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Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, will my noble friend convey to the Prime Minister the congratulations of many of us in this House on a considerable and what may well be an historic achievement? Can he say whether the improvement expected to be brought about in the situation in Northern Ireland will enable there to be some withdrawal of our forces from the Province?
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, again, I am sure that my right honourable friend will be grateful for my noble friend's congratulations. I should emphasise that the diagnosis of the level of security forces needed for the Province is one that is left to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who acts exclusively on the advice of the commander-in-chief and the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
I should emphasise alsoand I am grateful to my noble friend for giving me the opportunity to do sothat the considerations which motivate my right honourable friend in coming to his conclusions are purely those of security. To the greatest degree possible the security of the inhabitants of the Province should be protected and no low-down political considerationsif I can put it that wayshould play a part in his coming to that judgment.
Lord Merlyn-Rees: My Lords, like other speakers today I congratulate the Government and wish them well. I say that not simply because I believe it, but also because, if one looks outside in the corridors of this building, this House in particular of the two Houses has been convulsed on the Irish question at times when political partisanship took over from the needs of Ireland. One must never allow that to happen again.
Is the Minister aware that in the face of history the best thing we can do is simply to wish the people of Northern Ireland and the two sovereign governments well and to hope? There has been hope before on many occasions. There was Sunningdale; it failed. There were the elections to a convention; they failed. I rehearse those and others simply because good intentions are not enough. Northern Ireland is a place apart. That is not always understood in Dublin and certainly not in London. The best thing we can do is let the people of Northern Ireland and their political representatives talk. My advice is that we should not rush the situation. This is an excellent document but we must give it time to sink in and not expect quick results.
I have no doubt that the publication of the document will be greeted in certain quarters with acute disappointment. But whatever views may be expressed, those who are outraged by its contents should approach the talks in a thoroughly constructive frame of mind. They should be prepared to negotiate with Her Majesty's Government in a way which does not put them in the wrong should the talks fail. That is a matter of crucial importance for our friends in the Province. I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving me the opportunity to say so.
Lord Colnbrook: My Lords, I add my congratulations to those already expressed to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. This is a remarkable occasion. We are assembled here today with Northern Ireland having been at peace for six months and before us a proposal agreed between the governments of the United Kingdom and the Republic. There seems a good chance I put it no higherthat the political parties in Northern Ireland will sit down and think about it.
I know how painstaking a job it must have been to bring the parties to the present position. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, and others who say that this is the moment to let the parties get on with it. However, I have two questions. First, can I take it that the Government do not expect the proposals in the paper to happen? The paper is a framework for discussion. Am I right in supposing that the Government have produced what are actually ideas? Some people speak of them as though they are set in concrete. But they are not. They are ideas. It is my guess that what finally emerges will not accord exactly with what is contained in the document. I hope that the Government understand that and are prepared to accept such an outcome.
Secondly, my noble friend spoke about the triple lockapproval by the parties, the people and Parliament. Is it envisaged that it will happen in that order? If it does, and if a scheme is agreed by the political parties and then by a referendum in Northern Ireland, Parliament will not be able to do much about it, will it? It will have to accept it. Will there be an opportunity for Parliament to say, "Look, you political parties in Northern Ireland have produced a scheme, but we are not sure that we like it very much". I do not know whether that has been thought of. I shall be grateful for my noble friend's observations.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, my noble friend asks two very important and pertinent questions. We do not necessarily expect it to happen like that. It is perfectly possible that it will not happen at all. The subtitle of the document reads:
Lord Stallard: My Lords, I want only a minute. I apologise to the noble Viscount for missing the opening minute of his remarks. Like others, I welcome the document and its production. I congratulate all those concerned. A great wealth of knowledge has gone into the background of its preparation.
That appears under "A New Framework for Agreement". We all know that this idea has been pushed around. It is almost put forward as a panacea that if the south gives up or reneges on Articles 2 and 3 of its constitution, that will solve the problem. That was never the problem and it has never been quoted as such. What has always been stated as the problem is Section 75 of the 1920 Act which gives Britain complete jurisdiction over the six counties in the Province of Ulster.
and so forth. It does not say, "So that there is no territorial claim of right to jurisdiction". If we are to start on a level playing field, would it not be better if the offer to adjust the Irish constitution to withdraw territorial claims was matched by withdrawing Section 75 which has always been the cause of the trouble? If that section were withdrawn from the 1920 Act we could probably get down to a level discussion straightaway.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, before I try to answer the substance of the noble Lord's question, I emphasise what my right honourable friend has continually emphasised since the beginning of the negotiations. The overwhelming majority of the population of the Province wish to remain members of the United Kingdom. It is in that context that the Government are approaching this extremely difficult and contentious question.
As regards the specifics of the noble Lord's question, paragraph 20 of the joint framework document addresses that particular part of the problem. It is perfectly possible that the section of the 1920 Act to which the noble Lord refers can come into play and be altered. But I emphasise the answer which I gave to my noble friend Lord Colnbrook a moment ago. This is the beginning of what could be highly complex negotiations in which everything is up for negotiation. It is perfectly possible that that matter can be an element of it. I am sure that the negotiators will note what the noble Lord said.
Lord Chalfont: My Lords, will the Minister convey my own modest congratulations to the Prime Minister and the Government on what looks like a most extraordinary breakthrough in this agonising situation? Perhaps I may ask him a question which arises from something which the Minister said and from something which was said from the Benches behind him. The Minister said that the IRA had to be firmly committed to the democratic process before any further serious steps can be taken. He was then asked about the possible withdrawal of security forces from Northern Ireland. These seem to me to be two matters which come together as regards the continued possession by the IRA of considerable stockpiles of explosives and firearms. I am not going to ask the Minister at what stage this matter will be addressed because that clearly would be a foolish thing to do at this stage of the process. Does he agree that there is no balance here? The question of the possession of arms and ammunition by the IRA is not to be equated with the presence of the security forces and the Army. Does the Minister agree that some idea of total demilitarisation is a fallacy and that there is no question of moral equivalence being accepted here?
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