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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I cannot give the noble Lord the reply he would like because the answer is that I do not know. The review will take long enough for us to be able to track the effect of this test in place. As I said, the previous Administration were not interested in determining the effect. We have to start the statistics from scratch.

I, too, share the noble Lord's concerns, as I am sure the noble Earl does, about the uncertainty facing people coming back to this country. To put the matter into perspective, someone who fails the habitual residence test can nonetheless return to this country, take up residence, acquire a job, build up contributory rights and may be able to establish habitual residence within a period which may be as little as one day or two or three months.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, will the Minister please tell us what will be done while the review takes place about the increasing number of people released from prison abroad returning to this country, who are often mentally disturbed and who have no means of subsistence?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I am sure the whole House shares the concerns that the noble Lord raises: that prisoners could be deported to this country, destitute and perhaps disturbed, who will be tempted to reoffend. That is something none of us would wish. We have asked Prisoners Abroad to investigate all such situations and to report to us as speedily as possible. I have also checked and find that such deported former prisoners could go to the local authority. Under the National Assistance Act 1948 the local authority has a residual responsibility which it may so determine.

It is worth reminding ourselves that within a short period of time one can establish habitual residence. I hope that that will be the case for such people.

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns: My Lords, over the past couple of months the Government have made much

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of their commitment to eradicate welfare dependency, a commitment long held by Members on these Benches. Will the noble Baroness the Minister agree with me that, in order to turn fine words into real policy, in their review the Government will have to endorse the principles underlying the habitual residence test: that those of us who plan to work abroad, or to travel abroad for an extended period perhaps to visit family or friends, must also take some personal responsibility for our actions? We should take into account that other countries do not necessarily have the generous out of work benefits available to us in this country. Those making such plans should take steps to insure themselves against sickness or unemployment rather than coming back to this country on a train or plane simply to claim benefit when they no longer consider this country their real centre of interest.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, first, I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, to the Front Bench. We are delighted to hear from her.

The substance of her question is why we shall have the review. When the habitual residence test was introduced, the country understood that it was to prevent foreign nationals having tourist holidays at the British taxpayers' expense. That was the belief. In fact, two thirds of the people affected by the test are British citizens; and half of those who fail are British citizens who may have no home other than this country and may well have been abroad for legitimate cause. It is because of those concerns that we need the review that we have promised to undertake.

Lord Parry: My Lords, I wonder whether the majority of Members in the House are as impressed as I have been with the quality of the research carried out by a young and new Front Bench, and by the sensible policies that the new Government have so quickly put into operation.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, my noble friend will no doubt be surprised to hear that I am gratified by his comments.

Earl Russell: My Lords, last week, after I tabled this Question, I received a letter from the niece of my late friend Lord Byers, our former leader in this House, who, as the noble Baroness may remember, went to Brussels to care for a sick mother and will be turned away under the habitual residence test when she returns.

Would the Minister like to speculate as to how the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, whom I join in welcoming to the Front Bench, will appear to her when she reads them? Will the Minister tell me what I can reply to my correspondent when she asks: can she hope to return to this country before her children have emerged from the French school system? Or is she stuck there for ever?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, perhaps I may respond to the noble Earl by referring to a previous answer. The person to whom he refers may certainly return to this country, establish residence, seek

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and acquire work and build up contributory benefits, and, I hope, will speedily apply for habitual residence. If she is able to satisfy the adjudication officer that she has a settled intention to remain here, she should then be eligible for income-related benefits within a matter of days, weeks, or at most a couple of months.


Lord Carter: 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 on Northern Ireland that is to be made in another place. I should like to take this opportunity to remind the House that the Companion indicates that discussion on a Statement after the end of the Minister's initial reply to the Opposition spokesmen should be confined to brief comments and questions for clarification.

Northern Ireland

3.31 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): My Lords, since this is an appropriate time, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on the Government's continuing search for peace and a political settlement in Northern Ireland. The Statement is as follows:

    "In my speech in Belfast on 16th May, I set out the principles of this Government's approach: first, the primacy of the consent principle, to make clear that any settlement must command the consent of both Unionists and Nationalists and cannot be imposed on Northern Ireland against the wish of the majority of its people; second, the need for urgent progress in the talks, in particular for the key political issues to be addressed as soon as possible; third, the absolute unacceptability of violence or the threat of violence in the democratic process; fourth, the desirability of talks involving all the parties, including Sinn Fein, if, but only if, there is an unequivocal IRA cease-fire; but fifth, the need to move on rapidly without Sinn Fein if not.

    "I want to move as rapidly as possible to an agreed political settlement. The situation in Northern Ireland means that delay is not acceptable. I also continue to believe that such a settlement must be one with which all the people of Northern Ireland can feel comfortable and to which they can give their allegiance. The outline of a settlement is clear. The key elements are: devolution in Northern Ireland, including an assembly elected and operating on a widely acceptable basis; sensible cross-border arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. I believe there is a wide measure of agreement on these two elements, although there may be disagreement about the details. There will also of course need to be new arrangements between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, including formal constitutional acceptance on both

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    sides of the principle of consent and a new more broadly based Anglo-Irish Agreement. These represent the three strands of the negotiations.

    "Terrorism continues to haunt Northern Ireland. We were reminded of it again this morning when only prompt RUC action averted another serious attack. Ten days ago, we saw the despicable murder by the IRA of RUC constables John Graham and David Johnston. Five more young children without fathers. The whole House will join me in condemnation of this pointless and cowardly crime. Those responsible deserve our contempt in equal measure to the sympathy we feel for the families and their colleagues. We will do everything in our power to bring those responsible to justice.

    "But this was worse than just another terrorist crime. The location and timing of the murders, close to one of the most sensitive areas for marches, can only be seen as deliberately provocative. But it was worse than that too. Let me explain to the House why.

    "I announced in my Belfast speech that officials could meet Sinn Fein to ensure that there was no misunderstanding of our position, and to hear Sinn Fein's response to my statement that the settlement train was leaving, with our without them. This initiative was widely welcomed. Two meetings were held.

    "Following the second meeting, to make our position absolutely clear and to remove any shred of justification for claims that it was not, I authorised the sending of an aide-memoire to Sinn Fein to put in writing the Government's position on the points where Sinn Fein had sought clarification. The aide-memoire was passed to Sinn Fein on Friday evening, 13th June, three days before the Lurgan murders. I have placed a copy in the Library of the House.

    "It set out clearly and concisely the Government's position on confidence-building measures, decommissioning and how long we think the talks should last. It also repeated that Sinn Fein's entry into talks required an unequivocal case-fire, and that a period of time would be needed to ensure that this was genuine and that words and deeds matched. In order to put at rest fears that the Government might seek to spin out this process, it added that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland would come to a political judgment about Sinn Fein's qualification for entry in some six weeks. Assuming words and deeds were consistent with a genuine and unequivocal cease-fire, Sinn Fein would at that point be invited to join a plenary session of the talks. They would then need to make clear, as the other participants have done, their absolute commitment to the Mitchell principles. This aide-memoire represented a reasonable approach, which had the full support of the American and Irish Governments, although the text of the aide-memoire was entirely our own,

    "Then came the appalling murders in Lurgan. These caused revulsion and outrage not just in this country but right across the world. That was clear to

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    me in the US, where President Clinton condemned the cold-blooded killings in exactly the same terms as I did. It was clear, too, in my discussions with the outgoing Taoiseach, Mr. Bruton. The credibility gap the IRA and Sinn Fein have to bridge is wider than ever after Lurgan.

    "Whatever Sinn Fein now say or do, I am determined to move on. It is essential to make political progress rapidly. The preparation for substantive talks must quicken.

    "Last autumn, we and the Irish Government, building on discussion in the talks, began to develop a comprehensive set of proposals for the handling of decommissioning. Final agreement was reached on them earlier this week. The two Governments have today given these proposals to the independent chairman of the talks, Senator George Mitchell, for circulation to the parties involved in the talks; and will be commending these proposals to the other participants as a basis for agreement on this important and complex subject. A copy has been put in the Library of the House.

    "Briefly, we propose the establishment of an independent commission, to make proposals for decommissioning and to monitor its implementation; and a committee of the plenary to deal with these issues, with a sub-committee specifically on decommissioning.

    "The two Governments are fully committed to the approach to decommissioning set out in the report of the international body. This recommended, and I quote: 'an approach under which some decommissioning would take place during the negotiations.' The report foresaw mutual progress on decommissioning and substantive political issues leading to a progressive pattern of mounting trust and confidence. That is what the two Governments want to see. Under our proposals, a plenary meeting should be convened every two months to enable all participants to review progress across the entire spectrum of the negotiations, including decommissioning, and to consider whether the necessary confidence is being maintained. All participants, including Sinn Fein if they are there, will of course have already committed themselves to the Mitchell principles. These include not only the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations and the renunciation of force, or the threat of force, but also action to prevent so-called punishment killings and beatings.

    "A second sub-committee will deal with other confidence-building measures set out in the Mitchell report. There can be no question of trading guns for political concessions in all this. There will need to be genuine progress in both decommissioning and the political negotiations if the process is to be successful. All the parties in the talks will have to face up to their responsibilities.

    "If the proposals provide a basis for agreement, important preparatory work can take place over the summer. It will be crucial to put the machinery in place as soon as possible, in particular the

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    independent commission. I appeal to all the parties to look at the proposals in a constructive spirit. I do not believe there is another way forward.

    "Agreement would at last clear the way for substantive talks to start in earnest. I want them to begin as quickly as possible. I am also determined that, so far as we can influence the process, the talks will move as fast as possible. I can therefore announce today for the first time a clear timetable. The substantive talks should start in early September at the latest. In my view they should also conclude by next May at the latest, when the legislative basis for the talks expires. That is an ambitious target, but I have no doubt it is achievable if all concerned put their minds fully to it.

    "As I said at the beginning of my Statement, there is broad agreement on the key elements of a settlement: devolved and fair government in Northern Ireland, sensible and significant north-south arrangements and a revamped relationship between the two governments. The outlines of a settlement are reasonably clear, even if many of the details will be fiercely fought over. Let us now get down to the substance without further ado or prevarication.

    "And let me also repeat, in case anyone still has a doubt. Any agreement will be put to a referendum of all the people of Northern Ireland, as well as to Parliament. So the triple lock is secure.

    "There is no time to waste. The situation on the ground in Northern Ireland is fragile. Everyone is conscious of the dangers of the forthcoming marching season. No one wants to see a repetition of last year's dreadful events. Here too the Government are determined to act. As the North report said, the best way to balance the conflict of rights and responsibilities involved in disputed marches is through local accommodation.

    "The Government are absolutely committed to doing everything they can to encourage a local accommodation at Drumcree, as elsewhere, to take account of the legitimate concerns of all sides. Accordingly, the Secretary of State is today issuing invitations to discussions with the Orange Order and the Garvaghy Road residents at Hillsborough Castle on Friday. Nobody will be forced to talk face to face with those they do not wish to, but my right honourable friend will make a further determined effort to make progress. I appeal to all concerned to accept this invitation to talks. Accommodation need not be a dirty word where human lives may be at stake.

    "This morning I met the 12 year-old girl, Margaret Gibney, who wrote to me and to other public figures urging us to commit ourselves to bringing about peace in Northern Ireland. I owe it to her, and this House owes it to her, and all who have influence and authority owe it to her, to put a stop to the killing and to put in place a lasting political settlement. She has enjoyed one year of peace in the whole of her life. When her children are born, I want every year of their lives to be a year of peace.

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    "So, this process has to get moving. The settlement train is leaving, with or without Sinn Fein. If they want to join, it is absolutely clear what they have to do. I have dealt straight with them. I expect straight dealing in return. We and the other parties will not be waiting around for them.

    "There are of course risks in the approach we are taking. No lasting settlement can be arrived at without taking some risks. But I have no doubt the measures we have put in place are right. They provide the basis for a way forward and a settlement within a matter of months. That is what the people of Northern Ireland want, need and deserve."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.44 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I thank the Lord Privy Seal for repeating the Statement to your Lordships this afternoon. On those occasions when I was sitting where the Lord Privy Seal is sitting now, I very much appreciated the support--constructive as it always was--from him and his colleagues when they were sitting on this side of the House. We certainly wish to reciprocate in kind and hope that we shall be able to continue to do so.

Of course we wish the Government well in their endeavours. We are delighted that they feel able to try to build enthusiastically on the platform so painstakingly erected by the previous government, which we believe has already saved many lives in the Province and which clearly is in an extraordinarily delicate position at the moment.

We naturally share the horror expressed by the Lord Privy Seal and his right honourable friend at the recent murders, particularly those of the RUC officers, whose courage and disinterested attitude those who have any knowledge of the Province unreservedly admire.

It is perfectly plain to anyone who takes the slightest interest in these highly depressing matters that IRA/Sinn Fein clearly believe that terrorism works as far as they are concerned. We therefore welcome the robust reaction which the Lord Privy Seal has expressed this afternoon. I hope that we can maintain the bipartisan reaction to these acts of violence. Clearly the IRA thinks that it can take advantage of what any sensible, normal person feels to be the overriding need to pursue the cause of peace. It clearly also believes that it can take advantage of that desire for peace by bombing concessions out of the rest of us. I suggest, with the greatest respect to the Lord Privy Seal, that we must be aware that that is at the back of its mind and ensure that the violence of its reaction does not, in spite of ourselves, push us into corners into which we would not wish to be pushed.

I welcome too the continued and much improved appreciation of the reality of the nature of Sinn Fein and the IRA in the United States and I pay tribute to the efforts of the Prime Minister in making sure that the nature of those two organisations is increasingly well understood on the other side of the Atlantic. We therefore welcome efforts to find a credible and secure way forward.

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Having said all that, I hope that the Lord Privy Seal will be able to give a little in the way of clarification and reassurance this afternoon. Can he confirm, for instance, that there will be simultaneous negotiations on all three strands, as laid out in previous negotiations? Can he confirm that there will be no substantive negotiations with Sinn Fein/IRA without early parallel decommissioning of terrorist weapons? In particular--and I think I understood from the Statement that the answer to this question is yes--can he confirm that, before proceeding to more substantive negotiations, the nature of parallel decommissioning as recommended by Mitchell (in paragraph 34, if my memory serves me right) will be agreed as part of item 1 on the agenda of the substantive talks?

Can the noble Lord also tell the House whether, in saying that Sinn Fein might enter into talks six weeks after a cease-fire, that means that entry into the talks will be dependent on the credibility of the cease-fire? Again, I think that that was implicit in some of the language in the Statement, but clearly the history of targeting and the extraordinary and unacceptable behaviour, particularly among the nationalist community, which the hoods of the IRA were prone to continue even during the 17 months' cease-fire, is wholly unacceptable and as much in breach of a cease-fire as the explosion of weapons.

I am sure that the noble Lord, the Lord Privy Seal, will find it difficult to tell us the names of the members of the independent commission for decommissioning, but I wonder whether he could perhaps indicate the nature of that membership. Obviously, the membership of that commission, if it is to be accepted as entirely neutral, will be important in terms of presenting the right kind of face to both communities.

Would the noble Lord also be able to tell us whether he believes that there would be merit in holding regular reviews to ascertain what progress is being made during the course of the talks and the negotiations? Clearly, it is important to maintain the viability of the process itself. I suspect that, if the process is not working, there might be a danger that it could become discredited and indeed counterproductive.

I am glad that the Prime Minister emphasised his willingness to go ahead with the negotiations without the participation of Sinn Fein, if that proves to be necessary. I wonder whether the noble Lord could comment on how great he thinks is the danger of the "train", to which the Prime Minister alluded in his Statement this afternoon, being blown up by a non-participating Sinn Fein/IRA. Clearly, there is a danger of intimidation of the nationalist community should the IRA not want that train to leave. Perhaps the noble Lord could share some of his thoughts on that subject with the House this afternoon.

I wonder, too, whether the noble Lord can confirm that progress can and will only be made by agreement within the talks on the grounds of sufficient consensus and that at no stage will there be any imposed conclusion. I think that is implicit in the Statement. We have some reassuring language on the triple lock and

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consent is clearly, by definition, part of any all-party talks. When we were in Government, it was important that the order of the triple lock should be maintained: the first lock should be a matter for the parties; then it is for Parliament and then for the people. I wonder whether the noble Lord can confirm that the Government still cleave to that order of procedure.

Can the noble Lord also tell us a little more about the nature of the cross-border arrangements. Do they go any further than was envisaged last year and, if so, in what way?

I repeat that we on this side of the House wish to continue, in so far as it is at all possible, the productive and successful bipartisanship in policy over recent years and we shall, of course, undertake to do so. We are clear that it is the Government's wish to conduct their policy in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland. In that context, I was particularly glad to hear of the invitation for next Friday to the parties involved in the Drumcree dispute. Let me say on behalf of these Benches that we hope that both parties will attend that meeting on Friday. We are aware of the explosive nature of this dispute and we wish the Government well in their endeavours to defuse it. We shall watch progress with apprehension. We wish the Government well in their endeavours.

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