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Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, from these Benches I add our support to that expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for the Statement and for the initiative that has been taken. Also, I express our warm congratulations to the Prime Minster and the Taoiseach for this agreement reached at the 59th second of the 11th hour before the visit of President Clinton. All of those who follow the affairs of Northern Ireland will know that we should not look for rapid progress. It is a long-standing, deeply rooted, historical dispute and nothing will happen suddenly. We must be prepared for a long haul. On the other hand, as the noble Viscount said in presenting the Statement to us, momentum and movement are essential, and the agreement represents momentum.

I am bound to say that in some ways that momentum was achieved by pushing the problem forward into some point in the future. As an agreement, it has some of the characteristics of the device much disliked by lawyers of an agreement to agree or, in this case, an agreement to disagree. But at the present juncture it is more helpful than not that we have momentum.

I do not suppose the Government feel particularly happy about the last minute alarms and excursions by which they arrived at this point. The great change in the past 12 months, from the time of the framework document, is the fact that in some ways Sinn Fein has drawn a wedge between the two governments. The most notable fact 12 months ago was that the two governments held together solidly and provided a centre for this difficult process. It can no longer be said that that is the case. To that extent I fear that Sinn Fein may have succeeded to some extent in its mission to drive a wedge in between the partners who must see the process through.

I hope that the noble Viscount will not find it too cynical if I ask whether the agreement would have been arrived at in this rather melodramatic way if it had not been for the visit of the US President. Like other noble Lords, I welcome the visit of President Clinton. I felt that he made an extraordinarily good speech this morning and believe that he and the United States have a constructive role to play in Ireland and Northern Ireland, not least in the matter of economic assistance. But we must not allow anybody to persuade us that anybody can solve this problem other than the British and the Irish Unionists and Nationalists working together. This is not, nor should it become, a Bosnia where we are dependent on the United States for leadership.

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Perhaps the noble Viscount can answer two specific questions. The Statement and the communique mentioned the elected body as a possibility. We on these Benches are in favour of an elected body in Northern Ireland; it will allow the opinions of the people of Northern Ireland to come into play and not simply the political leadership. For instance, if Sinn Fein were to fight an election for an elected body, it would have to answer questions on public platforms as to whether it has given up the use of violence for ever and is prepared to come to talks on a peaceful basis. There is therefore much to be said for an elected body. Do the Government contemplate, to the extent that this has been discussed, that that body must be an elected assembly or can it simply be an elected body constructed for the specific purpose of a short-term and specific brief?

My other question relates to the decommissioning point. There seems to be a difference of emphasis between the communique issued by the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach and the Statement we heard this afternoon. Is the Mitchell Commission--to use the description of the noble Lord, Lord Richard--free to make recommendations in respect of what we have all learnt to call Washington 3? Is it free to do so or not? I shall be grateful for the Minister's reply.

I hope that I have not appeared too grudging in my welcome. This is a difficult moment and it does advance the process. But does the noble Viscount agree that the key is to get the democratically elected representatives of the Unionist and Nationalist communities of Northern Ireland to start talking to each other? If they did that bilaterally, then the point of initiative would move. The great danger is that the initiative rests too much in the hands of terrorists or former terrorists and their associates and too little in the hands of the people and the elected politicians of Northern Ireland.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and to the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, for their most generous--I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Holme, was in the least bit grudging--welcome for the progress that was achieved late last night. In particular I shall pass on to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister the most eloquent tribute paid to him by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for which I am very grateful and for which I know my right honourable friend will be grateful too. I welcome the wish of both noble Lords to see further progress. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Holme, understands the need for trying to maintain a form of momentum--something which underlines this agreement. I am also grateful to both noble Lords for their welcome for the twin-track approach.

I was asked a number of specific questions. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, asked me about the precedence which each of the twin tracks would take over the other. The idea, which I think was touched on in the Statement, is that these two matters could and should proceed in parallel, that in a very few days indeed, in the wake of this agreement, exploratory talks should begin and that the international commission under the chairmanship of Senator Mitchell should be appointed and begin to sit.

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The noble Lord, Lord Holme, asked me about the other two members of the commission. I hope he will forgive me if I do not trail any names at the moment. A number of names are being considered. I can confirm that both the other members of the commission will come from outside the British Isles.

With regard to the terms of reference, both noble Lords asked me in different ways about what has come to be known in the jargon as Washington 3. Perhaps I may trespass on the patience of the House for a moment by trying to make clear what the remit of the international body will be, particularly in relation to the third criterion enunciated in Washington. Both Governments have given the international body a remit to provide an independent assessment of the decommissioning issue. We have set down in paragraphs 6 and 7 of the communique the specific requirements for the body's report. It may be worth while if I once again repeat those requirements.

They are, first, to identify and advise on a suitable and acceptable method for full and verifiable decommissioning; and, secondly, to report whether there is a clear commitment on the part of those in possession of such arms to work constructively to achieve that. I ought to make it clear, as the communique makes clear, that it will be for the international body to determine its own procedures. The two governments expect it to consult widely and to invite relevant parties to submit their analysis of matters relevant to the decommissioning issue. Their analysis will go as wide as they like. But the commission itself, in reaching its conclusions within its remit, should consider such evidence on its merits and within the remit. It will be for the commission itself to make that judgment about what part of the evidence falls within its remit. I should emphasise that it is agreed between both governments that the body will not question our position on the third Washington criterion. It was not established to make recommendations on when decommissioning should start. We believe that that is properly a matter for discussion in the preparatory talks and for a government decision. Indeed, the communique issued by both Prime Ministers makes that perfectly clear.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, asked about the status of the recommendations. I should emphasise that they are purely advisory. The timetable of February which has been agreed is one which we hope can be achieved, because momentum, as the noble Lord, Lord Holme, said, is important. But it is a target. It is not a deadline but a target and it is one which we shall certainly do our best to make sure is achieved.

The noble Lord, Lord Holme, asked whether there was a wedge between the governments. I think it is clear from the Statement that there was a difference of emphasis which was clearly acknowledged by both Prime Ministers. I do not think there is anything new in that. However, that difference of emphasis is, as the Statement said, one which both Prime Ministers--this was clearly so last night--wish to emphasise should not stand in the way of the momentum which the noble Lord himself emphasised is so important.

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As to whether the agreement would have been arrived at if the President of the United States had not been due in London this morning, I leave for the House to judge. I would merely say that this agreement has been a very long time cooking. Progress has been made over the past months and weeks. We had hoped that an agreement might have been possible as long ago as September. I think both Dublin and London were hopeful that that might be possible. Unfortunately, there were some details which needed agreement and those details, fortunately, appeared to be capable of resolution over the past few weeks. It was clearly helpful and appropriate that if possible--it was not essential--that agreement could be arrived at for the President's visit. However, it was not, I think it is right to say, the catalyst which brought it about. There was good will from both sides of St. George's Channel.

Perhaps I may also take this opportunity to say how much I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Holme, in the welcome that he gave to the speech of the President of the United States this morning to the joint Session in the Royal Gallery. I am sure the whole House will agree that it was a magnificent occasion. We were honoured to hear a very fine speech in which, if I may say so, the President honoured us with a penetrating analysis of world problems and gave a very great deal of reassurance to all sides of your Lordships' House.

Finally, so far as concerns an elected body, the noble Lord, Lord Holme, will be aware that the United Unionist Party has for some time been interested in the question of an elected body. As the noble Lord said, no solution, including the device or mechanism of an elected body, can be imposed any more than any other kind of solution can be imposed. As the noble Lord so rightly said, these matters are for the people of Northern Ireland. If it is proposed that an elected body is a sensible way forward, whether it be by means of an assembly or what I might loosely call a convention, that is something for agreement. It is not something which Her Majesty's Government would in any way wish to stand in the way of if it appeared to be a way forward to which all parties could agree.

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