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Lord Cope of Berkeley: I was one of those who spoke yesterday on the lines indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux. It will therefore come as no surprise that I support the principle behind the amendment. At the risk of repeating the remarks I made then, I strongly believe that no one who belongs to an armed conspiracy to subvert the state has any place in a democratic government of that state. That is the principle which is at stake here.
While that debate was taking place in this Chamber, in another place the Prime Minister agreed that prisoner releases should be linked in legislation to the decommissioning of arms. I take the same view, as does the amendment, in relation to membership of the executive and decommissioning.
It is the habit in this Parliament that a reference to those who are Officers of the House normally means the Clerks, Black Rod, the Serjeant-at-Arms and the others who help us with our work but are not Members of either another place or this House. I am not quite sure what would be meant in law by the phrase, "in the Assembly".
It is clear what the noble Lord means (and what I mean). The reference is to those who become members of the executive. They will be members of the assembly first, and then members of the executive--as First Minister, Deputy First Minister or one of the other Ministers. However, I am not sure that the phrase used in the amendment actually covers that.
The second difficulty is that the amendment will fit more happily into the Bill that we are promised on the main constitution. That, after all, will be the Bill setting up the executive, and it will create the posts to which we refer; namely, First Minister and the others. It seems to me that an amendment of this character would be better inserted into that Bill. However, I support the principle that lies behind the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux.
Lord Alderdice: I have a good deal of sympathy with the reasons advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, for tabling this amendment. Secondly, those who involve themselves with, support, or give any succour or credence to those involved in paramilitary organisations cannot be accepted as those who should properly hold government office at any level. Indeed, one would not really want to see such people involved in democratic life.
In Northern Ireland it has been the case that, for many years, we have had to work with politicians of more than one strain and from more than one side of the community, as local government councillors, indeed as chairmen and deputy chairmen of committees in local government. That has been despite the fact that the previous administration introduced legislation requiring that everyone standing for local government office should sign a declaration against violence. People have happily signed, but to our certain knowledge have continued to support those who have used violence. So, for me, there is a very real problem--one that I share with the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux--in relation to the facts of life in Northern Ireland in political terms.
I have a number of problems with this particular amendment, on this particular point, in this particular Bill. First, the noble Lord said that the whole question of how the republican movement might operate over the next six months has been foreshortened by the announcements from the IRA, and indeed the republican movement generally, over recent days. In that, he may be absolutely correct. We are not to know.
Yet I should not feel happy to allow the republican movement off the hook, as it were. A referendum has not yet taken place involving people throughout the island of Ireland stating their case clearly. If the people of Ireland, north and south, on 22nd May--as I fully expect--give their assent in a referendum, the moral pressure on republicans in particular, though not exclusively republicans, to set aside the ways of violence and to accept this agreement in its totality will be enormous. I believe that all those Members of this House and another place, and all those members of the houses in Dublin also, and all those involved in responsible politics and the community as a whole,
I ask noble Lords to note that the terms of the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, do not state that there should be a start on decommissioning or a commencement of the dismantling of the paramilitary structure, but rather that the whole business should be completed. On the first day of a cease-fire, I expect no one to be shot; but I do not expect the whole paraphernalia of a terrorist structure built up over 30 years to be dissolved. However, 12 months or 24 months down the line, I do expect a great deal more.
It may be unlikely; however, were it to be the case that on 22nd May there was a positive result, and if by the end of the month there were some indications of a positive kind that republicans and loyalists were prepared to make some movement; and by the end of June, July or August a real dismantling of the terrorist structures was beginning to take place although that process would not be completed, I should not only welcome it but I should feel that some kind of positive response should be forthcoming.
Under the terms of the noble Lord's amendment, it is not just executive positions that may be closed to all those from, for example, a republican or indeed a loyalist background, but all positions of office in the assembly. The Bill is merely an enabling Bill; it does not set down all the officers of whom we are speaking. It may or may not involve the kinds of officers referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Cope; it may simply refer to all those who are elected officials and who hold chairmanships or deputy chairmanships of committees, as well as those who hold positions in the executive.
There was a tacit acceptance by all those who adhered to the agreement following the talks--unionists, nationalists, members of the Alliance Party, and all--that the fundamental problem concerned people involved with violence holding positions as Ministers. There was a general acceptance that, as in local government, people might hold positions as chairmen or deputy chairmen of committees. Under the terms of the noble Lord's amendment, there could be a situation where, for example, a republican might be denied the opportunity to be the deputy chairman of a house committee looking after the members' dining room. However reasonable it might seem on this side of the water to say that no one involved in violence should play any part in the assembly, it would be an anomaly in terms of how we have to conduct business in Northern Ireland. It would be seen not as an accepting of republicans into the democratic fold but rather a cutting back on the privileges they already enjoy in other areas of politics in Northern Ireland. It would be seen as counter-productive.
We shall have a full opportunity to address these matters when the settlement Bill comes to us. That will be a major piece of legislation. Those from Northern Ireland will have to crave the indulgence of your Lordships' House as we proceed with what will be a difficult and complicated piece of legislation. At least it will come at a point when we shall know the result of the referendum and shall know better how republicans and loyalists intend to conduct themselves. At that point it may be possible to bring forward in another way some of the sentiments behind the noble Lord's amendment and to look at them in a more considered fashion. At this point, bearing in mind the timing, the technical detail and the question of the appropriateness of this enabling Bill, I respectfully call upon Members of the Committee to set aside the amendment while valuing the clear moral imperative which drove the noble Lord to propose it. Not only do we appreciate his integrity in doing so; many of us share the sentiments which motivated him.
Lord Monson: I too support the principle of the amendment and would ask the Minister whether it is not more or less in line with what the Prime Minister promised sceptical teenagers in Belfast yesterday, as many of us will have seen on BBC television news programmes.
Lord Fitt: Anyone with a Northern Ireland background will understand the reasoning which prompted the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, to propose the amendment. It shows clearly what we all know to exist in Northern Ireland: a lack of trust. Even though an agreement has been reached, a great deal of distrust and suspicion still exists between the two main communities in Northern Ireland.
When I saw reference in the Mitchell principles to decommissioning, I realised, as anyone who knows the history of Northern Ireland would, just how impossible that would be. It has never happened before in Irish history. Uprisings and armed violence have stopped or faded away and the arms left to rust. There was a campaign of violence in Northern Ireland between 1956 and 1962. When the official IRA, as it then was, called off its campaign, it did not decommission. The arms were left to rust. When the split between the official IRA and the provisional IRA took place in 1970, members of the official IRA were called "rusty guns" in a derisory way by the provisionals because they had let their guns rust and allegedly did not have them to hand to defend the Catholic people when the troubles broke out in 1969 and 1970.
After our debate yesterday, I went home and racked my brains to try to think of any possible steps which could be taken by any one of the parties to the agreement in order to bring about a little trust in the opposing community. If the IRA is told by the British Government or the Irish Government that it has to decommission, that is tantamount to saying that it has to surrender. No one in Irish political history has ever surrendered. They may have called off their campaigns throughout the ages, but none of them ever surrendered.
In view of what I heard yesterday on television, though I have not yet read about it, I believe that if the IRA is sincere in wishing to abide by the principles in the agreement it has been very mischievous in saying that it will permit its members to take their seats in a newly created assembly. That is bound to create mistrust among the people of Northern Ireland.
However, it must be said that not every member of Sinn Fein has given allegiance to that party because they believe in the armed struggles. Many nationalists have given their votes and support to Sinn Fein for economic reasons and because they believed that Sinn Fein would provide the best public representatives in certain areas. That is certainly the case in West Belfast where, whatever one may think of it politically, Sinn Fein has proved to be a party which looks after the interests of the people who vote for it. Not everyone who votes for Sinn Fein supports a re-emergence of violence.
The main ex-terrorist parties who supported the agreement are the UDA, the UVF and Sinn Fein. The IRA has now said that it has called off its campaign. Would it not be possible for the political representatives of the UDA, the UVF and the IRA--namely, Sinn Fein--to get together and agree on what gestures could be made, however small, in relation to decommissioning? I believe that the three ex-terrorist organisations which were represented in the talks and will be represented in the new assembly could make a tremendous gesture towards the people of Northern Ireland by coming together. After all, they met in the talks and have had discussions at local authority level in Northern Ireland. If they were to meet, that would isolate the LVF, which was not party to the agreement, the INLA and other fringe organisations. It would be a very important step forward in relation to decommissioning if those organisations--the people who were using the guns--were to come to an agreement and say, "We are not going to use guns any more."
In the United Kingdom generally people who hold office are appointed by the person emerging as the winner of a general election. That occurs mainly in the other place. However, in the assembly the places of authority will be allocated mainly by the assembly. I understand also that two officers of the House will be appointed by the Secretary of State. In my view, therefore, the term "holding office" probably embraces all of those.
I am reluctant to divide the Committee in view of the sympathetic support shown for the general thrust of my amendment and also in view of the sympathetic support from the Minister which may be forthcoming in the near future. Therefore, because of what I believe to be the position of others in places of high authority and the