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Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I hope that the words of the noble Lord will reverberate far outside this Chamber. I am sure that when they do, his remarks about the desirability of a referendum will reverberate with them and we will be able to take note of his strong recommendation.
I agree with what he implied about the electoral process revealing the true strength of Sinn Fein. I also would like to associate myself with his remarks about the extraordinary demonstrations that were seen in recent days in both parts of the island of Ireland; and, if I may say so, the touching and extraordinary courage of the parents of the young bomber in their declaration about the nature of their son's funeral.
The noble Lord rightly asked me whether it could be said that this latest development proves to the IRA that bombing pays. I think it is fair to say that we would have had a much better chance to have been where we are today a week or two ago if the bomb had not gone off. I would suggest to the noble Lord that far from hurrying the process of agreement between my right honourable friend and the Taoiseach, the explosions that we have seen in London over the past few days have delayed the process. If noble Lords take that same view with me, it is all the more important that we should proceed and realise that it is up to Sinn Fein whether it participates in a process that will take place anyway among parties who have renounced violence and who can agree on the way forward. Those parties are committed to the parliamentary traditions with which we conduct our politics in the United Kingdom and in the Republic of Ireland. I do not know whether Mr. Adams knew or did
Lord McConnell: My Lords, as an Ulster Unionist, perhaps I may join in the welcome that has been given to the Statement this afternoon. I was particularly glad to hear the noble Viscount condemn violence and assert that the Government would not give way to it. To give any concessions as a result of bombs would be shortsighted and irresponsible in the extreme because it would merely invite more bombs to produce more concessions.
I was, indeed, glad to hear the noble Viscount say that he would not deal with Sinn Fein until it renounced violence; and, I hope, until the weapons are handed over. You cannot have democratic discussions or negotiations if one of the parties has armaments and bombs readily available if that party happens to feel dissatisfied with the progress of those negotiations.
I note that the noble Viscount said there would be no ministerial dialogue with Sinn Fein. I understand from a press report that a few days ago there was a meeting at Stormont between members of Sinn Fein and civil servants. As we all know, civil servants must report to their Ministers. Is this just a device for achieving communication, while at the same time saying that there is no ministerial contact? I should like to hear an assurance from the noble Viscount the Leader of the House that negotiations, or even discussions, should not be held with Sinn Fein in any roundabout method or with any subterfuge.
I join with what the noble Lord, Lord Mason, said about the demonstrations that we saw recently in Northern Ireland. I think that they are a clear indication of the feelings of people of all political persuasions who are completely disgusted with the bombing which has gone on over so many years.
When it comes to the election, it is said that various methods will be discussed. However, I believe that the good old British system is by far the best and that we should not start playing with systems such as lists, and so on, which are quite alien to British democracy.
As regards a referendum, certainly in Northern Ireland--what they do in the Irish Republic is their own affair--I agree that the question to be asked is important. We have all seen opinion polls where a loaded question produces the answer that the person running the poll wishes to obtain. Therefore it is important that any question should be fair. Subject to those reservations, I join with other noble Lords in welcoming the Statement.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, the noble Lord speaks with great authority on these matters. I agree wholly with what he says about the shortsightedness of appearing to prove to terrorists that terrorism works. They are all too convinced of that delusion already.
On decommissioning, I can do no more than refer the noble Lord once again to the two sentences that I quoted a little earlier from paragraph 12 of the communique which seemed to me to be about as clear as we can be on the subject.
I am pleased that the noble Lord referred to the contact between officials and Sinn Fein. It was broadcast on Sunday evening last by some news channels, I think, as being talks. It is well worth making it clear that the contact which occurred was at the request of Sinn Fein and that officials merely listened to what was characterised as an urgent message. I understand that their response was no more than a restatement of present government policy.
I believe your Lordships would feel that it would be sensible at least to have a listening post so that if a communication has to be delivered there is a mechanism for doing so. But I believe that my right honourable friend has been perfectly clear that negotiations are matters for Ministers and that until Sinn Fein renounces violence in the terms that I have described to your Lordships this afternoon negotiations will not be open to Sinn Fein if it wishes to deal with Her Majesty's Government. I am delighted to be able to say that the Republic of Ireland Government maintains precisely the same position.
Lord Elton: My Lords, in adding my name to those who welcome the Statement, it would be proper to add a note of admiration for the way in which we have been brought to the situation. It will not have escaped your Lordships' notice that the return of terrorist activity, the pressure of important international events, and quite serious political difficulties have not for a moment detracted the attention of the Prime Minister and his Secretary of State from this issue as a first item of importance on the national agenda. In those circumstances, to deny any of the participants in the negotiations preceding the Statement any advantage whatever from the local domestic political difficulties is a mark of great political statesmanship and integrity which should not pass unremarked.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend. I know the pressures there have been on my right honourable friend the Prime Minister from a number of quarters in the past few days. I can testify to your Lordships' House that never for a second has he thought of trying to obtain party advantage out of the talks. I only hope that in his position I should have had the same courage.
Lord Merlyn-Rees: My Lords, I welcome the talks and the fact that the two elected governments are working together. It has not always been thus, and that is the main reason that after the events of last week there has been the announcement today.
With regard to the IRA, in my view, we should not underestimate the possibility that throughout Belfast anyway the story will be that the bombs in London have brought about the Statement today. It is easy to do that. I refer to the electoral system and testing. One test has already taken place under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lowry. As Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, and after permission from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, he chaired the convention of 1975 when there was an election and a forum. Noble Lords should look at copies of Hansard and read the debates. If anyone expects a negotiating
I wish to raise one point on the electoral system that may or may not emerge. We must have wide representation on the negotiating body; noble Lords should not forget the Protestant paramilitaries who have political parties. Under most systems they would not be elected because they are powerful in only one or two parts of Belfast. However, if they are not at the negotiating table it will lead to problems. I know that they meet with government representatives. It ought to be made clear to one of the groups that if they go down to the south and bomb Dublin, the same position will apply to them as applies to Sinn Fein: they will not be at the negotiating table. I wish the Government well; they have a difficult task ahead.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord for what he said. As regards the so-called Loyalist paramilitary parties, I should emphasise that so far they have played what anyone would call an important and constructive role. We sincerely hope that it will continue. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. It is not just Sinn Fein who have to denounce violence in the terms that I have attempted to describe to your Lordships this afternoon; it is all parties. Some parties will find that more difficult than others. We shall see. Nevertheless, the noble Lord's point is well made and taken.
We will want to put forward proposals in intensive multilateral discussions about how to deal with parties who do not achieve an adequate electoral mandate. I am sorry that at this stage I cannot be more specific to the noble Lord, but I am sure that he will understand.
I wholly agree about the story which is no doubt already running in certain parts of Northern Ireland and the Republic, as well as perhaps certain parts of Great Britain, about whether "It was the bombing wot did it". I have attempted to give my answer to that canard. We have clear internal evidence, when the story of the negotiations comes to be written, of what I regard as being the incontrovertible truth of what I have told your Lordships this afternoon. Whether we can be clever enough, direct enough and forthright enough to "unconvince" people who are inclined to believe that canard will be up to the people of Northern Ireland and the south. However, like everyone else in your Lordships' House, I am encouraged by the size of the demonstrations which may enable us to ensure that the truth is given a proper hearing.
As regards the electoral system, in the main two systems have been proposed so far. In fact, there have been many more, but two seem to be the front runners. Our mind is not closed and it is important that between 4th March and 13th March we ascertain whether we can reach an agreement which is acceptable to the parties. My right honourable friend has made it clear that in the absence of that agreement, Her Majesty's Government
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