§ 3.9 p.m.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
rose to move, That the order laid before the House on 15th October be approved [38th Report from the Joint Committee].
The noble and learned Lord said: I beg to move the second order standing in my name on the Order Paper. As I indicated a moment or two ago, there are two orders, which, for the convenience of the House, should be taken together.
The first order is the Northern Ireland Act 2000 (Suspension of Devolved Government) Order. Your Lordships will be aware that when I repeated Dr Reid's Statement we had a certain amount of discussion about the events that led to the suspension, and indeed the decision to suspend, the Assembly in Northern Ireland.
It was of course a matter of regret to all of us because the devolved institutions were making a significant difference to life in Northern Ireland. As I indicated, I think on 15th October, we concluded ultimately that suspension was the least bad alternative.
One of the significant problems, which your Lordships identified on the last occasion when we discussed this question, is a lack of trust on all sides of the community. There were concerns as to whether there was a proper commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic methods.
I want to reiterate that this is not a suspension of the agreement, simply a suspension of the Assembly. We felt obliged to suspend the devolved institutions, the Assembly and the Executive. We shall continue, as a government, to do our very best to implement the rest of the agreement. Plainly, we have to ensure that good government is available to those of our fellow citizens who live in Northern Ireland. Your Lordships know that two further members have been attached for the time being to the Northern Ireland Office ministerial team—my honourable friends Angela Smith and Ian Pearson. The Minister of State and the present Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State have taken on new responsibilities. There is a good deal of work to be done. The new Secretary of State, my right honourable friend Mr Murphy, is meeting the Irish Government today.
The order almost speaks for itself. It is dictated by the terms of the Northern Ireland Act 2000. This means that the Assembly has lost its law-making powers, as we saw a moment or two ago; neither it nor its committees may meet; and Ministers in the devolved administration cease to hold office, although on restoration of devolved government they may resume them. Executive powers generally will be exercised by the Northern Ireland departments, subject to the direction and control of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. There is a power to legislate by Order in Council, as your Lordships noticed a few moments ago.
722 These arrangements will be familiar to those of your Lordships who know Northern Ireland well. They do not significantly differ from the powers of direct rule that, regrettably, existed from 1974 to 1999.
There was a substantial legislative programme before the Assembly. Some of the legislation it was considering was quite urgent. We shall bring forward some Orders in Council reflecting such Assembly Bills.
During the earlier period of direct rule, it was frequently the practice to supplement the scrutiny given to draft Orders in Council by making them available, in advance of their being laid here, for public consultation. We propose, in so far as we possibly can, to continue that practice, which I hope your Lordships will agree is a sound and proper one. We shall aim to look to 12 weeks' consultation, which I hope your Lordships will agree is a reasonable period. There will need, as before, to be exceptions, such as technical financial orders and social security parity measures. There may be occasions of urgency, where such consultation will not be practical.
I know that your Lordships are anxiously concerned about these matters. I have trespassed a little on your Lordships' time to explain the background.
The next item is the Northern Ireland Act 2000 (Modification) Order 2002. This is much more technical. It provides that during suspension of the devolved Assembly expenditure incurred by the Secretary of State in exercising the functions of the Assembly Commission and in relation to members' remuneration and pensions is to be defrayed from the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland rather than from moneys provided by Parliament.
Under devolution, the Assembly Commission is funded from the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund. In a period of suspension the Northern Ireland Act 2000 provides that it should be funded by moneys provided by Parliament. That has the legal consequence of requiring such funds to come from the United Kingdom Consolidated Fund. During the period of suspension in 2000, it was found that the accounting arrangements which had to be put in place between the NIO and the Assembly to abide by that requirement were, first, administratively cumbersome and, secondly, wasteful of resource. Therefore, for this period of suspension, to simplify matters and to introduce this purely technical adjustment, your Lordship's assent is asked for.
I stress that no one loses from this. It simply means that Northern Ireland public expenditure remains exactly as it was. I hope that those explanations are helpful. I commend these orders to the House.
Moved, That the order laid before the House on 15th October be approved [38th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Lord Glentoran
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal for setting out the terms of these orders before us today, in 723 particular the second one, with which I have no argument. Indeed, I have little argument with what he said about the first one either.
Since devolution was established in 1999, this is sadly the fourth occasion on which we have had suspension. It takes away, once again, from the people of Northern Ireland their Executive, their Assembly and all the institutions that flow from the Belfast agreement.
This is deeply regrettable because I believe that, notwithstanding the interruptions that have taken place, the events of the past three years have once again underlined the benefits of devolved government for the people of Northern Ireland. It is without doubt—as I have said before in this place—a far better alternative than direct rule from Westminster.
The people of Northern Ireland deserve an administration formed by local politicians and directly accountable to local politicians for the decisions they make. So devolution on a widely inclusive basis should remain our objective.
However, I should put on record that we, the Official Opposition, would not have started from here—as a Tipperary man once said. Faced with the circumstances that have led to his order, we would have preferred the Government to have delivered on their promise on 24th July and tabled an exclusion Motion before the Northern Ireland Assembly. Had that failed, they should not have hesitated to take the power here at Westminster to exclude any party in breach of its obligations from the Executive. That would have ensured that the guilty were punished. Instead, the Government took the decision to suspend and punished the innocent along with the guilty.
Of course having gone down that route, we shall support the Government's efforts to find a way through the current impasse provided that their approach is balanced. In that context, I welcome the new Secretary of State, Mr Paul Murphy, to his post and wish him the very best. We cannot afford a repetition of the policy of one-sided concessions to republicanism that has characterised the Government's approach since the agreement was made four-and-a-half years ago.
The key ingredient in all of this, and the ingredient that is in such short supply—as Mr Trimble has said on many occasions—is trust. The reasons for that are all too apparent and lie in the consistent refusal of republicans to fulfil their obligations under the agreement.
Most of us in your Lordships' House are all too aware of the charge sheet that has built up against republicans over the past year. However, none of these activities is compatible with the part of the Belfast agreement that calls for a commitment to,exclusively democratic and peaceful means".In fact, they are totally at odds with the definition of the ceasefire set out by the Prime Minister during the referendum campaign in May 1998.
These breaches come on top of other aspects of the process—for example, the Patten report, which, as Mr Trimble said in the other place, does not itself comply 724 with the agreement, and the one-sided concessions to republicans—that have done so much to undermine mainstream, moderate unionist confidence in the agreement and the process. In short, people in Northern Ireland are acutely aware that. in implementing the agreement, the Government have been anything but even-handed. It is worth noting that when people say that the concessions are all one way, they are not necessarily always thinking of the agreement; many of them do not know the details of the agreement anyway. The resulting lack of trust between all parties to the agreement and the crisis that came to a head last month meant that the institutions were unsustainable.
I am the first to admit that a great deal of the violence of recent months has been caused by so-called loyalists. I condemn loyalist violence unequivocally and without reservation. It must be tackled with the full force of the law and its perpetrators put behind bars, where they belong. Your Lordships will be aware that this is not the first time I have said this from the Dispatch Box. Yet, unlike the republicans, none of the loyalist groups is attached to a political party that has been—or is likely to be—represented in the Northern Ireland Executive. Sinn Fein, on the other hand, had, until suspension, two Ministers in the Executive while remaining inextricably linked to an armed, active and fully capable terrorist organisation—PIRA. That is a crucial distinction.
The focus of our comments is fixed on republican transgressions of the agreement because it is republicans who have created the crisis in the institutions and in the political process in Northern Ireland. It is with republicans that the primary responsibility lies for getting the process back on track and creating the circumstances in which devolution can be restored.
One thing is certain: there can be no more fudges or taking republicans on trust. That has now happened three times, and three times that trust has been abused by the republican movement. Republicans cannot go on riding two horses. It is no good Martin McGuinness saying one day that his personal war is over, and, the following day, the IRA breaking off contact with General de Chastelain. Such behaviour simply does not wash. They must commit themselves unequivocally to exclusively democratic politics. That means IRA disbandment and IRA decommissioning, which, this time, must be done in a manner designed, in the IRA's words of 6th May, 2000, to "ensure maximum public confidence". It means that, for the republican movement—Sinn Fein and the IRA—the war must be over. It is worth noting that that has been clearly spelt out by all the pro-agreement parties in Northern Ireland, by the Dublin Government. by the Government of the United States of America and by the British Government. All concerned believe it to be the way, except for Sinn Fein, which is notably silent on the matter.
We enter another period of direct rule. The people of Northern Ireland today have no confidence in the ability of Her Majesty's Government to solve the crisis. The Government appear to have no clear plan 725 or strategy for returning the Province to devolved administration. The Government must quickly regain the confidence of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland in the peace process if they are to succeed in their task and hold elections to Stormont on the due date. Primary responsibility for the impasse rests with republicans. But a great deal hangs on the Government too. Crucially, they must end the misguided and counter-productive policy of endless one-sided concessions to republicans, including the further reforms to policing that the Government plan to propose this autumn. Those reforms would allow convicted terrorists to sit as independent members of district policing partnerships. Ulster needs a police force that is capable of putting the terrorists on the run; not a police service that the terrorists themselves run.
We need real leadership from the Government, not just some strong words from the Prime Minister. We need to see determination to act—at long last—if republicans do not fulfil their obligations. That is how the Prime Minister's recent speech in Belfast will be judged: not by what he said, but by what he does. In their discussions with the parties, the Government must negotiate an overall package that deals with each of the outstanding elements of the agreement that still require implementation. It means that all parties must be aware of their obligations and what they must deliver, and it means clear sanctions and penalties for breaches and non-compliance.
As the fact of the order confirms, the process is in deep trouble. However, as my right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition made clear in Londonderry three weeks ago—I was there, with other noble Lords—we also have an opportunity to get it right. Crucially, if we are to stem the flow of confidence away from the agreement, we must return to the principles that the people of Northern Ireland voted for in the referendum of May 1998. Above all, violence and the cancer of paramilitarism throughout Northern Ireland must end. Otherwise, I fear, we will find that we are back here in six months' time to renew the order and that, once again, the temporary expedient of direct rule will assume a permanence that nobody—not least the people of Northern Ireland or myself—wants. I support the order.
§ Lord Smith of Clifton
My Lords, when last we discussed the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly on 15th October, I predicted that it was likely to last for a long period. Nothing that has happened in the past three weeks inclines me to alter that forecast. The interim has, it is true, offered some signs for optimism. The Prime Minister's speech went down reasonably well in the circumstances, and Mr Gerry Adams's responses to it have been relatively measured. Against those two reasons for mild optimism, there have been several setbacks to progress. The IRA formally severed links with General de Chastelain; loyalist paramilitary thugs continue with the most appalling punishment attacks, as the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, observed; and the 726 dissension within Official Unionism has delivered some rebuffs to its leader, Mr David Trimble. Of those bad omens, the most depressing, in a way, is the last. It reveals that the attitude of the Ulster Unionist Party is hardening and is likely to be more negative.
On 15th October, I remarked that, if progress towards the restoration of the Assembly were not made and elections to it were postponed beyond May, the Assembly would probably not be restored in the foreseeable future. In that event, I said, a London-Dublin condominium would provide the de facto government of Northern Ireland and, increasingly, the de jure government. The noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, misunderstood my words and said that I was calling for a condominium: I certainly was not. I said that, if the negotiations failed, such a condominium would be the inevitable result. I also said that the elections scheduled for May should be held whatever the state of the negotiations. The people's voice should be the final arbitrator, if all else fails. If that means that the outcome is that the DUP and Sinn Fein become the two main parties in the Assembly, so be it.
The Minister stated on 15th October that the May elections stood. I am worried by the use of the verb "to stand" in that context; it is a rather weak one. As some of your Lordships may have experienced, someone can be standing one day and legless the next. The Liberal Democrats are firmly committed to elections in May, if not before. Can the Minister give an undertaking that they will take place, come what may?
Finally, I return to the issue of how much longer the Government will agree to the continuation of salaries and other perquisites of Members of the Assembly, which is of relevance to the modification Order before the House. When I suggested stopping payment for the duration of the suspension, I was upbraided by the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, who said that the dedication of all politicians in Northern Ireland was such that they could not be bought. I agree with that: I was not seeking to buy them in any way. On the contrary, I am sure that they would not want to be paid while the Assembly is suspended. When will the Government announce a date for considering salary payments? It should be before Parliament rises for Christmas.
Reluctantly, we accept the need for the orders, and we support their passage.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Lord Rogan
My Lords, the orders before us today have been brought forward as a direct result of the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly. This should be—and no doubt is—a matter of regret to us all. However, that suspension need not have happened.
Last week we learnt from Mr Mark Durkan, the leader of the SDLP and former Deputy First Minister, that the Prime Minister had told him there were grounds to exclude Sinn Fein from the Northern Ireland Executive, thus avoiding any need for suspension. Indeed, in an interview with BBC Radio 727 Ulster's "Inside Politics" programme, Mr Durkan claimed that Mr Blair also tried and failed to persuade him to support a motion in the Assembly to this end.
Your Lordships will recall the background to the current crisis in Northern Ireland. In the wake of alleged republican involvement in gun running from Florida, in training FARC rebels in Colombia, in a break-in at Castlereagh police station and a litany of violent and criminal activities in various locations across Northern Ireland, we then discovered that Sinn Fein/IRA had been involved in a long-running and sophisticated spying operation directed against the Northern Ireland Office including the private office of the Secretary of State himself.
As soon as the spy ring was uncovered, it quickly became clear that Sinn Fein/IRA's place at the heart of the government of Northern Ireland was untenable. However, it should not have been left to the then First Minister, Mr David Trimble, together with his Ulster Unionist colleagues in the Assembly to, in effect, force the British Government's hand.
Following a meeting at Downing Street, Mr Trimble let it be known that he had told the Prime Minister and the then Secretary of State, Dr John Reid, that they had a week to bring forward a motion for debate by the Assembly to exclude Sinn Fein from the Executive. A failure to do so would lead to the resignation of Mr Trimble and his Ulster Unionist Ministers. As we now know, the Government decided to take a very different route by suspending the Assembly and the other institutions created as a result of the Belfast agreement. If ever there was a case of punishing the innocent along with the guilty, this was it.
Not only did the Government decide to act contrary to the advice of Ulster Unionists by deciding to take the option of suspension; they acted against the wishes of the Alliance Party which also argued that Sinn Fein Ministers should be excluded from office. This is why Mr Durkan's comments are so important. In revealing that Mr Blair himself had been contemplating following this course of action, Mr Durkan in effect confirmed that the suspension of devolution in Northern Ireland came about at the behest of the SDL.P. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal can expand on this in his reply.
The noble and learned Lord may also wish to reflect on the reasons why, given that the SDLP was refusing to support an exclusion motion, to which the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, alluded, the Government did not decide to bring forward legislation giving themselves the power to exclude Sinn Fein from the Executive. Since we now know that Mr Blair believed there were grounds for exclusion, was it a neglect of responsibility—or perhaps even a loss of nerve—which led him not to do so?
The SDLP has long argued for the resurrection of a power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland. But, given such an executive and the chance to keep it in existence, it could not summon the moral courage to do so. I find that difficult to fathom. Much is made—quite rightly, given that they are one and the same—of 728 Sinn Fein's links with the IRA. However, perhaps not so much is made of the SDLP's relationship with Sinn Fein.
I believe that it is time for us—and, more importantly, the SDLP itself—to re-evaluate those relationships. The consequence of the SDLP's decision to press for and achieve the suspension of the institutions is that it has presented the IRA with a veto on its future. Surely that is an irresponsible way for a democratic political party to behave.
It is important that devolved government is restored to Northern Ireland as soon as practicable. Devolution was a great success. People liked it and they wanted it to continue. The obvious question for us now is how it might be restored. The idea of a further act of IRA decommissioning has been suggested, but I am afraid that that would no longer be all that is required; indeed it falls far short. Something of much greater significance is needed. We need to see an end to the IRA.
Last week Mr Martin McGuinness said publicly that his "war with the British is over". That statement is to be welcomed. But we need to hear that the war of every other IRA member is over and we need to see evidence that this is the case. In other words. the IRA itself must be stood down.
In concluding my remarks it would be remiss if I did not refer to the increasingly barbaric acts of violence being carried out by so-called loyalists. Noble Lords will, like me, have read with horror over the weekend about the crucifixion of a young Catholic man by loyalists in Belfast. Those of us who have lived in Northern Ireland all our lives and have been involved in Northern Ireland politics for most of our lives would tend to regard ourselves as fairly shock-proof. But every so often something happens which makes us realise that we are not as shock-proof as we thought. That barbaric act was such an incident.
Loyalist paramilitaries must be dealt with, but they must be dealt with by the legitimate forces of law and order, not by the illegitimate force of the IRA; in other words, the activities of loyalists should not be used by the IRA as a reason for continuing its existence.
I want to see devolution restored to Northern Ireland. But this time it must be for keeps. It must be given permanence. I regret that these orders had to be brought forward and I greatly hope that, when devolved government returns to the Province, we will never again have to debate their like in this House.
The Lord Bishop
of Portsmouth: My Lords, these Benches support the orders placed before us by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal. We stress what has been said already: the return of direct rule is a regrettable necessity, but we recognise that any immediately available alternative would have been worse.
It is important in this atmosphere—I use that word advisedly—to keep a sense of perspective. 1t is important to note that what has happened is not surprising, although regrettable. No one who knows Northern Ireland could ever have thought that the 729 Good. Friday agreement would lead immediately to an Easter in which the solution of all problems was somehow realised.
I quote from a recent publication's jacket cover a remark by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, the Archbishop of Armagh: "Reconciliation cannot be enforced". Meanwhile, we need to do everything we can to develop institutions, conventions and opportunities that promote confidence-building and enable all these heart-rending places to have a voice that is heard.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Lord Fitt
My Lords, no one in your Lordships' House would take objection to the presentation of the order. It is deeply regrettable; we could preface our remarks by saying, "Here we go again". This is the fourth time we have seen the transfer of powers to Northern Ireland and back here again.
We are facing a tremendous difficulty in Northern Ireland. Unless we see the realities and unrealities of the situation, we may never be in the position of trying to bring about a resolution of the conflict. I wanted to see devolution in Northern Ireland. I supported devolution while at all times at the back of my mind I realised that built into the Good Friday agreement were all the reasons why it should fail. The agreement was built on a Catholic and Protestant head count; a nationalist and a Unionist head count. Once sectarianism had been built into the agreement, all the MLAs and politicians who were elected to the Stormont Assembly would have to pay attention to what type of votes were sending them there.
Politicians in Northern Ireland are like politicians everywhere; they have to take into account all the reasons why a certain section of the electorate votes for them. In Northern Ireland, it has ever been so since the 1920 partition. One section of the community voted against partition and will never accept it; the other section of the community voted for it and want it to remain.
Have we done anything by way of the Good Friday agreement to do away with that formidable division? I do not think that we have. The one thing which the Unionists allegedly obtained—it has been continuously referred to since the Good Friday agreement—is that the Irish Government took Articles 2 and 3 out of their constitution and substituted for them the principle of consent. The Unionists were told that nothing could change in Northern Ireland unless they gave consent to it..
That did not have to be written into the agreement and it was no great favour or concession given to the Unionists because Northern Ireland could never be united without the consent of the Unionists, whether it was written down on paper or not. Although the Dublin Government gave up their claim to the jurisdiction of Northern Ireland under Articles 2 and 3, that should never have been implemented either, outside a civil war in Ireland or the Irish Republic sending up troops into Northern Ireland. So there 730 were two so-called concessions—one to the Unionists and one to Irish nationalism—and neither of them were worth the paper on which they were written.
However, during the past two or three years we have seen various Ministers in the Northern Ireland Assembly. I have to say that some of them were carrying out a difficult and unique job in the circumstances and were being very successful. That goes for the DUP Ministers, who allegedly did not recognise the Assembly. Some of them were the best Ministers we had in Northern Ireland. I find it difficult but I must say in all honesty that I believe that Peter Robinson was one of the best Ministers we had. The other Members for Derry were also good Ministers. Whether I dislike and sometimes detest the activities of Sinn Fein, I think their Ministers were acting responsibly too.
All those people were in place because they had a mandate from the Northern Ireland electorate. Sinn Fein and the SDLP would say, "You can't exclude us. No matter our inextricable links with the IRA, so many thousands of people voted for us". Under the arrangements that were made for the elections, they were entitled to have their places within the ministry.
The Unionist party—which Unionist party are we talking about? There are three or four unionist parties in Northern Ireland which disagree in a family way with each other, but they are under one tribe. So we have two tribes in Northern Ireland; some of them may be disparate and fight among themselves but there is the Catholic nationalist tribe.
I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, and I agree wholeheartedly with what he says about the conversation which allegedly took place with the Leader of the SDLP, the Deputy First Minister, who gained the impression that the Prime Minister, in circumstances in which he could rely on the support of the SDLP, would have been prepared to exclude Sinn Fein from the Assembly because of its links with the IRA. From what I heard, the Leader of the SDLP said that he could not give him that guarantee.
Therefore, however much the SDLP might disagree with Sinn Fein and its links with terrorist organisations, there was no way that it would vote for its exclusion from the Assembly. So there we have it in clear black and white. There will always be an alliance between the nationalists—there is no way that any section of nationalism will run away from Sinn Fein. The same thing happens on the other side of the fence.
I was sorry that the former Northern Ireland Secretary, Dr John Reid, left when he did. In a short conversation I had with him in the company of other noble Lords, I sincerely felt that he had a grasp of the Northern Ireland situation. He represented a Scottish constituency and was aware of the sectarian divisions that had taken place in Scotland. I had intended to have further discussions with him but within a week it was announced that he had left Northern Ireland. He recognised the serious divisions that exist.
Now we are in the position of asking: do we bring back the Assembly? I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, and I do not believe that the 731 Assembly will come back in a short time. I believe that it is very much on the back burner. The reason that it is on the hack burner is that the elected representatives, the MLAs in Northern Ireland, cannot find agreement to bring about the restoration of the Assembly.
The mandate which the MLA representatives have had in Northern Ireland was due to run out on 1st May next year. Do we have that election or are we frightened of the results? Do we say that Sinn Fein may become the majority nationalist party and that Democratic Unionists may become the majority Unionist party and that we will not abide by that conclusion of the electorate?
Where does that put us? Where does that put the argument for democracy in Northern Ireland? Democracy is allegedly brought about by the will of the people and if a majority of the nationalist population in Northern Ireland want to vote for Sinn Fein and a majority of the Unionists want to vote for the Democratic Unionist Party, who are we to say that they should not do so? That would be the will of the electorate. Therefore, if we say that we are not going to have elections, we are saying, sotto voce, that we are not going to have democracy. That is what we are saying.
I realise the tremendous difficulty which now faces this Government. I say that even though the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, may disagree with me, I speak from experience. I have had nearly 40 years in politics in Stormont, in local government and the rest. If those MLAs are kept on pay in Northern Ireland, if they are given recognition as public representatives and the longer they are able to go to Stormont and use whatever facilities are available, they will not mind how long the suspension takes because they are being given all the credit for being elected representatives. I went through that myself. I know exactly how I felt and I know exactly how they feel. It means that there is no impetus, no pushing by those MLAs to do what they can to bring about a quick resolution of the conflict. So do we have an election in May next year? Even though I might be frightened of the outcome, I believe that there should be an election next year, whatever the will of the Northern Ireland electorate.
Over the years, I have said to many of my colleagues that it is a tragedy that there is no Labour Party in Northern Ireland. At the moment, there is the SDLP, but that set of initials does not mean very much to anyone with a socialist conscience. As I said to Dr John Reid when I last spoke to him, if a candidate with a socialist conscience and Labour principles were to stand for election to the Assembly—whenever that election may take place—some wise people might depart from their tribes and vote for him and elect him as a Labour candidate. He would then go to Stormont and people there would ask him, "Are you a nationalist or a unionist?" He would say, "I am neither. I am a Labour man". They would then say, "Well, you cannot come in here. We do not allow Labour people in here. We allow only nationalists or unionists". Does not that show how in-built are the divisions? We cannot have there the kind of normal politics that are recognised in this part of the world.
732 I am glad that the Lord Privy Seal has retained the Northern Ireland portfolio because he is readily approachable and understands Northern Ireland. I hope to have further discussions with him.
No one can object to this order, but if we are to bring about the restoration of the Assembly it must be in a way in which there is no danger of it falling apart again. It must be built constructively and steadily so that there is no danger of your Lordships having to come back to this issue again.
The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, referred to decommissioning. That is no longer an issue in Northern Ireland. No one ever believed in decommissioning anyway. Someone must have said that someone had spoken to General de Chastelain and then he said that he saw a gun, but the Unionist Party never believed that any significant amount of arms had been decommissioned. The latest IRA gesture of saying, "We are going away in a huff now. You took away our Assembly so we are not going to talk to General de Chastelain", did not have any effect at all. The world has progressed far since decommissioning became an issue.
So decommissioning is no longer an issue, but all kinds of other structures must be thought of, brought about and voted on. They must be there and put into place with the assurance that when the Northern Ireland Assembly again comes into operation it will not be brought down on a sectarian headcount.
§ Lord Hylton
My Lords, like many others who wish to see the full implementation of the Belfast agreement by all parties to it, I regret the renewed suspension of power-sharing. When this happened the Government promoted two of their Back-Bench Members to fill the ministerial vacancies. In doing so, they missed an opportunity to continue the principle of power-sharing, which might have been done by appointing two new Ministers capable of representing all traditions, including the two main political and religious ones, in Northern Ireland. That might have happened by making use of the flexibility available through the membership of your Lordships' House.
Power-sharing remains, however, in one important sector—namely, in the make-up of the police authority. I trust that this will long continue because it is so important for the acceptance of essential policing by all sections of the population. As policing is not and never was a devolved matter, I suggest that it is the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government to ensure the continued representation of all major strands of opinion in that authority. I urge all political parties to support that aim.
As to the Assembly itself, I follow the general line of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth. Would the Government consider recalling the Assembly for one specific purpose even while power-sharing remains in temporary abeyance—that is, to draft a Bill of Rights tailor-made for the needs of Northern Ireland? It is remarkable that this subject is one on which all political parties in Northern Ireland have long been agreed, at least in principle. It is not 733 enough to say that the United Kingdom Human Rights Act applies in Northern Ireland. This already has to be supplemented and applied in detail by a whole range of ombudsmen, advisory and regulatory commissions and so on. The whole subject deserves to be drawn together in a comprehensive measure, which should also set out the duties and responsibilities of citizens.
I commend this idea to your Lordships and to the Government as something which could usefully employ the energies of the elected Members of the Assembly and, at the same time, prove a catalyst to wider political agreement and inter-communal trust.
I also urge the Government not to forget the Civic Forum. Surely this consultative body could examine the performance of the many statutory boards and quangos in Northern Ireland, some of which, at least, could become more user friendly.
In short, the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland Ministers should not feel themselves too fettered by direct rule. On the contrary, they should use imagination to preserve all possible strands of power-sharing, public dialogue and consensus.
§ Baroness Park of Monmouth
My Lords, I find myself in warm agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, on two points. I deeply regret the departure of Dr John Reid—although I welcome his successor, naturally, and I hope that the change will work well. I also agree with the noble Lord very strongly that where the decommissioning matters is on the streets of Northern Ireland. The need to disarm the paramilitaries is an issue which it is logical to consider now while we are thinking of what to do next and, I hope, of what bargains may be struck with Sinn Fein/IRA.
It is evident that there will be bargains. The Minister, Jane Kennedy, was reported in the press as saying in Dublin last week that the Government, rightly, remain fully committed to the peace process and to the idea of delivering the outstanding commitments in the agreement, not in stages but all at once. I know that that is an echo of a sentence in the Prime Minister's speech, but I find it disturbing. I very much hope that no commitments are being made to deliver all at once until we have seen some action from Sinn Fein/IRA.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Lord Kilclooney
My Lords, the debate is somewhat depressing. I am sorry to say that what has happened was prophesied by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, some months ago when we debated the Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill, and by other noble Lords from Northern Ireland. I, for one, do not welcome the order to suspend devolution in Northern Ireland.
There have been some interesting comments in the debate. I followed with interest the reference of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, to human rights. I ask him to study the Belfast agreement in further detail. As one who worked for several years towards reaching that 734 agreement, I must remind the noble Lord that there were specifically five requirements for initiatives on human rights in the Republic of Ireland. It is time that he studied what progress has been made by the Republic of Ireland in complying with the requirements of the Belfast agreement in relation to human rights.
The spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, the noble Lord, Lord Smith, was clearer today in his attitude towards a condominium. I thank him for making it perfectly clear that he is opposed—and strongly opposed—to a condominium of joint rule by the Dublin government and Her Majesty's Government in Northern Ireland. That is progress from what we heard last time. I remind the House that careless talk about a condominium creates problems within Northern Ireland. If ever there were a condominium proposed—as seemed to be the impression in the last debate—it could lead to civil war and nothing less. I remind noble Lords that when the Conservative governmentand it was the Conservative government—imposed the Anglo-Irish Agreement in Northern Ireland providing for much less than a condominium, it led to tremendous civil strife in Northern Ireland and had to be removed. It was as a result of the influence of the present Government during the talks at Stormont and the conclusions of the Belfast agreement which brought that agreement to an end. So let us have no careless talk about a condominium.
The salaries of Members of the Assembly at Stormont have been reduced. It is all very easy to say, "Oh, forget about them—give them no salary." But they were elected until May next year. They are still operating from their offices, representing their constituents. I had a telephone call this morning from a MLA asking me to assist with a visa for two people in the city of Armagh. If you take away their salaries and destroy the elected representation in Northern Ireland of all the political parties—the Ulster Unionists, DUP, Alliance, SDLP and the various groups that represent paramilitary organisations—you are actually undermining the infrastructure of democracy in Northern Ireland and what degree of experience and leadership there is within the political parties. I do not think that it helps democracy in Northern Ireland simply to take the easy way out and say, "Do away with their salaries. Do away with all locally elected representatives in Northern Ireland". That is too pessimistic an approach for what may happen in Northern Ireland next year.
Devolution has been a great success. Our employment has increased. Our population has passed 1.7 million people. We now have a lower unemployment level in Northern Ireland, believe it or not, than the average in the European Union and a lower unemployment level than in many regions of Great Britain. There has not been net emigration, which I knew for most of my lifetime, but net immigration. More people are coming into Northern Ireland now than leaving it.
735 Investment has increased; tourism has increased. So even devolution has a successful side to its performance. But it has fallen, as prophesied, for two reasons. I am sorry to have to mention the second one. The first one is well known—the fact that Sinn Fein-IRA are inextricably linked and that a spy ring was discovered within the offices of the Northern Ireland Secretary of State and Sinn Fein-IRA got their hands on secret documents and messages between the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the President of the United States—and many other issues as well. That is what happened.
But the Government also helped to bring down power sharing and the Belfast agreement because the policy of Her Majesty's Government in recent years has been to diminish the Britishness of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. That was not part of the Belfast agreement. The agreement firmly said that Northern Ireland was part of the United Kingdom and that that status could not be changed without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland. But then the Government proceeded to remove the Union flag from buildings. We pointed out to the Lord Privy Seal—I fear that he did not accept the seriousness of it at the time—that in removing the Crown coat of arms from Crown court houses, as he proposed and pushed through this House against our opposition, he was further alienating unionist opinion against the Belfast agreement. So the agreement lost support.
The Patten report has been mentioned. It did not comply with the Belfast agreement. It was contrary to some of the issues in the agreement. For example, it did not suggest that there should be equality of opportunity. That is what the Belfast agreement said. What did the Patten report say? It said that everyone had to be treated equally: nationalists and unionists must be equal. That is different from equality of opportunity.
I suspect that later this month Her Majesty's Government will be bringing forward new legislation in relation to policing in Northern Ireland. I hope that the Government are listening carefully because if the new legislation involves further compromises towards Sinn Fein-IRA, that will help to bring down the Northern Ireland Policing Board, the one last remaining power-sharing operation in Northern Ireland, as the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, mentioned. I hope that if any new legislation is forthcoming, it will also address the needs and requests of the majority Ulster Unionist community.
I ask the Lord Privy Seal to let us know what is happening to the North-South Ministerial Council. As he knows, it is linked to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Since the Northern Ireland Assembly has now been suspended, I assume that the North-South Ministerial Council will also be suspended in the interim.
Like other noble Lords, I welcome the appointment of Mr. Paul Murphy as our new Secretary of State. We worked with him very closely in preparing the Belfast agreement, and he is very welcome back. I hope that 736 once again he concentrates on the issue of investment into Northern Ireland. It was disappointing to read yesterday that although Sir Reg Empey—our Minister for investment in Northern Ireland—at an Irish-US business summit in Washington last September had succeeded in getting the US Health and Human Services Secretary, Mr. Tommy Thompson, to agree to come to both the Republic and Northern Ireland to discuss investment, that visit is now only going ahead in the Republic. The United States, on the recommendation of the US consul general in Belfast, decided not to proceed with the visit to Northern Ireland. That kind of negative thing is damaging to our economy. I am sorry to see the US consul general in Belfast party to that decision.
I return to the point made by the noble Lords, Lord Fitt and Lord Rogan—suspension as against exclusion of Sinn Fein-IRA. The Ulster Unionists, the DUP, the Alliance Party and now apparently the Prime Minister were in favour of exclusion. Exclusion would have meant devolution continuing in Northern Ireland if the SDLP were not simply the yes men for Sinn Fein. That appears to be the case because the leader of the SDLP, Mr. Mark Durkan, announced at his party conference on Saturday that the Prime Minister was suggesting—I assume in a private conversation at 10 Downing Street but he let it out of the bag—the idea of exclusion but that the SDLP was not prepared to support such a proposal. That means that the SDLP in essence was in favour of Sinn Fein remaining in the Executive in Northern Ireland.
My last point is in relation to an election in May next year. In a letter from the Privy Council last week, I was told that 20 per cent of the people of Northern Ireland have not registered this year for the next election. Already 20 per cent are not on the electoral register. That shows a decline in an interest in democracy in Northern Ireland. People are tired of all the in-fighting and disappointments. How can you have public interest in an election to a body that does not exist? I fail to see how we can proceed with an election in May next year unless in advance of that date the power-sharing Executive has been restored to Stormont. If we were to ask the people of Northern Ireland to vote in an Assembly election next year and tell them, "Well, there is no Assembly—just vote and see what happens in the years ahead", we would get a very poor response.
Let us definitely have an election next May, as the noble Lord, Lord Smith, suggested. I would like to have it. But, first of all, let us ensure that we have something there that we are going to elect people to attend and participate in.
In the meantime, I would not be as pessimistic as some noble Lords. There have been advances in Northern Ireland over the past few years. I am still optimistic that something may happen next spring, after January, that will make it possible for the power-sharing Assembly to be brought back into operation. 737 And if it is not then, as an Ulster Unionist, I am very happy to continue with direct British rule of Northern Ireland from London.
§ Lord Molyneaux of Killead
My Lords, I, too, regret yet another failure, although it was inevitable. It is inevitable that this kind of procedure will continue. In this remembrance season, perhaps we should be mindful of the old military maxim:Always exploit success, never reinforce a failure".I hope, therefore, that we can concentrate on exploiting the success so manifest, for example, in Wales, which has its devolved administration—not legislature. In 1979 a previous government produced such a plan for Northern Ireland. They were told by the Foreign Office and the Dublin Government jointly that "it was not enough", to quote the words of a former Prime Minister. But those two elements—the Foreign Office and a foreign government—should have known that the choice of "not enough" and "nothing" were one and the same thing. If you say that something is "not enough", the alternative is nothing at all. And that has been, and will continue to be, the case.
After four years of experiments, surely the time has come to adopt the Welsh blueprint, which, if necessary, could be adapted as confidence develops. I am quite certain that those steps would bring nearer an assembly with the necessary modifications in time for its election next year.
§ Lord Maginnis of Drumglass
My Lords, I shall not detain the House for long. My thoughts on the present circumstances have been well and truly articulated by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, so I shall not repeat what he said. I shall speak neither with the benefit of hindsight, because that is not particularly helpful, nor with the pessimism that has been expressed by some speakers today.
I wish to exact a very specific promise from the Government in terms of what will happen over the next four, five, or six months. Whatever may be felt in terms of the shortcomings of the Belfast agreement, I am not in the privileged position of being able to disown it; indeed, I was part of that process. I have been part of public life in Northern Ireland for 30 years-20 years of which I spent as an elected representative. Hence, there is no point in pretending that mistakes have not been made, or that, if they have been made, I had nothing to do with them.
The reality is that we made an agreement in 1998 that provided an opportunity for people to move through a transitional process. No one who was realistic thought that it was something that would happen overnight. It was meant to be a transitional process, designed to give people who had been on the very extremes of violence the opportunity to move into a democratic mode, or to give support to those who represented them within a democratic mode.
My criticism of government in the past four years is that they have forgotten the obligation on elected members to adhere to "exclusively peaceful" means, 738 which were the most important words written into the agreement. Immediately Sinn Fein members were elected, both Adams and McGuinness said—though they have now changed this—"Well, of course we never were in the IRA". But we knew that they were. We know that the IRA and Sinn Fein are the same. They are not parallel; they are the same organisation. That is the important point. Sinn Fein cannot exist, or fight elections, without the consent of the army council of the IRA. The president of Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams, is a full honorary member of the army council of the IRA. Of course, there are others, but I shall not go into that detail on this occasion.
Government turned a blind eye to that situation. Government treated the two organisations as though they were separate; and, therefore, Sinn Fein did not have to demonstrate that it was operating by "exclusively peaceful" means. The promise that I want to exact from the Government today is that, from here on, no one will try to hide the reality of the two parts of the same organisation. If government do that, we shall stop having concessions made to one organisation while at the same time the Government say, "Of course, we shall get tough with the other side". If I have to prove my case, I can do so. I simply draw attention to the people who were active as terrorists in Colombia and the role that they played in the electoral processes of Sinn Fein prior to that. Noble Lords will know what I mean.
If the Government can give us that commitment today, I believe that the people of Northern Ireland will get over the pessimism that has been articulated in the Chamber this afternoon. I am sure that they will do everything that they can to get behind the Government to achieve progress. Short of that—and here I join the pessimists—we are doomed to another failure.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Dubs
My Lords, the Government really had no choice in the end but to bring forward these measures, and to close down temporarily—I hope, very temporarily—both the Assembly and the Executive. I believe that John Reid was a most excellent Secretary of State. In the event of him being replaced, I can think of no person better than Paul Murphy, with whom I had the privilege to serve for about two-and-a-half years in Northern Ireland when we moved towards the first devolution, to take on that role. Paul Murphy had the respect of all sides, not just on the day that he arrived in Belfast but after having served there for two-and-a-half years. He earned that respect because people knew that he understood the issues and had a very balanced approach towards moving forward. If we are to be optimistic, I believe that Paul Murphy is capable of taking the process further.
I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, who said that the Government treated Sinn Fein and the IRA as separate. That is not true. When I had such responsibilities, I remember constantly using an expression like, "The Government accept that Sinn Fein and the IRA are inextricably linked". To my knowledge, we have never said, or accepted, that there 739 was a separateness between Sinn Fein and the IRA. It does no service to the Government's efforts to make the peace process work to suggest otherwise.
The real problem with the present situation is that there will now be a political vacuum. The danger with such a vacuum is that the men of violence tend to try to fill it. The biggest threat at present is not that some of the people who have accepted peace will take up arms, but that the people who have never accepted a peaceful way forward will use the vacuum that currently exists and fill it with violence. That is the real danger.
The various parties in Northern Ireland, which have been mentioned in today's debate, have a much more limited margin for manoeuvre than has been suggested. I do not believe that it is necessarily fair to make suggestions about what the SDLP could do; nor do I believe that the demands made of the Ulster Unionists over recent months have been realistic. Indeed, people have often demanded of David Trimble more than he could reasonably be expected to deliver. That very limited margin for manoeuvre poses real difficulties for the Secretary of State. However, it has to be accepted as it is inherent in the situation there.
The pay of members of the legislative Assembly has been mentioned. I agree with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, on the matter. I believe that it would be a mistake to say, "We are going to cut off your pay as an incentive to getting on with the peace process". These people have given up their other careers in order to serve their constituencies across the political spectrum. We should allow them to continue to do that with pay, albeit reduced. If we say that their pay should be stopped and that they should return to their other careers, the peace process will have an even more difficult passage and the period of direct rule will be longer than it ought to be. As I say, I believe that it is right to continue to pay those people.
There are real difficulties as regards whether the elections should take place. Part of me agrees with the sentiments expressed by the Liberal Democrats; namely, that we should not stop the process. On the other hand, having an election campaign at a time when the political representatives are somewhat neutered as the Assembly has been suspended is rather difficult. It will add an air of artificiality to the process that is not healthy. I am in two minds about that. I would rather leave that decision to the Secretary of State in the light of the circumstances that arise in the early part of next year.
Finally, there is a success story. We have had a successful Assembly in Northern Ireland for several years. We have had a successful Executive there for several years. Ministers of all parties there have behaved responsibly and have made proper decisions. For God's sake, let us not throw that away.
§ Viscount Bridgeman
My Lords, I echo the remarks of my noble friend Lord Glentoran. We on this side of the House very much deplore the continual concessions to nationalists at the expense of loyalists. In our view the Government have taken the easy option of suspension rather than exclusion.
740 I refer to the remarks about the relationship between Sinn Fein and the SDLP that have been made by several noble Lords. I very much bear in mind the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, that is. that there are two sections in Northern Ireland. I believe that he has often used the word "tribalism". We on this side would like to see the SDLP become a more positive influence in the Province and stand up and be counted.
The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, in his perceptive speech said that the continued violence of the loyalists must not be used as an excuse for the IRA to continue in the same vein. We have questions for the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal. What is the Government's strategy? In particular, will the Minister clarify Ms Jane Kennedy's remarks in Dublin which, as my noble friend Lady Park said, suggest that we are to have the implementation of Weston Park almost in one leap? Are we to have elections? The noble Lords, Lord Kilclooney and Lord Fitt, made perceptive remarks in that regard. If I understood the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, correctly, he said that the elections should take place to test whether the extremist vote will emerge as we expect.
In conclusion, the view of this side of the House is that the recreation of trust will require leadership, patience, strength, determination and courage. Noble Lords on all sides of the House very much hope that the Government exhibit those qualities. I am encouraged by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, as regards the capability and promise of the new Secretary of State. If the Government can deliver the aim that I have mentioned they will certainly have the support of this party.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I am grateful, as always, for an interesting debate. All noble Lords have made at least one comment with which I agree.
I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, who said that the present situation is a great disappointment. Other noble Lords agreed. It is a disappointment but it is not a terminal catastrophe. The noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, made some extremely powerful points. He said that the level of unemployment had substantially declined and that the population had increased. He also referred to the good economic outturn. He is right to point out that had those results been brought about in any other part of the United Kingdom they would have led to great rejoicing. That point should not be overlooked. We do Northern Ireland a great disservice by not constantly repeating the points that the noble Lord mentioned.
I hope that we shall continue on a bipartisan basis. We never departed from that when the previous government were in power. It is extremely important to put party political advantage on one side. I suggest with great respect that as regards the people of Northern Ireland it is deeply irresponsible not to do our utmost to maintain a bipartisan approach.
§ Lord Glentoran
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for giving way. I make it absolutely clear that we have no intention of breaking the bipartisan agreement. I said that we would support the 741 Government. We welcomed the appointment of the new Secretary of State. However, we reserve the right to be critical of certain tactics that may be used; that is our job.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I accept that entirely. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, in my extensive dealings with him both in the Chamber and outside, has ever varied. But I agree with what other noble Lords have said; namely, that sometimes language needs to be considered with great care—I do not address my remarks to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran—and needs to be used—I refer to places other than this House—with great care and scruple.
The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, referred to disbandment and decommissioning. I do not know the motive of the IRA in saying that it was withdrawing communications with General de Chastelain. A short time ago I had the great privilege of spending a good deal of time with General de Chastelain and asking his opinions. I simply do not know the tactical basis of what was done. However, I took the trouble to watch the recent programme on Martin McGuinness in which he said that his war with the British state was over. If he meant what he said, it is fairly unambiguous and, I should have thought, is cause for optimism.
The noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, asked me about the elections, as did other noble Lords. I shall deal with that as a distinct topic. The elections are still set to take place on 1st May 2003. Suspension of the Assembly does not change the fact that elections are set by law for 1st May of next year. I do not want to intrude into private grief between the noble Lords, Lord Kilclooney and Lord Smith of Clifton. I hope that I am far too wise—at least in this context—to get involved in that. However, I can tell noble Lords that today the Secretary of State will announce his determination with regard to salaries and allowances. I do not know what that will be but as soon as that announcement is made, I shall ensure that a copy of it is placed in the Library of this House so that noble Lords will have an early indication of it.
The noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, asked me about the North/South Ministerial Council. It cannot meet at the moment as it is composed of Ministers from the devolved administration and Ministers from the Government of the Irish Republic. There are none of the former, therefore it cannot meet.
As regards what may have been said in the United States, I have tried to obtain information on that, but I have no knowledge of it, nor does anyone from whom I am able to obtain information.
The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, mentioned—as, I believe, did others—what was going on in Colombia. I simply remind your Lordships that a trial is about to start there. I believe that it is better if I do not comment on that.
A number of questions were asked about what the Prime Minister may or may not have said to Mr Durkan in—I use quotation marks, as did the noble 742 Lord, Lord Kilclooney—"a private conversation". As I understand it, the Prime Minister's consistent approach has been that there was a range of circumstances, which had to be examined carefully. The Government's conclusion at the end of the day—I adamantly believe that it is the right one—was to go for suspension.
The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, said that it is important that devolution should be returned as soon as possible. I could not agree more. That is—to answer the question of another noble Lord—the Government's strategy. I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth for his support and to the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, who has frequently assisted me outside the Chamber with his views—he has enormous experience of Northern Ireland. He is right: Dr Reid was an extremely effective and powerful Secretary of State.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Dubs and to other noble Lords who spoke of the qualities of Paul Murphy. I know of those qualities personally. When there was a Conservative government and we were in opposition—it seems a long time ago now—he and I were colleagues on the shadow Northern Ireland team. He is a man of great qualities and he is admired, respected and trusted across the whole community.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raised various questions. I agree with him about the importance of the Policing Board. It is essential that it should operate on a cross-community basis. We constantly urge Sinn Fein representatives face to face—I have done so myself—to discharge their obligations and join the Policing Board. I am not entirely without optimism that that may come about. I have no timetable.
The noble Lord also asked about bringing back the Assembly for one day. To put that in context, noble Lords will remember that the Belfast agreement required the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission to draw up proposals for a Bill of Rights to be enacted in Westminster legislation. Broad consultation is continuing. I do not see the virtue of bringing back the Assembly just for one day when in any event—
§ Lord Hylton
My Lords, I did not mean that that should be done just for one day. I meant that it should be done for long enough to draft a whole Bill; it will be a complicated Bill.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I understood that the noble Lord was speaking metaphorically; I simply went to his point. I understood what he meant, which was that there should be a recall for a specific purpose and none other. My answer remains the same. I do not believe that there would be great virtue in recalling the Assembly for that purpose because in any event we do not know the timetable by which the Human Rights Commission will report on that point.
As I said, two new Ministers have been appointed. It is essential that the people of Northern Ireland—I say this with great respect because I do not live there—are entitled to have good governance, which, with the 743 present suspension of the Assembly, needs to be discharged by Ministers who have ample time and energy to devote to the problems and difficulties of Northern Ireland. I take the point about the civic forum.
What my honourable friend Jane Kennedy said was simply a repetition of a section of the Prime Minister's speech. The noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, said that devolution had been a great success; I agree with him. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, for suggesting that one could learn a great deal from the Welsh blueprint. That will be a source of great comfort to our colleagues who make the National Assembly for Wales work.
The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, said that he would not exhibit pessimism. I agree. He said that the Government must not try to hide reality; I hope that we do not. My noble friend Lord Dubs fully dealt with that.
The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, asked what the Government's strategy was. As I said, it is to work with all due determination—and, of course, with a balanced judgment—towards elections in May and the restoration of devolved government, which I believe all noble Lords want. He also spoke about the necessity of the recreation of trust. That is so, and that is what the Government are determined to do.
I have dealt with all of the observations of noble Lords because I believe that on such an occasion it is better to deal with points as fully as I can rather than simply to make general remarks.
On Question, Motion agreed to.