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Lord Cope of Berkeley: I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord. He will recall that the agreement says that the first lot of two years, for the release of prisoners, dates from later than the two years for the decommissioning. Decommissioning dates from the referendum, and the date for prisoner releases is after that. Under the agreement, decommissioning is supposed to be complete before the last batch of prisoners is released.

Lord Fitt: I agree with David Trimble on this matter. The point I am trying to illustrate is that it is implicit that these matters should run in parallel. At the moment it looks as if concession after concession has been made to the republican/nationalist agenda. In fact, I was told by people throughout last week in Northern Ireland that the British Government were no longer going to insist on extraditions. Three convicted IRA terrorists had been through the extradition process in America, having gone from court to court, until it was eventually said that everything had happened so long ago that the extradition would not be proceeded with. Mrs. Rita O'Hare, who has for many years had an extradition warrant against her in the republic, which the British Government have not given up, is now working in the Sinn Fein offices in America. The British Government did not insist on the extradition of that terrorist. It appears to the unionist community in Northern Ireland that concession after concession has been made to the republican/nationalist section of the community.

I never thought I would say this, but I believe that Gerry Adams has come a long way in dragging the republican movement away from its campaign of violence into the democratic process, and I think he deserves credit for that. I think that Martin McGuinness deserves credit for sitting down with John de Chastelain to talk about decommissioning. But I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Holme: the fact that he is talking to John de Chastelain does not mean much. The agreement said that all parties to it should use whatever influence they had. At the end of two years they could say that they had used all their influence but these people had not listened to them and still had their arms.

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Northern Ireland has gone through a tortured period of 30 years. For someone like me who has lived in Northern Ireland and spent his political career there, to think that it has all come to an end after 30 years is absolute bliss. It would be a terrible tragedy for Northern Ireland if the agreement fell down on the question of decommissioning. Sinn Fein had an electoral mandate. I was in Belfast on the day the referendum took place and took part in many television programmes together with spokesmen for the Nationalists, Catholics, bishops, etc. I could detect in their responses the desperate belief that those 30 years of murder had come to an end. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, that not only Unionists, Protestants and Loyalists ask for some gesture on decommissioning to take place. I am quite certain that the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland, including the Nationalists and those who voted for Sinn Fein, which was given a mandate in the recent election that entitled it to take its seats, want decommissioning to take place.

My noble friend on this side of the Chamber said that if the Loyalists or Unionists do not give way on decommissioning and give up the crusade together, an action may take place in the Republic which means that the Belfast agreement is ultra vires. I do not believe that anyone in the Republic of Ireland, be he a lay citizen or the High Court that would have to decide the matter would lightly give such a decision that brought the agreement to an end. I also believe that the people in the Republic want to see the agreement succeed.

There will not be a vote on this matter this evening in this Committee. Even if we had the requisite numbers to vote for this amendment it would not mean anything because the Bill has been passed by the Commons and we shall pass it. But it is right to place on record our legitimate fears that all that has been achieved through this agreement and subsequent legislation may be brought crashing to the ground because of the intransigence of those who hold these arms in failing to make a gesture to bring peace and tranquillity to the whole of Northern Ireland.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Dubs: It may be helpful if, first, I restate briefly the Government's position on decommissioning. There must be progress on all elements of the agreement. The only way to break this impasse is for all sides to honour all the commitments that they made under the agreement and for all aspects of it to move forward in parallel. Decommissioning is an integral part of the agreement. It is not a precondition; it is an obligation and it must happen. The question is not whether it will happen but when.

However, decommissioning is not an end in itself. The reason that people rightly want decommissioning is because they want an end to violence in Northern Ireland and the confidence that this is a permanent end. That is the goal of the agreement and why decommissioning is an integral part of it. That is why decommissioning must happen. Furthermore, we condemn without reservation those engaged in so-called

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punishment attacks, to which the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, referred. These assaults must stop now. It is clear that the continuation of such behaviour would not be consistent with the assessments of good faith and a genuine commitment to move away from violence which lie behind the judgment of the Secretary of State. If such patterns of behaviour persist, the Secretary of State will not hesitate to review the situation.

The issue is whether any progress towards decommissioning would be furthered by adopting the amendments before the Committee today. I do not believe that that would be the case and it would not help at all at a time when the Prime Minister, this very week, is having negotiations with some of the party leaders from Northern Ireland in an attempt to make progress on this issue. I do not think that an amendment added to the Bill would further the cause of decommissioning at all.

Furthermore, Amendment No. 45 has no basis in the agreement. It would require the chairman of the Decommissioning Commission to certify that each party is co-operating with him. In the absence of such a certificate, the party would be disregarded for d'Hondt purposes.

Not only is this not in the agreement, it is surely wrong in principle for decisions on such important matters as holding executive office to rest anywhere else than in the hands of the Assembly, which is what the Bill provides.

The noble Lord's Amendment No. 81 would enable the Assembly to vote for exclusion if a party is linked to a terrorist organisation which is not co-operating with the Decommissioning Commission. But of course the Bill already provided that the Assembly can take account of whether a party is,

    "committed to non-violence and exclusively peaceful means".

Co-operation or otherwise with the Decommissioning Commission is certainly a factor which the Assembly will want to take into account here. But the judgment needs to be much broader than that. Indeed, the sort of factors the Assembly may want to take into account are set out in subsection (7) and go considerably further than just decommissioning, including directing violence, being involved in acts of violence and being committed to purely democratic and peaceful means to achieve its objectives.

The noble Lord, Lord Desai, asked me about a potential legal case in the republic. I do not think I am qualified to comment upon that, but the agreement certainly does not rule out a start to decommissioning now before the executive is formed. The agreement clearly requires that before taking office, any Minister must take the pledge of office. That includes a commitment to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means. If an individual or party is not so committed, the agreement provides for the Assembly, by cross-community vote, to exclude them from office.

My noble friend Lord Fitt asked about extraditions. It is not correct to say that the Government have given up the extradition of Artt, Brennan and Kirby from the United States. In those cases, the United States courts have made a number of recent rulings and granted bail,

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but the extradition cases remain live and still before the United States courts. There is no question of easing up the pursuit at home and abroad of those who have committed serious offences.

The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, also said that there had been a shooting, I believe in Armagh, which had had virtually no publicity. My officials have spoken tonight with the RUC and the Army at their headquarters in Northern Ireland. They have no record of any shooting taking place on 8th October, as the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, described. If he were to let me have more information, I would certainly see that that was looked into.

Incidentally, I cannot help him on the missing paragraph 5. Perhaps I can do better than not help him. I think it is missing because of a printer's error. We have had reference to that today. It is a simple printer's error and paragraph 6 follows paragraph 4.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: As a former printer myself, I can understand that. I accept the explanation.

Lord Dubs: I am most grateful. For the reasons I have given, I believe that it would not be helpful to accept Amendments Nos. 45 and 81. Accordingly I would urge the Committee to reject them.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: I shall risk trying to help the Lord, Lord Desai, with his problem, but I do so with great hesitation and not great authority.

As I understand the matter, the referendum which was passed in the Republic of Ireland provides that the constitution shall change provided certain things happen. If those things happen, it becomes automatic. If they do not happen, the constitution does not change. Among those considerations is that the agreement is applied.

The question then is whether it is correct to say, as has been said, that the agreement provides that Sinn Fein must be on the Executive. Neither Sinn Fein nor any other party is specifically mentioned. Clearly the agreement provides that all parties concerned shall become members of the Executive provided that they fulfil the pledge of office, and are regarded by the Assembly as fulfilling the pledge of office.

I contend that no one can be considered to have become a democrat and to have fulfilled the criteria in the Bill if they are still fully armed, are using those arms in punishment beatings, and are prepared to use them for much worse. Therefore I believe it is possible that the terms of the agreement may be completely fulfilled without Sinn Fein being on the Executive if its members were regarded, as I regard Sinn Fein now, as not having become democrats because of the lack of proof that they are not still terrorists.

Having set that out, the noble Lord the Minister and everyone else will realise that there is endless scope for argument in the courts of the republic should the matter ever be tested; and we all hope that it will not be tested. However, returning to whether or not the amendments should be added to the Bill, I accept the criticisms made by the Minister of the precise wording and drafting of

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the amendments. I accept that whether or not we include them in the Bill may or may not help the Prime Minister and others engaged in negotiations which seek to achieve decommissioning. I do not wish to make the Prime Minister's life more difficult in this respect. No doubt I can think of one or two matters where I should like to make the Prime Minister's life more difficult, but in this matter he and his colleagues deserve every assistance in their difficult task.

While I do not entirely accept that adding such amendments to the Bill would not be helpful, I believe that it has been helpful to hear Members of the Committee from all sides of the Chamber express their views on decommissioning. They have made clear their sentiments. The sentiments expressed in this short debate are more important than the words of the amendment. That being so, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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