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Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, from these Benches perhaps I may, equally, welcome the Statement just repeated by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House. I believe that the process was always going to be bumpy. Just as it is incumbent upon us not to be over-depressed or cast down by the bad times, the terrible things that happen and the bad moments in the whole process--and let us remember, for example, that the process of peace in the Middle East has been marked by periodic and terrible explosions--so I believe that we should not overreact or become over-euphoric at happier moments like this.
I believe that this is a happier moment, not so much because the package in the Statement represents some sort of magic solution to the multifarious problems of the advancing peace in Northern Ireland, but because it demonstrates that the two Governments are together again. After the very dangerous period of the past few months when the two Governments diverged, they have now made it their highest priority to find agreement.
I suspect that the noble Viscount will agree, but it seems to us on these Benches that, whenever the two Governments are together as they were so conspicuously at the time of the framework document and the joint declaration, the terrorists do not thrive and when the two Governments open up a space between them in that atmosphere, the terrorists come out again from under their stones. The fact that the two Governments are together is the indispensable rock upon which any sort of progress has to be built. Through the noble Viscount,
Perhaps I may make one or two observations. There are all the characteristics in the package of a trade-off--that is, a trade-off between the Irish Government's emphasis on fixed dates for all-party talks and the British Government's emphasis on the helpfulness of the elective process. When he replies, can the noble Viscount say whether he is now convinced that the commitment of both Governments to both elements of the package is complete? It will be tested severely in the weeks ahead.
I turn now to the second observation that I should like to make. What a conspicuously impressive phenomenon it was last weekend to see those demonstrations in Belfast and Dublin of tens of thousands of people saying that they wanted their ceasefire back! The demonstrators were turning their backs on the terrorists in a way that we have very rarely seen so publicly. In that context, I should like to emphasise particularly the brave and outspoken words of the Taoiseach, John Bruton, on the subject of the IRA.
I have one or two further questions for the noble Viscount. First, can he clarify the conditions for Sinn Fein participation in the talks? I am sure that it is right to put the onus on Sinn Fein to say whether it wants to be part of the process. There have already been three scares today in central London. It is an ever-present question in all our minds. The Government said quite clearly that the first condition is that there should be a ceasefire again. I am sure that that is right. Beyond that, I am afraid that the Statement leaves me slightly confused. In order to take part in the elections and the talks that follow, does Sinn Fein have to commit itself to the Mitchell principles? At one point in the Statement it appears that during the talks Sinn Fein will have to be consistent in its approach to those principles rather than that being a precondition. I should be most grateful for some guidance on that question.
Secondly, among the issues to be settled--they are very large issues and I fear that, as so often, the devil will be in the details of the package--there is the question not so much of electoral systems (where I gather the intention is to have preferential voting) but of the basis of the constituency. As the Statement does not refer to that matter, perhaps the noble Viscount will be able to clarify that aspect.
Thirdly, there is the important question of what the nature and the role of this elected body is to be. If we cannot be clear as to what it is--and, indeed, the Statement is not clear on that--we should be clear as to what it is not. Are we clear that it is not a reversion to Stormont? In other words, that it is not to be a talking shop, but simply a transitional gearing towards a negotiating body. I must say that I am most unclear from the Statement as to the answer to that question.
Finally, I should like to say a few words about a referendum. If we are to have a referendum, please let us have a meaningful question. It would be totally meaningless to have the sort of question that has so far been discussed, for example, "Are you against violence?", or, "Are you in favour of motherhood and apple pie?" If we had such a referendum, it might be sensible to ask: "Should only parties committed to a peaceful future take part in talks?" That would be a meaningful referendum question. Let us only have a referendum if it asks a question which has some meaning in it and which will advance the process.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to both noble Lords for the measured, restrained and extremely constructive welcome they have given to my right honourable friend's Statement. One of the most comforting elements during these distressing past few weeks has been the statesmanlike support both parties opposite have given to the Government in what has been a difficult process.
I can confirm the analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, of the three elements. I shall not bother to repeat them here, except to say that he is right about that. As regards the referendum, which is the fourth element that the noble Lord mentioned, that is a kite which has so far been flown and we do not yet know whether it will be brought successfully to earth. However, it is clear that it could be helpful in the prosecution of the process to hold a referendum both in the north and the south. I certainly note what the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, said about the nature of the question. I shall make sure that that is brought to the attention of my right honourable friends in the consideration of what the question ought to be. It is a matter which will have to be discussed between the parties in the course of the intensive talks, which it is hoped will begin on 4th March next. It is hoped that they can be brought to an end by 13th March. That is another question that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, asked.
I was also delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Richard, say that Sinn Fein cannot run the talks. It is absolutely right that they should renounce violence, particularly in view of the undertakings that they gave at the beginning of the 17-month ceasefire. It is important that they should be able to convince us this time, if and when they declare another ceasefire, in the most believable manner.
In that context I should make it plain to the noble Lord, Lord Holme, that the condition for Sinn Fein, and any other party which has been associated with violence (and we should remember that Sinn Fein is not the only party that has been associated with violence), is that there should be a ceasefire. In answer to the two understandable questions which the noble Lord asked arising out of his observations I can do no better than quote the words at paragraph 12 of the agreed communique which was issued at the end of the talks which my right honourable friend held this afternoon
Both noble Lords asked what was the purpose of the elected body. The electoral process is designed to choose the negotiating teams. As my right honourable friend's Statement indicated, there could also be a role for a forum consisting of all those elected, which, as my right honourable friend also said, many believe has a role to play as a forum for peace. Precisely what that role will be will have to be nailed down between 4th and 13th March. Clearly, before we can proceed it is important that all the parties we need to persuade to participate in the process should agree what that role should be. I should be grateful if noble Lords will allow me to rest my comments at that point.
I wholly sympathise with the warning of the noble Lord, Lord Holme, that we should not be over-optimistic, just as we had no need to be over-pessimistic during the past two or three weeks. Nevertheless, as my right honourable friend has emphasised, we should be aware that the road ahead will be difficult and stony. As both noble Lords said, the only way we can hope to make progress is by trying to ensure as best we can that both Governments move as one.
Finally, I shall of course pass on to my right honourable friend, and via him to the Taoiseach, the congratulations of the noble Lord, Lord Holme. The best reward that any of us can have is that this process should lead to a successful conclusion.
Lord Mason of Barnsley: My Lords, I agree with what my noble friend said. I agree with the Statement, and I believe that all parties in this House will be prepared to back the course that has been outlined by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, and especially the election proposals for the Province. I believe that eventually that will reveal the democratic strengths of all the parties concerned, but particularly the strength of the Provisional Sinn Fein.
I agree in particular with what the noble Lord, Lord Holme, said. The vast majority of the peoples of the island of Ireland are yearning again for a ceasefire. They have had 18 months of peace and are yearning for a return; witness the thousands of people who marched in north and south last weekend. If there was a referendum in both north and south--without worrying at this stage about the words, which would be centred upon peace--there would be a vast majority in support. What is more, it would be a clear declaration that the Provisional IRA would be isolated.
Did the Government ascertain whether Gerry Adams knew that war was to be declared, for that is what it really is? If so, why did he not warn Her Majesty's Government? If he did know, he should have warned them; if he did not know, what credibility has he left to negotiate a ceasefire? Are Her Majesty's Government still dependent on Adams to assist in effecting a ceasefire, or have they determined--as was indicated in the Statement--to go ahead with all-party talks to the exclusion of Adams?
Of course we are trying to be optimistic, but there are many irreconcilables to be considered during the course of the next few months. I notice that the Provisional Sinn Fein say that there should be no elections before talks; Her Majesty's Government say that elections must precede talks. We cannot iron out those differences at the moment, but they will be some of the imponderables.
In my opinion it is essential that the Government have a referendum as quickly as possible, in both north and south. The result is already clear to us, but it will be a clear indication to the Provos that they are isolated and the vast majority want peace.
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