HL Deb 02 July 2001 vol 626 cc687-99

6.27 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)

My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a Statement on recent developments in Northern Ireland.

"As the House will know, the right honourable Member for Upper Bann resigned as First Minister with effect from yesterday. I regret his resignation and the reasons which brought it about. The right honourable Member has played a courageous part in the process so far and will, I am sure, continue to do so.

"Under the provisions of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which implemented the devolution arrangements in the Good Friday agreement, the honourable Member for Newry and South Armagh automatically ceases to hold office as Deputy First Minister at the same time.

"Both have provided distinguished leadership to the devolved Executive over the past year or more; a year which has seen the four parties in the Executive working together to tackle real problems on behalf of all the people of Northern Ireland.

"Under the Act, the Assembly must hold an election to fill the vacant offices of First and Deputy First Minister within six weeks. In the meantime, the functions of both offices can be exercised. But if that period expires without a successful election, I am then obliged to propose a date for fresh Assembly elections.

"We face a serious and sombre situation. But I think it is right to recall the progress we have already made: a new Assembly; devolution of power to a cross-community Executive; new North/South and British/Irish institutions; new protection for human rights and equality of opportunity; and a new policing legislation and the first recruitment exercise for the new Northern Ireland police service on a 50:50 basis already under way.

"This process has already created the conditions of stability and confidence in which economic development is thriving. What we have achieved so far has been the result of efforts by all the parties in Northern Ireland.

"Of course we still face many challenges to ensure the stability and full operation of all the political institutions, the delivery of a police service which attracts and sustains support from the community as a whole and to take further steps towards the normalisation of security arrangements as the threat diminishes.

"But, crucially, the basis for progress in Northern Ireland is the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement in full, in all its aspects. That requires that every party be committed, and is seen to be committed, exclusively to democratic, non-violent means. It requires that every party rejects the use of force or the threat of force. It also means that as the institutional, social and legal changes set out in the Good Friday Agreement are implemented they must be accompanied by the putting of illegal weapons completely beyond use. In this of course we all have collective responsibility, but some parties have a particular position of influence with the paramilitaries and, under the Good Friday Agreement, are obliged to use it to achieve decommissioning.

"It is because there remain problems in implementing the Good Friday Agreement in full, as I have described, that I am here today to report further developments to the House. Over the weekend we and the Irish Government also received a further report from the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning chaired by General John de Chastelain. Both Governments have published the report today and a copy has been placed in the Library. The report notes that during the past year the UVF and UFF representatives gave the commission general agreement on methods of decommissioning and supporting issues. It also notes the opening of some IRA arms dumps to inspection by the international inspectors.

"Regrettably, however, the report also notes that, despite previous commitments and assurances being reaffirmed in good faith, and all the paramilitary representatives wanting to continue to engage with the commission, there has been no decommissioning by the IRA, UVF or UFF to date. The commission reports that the IRA representative assured it of the IRA's commitment to put its arms beyond use, completely and verifiably, on the basis that it set out last year. This is welcome. But I am disappointed that the commission has still to receive answers to the other two key questions: how and when arms will be put beyond use.

"The simple fact is that the Good Friday Agreement needs to be implemented in full. The people of Northern Ireland want to see a fair and equal society. But, as they and the Taoiseach have made clear, the people of Ireland, both North and South, insist that illegal arms must also be put completely beyond use as part of the process of transformation. We will succeed only if we all work together to move forward in all these areas.

"As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach said after their meetings in Northern Ireland on Thursday, there is now little time left to resolve the difficulties and obstacles that remain. We are determined to live up to our obligations in full under the Good Friday Agreement but others must do so as well. The agreement involves pain for all sides; it will not work if each side implements only those parts with which it is comfortable.

"The overwhelming desire of the people and parties in Northern Ireland is to see Northern Ireland's democratic institutions functioning as intended. They are valued greatly. They want to see them working, not suspended, on the basis of a total commitment by all to democracy and exclusively peaceful methods.

"I expect to be working with the parties, together with the Irish Foreign Minister, this week. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach have stated their clear determination to engage intensively to resolve these issues as soon as possible.

"I will not hide from the House the difficulties that we face. We have seen in recent weeks the dangers when politics appears to be stalling. There have been murderous sectarian attacks; people have been intimidated out of their homes; and young children have been used as pawns in sectarian disputes. And, as so often, the police have had to step in with the support of the Army to maintain the peace and uphold the rule of law. In the course of doing their duty, 57 police officers were injured on one day alone at the end of May in Portadown, and a further 39 were injured in North Belfast just on the evening of 21st June. The security forces have come under attack from a range of missiles, including petrol, acid and blast bombs, and shots have been discharged.

"Nevertheless, Saturday's Whiterock parade in Belfast passed off relatively peacefully. I commend the responsible attitude taken by the vast majority of those on both sides in a very tense situation, as we approach further parades and marches over the coming weeks. In the coming weeks all of us must show that it is politics, not violence, which works. After such a long period of division, death and deep pain it is not surprising that we face difficult challenges. But these hurts of the past impel all of us to find a way through to peace and stability for the future that ensures that the bomb and the bullet are put completely beyond use as a way of solving our problems. This is not a matter of victory or defeat for one side or the other; it can only be a victory for us all".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

6.35 p.m.

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement made by the Northern Ireland Secretary in another place earlier this afternoon. We on these Benches very much regret that Mr Trimble has been forced to resign. We believe that he did an excellent job as First Minister, and we hope that some day in the future he will be able to continue it.

Throughout the process Mr Trimble has displayed genuine political courage, integrity and statesmanship. At all times he has sought to promote the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland. While we regret Mr Trimble's departure, we fully understand the reasons behind it. Last year he was persuaded to reenter the Northern Ireland Executive on the basis of promises made by Sinn Fein/IRA to put its arms completely and verifiably beyond use. It was finally beginning to honour the commitments that it made over three years ago under the Belfast agreement. Yet, as General de Chastelain's statement this morning makes clear, that process has not yet begun, nor is there any realistic prospect of it happening. Far from putting arms beyond use, the General's statement makes clear that, We have been unable to ascertain how the IRA will put its arms beyond use, except for the assurance that it will be complete and verifiable. The IRA has taken note of our need for this information but until we know what method will be used, we cannot judge if it meets our remit". What further evidence is needed to demonstrate the utter failure of the IRA to keep the promises that it made last year? There are those who argue that the mere fact of the IRA guns being silent, as they put it, is sufficient. It is not. The people of Ireland did not vote in the 1998 referendum for an armed peace: an overwhelming majority voted to take the gun out of Irish politics for good. What is required is a clear demonstration by the paramilitary organisations that they intend to pursue their objectives exclusively by democratic and peaceful means and not violence. That is why decommissioning is important.

We on these Benches have always argued, as did the Taioseach, Mr Ahern, last year, that, for anything but a limited period of time, it is fundamentally wrong that democrats should be expected to sit in government with representatives of terrorist organisations that continue to hold on to their weapons. To do otherwise is to undermine the very basis of democracy in the United Kingdom of which Northern Ireland legitimately, and by the consent of its people, forms a part. That is one reason why we support the action taken by Mr Trimble yesterday. Another reason is that Her Majesty's Government have fatally undermined the confidence of mainstream moderate unionism in the agreement itself, the consequence of which we saw in the recent elections. If noble Lords want proof of it I suggest that they talk to them. I have just spent several days there.

Put bluntly, the Government, and in particular the Prime Minister, have betrayed the pledges that they made to the people of Northern Ireland in the referendum three years ago. Then the Prime Minister pledged, in his own handwriting, that: Those who use or threaten violence [are to be] excluded from the Government of Northern Ireland". and that, Prisoners [are to be] kept in unless violence is given up for good". The Prime Minister said that cease-fires had to be "complete and unequivocal", and there had to be, an end to bombings, killings and beatings, claimed or unclaimed; an end to targeting and procurement of weapons; progressive abandonment and dismantling of paramilitary structures actively directing and promoting violence". What has happened since those pledges were made? Some 430 terrorists have been released early; terrorist representatives have been allowed into the Government of Northern Ireland; and the morale of the Royal Ulster Constabulary has been shattered.

We, in this House, have passed four—I call them "odious"—Acts in favour of Sinn Fein: first, there was the Northern Ireland (Location of Victims' Remains) Act. I will not go into the detail of that; some noble Lords will remember the gruesomeness of it. What came of that? Nothing.

Secondly, there was the Political Parties and Referendums Act which allowed Sinn Fein to continue getting funds from the USA. The first thing it did with that Act was to defeat its own government in a European referendum. Thirdly, there was the Disqualifications Act which allowed Sinn Fein to sit both in Westminster and Dublin. Fourthly, there was the Police (Northern Ireland) Act which has destroyed the morale of the finest force in the country and pleased no one. Sinn Fein still wants more destruction of the RUC and the RUC is unable to do its job properly within the whole community.

Yet still the terrorists—loyalist and republican—refuse to give up a single bullet or ounce of Semtex. Still the terrorists maintain their structures and carry out, as we heard the Minister admit when repeating the Statement, beatings, shootings and murders. What a mess.

There can be little doubt that we now face a most serious situation in Northern Ireland with the very future of the Belfast agreement at stake. A process that was supposed to bring people together, and which my party worked on for many years before the present Government, has ended up by polarising them like never before. The centre ground has almost been destroyed.

There will now be a period of negotiation. The institutions might have to be suspended again. Looking to the next few weeks and months, I ask the Minister four questions: first, in the event of continued failure of the terrorists to move on decommissioning, will the Government consider bringing a motion before the Assembly, or introduce legislation into this Parliament, to exclude Sinn Fein Ministers from the executive?

Secondly, will the Minister give an assurance that there will be no further reforms of the police or reductions in security as a trade off for decommissioning, or some further fudging of the issues?

Thirdly, can the Minister assure the House that if it is necessary to reintroduce direct rule, there can be no question of increasing the involvement of the Dublin Government in the internal affairs of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland?

Finally, will the Minister ask his colleagues to make it very clear to republicans that they will gain no more, but will risk losing some of what they have already gained if this time they fail to deliver?

We hope that the Government can salvage something from the mess that they have created. We still want the agreement to succeed. But it will only succeed if it is implemented in full and by everyone. The time has come for the paramilitaries to deliver and for the Government to deliver on their promises.

6.43 p.m.

Lord McNally

My Lords, it is more than 30 years since, as a young researcher in the Labour Party's research department, I noted the decision of the then Prime Minister, who is now the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, to send troops into Northern Ireland. In various capacities during those 30 years I have heard ministerial Statements of varying optimism about the situation in Northern Ireland. The two words about this Statement that ring true are "serious" and "sombre".

I also pay tribute to both David Trimble and Seamus Mallon. So far as concerns Northern Ireland, they have made great efforts for peace. We must call into question one part of the Statement when it talks about the "overwhelming desire of the people" of Northern Ireland. Sadly, as in 1974, now again at the recent general election, and often in the intervening period, when the people of Northern Ireland have the secrecy of the ballot box to make a choice they do not opt for moderation and conciliation; they opt for the relevant extremes. That is a matter that successive administrations in this country have had to deal with. The eternal British optimism that there is a silent majority for peace is frequently proved wrong by events.

We agree that the Good Friday agreement retains the best hope for peace. However, it must be examined with some sense of realism and with a sense of urgency and leadership by the Government.

The Statement says that the Northern Ireland Secretary and the Irish Foreign Minister plan to meet next week and that the two Prime Ministers—British and Irish—will meet as soon as possible. What kind of timetable of bilateral work between the two governments is planned? Is there a sense of urgency in this six-week period? Would it not be better during that period to set out another British/Irish understanding of the Good Friday agreement? There are, obviously, interpretations and counter-interpretations. We now need some clear objectives which can be kicked off if we are not going to be simply in a fool's paradise. But, first and foremost, do the British Government share Mr Trimble's interpretation of what the Good Friday agreement promised so far as concerns decommissioning? If they do, they need to put some very tough propositions to the IRA in order to make any progress.

With regard to the question of a new appointment or new elections, I do not think that new elections offer any real way forward. The Government probably now have the safest pair of hands in the present Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, John Reid. It may well be that a period of direct rule under Mr Reid's steady hand would be a better prospect for Northern Ireland than continuing to fool ourselves that the present process with new elections and a continuation of the Assembly takes us anywhere other than into a further political morass.

Will the Minister further tell us whether, either jointly or separately, the British and Irish Governments have talked to the American Government and have made any effort to explain the present situation in the United States? One can be as sure as anything that the IRA will be explaining the situation to the American public.

Surely the Minister must realise, as Mr Simon Hoggart, who often writes in the Guardian from his own experiences of serving in Northern Ireland, said: What both sides in Northern Ireland are seeking is not peace, but victory". Until that quest for unquestioned total victory is removed from the equation we will be listening to such Statements as this which are made with all sincerity and good will by British Ministers.

It is not really the hurts of the past that we are dealing with, but the new hurts that these communities are inflicting on each other with a new generation learning all the old games and all the old bitternesses and hatreds. I am not sure that a pause with a further spell of direct rule, unhappy as that is for the British Government, is not a better way forward than going into a cul-de-sac where the necessary good will for resolution does not really exist.

6.50 p.m.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, we share with the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, regret that the First Minister has resigned. Like the noble Lord, I pay tribute to Mr Trimble's courage, integrity and statesmanship. He has been a brave contributor to the peace process. As I think the noble Lord knows, Mr Trimble remains committed to trying to see the Good Friday agreement work, as do we on this side of the House and those on the other side of the House as well. We all want to see it work. Despite concessions, the noble Lord pointed out that the Statement referred to violence continuing. That is correct. The peace is imperfect. But we should not lose sight of what has been achieved by the peace process and we should all work together to try to make it work. I said that it is a sombre and serious occasion and the noble Lord, Lord McNally, echoed that. It plainly is. It is a very difficult time. It is plainly critical that we do not make it any worse by what we say here today. It is equally important that all parties commit themselves to trying to make the agreement work.

The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, asked whether, in the event of failure of the talks, the Government would move to exclude Sinn Fein from the Executive. It would not be helpful for me to hypothesise on what might happen in the future. We are working to get the agreement implemented in full by everyone; not to see it either suspended or any of the parties excluded. The noble Lord asked for assurances on the policing legislation. In effect he asked for an assurance that we will not move any further in relation to the policing position. We believe that we are faithfully implementing the spirit of Mr Patten's recommendations so as to deliver the new beginning in policing supported by both parts of the community for which the Good Friday agreement called. However, if there are areas where parties feel that Mr Patten's recommendations are not being implemented and that risks undermining the new beginning in policing, we are ready to listen to their views and consider them. This is new and wide-ranging legislation. It would be surprising if we got it all right first time. It may well be sensible at some point to review how it is working in practice. But no one should lose sight of the enormous changes that have already been made in legislation, with the first members of the new police service already under recruitment.

The noble Lord in effect said that if direct rule is introduced there should be no increase in intervention in the affairs of Northern Ireland by the South. Again, I think it wholly unhelpful to talk about what may happen in the light of a number of hypotheses. The right course at this stage is to seek to make the agreement work. The noble Lord also asked for an assurance that the republicans will gain no more than they have already gained—

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, I asked the noble and learned Lord to make it clear to the republicans that they would gain no more.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I apologise for misphrasing what I said. The right course is to make all the parties to the Good Friday agreement stand by its terms. That is the way forward for Northern Ireland and that is what we should all be seeking to do.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, asked whether the United Kingdom Government share Mr Trimble's interpretation of what decommissioning means. We are as committed as he is to ensuring that decommissioning takes place because it is a vital part of the Good Friday agreement. The noble Lord said that he did not think that new elections would help in the present situation and asked for my comment in relation to that point. The legal position is that for six weeks a search goes on to try to find a new Executive. It is right that we embark on that course. Let us not speculate about what may happen at the end of it.

The noble Lord asked whether efforts are being made to ensure that in the United States of America our position is being properly put and that the US Government are kept informed. The Government are in close touch both with the US Administration and members of Congress. What is marked is that among many opinion formers in the US, particularly those involved with the Irish American community, there is a good understanding that progress has been made in implementing all parts of the agreement other than decommissioning. Therefore, a dialogue is going on. Both the government and the wider public in the United States are being kept informed and are being kept informed of what our position is.

I hope that I have answered all the questions adequately. It is a serious moment. The best thing to do is to try to see what can be achieved by the negotiations that are starting now.

6.56 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, will we remind everyone that decommissioning actually means either handing over the arms or destroying them in the presence of witnesses? We are still allowing the IRA to talk in a general way about decommissioning when the conditions are right. First, the IRA undoubtedly does not mean that kind of decommissioning. Secondly, the IRA's conditions are the removal of the British Army from Northern Ireland and other demands of that kind.

What is happening about the police legislation? Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams are both saying that we have ratted on them, that we have cheated them and that they have not been given what was promised. In fact, we gave everything that was promised. As far as I remember—I should like to be corrected if I am wrong—Sinn Fein and the SDLP refused to take up their places on the police authority when that was specially created to involve them. They have refused to tell their populations that it is now all right for Catholics to join as they will not suffer for it. I should like to know whether there is any truth in statements being made by some journalists that the IRA is demanding—it regards it as one of the areas we have failed in—the right for convicted terrorists to be recruited into the RUC. I should like the noble and learned Lord's observations on whether that is being said and, if so, what our position is.

I am made very uneasy by the noble and learned Lord's constant reference to the fact that we need to listen to the IRA's concerns and we need to worry about whether it is happy. It is time we started worrying about whether the IRA is keeping its side of the bargain. Someone said on the wireless the other day that the experienced journalists say that the IRA never reacts to deadlines, to which someone with great good sense said, "In that case, what about having a few deadlines which the IRA does not like?" Unfortunately, we could not do that over prisoners. We have given all that away. But surely there are things we can still refuse to be easy about. If the negotiations that are going on behind the scenes are with the sole object of finding something else to please the IRA, I suggest that the Government will lose the support of the majority in Northern Ireland. That matters far more.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, the people of Northern Ireland will remain wedded to the Good Friday agreement only if there is a sense that it is being implemented on all sides. That means implemented not just in relation to the institutions of devolution but also, just as importantly, in relation to decommissioning. Support will peel off from the Protestant community if there is not a sense that decommissioning is going on.

As far as concerns the method of decommissioning, under the Good Friday agreement, as the noble Baroness knows, there is an independent decommissioning body chaired by General de Chastelain. It is for him to decide the details of the methodology of decommissioning and whether progress is being made. It is right to leave it to him and his commission to determine what progress has been made and not to get into a debate about precisely what is meant by decommissioning.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. If he looks at the original document setting up the commission he will find that those conditions were set down then.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I have to remind the noble Baroness that brief questions and comments should be put. Other noble Lords wish to speak.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, with respect to the noble Baroness, there is no inconsistency between the two. The independent commission is looking at whether decommissioning is taking place in accordance with the terms of the Good Friday agreement.

As regards the policing issues raised by the noble Baroness, she asked specific questions about what progress is being made in this area. Her principal question concerned the police board. The position is that the new police board has not yet been formed. It is a matter on which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State continues to hold discussions with the parties concerned. Our aim is for all the relevant parties to take up their places on the police board. That is because policing to which all the parties in Northern Ireland can commit themselves is obviously a prize well worth fighting for.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, I am certain that, given this difficult situation, the approach adopted by the Government is right. My noble and learned friend said that he did not want to make too many comments. Again, I understand exactly why that should be the case. It might exacerbate an already difficult situation. On the other hand, in six weeks' time, when the period he referred to will have passed, this Parliament will be in Recess. For that reason, it is hard not to want to make a brief comment at this point.

Perhaps I may put the following to him. If, in September, the Government were to be compelled to call an election for the Northern Ireland Assembly, that would take place at a time which would be of maximum disadvantage both to the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP. I hope very much that, despite the limited options open to the Government, they will appreciate that calling an election at a time when the two political parties which most resolutely support the agreement would do badly would not help the peace process.

Finally, my noble and learned friend may have read a leader in this morning's Irish Times which states that: The peace process actually requires an Ulster Unionist leader of Mr Trimble's stature".

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I did not see the leader in the Irish Times referred to by my noble friend, but I agree entirely with the implication that Mr Trimble is a man of great stature. His courage in relation to the peace process has established that.

Again, with respect, I must refuse to be drawn into speculation as to what may take place. At this stage, the right course is to use the coming six weeks to negotiate to see what progress can be made. It would not be helpful to discuss what the end result might be.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that Mr Trimble's signature to the Good Friday agreement was secured by a personal manuscript message sent by the Prime Minister through Mr Trimble to the people of Northern Ireland on that night. Can the noble and learned Lord tell the House what is now the status of that personal pledge made by the Prime Minister and what progress has since been made in respect of it?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, the position is that the process engaged in by the Prime Minister and Mr Trimble led to the Good Friday agreement. Part of that involved the commitment to decommissioning, to which the note referred. All sides in the process should be seeking to ensure that decommissioning takes place. That is the view of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister; that is the view of Mr David Trimble. That remains the position: both wish to see decommissioning.

The Lord Bishop of Wakefield

My Lords, I have family and friends both in Northern Ireland and in the south. I know that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, was right to point out that not everyone wants peace. Some people in that tragic country are making a great deal of money out of perpetuating the strife. However, I believe that this Government have made genuine efforts to bring about peace and I hope that they will continue to do so by furthering the Good Friday agreement on all sides. Indeed, I have supported the Government in votes taken in this House on various aspects of the issue.

I understand from my links in Northern Ireland that there is indeed a good deal of backing and understanding for David Trimble's position. However, those in senior Church leadership, with whom I spoke a few hours ago, stress the urgency of still pressing on Sinn Fein the following plea: if you mean what you say, do please make a move now. At this stage, a simple gesture is all that is required. It is the view of those Church leaders that Sinn Fein may yet produce the hoped-for result. Pray God that that may indeed be so.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for his remarks and say that I am grateful for the support that he has demonstrated over the months and years of this process. I thoroughly endorse the sentiments he has expressed, which say in effect: please let us make progress towards decommissioning because that is what the people of Northern Ireland want to see.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I welcome the Statement. On the final page it refers to the hurts of the past, which I believe are still very real. First, are the Government considering at least the possibility of setting up a truth and reconciliation commission along the lines of the South African model? I suggest that this would be of great assistance to the many victims from the past. Furthermore, it would provide an opportunity for the perpetrators of atrocities to come forward in those many cases of unsolved crimes which remain outstanding.

Secondly, are the Government considering the introduction of methods and techniques of conflict analysis and resolution? I suggest that such aids cannot be provided directly by government because they require clearly neutral third parties. However, they could be helpful to all the parties concerned and eventually could lead to what is known in the jargon as a "win-win outcome"

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I know of the noble Lord's interest in these two matters. He has raised proposals for a truth and reconciliation commission or a conflict analysis process on previous occasions.

At the moment, the right course is to seek to secure the enforcement and implementation of the Good Friday agreement. Other proposals as regards conflict analysis, while interesting, are not at present at the forefront of the political agenda.

Lord Desai

My Lords, I understand that my noble and learned friend does not wish to discuss the details or to speculate about the situation. However, no doubt he is aware that the coming six weeks are going to be extremely difficult. They will coincide with the peak of the marching season; we are having a hot summer and, faced with the uncertainty of still trying to find a solution, the Government may find that their hands are tied. Would it not be better to move to direct rule far more quickly?

I should like to put forward only one further argument in favour of that proposal. At the local authority level, a great deal of practical co-operation takes place between all sides. People who say that they will not sit at the table with those who hold arms and so forth do say the same at the local level. What we need to do to allow more time for local co-operation to deepen and, in the meantime, the Government should choose direct rule. That is because until real movement fakes place on decommissioning, there is no reason why we should go on pretending that it is providing a solution.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that we have seen considerable cooperation at the local level. There has been considerable co-operation at the executive and Assembly levels as well. At this stage, we think that the right course is to go through with the provisions as set out in the Act and to start negotiations.

Once again, I shall not be drawn on where that might lead. The right course to pursue is to hold those negotiations.