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Lord Jenkins of Hillhead: My Lords, my object today is to support the Prime Minister. I congratulate him on the consistency, courage and conviction with which he has pursued his Irish policy. I cannot refrain from saying that if he had shown the same qualities in other aspects of policy, he, the Government and the country might be in a better position today. But those are matters for other occasions; let there be no carping today. I only hope that the Prime Minister's initiative meets with the success that it deserves.

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I shall ask only one question and add two comments. First, on page 7 of the Statement it is stated that there will be,


    "no question of putting proposals to a referendum before there is agreement among the main political parties".

Can the Lord Privy Seal clarify how far the adjective "main" extends in that context?

Secondly, I turn to the comments. First, no one should look for differences between us and the Government on the issue. There are differences of emphasis but they are small. My second comment is that perhaps it would be appropriate for those who are keen to unfurl the banner of unionism to appreciate that the word is meaningless and perverse unless there is some outside body of opinion with which one wishes to be united; and that implies a decent respect for the views of Her Majesty's Government and all parties in Great Britain. I hope that the policy and initiatives which have been taken meet with the success that we all wish for them.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am sure that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will welcome the wholehearted support which the noble Lords, Lord Richard and Lord Jenkins, have shown for the documents which he launched today in Belfast. I shall ensure that my right honourable friend is made aware of the terms in which they have welcomed his and the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland's initiative.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, in particular remarked—although he did not use the phrase, I am sure that he would not dissent from it—that the devil would be in the detail. I do not believe that any noble Lords would dissent from that sentiment. The support that he expressed in particular for a consensual approach and for the importance of ensuring majority support in the Province is one that I particularly welcome. He asked whether other documents would be considered. I assume that he meant documents produced in particular by constitutional parties within the Province. The answer to that is an unequivocal yes.

The noble Lord also asked how the north/south body would work. Underlying this whole document, and indeed my right honourable friend's presentation of it, is the word "consent". It is a sentiment that the noble Lord himself identified. There can be no question that, although it would be highly unconvincing to deny that the British Government feel bound to commend this document for consideration, particularly after two years' negotiation with the Government of the Republic, to all the parties in Northern Ireland, nevertheless Her Majesty's Government clearly recognise that there is no part of these proposed documents (either Part I or Part II) which is not open to negotiation by the parties concerned. Therefore, the nature of the north/south body in particular and the mechanics by which it would operate are merely suggested. In that context the list that the noble Lord read out of possible subjects for the north/south body to concern itself with was, as it were, a shopping-list. It would be for negotiation to determine whether those subjects would be suitable or acceptable; whether they should be fewer in number to begin with and added to; or, indeed, whether they should be reduced. I am sorry that I cannot be more specific to the

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noble Lord. But I am sure that he will appreciate that it is very much in the spirit of the document to make it clear that these are no more than suggestions.

As regards the assembly, the noble Lord asked me how the panel would be elected. With the permission of the House, I refer him to paragraphs 18 and 19 of Part I of the first document. I appreciate that the noble Lord cannot have had time to do anything more than glance at the document, which was inevitable under the circumstances of today. But I am sure that in both paragraphs he will see that there is a fairly general suggestion for the nature of the work of the panel. Later, on page 9, it is clearly set out that the panel would be elected by proportional representation and could intervene and act as a facilitator in matters of interest in order to balance the activities of the assembly. These matters are necessarily general at the moment. It is important, if this is to work, as the noble Lord said, that the general sentiments should be backed by rather more specific agreements as time goes on. I think Her Majesty's Government would recognise that if it were left at this rather vague stage we would lay ourselves open to all sorts of difficulties.

The noble Lord also asked me in particular about a Bill of Rights. In Part II of the document he will see at paragraphs 50 and 51 a reference to the question of a guarantee of fundamental human rights and a comprehensive protection; and that that particular paragraph states that each government,


    "will discuss and seek agreement with the relevant political parties in Northern Ireland as to what rights should be specified and how they might best be further protected, having regard to each Government's overall responsibilities including its international obligations".

Paragraph 51 specifies that,


    "both Governments would encourage democratic representatives from both jurisdictions in Ireland to adopt a Charter or Covenant, which might reflect and endorse agreed measures for the protection of the fundamental rights of everyone living in Ireland",

and it specifies what those rights might be.

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, also expressed support in a manner which my right honourable friend will be very pleased to receive. He asked me in particular which main parties would constitute the effective bar under what has come to be known as the "first lock". At the moment, those are the principal constitutional parties which have renounced violence. As the noble Lord will be aware, they at the moment include the two principal unionist parties, the Alliance Party and the SDLP. It is open, of course, to Sinn Fein to join that number if there is to be a successful outcome to the exploratory, and possibly subsequently substantial, talks which we hope will follow from the existing talks at Stormont. I am sure that the noble Lord would agree with me that it would be wholly inappropriate for Sinn Fein to take part in those talks until it had firmly shown itself to be committed to the democratic process and not the path of violence.

4.17 p.m.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff: My Lords, I have listened to many Statements over many years in which we have endeavoured from this side of the water to put forward solutions to the problems that exist in Northern

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Ireland. I do not think that any previous document has gone as far to reconcile for rational purposes the different aspirations of the people of Ireland, north and south, as this document does. Indeed, I would go further. Although the noble Viscount the Leader of the House asked that the document should be read carefully, perhaps I may be allowed to say on a first, quick reading of it that this is the most thorough and thoughtful document that has been put forward for consideration by the people of Northern Ireland as well as those of the south since the 1921 treaty. It deserves the fullest consideration by all those who are involved.

In adding congratulations to those that have already been expressed, we ought also to say that Mr. Dick Spring has made a most constructive series of proposals. There is no doubt that what is said in this document represents a tremendous leap forward for the people and the government both in Northern Ireland and southern Ireland. Mr. Spring is to be congratulated, too, on the way in which he has conducted his part in these negotiations.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff: My Lords, I should like to add one more point and ask one question. The point is this. I say to the people of Northern Ireland that if these proposals are considered carefully, I hazard a guess—I would go so far as to say —that most citizens of Great Britain on this side of the water would support them as the most rational way forward while protecting the aspirations of all the parties concerned in this matter. I hope that they will be considered in that light.

Can the Minister say whether the Government have any view about what they mean by a "majority" of the people? We have seen some unfortunate examples of what "majority" can mean, especially in the region of devolution. It would be interesting to know whether the Government have formed any view in that regard.

Finally, though it is no doubt of great concern to us all and we are right to ask questions about the matter, the most important thing we can do now is not to stir the waters. We must allow the parties to get on with the detailed negotiations of this matter and trust that they will come to a solution. I believe that it will be in both their interests if that solution is based on the broad outline of the paper.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, the House always listens with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan. I do not say that in any spirit of oleaginousness, but particularly in view of the fact that he was Home Secretary at the beginning of the troubles and therefore at that time had responsibility for the Province. His period as a statesman spanned the latest period of the Irish tragedy and I hear what he said in relation to the role of the Irish Foreign Minister in this matter. I am sure that the House will have noted it also. I note too the clear diagnosis he gave as to the views of the inhabitants of Great Britain regarding this difficult problem. I certainly support the view that they are impatient of any impediment that may be put in the way of peace.

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The noble Lord asked me to give a closer definition of "majority". He implied that that is sometimes a rather more delicate matter than perhaps would seem evident to men of good will at first blush. Perhaps the easiest way I can expand on that is to use the phrase that became current in the Province during the course of the negotiations; that is, "the greatest number". How that phrase is defined and how the powers of the greatest number are interpreted will be at least as important as the expression, the "majority" or "the greatest number".


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