe that terrorism works as far as they are concerned. We therefore welcome the robust reaction which the Lord Privy Seal has expressed this afternoon. I hope that we can maintain the bipartisan reaction to these acts of violence. Clearly the IRA thinks that it can take advantage of what any sensible, normal person feels to be the overriding need to pursue the cause of peace. It clearly also believes that it can take advantage of that desire for peace by bombing concessions out of the rest of us. I suggest, with the greatest respect to the Lord Privy Seal, that we must be aware that that is at the back of its mind and ensure that the violence of its reaction does not, in spite of ourselves, push us into corners into which we would not wish to be pushed.

I welcome too the continued and much improved appreciation of the reality of the nature of Sinn Fein and the IRA in the United States and I pay tribute to the efforts of the Prime Minister in making sure that the nature of those two organisations is increasingly well understood on the other side of the Atlantic. We therefore welcome efforts to find a credible and secure way forward.

Having said all that, I hope that the Lord Privy Seal will be able to give a little in the way of clarification and reassurance this afternoon. Can he confirm, for instance, that there will be simultaneous negotiations on all three strands, as laid out in previous negotiations? Can he confirm that there will be no substantive negotiations with Sinn Fein/IRA without early parallel decommissioning of terrorist weapons? In particular—and I think I understood from the Statement that the answer to this question is yes—can he confirm that, before proceeding to more substantive negotiations, the nature of parallel decommissioning as recommended by Mitchell (in paragraph 34, if my memory serves me right) will be agreed as part of item 1 on the agenda of the substantive talks?

Can the noble Lord also tell the House whether, in saying that Sinn Fein might enter into talks six weeks after a cease-fire, that means that entry into the talks will be dependent on the credibility of the cease-fire? Again, I think that that was implicit in some of the language in the Statement, but clearly the history of targeting and the extraordinary and unacceptable behaviour, particularly among the nationalist community, which the hoods of the IRA were prone to continue even during the 17 months' cease-fire, is wholly unacceptable and as much in breach of a cease-fire as the explosion of weapons.

I am sure that the noble Lord, the Lord Privy Seal, will find it difficult to tell us the names of the members of the independent commission for decommissioning, but I wonder whether he could perhaps indicate the nature of that membership. Obviously, the membership of that commission, if it is to be accepted as entirely neutral, will be important in terms of presenting the right kind of face to both communities.

Would the noble Lord also be able to tell us whether he believes that there would be merit in holding regular reviews to ascertain what progress is being made during the course of the talks and the negotiations? Clearly, it is important to maintain the viability of the process itself. I suspect that, if the process is not working, there might be a danger that it could become discredited and indeed counterproductive.

I am glad that the Prime Minister emphasised his willingness to go ahead with the negotiations without the participation of Sinn Fein, if that proves to be necessary. I wonder whether the noble Lord could comment on how great he thinks is the danger of the "train", to which the Prime Minister alluded in his Statement this afternoon, being blown up by a non-participating Sinn Fein/IRA. Clearly, there is a danger of intimidation of the nationalist community should the IRA not want that train to leave. Perhaps the noble Lord could share some of his thoughts on that subject with the House this afternoon.

I wonder, too, whether the noble Lord can confirm that progress can and will only be made by agreement within the talks on the grounds of sufficient consensus and that at no stage will there be any imposed conclusion. I think that is implicit in the Statement. We have some reassuring language on the triple lock and consent is clearly, by definition, part of any all-party talks. When we were in Government, it was important that the order of the triple lock should be maintained: the first lock should be a matter for the parties; then it is for Parliament and then for the people. I wonder whether the noble Lord can confirm that the Government still cleave to that order of procedure.

Can the noble Lord also tell us a little more about the nature of the cross-border arrangements. Do they go any further than was envisaged last year and, if so, in what way?

I repeat that we on this side of the House wish to continue, in so far as it is at all possible, the productive and successful bipartisanship in policy over recent years and we shall, of course, undertake to do so. We are clear that it is the Government's wish to conduct their policy in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland. In that context, I was particularly glad to hear of the invitation for next Friday to the parties involved in the Drumcree dispute. Let me say on behalf of these Benches that we hope that both parties will attend that meeting on Friday. We are aware of the explosive nature of this dispute and we wish the Government well in their endeavours to defuse it. We shall watch progress with apprehension. We wish the Government well in their endeavours.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, I add my thanks to those of the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition for a Statement couched, if I may say so, in uncharacteristically clear and direct language for this troublesome question of Northern Ireland, which so often concerns us in Parliament. I also congratulate the Government on a very positive and energetic approach in these early weeks to these extremely serious problems, particularly against the background of what must be said objectively to be a deteriorating situation on the ground in Northern Ireland.

I am extremely glad that in the Statement by his right honourable friend, great emphasis was laid on the employment of the Mitchell policies and principles, in terms of both Sinn Fein's entry to the talks and subsequent confidence-building measures of decommissioning. If I may be critical of what was generally an heroic uphill task performed by the previous government, I believe that they took a wrong turning in not more wholeheartedly adopting the Mitchell principles. I am glad to see them now at the very centre of the Government's proposals.

Sinn Fein is not noted for its sensitivity, but I imagine that Sinn Fein must now be aware of the universal detestation of its quite repulsive hypocrisy in recent weeks, protesting peace at the very time that it is killing the fathers of young children. But this is a chance, and it is probably the last chance, for Sinn Fein to start again with a clean slate and with a new Government, which, I must say, have today leaned over backwards to try to include it in the talks and have offered terms which are as generous as any British Government of any complexion could possibly offer it.

The Prime Minister said that we must move on rapidly and if it is not with Sinn Fein then it must be without Sinn Fein. Certainly I hope that it is with Sinn Fein, but if it is not with Sinn Fein then it must be without it. I think that is now the test of the credibility of the policy that the Government are adopting. In the next step of that policy, the attitude of Mr. Trimble and the Ulster Unionists is absolutely crucial either in accepting, on what are constructive and generous terms, the involvement of Sinn Fein with parallel decommissioning; or, if Sinn Fein cannot come in on those honourable terms, in getting on with sensible talks with the nationalist community in Northern Ireland. What is not possible any longer for the Ulster Unionists is immobilism, believing that they have nothing to bring to this process. They must now move.

I should particularly like to congratulate the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on her attempts, to which the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition referred, to get the Orange Order and the Garvaghy Road residents together. I myself met the Orange Order concerned. If they are looking for a solution, it will mean movement on both sides. I am sure that the Secretary of State will be tireless in her efforts to procure that.

I have fewer questions to put than the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition, but I should like to ask two questions. First, after the two meetings between officials and Sinn Fein and the aide mémoire to which the Prime Minister's Statement refers, will any more meetings with Sinn Fein now take place? I express the sincere hope that they will not. There is no need for any further clarification. It is quite clear that Sinn Fein now has to make up its mind. Are any more meetings planned and envisaged? Secondly, if Sinn Fein does not get on the train—to use the Government's analogy—does the same timetable apply? Is the aim still that the scheduled arrival time will be May of next year?

Those are my questions. In conclusion, this is, as I said at the beginning, a particularly difficult time in Northern Ireland. All times are difficult, but I believe the stakes are now very high. All of us in this House must urge on both the leadership of Sinn Fein and the IRA, but also on the Unionist community in Northern Ireland, the need to move on. I wish the Government well from these Benches in their efforts.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I am grateful for the sentiments expressed by the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition and by the noble Lord, Lord Holme. I entirely agree that bi-partisanship in this area of policy is extremely important and I am grateful to the noble Viscount for acknowledging the efforts that we made when we were in opposition to ensure that politics remained bi-partisan and firm.

I was asked a number of questions by the noble Viscount. I believe that I can answer most of them and I shall do my best. I was asked whether negotiations in each of the three strands will take place simultaneously. They will open on the same day and proceed in parallel. That is our intention and that is how we see them proceeding.

I was asked about the make-up of the commission. That is a matter for further consideration, particularly bearing in mind that Senator Mitchell suggested that the commission would be appointed by the two governments on the basis of consultations with the other parties to the talks. We would want the machinery for decommissioning in place as soon as possible; and thereafter, naturally, the consultations will take place as a matter of urgency.

I was asked whether we would be going further with cross-border arrangements. We want what we have described as "sensible" cross-border arrangements. Precisely what they turn out to be is firmly a matter for discussion in the talks themselves. The framework document which the Government support provides one set of ideas for discussion, though not necessarily the whole.

The noble Lord, Lord Holme, asked me to repeat that there would be no imposed solution. I thought that it had been said often enough, from both his party's Bench and from this Bench. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister was specific in his speech in Belfast on 16th May. I repeated his words today. The triple lock remains in place. There will be no settlement which is not acceptable to the people of Northern Ireland and that test of acceptability will be a referendum.

I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Holme, whether any further meetings would take place with Sinn Fein. The answer is no. After the behaviour, looked at in the round, of the past month or so, there is no purpose in conducting further meetings at the moment. Two meetings took place for the Government to respond to what Sinn Fein had asked for; namely, clarification of the Government's position. Not only did those two meetings take place, but an aide-mémoire was sent to Sinn Fein which clearly set out the position. The immediate response was the murder of the two policemen in Lurgan.

No one should underestimate the problems—I am sure that the House does not. Anybody who has looked at the Northern Ireland situation would not be so foolish as to underestimate the problems. On the other hand, the other side of the difficulty is the opportunity. It is the Government's view that an opportunity exists and we should attempt to bring it to fruition.

If Sinn Fein is not on the train, the train will continue on the present timetable. Talks will take place on the dates that we announced, and we hope that they will be completed in accordance with our timetable. The noble Lord is aware that the legal basis for the talks, at least for the forum, comes to an end in May of next year under the Act. Since some of the parties in Northern Ireland have said that they will not participate in the talks unless the forum is in existence, May next year looks like being the crunch legal point.

Finally, perhaps I can say that this is one of those moments where people have to make serious decisions and abide by them. On behalf of the Government, I can say that we felt it was worthwhile to give Sinn Fein one last opportunity and that is what we have done. The matter is now firmly for them to decide whether or not they will accept it.

4.5 p.m.

Lord Annan

My Lords, does the Leader of the House agree that nothing will satisfy the IRA other than the complete withdrawal of British troops from Northern Ireland and the ending of British sovereignty? Since those conditions are totally unacceptable, both to the United Kingdom as a whole and to Ulster, does he agree also that one of the keys to attaining peace in Northern Ireland is the position taken by the Irish Government?

If we arrive at a settlement in May acceptable to all communities in Northern Ireland and to the Irish Government, will the Leader of the House suggest to his right honourable friend that we need action by the Irish Government against the IRA, if necessary in military terms? Will he remind the Irish Government—in an extremely tactful way—of what happened in 1921 after Michael Collins was assassinated? The Irish Free State Government declared war on the IRA. They killed more people in a few months than the British had ever done during the troubles of 1916 to 1921, among them Erskine Childers, a famous Irish patriot. They drove de Valera's men into the hills, where they surrendered. They achieved peace then in the Irish Free State; and it could be done again.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I do not take quite such an apocalyptic view of the intentions of the IRA as does the noble Lord, Lord Annan. He may be right. I do not suggest that there are not people in the IRA who believe precisely that. On the other hand, there may be people in the IRA who are realistic and who are beginning to accept that they will not get what they want in Northern Ireland by pursuing the methods that they have pursued up to now.

In relation to the Irish history of 1921, I, as a Welshman in the British Parliament, would not dream of instructing the Irish Government to read their own history. As a historical fact, the noble Lord expressed one view of what happened at that time.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, can the Leader of the House confirm that this initiative offers a real chance of producing a settlement of this longstanding tragic warfare in Northern Ireland? If the IRA and its friends are concerned that the issue should end in peace, they will desist from further violence. Further violence will destroy what looks like being the last opportunity for an early settlement of this tragic issue.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I agree that there is a real chance of a settlement, otherwise the Government would not be pursuing this policy and going down this road. Nobody should underestimate the problems and the difficulties. All we are saying at this stage is that it is worth trying in this direction and we have some grounds for that belief. Further violence by the IRA would clearly mean that Sinn Fein and the IRA have not been prepared to accept the offer that is now being made for participation in the talks. As I said earlier, even if they do not participate, the talks will go ahead. However, it would be grossly premature for me to speculate as to what will emerge at the end of the talks.

Lord Blease

My Lords—

Lord McConnell

My Lords—

Noble Lords


Lord Richard

My Lords, it is a bit invidious for me to orchestrate the questioning. However, we have one question from the Cross-Benches and one from the Conservative Party; it is time for one from my Back-Benchers and then no doubt the noble Lord can put his.

Lord Blease

My Lords, in welcoming the Statement by the Prime Minister, I wish to pay tribute to Senator George Mitchell and his colleagues for their skills and fortitude. I believe the door has been opened to enable the peaceable citizens of Northern Ireland to find a just, honourable and democratic basis on which the accommodation for principal measures for peaceable living and a better life in Northern Ireland can be found.

A question was put forcefully by the Leader of the Opposition. It concerned the necessity to keep the general community in Northern Ireland informed of the political processes. Will there be regular and full public statements on the ongoing discussions and decisions and on the method and timing of the proposed implementation? It is important that the people in Northern Ireland should know from day to day what is going on in the sometimes silent talks and discussions. The public must be made aware of what is happening.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I echo what my noble friend said about Senator Mitchell. He has taken on this task with a degree of enthusiasm and commitment which is thoroughly laudable. We applaud him. My noble friend asked that the population in Northern Ireland be kept fully informed. The answer to that is, yes of course. I merely point out to my noble friend that the participants in the talks are mainly political parties and members of political parties. It is very much for the politicians themselves who are parties to the talks to inform the various constituent parts of their support inside Northern Ireland. Not only is it for them to do it but I should have thought it inconceivable that they could avoid doing it, given the nature of political parties and, dare I say it, the nature of politics in Ireland.

Lord McConnell

My Lords, as an Ulster Unionist, perhaps I may say that I welcome any realistic attempt to establish peace in Northern Ireland. But the operative word is "realistic". The Government must be cautious about the steps they propose to take. For too long the previous government were seeking to appease Sinn Fein/IRA and making all kinds of overtures. The present Government are starting off on that task but I hope that they will not continue it for very long. Cold-blooded murderers will not come in to discuss with decent people of all political complexions in Northern Ireland and reach a sensible solution. That is not their mentality and it is a blind alley to chase after it. I note that the Leader of the House talked about a new Anglo-Irish Agreement. Care has to be taken over that. The present Anglo-Irish Agreement has provoked a good deal of disharmony by having representatives of the government of another country taking part in, or at least supervising, the government of part of the United Kingdom. I should like to know the details, as soon as any are worked out, of what the Government propose this should be.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I listened with great interest to what the noble Lord had to say. Indeed, given his experience, I listened to his words with extra care. It is difficult to see how one could categorise as appeasement a policy which is saying to Sinn Fein, "Either you sign up on the basis of an IRA ceasefire, or you do not sign up, in which case you are out of the talks". My right honourable friend has said very specifically today, "This is the time; they have to make the choice; they are either in the talks if they want to get aboard or they are not in the talks; it is a matter for them". That is hardly appeasement, to use the word the noble Lord used.

As far as concerns an Anglo-Irish Agreement, in these matters, particularly in looking at the difficult question of decommissioning, we have had a great deal of support from the present Irish Government. The outgoing Taoiseach, Mr. Bruton, and my right honourable friend discussed the matter this week and the document which I placed in the Library is there to be read. It augurs well for the future. All we are saying is that as part of a final settlement in relation to Northern Ireland, while the decision as to what happens in Northern Ireland is a matter for the Northern Irish people, it is bound to have some effect on relationships between North and South. The precise nature of those relationships and how they change is obviously way down the road and will have to be explored in the course of the talks.

Lord Alderdice

My Lords, I welcome not only the Statement but the commendable energy and commitment shown by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, an energy and commitment redolent of the previous Prime Minister and indeed the previous Secretary of State, whom we welcomed to the House today. I and my colleagues in the Alliance Party will respond in a constructive way both in respect of decommissioning and in respect of the talks process. However, I have one question. The Prime Minister said that he has dealt straightly and that he expects straight dealing in return. From my experience I have to say that he may be unwise to expect straight dealing in return. The Republican movement is unlikely to say either yes or no to the propositions put forward but, rather, seductively to inquire after more exploration, more clarification and more opportunities, I suggest, to play the Government like a trout on a line. How will the Government respond when Sinn Fein does not deal straightly but, rather, tries to seduce the Government down that line?

Lord Richard

My Lords, we shall be firm in not being seduced and we shall respond robustly to the situations that we find.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, everyone in Ireland will welcome the Statement made by the Prime Minister. However, is the noble Lord aware that in the run-up to the Statement being made this afternoon and within the past 24 hours leaflets have been distributed in an area of Belfast known as "the village" which amount to ethnic cleansing in that they tell one section of the community—the nationalists—to leave the area? How can that create an atmosphere in which anyone can give credibility to the Government's intentions? What I have not heard in the House this afternoon, or indeed in another place, is whether the decommissioning projects will apply to the loyalist paramilitaries. Will we see the loyalist paramilitaries giving an undertaking in the parallel talks that they will decommission their arms? Unless you have decommissioning on one side of the political and religious fence you are hardly likely to have it on the other. It is within the Government's remit to push for decommissioning on both sides of the political and religious divide in Northern Ireland.

Lord Richard

My Lords, my noble friend makes a strong point. Of course the same provisions would apply to the loyalists as would apply to IRA/Sinn Fein.

Viscount Mountgarret

My Lords, has consideration ever been given to the possibility of banning marching for the time being? Marches are provocative in their conception and indeed their enactment. Would that be of any assistance or would it be regarded as in some way giving in to some of the IRA's demands?

Lord Richard

My Lords, the Government have no immediate intention of banning marching and I should be very surprised if such a ban would make any sense at all. We are committed to the implementation of the North Report and in due course we shall be presenting proposals to that effect. As I said in the Statement, as far as concerns the present marching season, we believe that the way to solve the problem is by using the phrase in the North Report—I think it is in Senator Mitchell's report as well—"local accommodation". To that end my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is trying to see whether one can get a local accommodation about the Drumcree march. I think that is the sensible way forward and I certainly would not be in favour of an overall blanket ban on marches.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, does the Lord Privy Seal agree that there is space in the new situation for the Churches to have a higher profile? We see so much of them in the context of reconciliation. We do not recognise how much they are doing behind the scenes in the political context.

Lord Richard

My Lords, the noble Earl makes a strong and valid point. As to the extent to which the Churches wish to raise their profile, I do not think it is for the Government to say. We would merely say, as did the previous Government, that the Churches have played a valuable role in trying to bring about a more sensible and moderate atmosphere in Northern Ireland. We hope very much that they will continue to do so.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, may I say how very much I share the view of, I believe, the whole House that it is extremely reassuring that such plain language has been used and that, for instance, the Government have not hesitated to condemn the whole of the IRA Army Council for Lurgan and have not accepted the myth that it was a maverick who got out of line. I believe that that will reassure people a great deal. It will also be very reassuring that, whatever passes between the Government and Sinn Fein should, as far as possible—as has hitherto been the case—be made as public as possible. That kills myths. In that context, I believe that in the talks that have taken place so far at Civil Service level, there has been discussion about confidence-building measures. It has been suggested in the press that such measures include reform of the RUC or changes in policing. Is there any truth in that? If not, it would be as well to kill that at once.

Lord Richard

My Lords, perhaps I should read a paragraph from the aide-mémoire which I have placed in the Library this afternoon, which may help the House: The Government wants to build confidence on all sides of the community, based on principles of equality of opportunity, equity of treatment and parity of esteem. Measures already announced include the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law; a review of training opportunities for young people; a commitment to equality of opportunity in the labour market; a commitment to legislate this year on the North Report; and a commitment to implement proposals to develop a policing service capable of securing the support of the whole community, including a more independent complaints system". In response to a further point of apparent concern, the aide-mémoire states, The Government has always made clear it has equal respect for the varied cultural traditions of both communities, including the Irish language and culture. It also recognises the particular sensitivities of prisoner issues on all sides". Therefore, if the noble Baroness reads either Hansard tomorrow or what is in the aide-mémoire, she will find that it is clearly the intention to develop a policing service capable of securing the support of the whole community. The idea of disbanding the RUC does not seem to me to be a proposal which is capable of securing the support of at least half of the community in Northern Ireland.

Back to