HL Deb 05 July 1999 vol 603 cc606-18

4.20 p.m.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, with permission I should like to repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister.

"With your permission, Madam Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on last week's talks on Northern Ireland. Last Friday, I proposed a way forward for Northern Ireland.

"The starting point was the Good Friday agreement, which set out an agreed basis for a peace settlement in Northern Ireland. It offered the unionists what they have sought for the last 70 years: the principle of consent; no change to the status of Northern Ireland without the agreement of the majority of its population; changes to the Irish constitution, with Dublin dropping its legal claim to the North; and devolution of powers to Northern Ireland, with an elected assembly, an executive and other institutions. The Good Friday agreement offers the Nationalists and Republicans equality, justice, and the normalisation of Northern Ireland society; for the first time since partition, the ability to share power and responsibility and not have their electoral mandate set to nought; a range of new institutions, including North-South bodies; and over time, as the security situation improves, demilitarisation.

"Above all, the Good Friday agreement offered all the people of Northern Ireland the prospects of permanent peace and an end to violence. It is the only true way forward for Northern Ireland.

"Of course, difficulties remain. There is still violence, much of it by loyalists opposed to the Good Friday agreement. There is still conflict and bitterness, as we can see in Portadown, where I will continue to work for a settlement of the Drumcree issue.

"But life in Northern Ireland has improved immeasurably since the Good Friday agreement. Normality has returned to most parts of the Province. Whatever their disagreements, the two sides now talk to one another regularly. But one vital issue is unresolved: how to secure the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons. The Good Friday agreement required all parties to use their best endeavours to secure decommissioning.

"On 25th June, the Taoiseach and I secured the commitment of all the parties which signed the Good Friday agreement to three principles on which the rest of our work was then based. First, an inclusive executive should be formed exercising devolved powers. Secondly, all paramilitary arms should be decommissioned by May 2000. Thirdly, decommissioning should be carried out in a manner determined by the International Commission on Decommissioning under General John de Chastelain.

"Both sides need certainty. Unionists want certainty that decommissioning will happen, and a guarantee that, if it does not, they will not be left in an executive with those who refuse to do so.

"Republicans want the certainty that Unionists are serious about participating in a genuinely inclusive government. Our agreement last Friday provides both. In more detail, our proposal is as follows. Northern Ireland Ministers would be nominated by the parties, using the d'Hondt procedure, on 15th July. The devolution order would be laid before Parliament on the following day, and powers transferred on 18th July.

"The de Chastelain commission would require a start to the process of decommissioning. The general has already said that he expects this to be within `literally a couple of days'.

"The 'process of decommissioning' begins when a paramilitary group, 'makes an unambiguous commitment that decommissioning will be completed by 22nd May 2000 and commences detailed discussions of actual modalities (amounts, types, location, timing) with the Commission through an authorised representative'. "So there would have to be a definitive statement of intent, certified by de Chastelain literally within days. If it does not happen and de Chastelain certifies a breach of this process, then at that point the executive is unwound. So we will know within days whether the decommissioning is to happen or not.

"The commission then sets a further time limit, within which there is to be a start to actual decommissioning of weapons. The general has said that he would expect this to be within a few weeks. Again, should the actual decommissioning not come as de Chastelain has laid down according to the Good Friday agreement, then again the failsafe kicks in. De Chastelain is due to make reports on progress on actual decommissioning in September, December and May 2000, by which time it is to be complete.

"This is all entirely in line with the Good Friday agreement. Under it, parties are expected to use their best efforts to secure decommissioning. Last Friday's agreement is the basis for how that will be judged.

"Should default occur, the institutions are suspended automatically while we find a way forward. We are all then, in effect, back to where we are now, but with these two vital differences. The blame for default I s clear, and the parties are then free to move on in an executive without the defaulting party.

"I cannot make the other parties agree to a new executive. I cannot force anyone to sit in a government with anyone else. But I can make sure that Sinn Fein does not continue in an executive with the UUP should there be a default of the de Chastelain process. All this will be set out in legislation.

"It is a far better deal than was on offer at Hillsborough. That offered a token act of decommissioning, dependent on reciprocal steps by the British and Irish with no clear framework for completing the process by May 2000. This provides a guarantee of a complete process of decommissioning, plus a failsafe that protects fully the interests of the Unionists.

"So there is a challenge here to all parties: to Unionists to agree to a power sharing executive; to Republicans not just to give up violence, but to decommission weapons in accordance with the undertakings of the Good Friday agreement; to nationalist opinion to support parties implementing this agreement and not support those who refuse to do so.

"If last Friday's agreement is put through, we will know in days whether the paramilitaries are serious about decommissioning their weapons. After 30 years of bloodshed, grief-stricken families, terror-torn communities, is it not worth waiting 30 days to see if the undertakings made here are fulfilled? If they are, then peace will come—real peace. If they are not, then we will know that the challenge of true democracy was too much for those linked to paramilitary groups. Either way, we will know. So I say to people: discuss the detail. Debate it. Engage. But do not throw away the best chance for peace we will have this generation".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Prime Minister's Statement in the way that she has. The whole House, I am sure, will understand the difficulties of this process and appreciate the efforts of all those who are negotiating in good faith to find a way forward.

It is, of course, some years since this process was begun by my right honourable friend Mr Major. We in the Conservative Party have supported the process all along. We continue to give full support to the Good Friday agreement. We are committed to making it work and seeing it implemented in full. I am sure that the Government will agree with me when I say that an essential part of the process is the decommissioning of all illegally held arms and explosives. So far it has not yet happened. I should have thought that parties genuinely committed to peace do not need weapons in their armoury.

Will the noble Baroness the Leader of the House agree with me that in matters such as this it is therefore essential to proceed with caution and with remorseless attention to detail? Does she agree that it is not appropriate to apply all the pressure on Mr Trimble? The democratic parties have already done all that was required under the agreement; and the Unionist leader has made the historic statement that he is prepared to sit with the political representatives of terrorist organisations provided those organisations show a genuine intent to disarm. Is the noble Baroness concerned that although the process of decommissioning is supposed to be completed within 10 months it is still to begin? The Government are asking the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland to take on trust claims by Sinn Fein—which does not, the House will remember, even profess to speak for the IRA—and by other political parties linked to paramilitaries that once they are in the executive, disarmament will begin.

It is for that reason that we have two main areas of concern. The first relates to the question of a guarantee. Is it the case that there is still no cast-iron guarantee that the IRA will decommission illegal weapons, although the Prime Minister has said that that will happen? Can the noble Baroness give the House more details about how soon decommissioning must start after the formation of an executive that includes Sinn Fein? Does she agree that, if the House is to be able to debate this proposal meaningfully—and I think that it should—we may need a more precise and transparent timetable from General de Chastelain on which to form such a judgment?

On a fail-safe guarantee, Friday's document said that, without decommissioning, the Government would: suspend the operations of the institutions set up by the Agreement". Does the noble Baroness agree that that would penalise democratic politicians for the intransigence of terrorists—and, incidentally, give paramilitary organisations leverage over the continuance of the executive? Yet today the Prime Minister said that if the IRA does not express a willingness to decommission, it is open to us all to formulate a new way forward without Sinn Fein". The key question that arises is: what do the Government mean? Do they mean an executive only with Sinn Fein or an executive without Sinn Fein if need be—because it cannot be both?

Will the noble Baroness also confirm what appeared to be the meaning of the Prime Minister's words this morning—namely, that without decommissioning he would seek the suspension of Sinn Fein or any other defaulting organisation from the Assembly and invite the Assembly to choose a new executive? Finally, will the noble Baroness confirm that, without decommissioning, the Government would not hesitate to stop the early release of terrorist prisoners onto our streets?

The Government have said that they will ask us for assistance with emergency legislation. On behalf of these Benches, I would like to say that we will work with the Government to provide a speedy approval for that legislation. First, is the noble Baroness in a position to tell us whether it will be primary or secondary legislation? Secondly—I say this in the knowledge that we have a great deal of business to complete before the Summer Recess—I think that it would be fair for there to be some negotiation with those individuals who find themselves on the Cross Benches, who have a great deal of interest in Northern Irish matters and who might have some difficulties with whatever arrangements I, or indeed the Liberal Democrats, come to.

4.32 p.m.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

My Lords, from these Benches, I thank the Leader of the House for repeating in your Lordships' House the Prime Minister's Statement in another place—even if, to be realistic, nothing that we are likely to say here will determine in any way the immediate events in Northern Ireland. We congratulate the Prime Minister on everything that he has done personally to resolve the crisis, just as we applauded John Major from these Benches for his brave attempts to solve the problems of Northern Ireland.

As for the Statement, we agree with what the Prime Minister said about the Good Friday agreement. We agree also about the three principles to which all parties were committed on 25th June and with the current challenge to those parties that progress represents.

I think it is correct to say that those of us here must recognise that it is desperately difficult to trust Sinn Fein in the present circumstances, given its past record. However, this must be done, given the situation that has now been reached based on the assumption that its leadership genuinely wants the Good Friday agreement to work. Indeed, I think that the evidence of the Statement and all that has happened in the past few days shows that we are very close to the further agreement that would make the Good Friday agreement meaningful. It should be possible to find a way in which the timing is such that the gap between setting up the executive and the commencement of decommissioning is so narrow as to be almost simultaneous.

I see in the Statement reference to "within a couple of days". That is reassuring to a degree, but I wonder whether, in practice, it might become an even shorter period. It would be a tragedy for the people of Northern Ireland who want peace if their leaders cannot now go the whole way regarding the agreement presented to them. They must—here we reach an inevitable cliché—have a leap of the imagination and an act of courage in which personal reputations do not matter because peace does.

I have three questions to put, perhaps tentatively, to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. First, can she say something more about the present timetable for decommissioning? If the executive is set up on 15th July, when is it assumed that decommissioning will begin? Is it the two days referred to in the Statement—which seems to be a shorter period than mentioned hitherto? Secondly, if Sinn Fein fails to deliver, would it be open to the executive to continue without Sinn Fein? As I understand it—perhaps the noble Baroness will clarify this point—it will be open to the rest of the executive to choose what to do or for the Assembly to make that decision.

The third point is a difficult one, and I may be very wide of the mark. Would it not help if General de Chastelain made more frequent reports so that, if the worst happened and decommissioning stopped, action with regard to the executive would be immediate? At present, I think that he is expected to report every three months; a shorter interval might be helpful. However, none of this should be taken to be any attempt to negotiate. It is uniquely the case that, as in times of war, the Government must be supported in their endeavours to reach objectives that we all share.

4.36 p.m.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their support of the broad outlines of the Statement. I shall of course echo back to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister the words that have been spoken about his role—particularly last week, with his strenuous efforts on behalf of the agreement. I of course acknowledge the enormously important work of the right honourable gentleman Mr Major in beginning this process. One of the tremendous virtues of the process so far has been the bipartisan nature of the efforts that have been made. I am grateful to the noble Lord for confirming that that will continue. We obviously hope very much that it will do so both in words and in practice.

As the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, has said, we are all united in our broad aims of trying to achieve an inclusive executive in Northern Ireland for a devolved form of government and to achieve decommissioning. Both noble Lords rightly place great stress on the nature of the decommissioning process and the timetable—or the "sequencing" as it is called in the Northern Ireland jargon—of the decommissioning and the establishment of the executive. I remind the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that there was no decommissioning precondition in the Good Friday agreement, but there is an obligation. That obligation is reinforced and made much more explicit by the statement of Friday.

I think that one point has changed, which was emphasised in the Statement: we are no longer dependent upon trust—I agree with those who are suspicious of trust in this area—but upon action. As I repeated in the Statement, that action is set out clearly in the timetable that has been agreed with General John de Chastelain about the benchmarks that he will require on the decommissioning beginning immediately after the executive has been established.

Of course, there are always concerns about whether any group of people represented in the political process is speaking for the paramilitaries, on either side, whom it claims to represent. However, I think that the House will have noted the words of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister this morning—uttered not in the other place but in an interview—when he said he believed that last week he was listening to the authentic voice of the IRA. However, as I have said, this is not a time to depend solely on words. We can, in this instance, depend on the actions that have been set out in the agreement and which are put forward clearly in terms of a time frame.

Both noble Lords were concerned about when the fail-safe agreements will kick in if anyone defaults on the agreement. As my right honourable friend said in the Statement, if default occurs, the institutions would be suspended automatically while we find a way forward. However, as he also said, there would be two vital differences from where we are now. The blame for default is clear and the parties are free to move on in an executive without the defaulting party. I hope that it is explicit to noble Lords who raised the issue that the situation could be taken forward without Sinn Fein being part of the executive. I hope that I have reassured noble Lords about the Statement's interpretation in parts of the media that some parties might be penalised if the paramilitaries did not decommission.

It is worth repeating that the parties have the option of excluding any party from the executive if it does not meet its commitments. Only if that does not happen would the Government here take action to suspend the institutions. That would be a drastic step but it would be prompted by a clear breach of faith by the party responsible.

The point about the arrangements for the failsafe on the executive is clearly set out and would kick in immediately if there were any breach of the undertakings under the de Chastelain benchmarks. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, wanted more detail about the timetable. I repeat that the first report on decommissioning will take place in September. There will then be a report on the decommissioning process at three-month intervals until May 2000 is reached.

The point of the reports is to enable the fail-safe arrangements, which will be brought forward in the legislative process, to take place. I can confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that that will require primary legislation. I take the point, as I did last week when we spoke of the possibility of there being a Statement and order on devolution, that Cross-Benchers should be included in the process. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, when he raised the point last Thursday, I am sure that the usual channels will extend their consideration to the Cross-Benchers in this particular instance.

The noble Lord raised the issue of the prisoners, which is always an extremely difficult issue. He is only too well aware that the release of the prisoners is dependent on whether organisations are maintaining complete and unequivocal ceasefires. I am sure that he will have noted the statement of the chief constable last week that nothing the Secretary of State has done in this context was in his view inappropriate on the basis of the briefings he had been given about the security situation and the ceasefire.

I say to noble Lords in general that the anxieties which surround the whole issue, specifically as regards prisoners and more broadly as regards trust, are more than clear to those who have followed the history and been involved in the political decisions for so long. I re-emphasise what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, in his concluding remarks, that it would be a tragedy if we reached this point and then, in the words of the Prime Minister, had to rewind the whole process. I simply echo his words that this is the best hope for a generation and hope that the legitimate anxieties can be assuaged.

4.43 p.m.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden

My Lords, will the noble Baroness the Leader of the House accept that one can have only admiration for the Herculean character at the efforts of the Prime Minister and of the Taoiseach in seeking to secure from all parties fulfilment of their obligations under the Good Friday agreement? Every one of us must hope to see an agreed and fair way forward.

However, will the noble Baroness also agree that there has developed what was described on the BBC at lunchtime today as a fog of confusion as to what really is on offer? For that reason, the fail-safe agreement to the deal promulgated on Friday speaks of the Government's commitment to the automatic and immediate suspension of the Assembly, the executive and other institutions in the event of certificated failure to meet an obligation to decommission. It will be automatic and immediate, which is all one gets from the agreement of last Friday.

However, today, again on the BBC, the Prime Minister said that it would be open to the Unionist and other parties to go forward with devolved government without Sinn Fein and that he would expect them to do so. Does the Minister agree that that is a very different outcome and, to those who do not wish to see improper influence being accorded to terrorists, a very much more acceptable outcome? That is not least because if the Unionists were to suffer the loss of devolved government, which to them has been such a special prize, it would be deeply unjust if the cause were simply the failure of the IRA to decommission.

Does the noble Baroness agree that it is necessary for the Government to make more sharply clear that they would invite the parties to proceed on the executive without Sinn Fein in those circumstances and to continue to repeat that? I am sure that she will agree with me that the public's fear that the Government are being taken for a ride by extraordinarily adroit politicians and practitioners on the Republican side are rational and never ever to be underestimated.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, for allowing me to repeat and underline some of the points which were made more explicit in the Statement than in previous media interviews. It is the case that if the de Chastelain process records a default by one member or one party to the executive, the organisation is suspended. Indeed, the Government would encourage other parties to the executive to go forward. Perhaps I may repeat that the Prime Minister said that we should be back to where we are now, but with the two vital differences. First, the blame for default would be clear, which is not particularly relevant to the noble and learned Lord's point but is still in the text; and secondly, all the parties would then be free to move on in an executive without the defaulting party.

I am happy to repeat what my right honourable friend said in another place. The Government would encourage them to do so. But, as he also said, he cannot make people sit down in the executive and he cannot force them to form a government. However, it is his position that the UK Government, working closely with their Irish colleagues, will do what they can to encourage the process to continue. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for drawing attention to the role of a Taoiseach in that process.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, can the noble Baroness the Leader of the House clarify that point? Have the Government had any indication from the SDLP whether it would support the exclusion of Sinn Fein because of an adverse report from de Chastelain either in September, December or May? I understood that exclusion would have to be voted upon under the d'Hondt system and that if the SDLP did not support that exclusion that would act as the impediment to the process.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot offer any insight as to the position of the SDLP. However, the noble Lord is right to draw attention to its significance, particularly in terms of the possible vote within the executive. I can only say to the noble Lord that if the black scenario which he projects were to occur, the fail-safe proceedings on which there will be legislation would kick in. Although the situation would be less productive than the one I suggested in response to the question asked by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, a view could be taken about proceeding with the executive without Sinn Fein.

Baroness Castle of Blackburn

Perhaps I may join the admiration which has been expressed on all sides of the House for the Prime Minister's dedication, patience and skill in pursuing these negotiations. He has made a remarkable effort and I believe that it should be recognised as such by everyone.

May I also add to that my expression of admiration for the work of the Northern Ireland Secretary, Dr Mo Mowlam, without whose skill and charm the Good Friday talks might never have been held? We should not forget that, because she has not had an easy task in trying to be number two to a Prime Minister who is so obviously shining in his success. Would the Leader of the House not agree with me that it is time to stop the nit-picking? Every time she is asked a question, "Would the Prime Minister dot that T; Would the Prime Minister cross that and "Is the Prime Minister being misled here and fooled there?", it counteracts the impression we have all been giving of belief in his sincerity. We are in fact saying that we do not trust his word and we do not trust what he has achieved. Is it not true that all the verbal safeguards that anybody can devise will be no guarantee that the peace process will in effect lead to a peaceful Ireland unless there is a change of heart on both sides of the sectarian divide? I think that we have enough evidence of that change of heart on one side and I hope the Unionists will parallel it on theirs.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for what she said about the Prime Minister's efforts, re-emphasising, as it were, our personal congratulations to him. I think the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, used the expression "Herculean" about the undertakings in which he had been involved last week, and I think that is quite appropriate. I am also very grateful to her for what she said about my right honourable friend, Dr Mowlam. We all seek to congratulate her. The combination of skill and charm to which my noble friend rightly referred has been unparalleled and extremely important at difficult moments in this long process.

My noble friend referred to nit-picking. We have to be a little careful about how we distinguish between what we regard as irritating attention to detail and appropriate anxieties, to which I was hoping to refer in the contributions of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew. I would agree with her that obviously we must not allow the attention to the minutiae to distract us from the enormous achievement that has been made, but I would also just remind noble Lords of the final words of the Prime Minister's Statement, which I repeated, in which he said that this should be discussed in detail, that it should be engaged with, but again his final sentence was, "But don't throw away the best chance for peace we will have this generation". I am sure my noble and learned friend would agree with that.

The Lord Bishop of Ely

My Lords, I join other Members of the House in most warmly welcoming the Statement of the Prime Minister this afternoon and in asking the noble Baroness the Leader of the House whether she agrees that the form of argument which might be used with Loyalist politicians would be strengthened if it were admitted that they were faced at this moment with a forced choice between the lesser of evils? On the one hand, there is the evil that people of violence appear not unequivocally to have renounced the use of violent means before their nearest political neighbours sharing the same political aims benefit from, or apparently benefit from, the campaign of indiscriminate terror that has been waged. On the other hand, there is the greater evil that the process itself, which was begun on the richly symbolic day, Good Friday, should grind to a halt and the Province return to the appalling circumstances of the past 30 years.

My mother was an Irish woman—born in County Sligo—and was separated a child from her father because of the religious politics of her day. I am therefore passionately concerned for the future of Ireland. If ever there were a just case for warfare, it only presents itself in the form of a choice between evils. Is it not conceivable that the making of peace at this moment too involves such a choice, but may we not ask the Unionist community to make it and thereby enjoy the support of very many other people of goodwill, both on the mainland and much more widely throughout the world?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am sure the whole House is grateful to the right reverend Prelate for putting the whole situation in Ireland, both historically and today, in such vivid terns. I think he made a very important plea for a non-sectarian future for Northern Ireland and I am sure that that is one that the House would echo. I simply say to the right reverend Prelate that we would hope that the choices he presents are less bleak than the ones which he outlined in his vivid contribution, and would hope that the twin aims of decommissioning and the inclusive devolved assembly would bring people together in that non-sectarian venture which requires courage on every side but, as he rightly says, is probably the only way forward.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware that 30 years ago next month, her father, the then Home Secretary, was responsible for sending British troops into Northern Ireland in the wake of the trouble which had broken out then. At that time, I think around about 15 people had been killed. Since then, more than 3,000 people have been brutally murdered in Northern Ireland. The passions which existed in 1960 have been multiplied time and time again and, at this present time, there is a great deal of distrust between both communities in Northern Ireland.

I have said repeatedly in this House and outside it that the one big mistake made in the Good Friday agreement was not to have contained the issue of decommissioning. It has been hanging over our heads like the sword of Damocles every minute since then. Now we must answer and try to grapple with the circumstances which have arisen because that issue was not contained.

Is it a question of 24, 48 or 72 hours on which this whole process hinges because Sinn Fein has said that, unless the executive is formed, it is not going to give any undertaking on decommissioning? The Unionists say, "Our manifesto, our party policy, is that you must enter into the process of decommissioning before you are admitted into the executive". Is it realistic that the whole process of peace in Northern Ireland should hinge on 24, 48 or 72 hours? Again, I have to support what has been said by many people in Northern Ireland. There is a good deal of confusion as to how the fail-safe device will work. It looks at the moment that if Sinn Fein does not give an undertaking to General de Chastelain that it will decommission—people will interpret it to their own satisfaction—then the whole Assembly could be brought to an end. I think it would be very, very unfair if democrats elected to that Assembly should be cast out to the wilderness because the members of Sinn Fein, the perpetrators of murder, have not agreed to disarmament.

I have not read in any great detail the commentaries which have been given by the Loyalist paramilitaries. At least the Sinn Fein representatives who are to be appointed to the executive have not been convicted of murder. There are Loyalist representatives in the Assembly who have been convicted of murder and have served a long time in prison. What happens if their ceasefire breaks down? Are they to be excluded from the Assembly? Are the Sinn Fein representatives on the executive to be banished from the executive but still maintain their positions in the Assembly?

Before one can begin to envisage peace in Northern Ireland, the Government must be seen to be acting equally and bringing out equality on both sides.

Over the past two or three days, there has been an absolute avalanche of criticism mobilised against the Unionist party. There are two communities in Northern Ireland. I believe that David Trimble has gone out of his way to do all he possibly can in this process and the Government should go out of their way to assist him. Otherwise, he will be abolished by his own party and the whole agreement will fall into the abyss.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, the noble Lord speaks from an extremely authoritative background on this issue. He reminded me of my long-term family connections with the situation in Northern Ireland. But even so, I cannot match his experience.

I simply remind the noble Lord of what I said in response to an earlier question on the issue of exclusion of parties from the assembly. The parties have the option of excluding any party from the executive if it does not meet its commitment. That was extremely clear. He is right to draw attention to the role of the Loyalist paramilitaries. He will have noted that the Statement referred to the fact that a great deal of the recent violence has come from that source.

The particular point about the executive, which is at the nub of the present concerns about the fail-safe arrangement, is that the Loyalist paramilitary groups would not be represented within the executive because the parties which are, as it were, the democratic face of the loyalist paramilitaries do not have sufficient seats, under the d'Hondt system, to be represented on the executive. Therefore that issue is constitutionally irrelevant.

However, I repeat that there are all the concerns to which the noble Lord rightly drew attention about the detail of the decommissioning process. That process will have been said to have started if, within a couple of days—I use General de Chastelain's phrase—the commitment on decommissioning is given by the IRA and it appoints a link person to negotiate all the precise details with his team. That will set the decommissioning process in train. As I said in answer to other questions, that will be followed by certain benchmark activities which must be satisfied during the coming months.

However, I merely say to the noble Lord and to the whole House that if we do not follow through and we are not able to deliver on the agreement, there will be no decommissioning at all.

Lord Hurd of Westwell

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Baroness for the way in which she has handled questions so far. She has shed light on some difficult points.

However, the fog persists. Does she not agree that one of the main reasons for that confusion across the water is the way in which Sinn Fein and IRA spokesmen seem, day by day, to be saying one thing to their own supporters and another to the Prime Minister? If that ambivalence persists during this crucial month, the chances of the Unionists reaching a satisfactory conclusion are bound to be greatly reduced.

The second point has not yet been made. Will the noble Baroness accept—I am sure she will—that the Statement today and the events over the weekend put a huge burden on General de Chastelain? His integrity and good sense impress anyone who meets him. However, he now carries that burden. It is his job to be clear and not to throw a cloak over any ambiguities and things which are going wrong. The whole process depends not just on the Herculean efforts of the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach but also on the capacity and integrity of that Canadian general. Will the noble Baroness assure us that he will receive full support in the independent carrying out of his role?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, for allowing me to say that there is an enormous burden on General de Chastelain. Our Government and the fish Government have recently recognised that explicitly. He will receive the full support of both Governments in the extraordinarily delicate work which he undertakes.

I go back to the noble Lord's earlier comments. The ambivalence which he describes must be resolved by actions, not words. That is why my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has set out in such detail the way in which the defaulting system, if one can call it that, kicks in once the devolution process, if it does begin, begins. After two days—and General de Chastelain used the expression "a couple of days"—we need to see the agreement from the IRA to the decommissioning process. If in September and further on in subsequent months General de Chastelain is then able to report that the benchmarking process has been agreed, those actions will in a sense reinforce the whole political process. They will be crucial to it. That is why my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has insisted on those objective tests of movement on decommissioning rather than, as I said in answer to the original point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, relying on people's good faith. That has been sorely tested in this process.

I repeat to the House—because it may not have been clear, judging by the questions which have been asked—that all those fail-safe arrangements will be set out in legislation. That is being consulted on urgently and I know that my right honourable friend is hoping to bring forward the legislation within a matter of days.