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Lord Carew: My Lords, it is important that the Question put by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, is addressed. People do not like seeing horses die. No one likes seeing any animal die. I declare a special interest: for the past seven years I have been head of a world equestrian sporting body, the Three Day Event. Regretfully, in that discipline we have had several fatalities, and I have been involved in addressing them.

Will the Minister agree that the risk in equestrian sports such as racing is very, very considerable? Horses love galloping and jumping. If they did not like it, they would not do it. Can the Minister tell the House how long the inquiry that the Cheltenham authorities have set up will take? It is a very laudable thing to do. When will we have the result?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the issue is serious. It is being addressed. There is an inquiry, and the inquiry will take as long as it needs to take in order to come forward with a conclusion. That conclusion will be reported to the board, which has promised it will take action if that is appropriate.

Business

3.32 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m., my noble friend the Leader of the House will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is to be made in another place on the Northern Ireland elective process.

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Broadcasting the Judicial Business of the House: Select Committee Report

Lord Thomson of Monifieth rose to move, That the report of the Select Committee on Broadcasting the Judicial Business of the House be agreed to [HL Paper 42].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the House may be aware that, at present, a general prohibition exists on broadcasting the judicial proceedings of the House, subject to the exception set out in this report. Under that exception, judgments have been broadcast on three occasions in the past. Each time agreement to allow the broadcast was sought both from the Broadcasting Committee and the Law Lords. The present position is cumbersome. At the request of the Law Lords, the Broadcasting Committee now seeks to establish a more satisfactory arrangement.

The report recommends that the general prohibition on the broadcast of judicial proceedings be upheld, but that the Law Lords be given authority to relax the rule on a case by case basis where they think it appropriate to do so.

By retaining the general prohibition, the committee envisages that the adoption of the report will not lead to the regular broadcasting of judicial proceedings. Rather, the effect of the report will be to put in place a proper procedure for giving permission to broadcast judicial proceedings on an occasional basis.

The report has been made and agreed by the Broadcasting Committee at the request of the Law Lords themselves. The Law Lords have assured the committee that they support the recommendations contained in the report. I beg to move.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (The Earl of Lindsay): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved to resolve, That it is expedient that a tribunal be established for inquiring into a definite matter of urgent public importance, that is to say, the incident at Dunblane Primary School on Wednesday, 13th March 1996, which resulted in the deaths of 18 people.-- (The Earl of Lindsay.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Northern Ireland: Elective Process

3.34 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on the arrangement leading to all-party negotiations in Northern Ireland now being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

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    "In my Statement to the House of 28th February, I announced that all-party negotiations would commence on 10th June. In a communique issued on the same day, the British and Irish Governments also agreed on intensive multilateral consultations with the Northern Ireland parties. The purpose of these was to help the British Government draw up proposals for a broadly acceptable elective process, including the possibility of a referendum, and to try to reach agreement on the format and agenda of all-party negotiations.

    "In the course of these consultations the Government have met all the major parties and most minor parties in Northern Ireland on several occasions. Sinn Fein has of course excluded itself. There have been several meetings between the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Tanarste, Mr. Spring, including a review of the outcome of the consultations. The Irish Government have also had a number of meetings with the Northern Ireland parties.

    "In some areas, we have seen encouraging signs of convergence between the parties' views. In others, sharp differences have remained. The form of elections has been one of the main areas of disagreement between the parties.

    "Three main systems have been proposed: first, an election in 18 constituencies, each electing five members by single transferable vote; secondly, an election on a party list system across one single Northern Ireland constituency; thirdly, a single constituency election across Northern Ireland with votes for parties but not for named candidates. None of these systems has secured the clear support of major parties representing each of the main communities. Some parties have even threatened not to participate in the process and thus abort the possibility of all-party negotiations should one of the other systems be chosen.

    "I made clear in my Statement on 28th February that, if no agreement proved possible, the Government would come forward with proposals based on a judgment of what is most likely to be broadly acceptable to the parties and to the people of Northern Ireland. Whatever the merits of each of the three main systems, it is clear that none on its own meets this criterion of broad acceptability.

    "We have therefore considered how to proceed. We have decided to propose a new system including the most attractive elements of other proposals. We will therefore introduce legislation immediately after the Easter Recess providing for an election on 30th May using a list system rather than individual candidates, organised in 18 constituencies but not by single transferable vote, and supplemented by Northern Ireland-wide party preference.

    "Briefly, electors will have to register just one vote which they will cast for the party of their choice. Five seats in each of the 18 constituencies will be allocated from party constituency lists of candidates, published in advance, in proportion to each party's share of the vote. In addition, the votes in all the constituencies

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    will be aggregated and the 10 most successful parties across the whole of Northern Ireland will secure two elected representatives each from party lists published in advance.

    "I believe this is a fair and balanced system that will produce a representative outcome. The Province-wide element should help achieve the widely shared objective of making the negotiating process as inclusive as possible through representation of the smaller parties.

    "These elections will create a pool of 110 elected representatives. The successful parties will be invited by the Secretary of State to select from among their representatives negotiating teams for the negotiations to begin on 10th June. The transition from the elections to the negotiations will be automatic and immediate.

    "Our aim is to see inclusive negotiations. Sinn Fein have, however, currently excluded themselves from negotiations by the ending of the IRA ceasefire. That is their choice. But they can make themselves eligible to participate through the unequivocal restoration of the ceasefire. That, too, is their choice.

    "These negotiations need to take place in an atmosphere of confidence. As I told the House on 28th February, all parties will need to make clear at the beginning of negotiations their total and absolute commitment to the principles of democracy and non-violence set out the Mitchell report and to address, also at the beginning of negotiations, Senator Mitchell's proposals on decommissioning. There can be no backing away from this. Equally there must be confidence that, as the negotiations proceed, they will be comprehensive and address all legitimate issues.

    "As well as furnishing negotiating teams, the elected representatives will be members of an elected forum to meet in Belfast on a regular basis when negotiations are not in session. The purpose of discussion in this forum will be to promote dialogue and mutual understanding within Northern Ireland.

    "The forum will not engage in the negotiations, which will be free-standing, but could interact with and inform the process at the request of the participants in negotiations. For example, the negotiators might agree to commission discussions, studies or reports from the forum. The legislation will also provide for the forum to be able to conduct hearings at which public submissions by relevant bodies or individuals can be made.

    "The forum's life will be time limited to 12 months, renewable for up to a maximum of a further 12 months. It will not continue in existence if negotiations are no longer in process. In its procedures, it will be required to proceed by broad consensus.

    "We have also looked at proposals for referenda. We agree that the people of Northern Ireland must have full ownership of the negotiation process and its outcome. The electoral legislation will give the Government powers to hold referenda in Northern Ireland. This will enable us to meet our

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    undertaking to put the outcome of negotiations to the people of Northern Ireland before submitting it to Parliament.

    "It has also been argued that a referendum could be valuable, for example, on the use of violence for political ends. Our judgement at present is that the case for such a referendum has not yet been conclusively made. But we have not ruled out the option of holding a referendum with an appropriate question or questions on the same day as the elections.

    "There is one other important area which needs to be settled before negotiations can begin, namely, the ground rules for these negotiations. At the end of last week, a consultation paper was issued to the parties. This paper sets out what an acceptable approach might be, drawing on the experience of the 1991-92 talks round and preliminary consultations with the parties. Further consultations with the parties will continue to ensure that the maximum common ground can be identified.

    "I have outlined today what I believe to be a viable and reasonable way forward. Everyone in this process has had to make compromises, some of them difficult ones. Everyone has needed to exercise patience. I am grateful for that. But the basis of our approach has remained unchanged, namely, the principles of democracy and non-violence set out in the Downing Street Declaration and the need for an approach which can build confidence and lead to an agreement capable of winning the allegiance of both main communities.

    "I therefore urge the Northern Ireland parties to look carefully at the announcements I have made today and the short paper giving more detail which we are publishing in parallel. No party has got all it wanted. Equally, I see no issue of principle here which could reasonably cause any party to walk away from the democratic process I have set out. I do not believe the people of Northern Ireland would understand if any party did.

    "Let us also not forget that the threat of terrorism continues to hang over this process. That is why the Mitchell principles of democracy and non-violence, and parallel decommissioning, remain so important.

    "The IRA used the lack of a fixed date for all-party negotiations as an excuse to break its ceasefire. There was never any justification for its actions. Now its excuses are running out. What I have set out today represents a clear and direct route to all-party negotiations. The prospects for a just and lasting settlement are better than they have been for a generation if all parties take advantage of the opportunities now before us.

    "But let me make clear yet again that, while we want to see all parties round the table, the process will go on with or without Sinn Fein. If it excludes itself from taking part in democratic negotiations, it will not be able to exercise a veto against others doing so.

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    "Once again the people of Northern Ireland are watching the latest steps along the road to negotiations with bated breath. Their hopes for peace could not be clearer or more overwhelming. We need to move beyond procedures to the substance of negotiations as soon as we can. The chance is there: no one who stands unreasonably in the way of a settlement will be readily forgiven.

    "I therefore commend to the House the approach I have set out, and hope that the House will today send a clear signal of support for this democratic process. That would be the best answer to the terrorists who continue to threaten it."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.47 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made in another place. This is a very delicate and dangerous time in the history of Northern Ireland and we who do not live there but have great affection and regard for those who do need to bear that constantly in mind. I know that the noble Viscount the Leader of the House will accept that that is our approach and will remain our constant concern. We wish the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State to succeed. There is no ambiguity about that.

But I am troubled that some of the present proposals are a shade opaque. They seem not to have been fully worked out. That may be put right in the short paper which the Leader of the House indicated is to be published in parallel. I have not seen that paper and it would be of assistance, I believe, if we could know when it is to be published and when it will be available.

We believe that elections and electoral mechanisms are only a present means to a future purpose. Is the noble Viscount the Leader of the House able to assure us that the elective process he has set out today is going to lead to all-party negotiations and nothing will be allowed to delay or derail those negotiations? What work is presently being done with the Irish Government and the political parties on the ground in respect of the rules for the negotiations? How is the forum to work? It is very large in number, bearing in mind the population of Northern Ireland. Who is to determine its rules of procedure? Is it to have a chairman? If it steps outside its apparent mandate, who is to control it?

Those are not finicky questions of detail. I foresee with regret that they are likely to be stumbling areas if they are not precisely defined as soon as possible. Will the forum have any power to direct or influence the course of negotiations, or will the negotiating body simply be able to direct the forum to carry out investigations? What are the ground rules to be?

As I understand the Statement, the ground rules are to be drawn on the basis of the Mitchell Report. That means parallel decommissioning. That in turn means the beginning of all-party negotiations without a single weapon being handed over. Is that acceptable, on the Government's present best judgment, to unionist opinion in Northern Ireland? Some of these are harsh questions; they are not intended to be partisan. But there

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are dangers ahead which we need to avoid if we can. Are the negotiations to be based on the three-stranded process, which has been the common concern of Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the Irish Republic?

I have one or two further questions of detail to ask. On a constitutional point, if this legislation is to be introduced immediately after the Easter Recess, I should welcome the noble Viscount's assurance that we shall have the draft before we part for that Recess. It is essential that we have ample time to study it.

What proposals are there about the details of how many persons are to be designated from each elected party as part of the negotiating teams? It is of extreme importance--it may be of central importance--to know the Government's judgment about whether there is to be a continuing role either for Senator Mitchell and his two present colleagues or for a successor body. That may be of vital importance when one considers the issue of parallel decommissioning.

From these Benches we shall put forward no obstacle to the passage of legislation designed to bring about all-party talks. But we respectfully repeat: the electoral mechanism is only a first step on a very long journey, which may be tortuous indeed.


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