HL Deb 22 October 2002 vol 639 cc1214-6

2.45 p.m.

Lord Glentoran asked Her Majesty's Government:

In the light of alleged political espionage in the Northern Ireland Office, what action they will take, including consultation with the House authorities, to ensure that a similar situation has not occurred and will not occur in the Palace of Westminster.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, there has been no suggestion emerging from the investigation that there is any similar activity in the Palace of Westminster. There are arrangements in place in the Palace to prevent breaches of security. The House authorities rightly never discuss the details of such security arrangements. If there was fear of a security breach in the Palace, it would be the responsibility of Scotland Yard in conjunction with the House authorities to investigate that matter.

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that comprehensive Answer. However, does he not agree with me that Sinn Fein has seriously abused the democratic process and that the surest way to ensure that the Palace of Westminster is not contaminated by Sinn Fein spy rings is to withdraw all privileges, including access to the Palace, from Sinn Fein until it has met the Prime Minister's demand made last week to disband PIRA and become true democrats?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, we need to bear in mind that a police investigation is going on. As I advised your Lordships a few days ago, whether we like or despise the proposed defendants, they still have their democratic rights. Your Lordships recently discussed the question of privileges in the Palace of Sinn Fein Members of Parliament. That is a matter, of course, for the relevant House committee in the usual way, subject to the endorsement of the House.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord agree that the Northern Ireland Executive had to be suspended because the terrorists with whom Sinn Fein is associated refused to forswear violence? In those circumstances what possible justification can there be for Sinn Fein members, who have disqualified themselves from serving in government in Northern Ireland and who refuse to take their seats and do their work as MPs in the other place, to be rewarded with accommodation and lavish expenses to the tune of £100,000 each a year at the expense of the British taxpayer?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, the noble Lord knows, as we have been over this matter on many occasions, that the decisions to which he refers are essentially, in the overwhelming majority of cases, questions for the House of Commons. I personally believe—I think that the House would agree—that the decision taken by Dr Reid to suspend the Assembly was absolutely right. It was supported by the United States administration and the Government of the Irish Republic. It is an extremely important step. However, I cannot give answers to the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, on matters which are essentially within the jurisdiction of the House of Commons.

Lord Smith of Clifton

My Lords, can the noble and learned Lord assure the House that all the systems of electronic messaging are as secure as they can be?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, the Security Service has been asked to carry out a thorough root and branch scrutiny of the arrangements in the Northern Ireland Office. That is under way at the moment. I shall not, of course, be able to announce the results of that inquiry for obvious reasons.

Lord Rogan

My Lords, the discovery of the alleged republican spy ring at Stormont has raised fears that such activities are taking place right across government both in Northern Ireland and here on the mainland. Not all of your Lordships might be aware that the Home Civil Service and the Northern Ireland Civil Service are quite separate entities. Can the noble and learned Lord assure me that the security requirements for entry to the ranks of the Northern Ireland Civil Service are as stringent as those to comparable ranks of the Home Civil Service and, if not, why not?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I can give that assurance, but, nevertheless, it is important that we take every additional step which is why I answered the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, in the way that I did. There is a security assessment being carried out at the moment.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether the Government have any longer any doubt that Mr Gerry Adams is a member of the IRA's Army Council?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, that is not an answer that I am capable of giving.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, the newspapers report that the three IRA men who are held in Colombia have given as their reasons for being there that they wanted to get to know the people, admire the natural beauty and study the peace process as practised in Colombia. Does the noble and learned Lord believe that any of those three reasons apply to the gentlemen—I have to call them that—who are now here representing Sinn Fein and could he tell me what is the point of them being here? What are they doing for the peace process?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I do not know the nature of the defence of the defendants in Colombia. A trial is about to start. However, I can say, having defended many people in criminal trials on many occasions, that the ingenuity of the human mind knows few limits.