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Lord Elton: My Lords, my noble friend is well aware of the regard in which we hold Senator Mitchell, and

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the gratitude that we owe him for his intervention. I hope that he is also aware of the strong support and admiration which we have for his right honourable friend and the whole of the government team involved in conducting an extraordinarily difficult and delicate operation. We welcome the co-operation which they have had from other quarters.

At the beginning of the Statement, my noble friend pointed out that the principal obstacle on one track was the existence of weapons which were not being decommissioned. We welcome the existence of the other track to try to get round that. However, the weapons remain a matter of great concern. As it happens, we have had recently an extraordinarily successful amnesty for knives in this country. I wonder whether the principle of amnesty is present in what is now in mind. If so, is it to be extended to people? If it is extended to people, can he reassure us that it will not be extended to those who are known as killers in the terrorist cause?

My noble friend is assured of the support of all people of goodwill on all sides of the House--not that I am entitled to speak for them--and elsewhere, to expedite the legislation necessary to bring into being the new body. We recognise the importance of not giving it a handle which suggests that it will have a legislative role. However, if that body can encourage people to talk and to use words instead of weapons it will be enormously useful. That is a classic way towards peace.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend. I think that I can give him the assurance that he needs. If there is going to be decommissioning of weapons, it seems at least logical that those who hand in those weapons, or who co-operate in the decommissioning, should enjoy an amnesty from the consequences normally visited on those who possess illegal weapons. But we should draw a very clear distinction between people who are taking part in activities which lead to decommissioning and those who have taken part in terrorist crimes during the course of the recent troubles. I hope that I shall carry the House with me when I say that Her Majesty's Government certainly have no intention, as my noble friend opined, of extending that amnesty, for instance to those who have committed terrorist murders in the past.

I am grateful to my noble friend for the rest of his remarks which will give great encouragement to those of us who support my right honourable friend in this very difficult task.

Lord Blease: My Lords, I shall attempt not to delay the business of the House. However, I am sure that the House would like to hear a Northern Ireland voice; and there are a few in the House at present.

The report has had a warm, helpful and constructive welcome in the House this evening. I am particularly grateful to the noble Viscount for the way in which he presented the report and his subsequent replies to a number of questions raised. I feel that they were constructive and helpful from the Northern Ireland point of view.

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I also thank the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, for their contributions. The fact that a body of opinion here is solidly behind this very important report will be well received in Northern Ireland.

We have to recognise that the present impasse results from a tremendous amount of mistrust--mistrust by both sides of the political spectrum in Northern Ireland. The Unionists fear that talks without prior decommissioning would be at the point of a gun; and the Republicans fear that decommissioning in advance of talks would be seen as a total surrender.

We have to remind ourselves that this is an international body. The Mitchell Report offers an opportunity to break out of this apparent irresolvable dilemma. It suggests using the process of decommissioning to build the necessary confidence and to take it one step at a time during the negotiations. That is an important part of the report of which note will be taken. There will be no seeking to have matters accepted in one go. It will be a step-by-step process.

All concerned--there are sometimes many sides involved in some of the issues--should take the initial step. All in Northern Ireland should help to take the initial step in the progress towards decommissioning. It must be a step at a time.

I endorse the Mitchell principles in order to create the atmosphere needed for further steps in a progressive pattern of maintaining trust and confidence throughout the community. Trust and confidence throughout the community are very important in this respect. It must be recognised by all parties that the normalisation of policing must be at the core of the building of confidence. Policing has not been mentioned, but I see it as absolutely necessary. I feel sure from what I know of talks with the RUC that there is the utmost constructive co-operation by the RUC and, where necessary, the Garda Siochana. We all expect that there will be allegations by party spokesmen of political opportunism and shenanigans. However, I feel sure that the community will see through any of those shortsighted expressed views, and that the larger community in Northern Ireland will see the need for peace among the people in Northern Ireland, as the Leader of the House said.

I will close my remarks by saying that praise ought to be given for the generous tribute of the commission to the people of Northern Ireland. It described them as being warm and generous but between themselves they are fearful and antagonistic. My experience is not at the same level, but from what I know of trade union negotiations, employers' wars and disorders, we can agree to disagree without being disagreeable. Through enshrining that principle, we may look forward to finding a constructive accommodation as regards the needs of people in Northern Ireland.

Again, I thank those who have already spoken as leaders in their own areas in this House, particularly the Leader of the House, for his positive and constructive

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answers to the points raised. We would like to see the commission going on to do the job for which it was set up in Northern Ireland.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. His voice and experience bring considerable authority to exchanges in your Lordships' House. The words he said about the importance of confidence are entirely echoed, not only by Senator Mitchell, but also by my right honourable friend.

As regards policing, we share his hope that policing in Northern Ireland can be normalised. It has already changed considerably because of the reduced threat, to which the noble Lord can testify. As he knows, we are engaged in the process of reform. Our aim is plainly to reach a position where the police can operate unarmed and where the make up of the force represents the community balance. I am grateful for what the noble Lord said.

Lord McConnell: My Lords, I join the welcome that has been given to the Statement made by the Leader of the House, in particular to his remarks about the possibility of legislation for elections in Northern Ireland. I strongly support that and I believe that he already knows that as Ulster Unionists we support that principle as well. It is much better if one can listen to people speaking because they were elected rather than because they have a few or perhaps many guns hidden away somewhere. Let us try to get down to democratic principles as soon as possible.

I was glad to hear that legislation might come fairly quickly. I should greatly welcome that. I was also glad to hear the Leader of the House say that there would be an amnesty for people in the process of handing in arms. That is right, just as one noble Lord drew the parallel with the handing in of knives in this part of the country. I was also glad to hear that the amnesty would not extend to people who had used arms in a criminal way in the past. That is important.

I find it hard to accept paragraph 34 of the report which suggests that decommissioning could be carried out piecemeal during the course of negotiations. That is even worse than saying, "If we get all we want, we'll hand in our arms". If they are able to say, day by day, "If we get what we want today, you can have a few Semtex bombs and Armalite rifles. If we do better next week, we'll hand in a few more". That is not a democratic way of negotiating and we should not enter into that kind of arrangement.

Paragraph 20.d of the recommendations of the International Body states:


    "To renounce for themselves, and to oppose any effort by others to use force, or threaten to use force, to influence the course or the outcome of all-party negotiations".

If we accept that paragraph I do not see how anyone can subscribe to that principle if they keep arms.

I believe that everyone in Northern Ireland looks forward to a permanent peace. We must be careful that we recognise the word "permanent" and do not rush into something that will only last for a short time. We must think the matter out properly and listen to everyone who

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is concerned. As an Ulster Unionist I say that the Government will receive our full support in any sensible measures to bring about permanent peace.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I believe that the 20 minute period is up, but if it were left to this House we could reach an accommodation quite quickly. I am grateful for what the noble Lord said and note his reservations about paragraph 34. However, the constructive way in which he and the leader of his party have responded is an extremely good omen for the future.


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