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Lord Cooke of Islandreagh: It is my belief that this amendment is probably the most important one that we shall have to deal with because, until this present difficulty is overcome, we shall not get much further. I listened with great interest to the noble Lord, Lord Cope, and also to the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux. I can certainly vouch that everything they said is correct. However, I do not think it is understood that it is not just Unionists who want decommissioning; people right across the board in Northern Ireland want this agreement to succeed. Everyone who is a democrat knows that democrats cannot sit down under any circumstances with people who are not democrats, who have not said that the war is over and have given no indication that they have any intention of giving up their weapons.

This makes it impossible for the ordinary man to see how the assembly can work. Yet it is worrying that people are saying, "David Trimble would give way but, of course, he cannot because of his hardliners". That is all rubbish. It is not just him who cannot give in. No ordinary sensible democrat could possibly sit down with parties he has no confidence in and whom he cannot trust. I think we have come a long way because great effort was made to ensure that the IRA need not feel it was surrendering or was beaten. The agreement is quite implicit that all the arrangements for the release of prisoners and the removal of Army road blocks, and so on, were to run in parallel with decommissioning. All these other things have happened and yet we have not witnessed decommissioning. I am afraid that the leaders of Sinn Fein are making out that it is all everyone else's fault. I believe this amendment will make it a little clearer that decommissioning must run in parallel with the other measures that are being taken--for example, the release of prisoners and other such measures.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham: I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, put the matter extremely fairly in his introductory remarks to his amendment. We are now at an extremely difficult juncture. It is not in the end a matter of legalistic quibbling; it is a matter of political reality as to whether the people of Northern Ireland, the party leaders of Northern Ireland and the people of Britain have confidence that this is a serious process that will advance. Of course, trust cuts both ways and there are no doubt those militant Republicans who are asking

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apprehensively whether they can trust what they think of as the British state to deliver on its promises in the agreement.

I think the key words that we have to look at are the words to which the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, drew our attention on page 20 of the Good Friday agreement. Paragraph 3 states:

    "All participants ... confirm their intention to continue to work constructively and in good faith with the Independent Commission"--
that is General de Chastelain's commission--

    "and to use any influence they may have, to achieve the decommissioning of all paramilitary arms within two years".
Of course it is true that if you are to do it completely within two years you have to start some time. The days, weeks and months are ticking away and there is no sign yet of a start. Indeed, inspired by the example of the Provisional IRA, contumacious noises are now being made by the opposite equivalents on the Loyalist side. That is part of unravelling confidence rather than building confidence. But the words,

    "continue to work constructively and in good faith with the Independent Commission"
suggest to me that what is needed at this stage above all is a timetable submitted to General de Chastelain by the Provisional IRA indicating the steps by which it will start decommissioning. I myself think--it is not a unique thought by any means--that the key issue is the high explosives, semtex and others, which cannot conceivably be represented to be used to defend a threatened community, which may have been the traditional Republican argument. These can only be used for mass murder of the kind that we have seen. It may well be that a sensible timetable would indicate that movement could be made on that component of the arms inventory earlier.

I repeat to the Committee what I said on a previous occasion. I hope eventually our combined words will get through to the leadership of Sinn Fein who have to use whatever influence they may have in this matter. Some of us would consider they have a great deal of influence, given who they are and their combined histories. They really need to make sure that General de Chastelain receives not merely the form of co-operation. If the noble Lord, Lord Cope, will forgive me, in this respect his amendment is slightly misplaced. He refers to working with the independent commission. I believe that they would say that they are working with the commission. Martin McGuinness has been appointed as representative to General de Chastelain's commission and its members have had meetings with him. They might say that that represented working with the independent commission. It is my belief that unless that takes a more tangible form than having meetings--and at this stage even the preparation of a timetable would build confidence--effectively they are making it politically impossible for the institution of the Assembly, in which we have all vested so much hope, to proceed.

We know that their history is one of paranoia and suspicion, and possibly fear of those who seek to isolate and defeat them. But they, too, have to have the

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imagination to realise that now a gesture is needed from them. I am sceptical that the erection of hurdles in the Bill is the way to go. Simply as a matter of political reality, if they do not come up with tangible measures in the next few weeks, they will make it, de facto, impossible for progress to be made in Northern Ireland. The onus of responsibility that rests on the shoulders of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness is overwhelming. They do not have to do a great deal but they have to do something.

Lord Desai: I wish to raise a small technical point. At Second Reading I said that I agreed with much of what the noble Lords, Lord Cope and Lord Holme, had said. I have since spoken to a colleague of mine who is a specialist in these matters. He raised a problem to which I should like my noble friend to give an answer; namely, that the agreement requires that Sinn Fein be included in the executive without any decommissioning, and if that fails to happen a move can be made in the Supreme Court of the Republic of Ireland to annul the result of the referendum held in the Republic. I am not an expert, but I have heard that said. If the promise to implement the cabinet is not honoured, we could see the unravelling of Articles 2 and 3 of the referendum in the republic.

I await an answer from the Minister; however, if that is the case, and if in principle the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, and other noble Lords are true, we might be taking a big risk by making this a precondition, whereas in the current situation it is not a precondition. I am entirely in sympathy with the spirit of their proposals; I merely wish to get the legalities clear.

Lord Fitt: It is with hesitation that I speak to this amendment. I am only too well aware that, given my political background as a former leader of the SDLP, as a Catholic and educated by the Christian Brothers, I am supposed to agree with every item in support of the nationalists, the SDLP and Sinn Fein. In Northern Ireland it is easy to be called a traitor who has betrayed his political, religious and nationalistic roots. I should not want to be in that position; however it is a strong possibility if I do not support every word and comma contained in the agreement.

I said at Second Reading that I wished to see the agreement work. I desperately want to see it work. But at present, from speaking to people who are deeply involved, I see a danger that the whole thing may collapse.

I know of people who speak to Gerry Adams. He says to them, "Look, all this talk doesn't mean anything. At the end of the day, in an eyeball to eyeball confrontation, Trimble will give way. He will take it to the very last second and then he will blink". The same people go to David Trimble and he says: "When it comes to the very last second, in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation, Adams will give way on decommissioning". That is dangerous. If they carry that through to the very last second, the whole thing could collapse.

I have said in this House that a gesture is needed, and my noble friend Lord Dubs will agree with me. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Holme. The IRA and loyalist

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paramilitaries have been using arms for decades. I ask again whether it would not be possible for those organisations to make a gesture and say, "We have been using arms; the democratically elected politicians have not". They do not need to hand in tonnes of semtex or hundreds or thousands of revolvers or other kinds of armaments, but a gesture is desperately needed.

I was frightened when I read a report last week from Mr. Hutchison of the Progressive Unionist Party. He said, "We are not going to give up arms". They are in the key position. The loyalist paramilitaries say, "Unless the IRA give up arms, we are not going to give up our arms". The IRA says, "We are not going to give up our arms, either".

Although it was not written into the Good Friday agreement, it was said that the last prisoners would be released two years after the agreement was signed and that decommissioning would have to be complete after a period of two years.

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