Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, I fully appreciate that, but I felt that too much information was revealed as to why it failed.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that clarification. It is extremely sad that those who live in Northern Ireland understand all too well the dangers of that.

The noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, mentioned the extremely practical issues we face. He knows well the capacity of Northern Ireland politicians to brief on every possible subject. We are well aware that this seems to be the decade of the leak. We shall take great care to ensure that there is confidentiality where such confidentiality is needed to make progress.

I assure the noble Lord, Lord Cooke, that the names will be displayed clearly for people to see when they are voting. That is extremely important. The need for speed does not demonstrate that we have moved without thinking or caring about particular interests. We have moved quickly in order to keep progress going and to

25 Apr 1996 : Column 1304

build on all that has happened. We must try to ensure that the efforts towards progress made by so many people are not wasted.

The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, queried the regional list. The Government believe that it is vital that the negotiations to begin on 10th June should be as representative as possible. The electorate must be given full opportunity to have its voice heard. The negotiations and provisions for constituency and regional lists recognise the importance that we place on the process being as representative as possible.

Provisions for regional delegates are included in the Bill in order to recognise the fact that some parties may secure a reasonably high degree of support in a small number of constituencies but have insufficient votes to gain a seat at that level. Alternatively, a party may receive a modicum of support across Northern Ireland as a whole and yet may not be rewarded with any constituency seat. The provision enabling the election of regional delegates rewards the fact that support for that party is evident. It seems to me perfectly reasonable that we should not seek to exclude the wishes of the voters, the people out there. The people who will finally choose those who are to take part in the negotiations are the people of Northern Ireland and not the Government.

The noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, asked about nominated representatives. They do not have to be elected delegates. Their role begins before the election. They could be party officials, if the party wished. In most cases, it will be the party leader but that is a matter of choice for the parties themselves.

The Government will frame a referendum question--a question on the outcome of the negotiations--and it seems sensible to consult with other participants in the process. The question would be included in an order which would be subject to affirmative resolution in your Lordships' House and in another place.

I should say to the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, that the two governments have made clear that the outcome of negotiations will be submitted for public approval by a referendum in Northern Ireland and in the Republic before it is submitted to the respective parliaments. We find it inconceivable that an outcome achieving broad agreement in Northern Ireland would be rejected by a referendum in the Republic of Ireland. It is worth reminding the House that in the joint declaration, the Taoiseach referred to Northern Ireland at a number of points. It is wrong to suggest that that is not the case. My noble friend Lord Brookeborough asked about detailed arrangements for the forum. These are set out in Schedule 2 to the Bill. The first meeting of the forum will be at a time decided by the Secretary of State which will be after the start of negotiations and within four weeks from the election date. The Secretary of State has said that he expects the first meeting to occur well within that period. Thereafter the forum will determine its own times for meetings, save that it will not meet when, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, that would not be appropriate because negotiations are intended to take place.

In respect of publicity for the forum, it is certainly the Government's intention that the deliberations of the forum should be accessible to members of the public.

25 Apr 1996 : Column 1305

The whole purpose of the forum is to promote dialogue and mutual understanding. We hope that it will serve to promote wider public debate. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has said that he would support the idea of the forum holding hearings at various centres throughout Northern Ireland to facilitate public access and input. My right honourable friend will be discussing with the parties the practical options for broadcasting.

In respect of pay, my right honourable friend the Minister of State wrote to the parties last week to set out our preliminary thinking. We expect to pay allowances to delegates for attendance at either a forum or for the purpose of the negotiations, and travel and subsistence allowance, including for support staff, and research grants. We have invited comments on what would be the appropriate level of research grant to make available to the parties. This would all be in line with the payments made to the parties in the previous talks in 1991 and 1992.

My noble friend also referred to the need to recognise that much progress has been made in Northern Ireland. The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, as always, brings information--and, for me, education--to any debate in this House. I do not believe that the Government could have consulted more. We have consulted non-stop day and night. He had only to look at the pure weariness of my colleagues on occasions to see that that was so. The noble Lord recognised that it is easy to joke about the list of parties. I assume that that was not a subtle filibuster. I stress again that we wish it to be all-inclusive. I was surprised that the noble Lord did not hesitate when he read out the name of the Northern Ireland Womens Coalition. That was a fairly unique name to come across.

I stress that the people who will elect the parties will be the people of Northern Ireland. My noble friend Lady Park properly drew attention to the rights of the peaceful people of Northern Ireland. I assure the House that the Government recognise that. The Government believe that the elective process can build confidence. If horses had been prepared to come to water before without an election, there would not have been an election. We are trying to find a way forward. Not only does the elective process build confidence; it also provides a clear and direct route to all-party negotiations. It is the gateway to peace and the chance of achieving a lasting settlement. I hope that noble Lords will today send a clear signal of support for this democratic process.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, I hope she can assist as regards the specific question I asked about the Reverend Paisley's position. My understanding is that the Secretary of State in another place said that the Government would reconsider the description of Mr. Paisley's party. I do not hold a brief for Mr. Paisley or for his party except that they are entitled to even-handed treatment. Further, is the Minister able to indicate, in response to the question that I asked--the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, asked a question along the same lines--that precise

25 Apr 1996 : Column 1306

arrangements relating to parallel decommissioning will be available for consideration by the parties before 10th June? If I may say so without presumption, we share the view that that may be critical to the question of whether Sinn Fein will be in a position--a ceasefire having been called--to join in the negotiations.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said in another place that he would consult on the question of names on the list, in particular at the request of the DUP. I assure the noble Lord that that occurred in another place. It was discovered that there was not a consensus among the parties and that other parties did not wish it. The matter was put to a vote and a decision was made. As I said, the question of bringing forward decommissioning will be discussed with all parties. I do not have precise information as regards the timetable but I shall make sure that the noble Lord receives it as soon as possible.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Then, Standing Order No. 44 having been dispensed with (pursuant to Resolution of 23rd April), House resolved into Committee.

[The Viscount Allenby of Megiddo in the Chair.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [The negotiations]:

Lord Monkswell moved Amendment No. 1:


Clause 2
1Page 1, line 23, leave out ("nominated for that party")

The noble Lord said: Before I launch into this first amendment in the Committee stage I wish to thank the Government or the usual channels--I am not sure who arranges these things--for agreeing to a revision of the list of groupings of amendments. That was helpful and I believe that it will be helpful also to other Members of the Committee who have submitted amendments.

This first amendment arose from a difficulty that I had--it may be just a personal difficulty of mine which is not shared by anyone else--in understanding Clause 2(4). The subsection contains a three-line sentence with no commas. Perhaps it was because I read it late at night when my mental faculties were not at their highest that it took me a few rereadings of that sentence to understand its meaning. Although most Bills that we consider in this Chamber are probably of interest only to lawyers, we need to recognise the need for Bills to be understandable to the layman also. I should prefer it if the amended version of the subsection were to state, "The nominating representative of a party may, from time to time, substitute, for any member of the team, another delegate returned for that party in accordance with Schedule 1".

I have introduced the commas in my speech because I had some difficulty with the Clerks in that what I initially sought to do was to insert commas to break up the sentence and give it a greater ease of understanding.

25 Apr 1996 : Column 1307

However, they seemed disinclined to accede to my wishes in that respect. In my deliberations on this subsection, I discovered that there was a superfluity of words in that the original subsection--if I may so describe it--stated,


    "for any member of the team nominated for that party".
One of the difficulties is that that provision implies that a nominating representative might have some influence over another team. It is surely the Government's intention that the nominating representative would have an influence only over his or her own team and not some other team. Therefore, the reference to the "nominated for that party" is superfluous.

By agreeing that the section is tautological, if I may so describe it, I hope that the Government will acknowledge that the subsection is imperfectly drafted. I accept that it is not a life and death issue. This is the first amendment in Committee and it might be useful to have the Government's response. I beg to move.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page