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Lord Dubs: My Lords, when dealing with Amendment No. 76 earlier, I mentioned the definition of the North-South implementation bodies. That is relevant to our consideration of this amendment. We have consulted counsel and we are clear that for the purpose of clarity we need to use as specific a reference to the agreement as possible. For that reason implementation bodies are defined not only in Schedule 2, but in Clauses 51 and 53, as bodies for,

The Government's clear view is that implementation bodies will operate on a cross-border or all-Ireland level. It is also our understanding that paragraph 11 applies to all implementation bodies, both the initial group and any bodies subsequently agreed. I hope that that helps to meet the noble Lord's concern.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I believe that the discussions will expand way beyond the North-South discussions and the implementation bodies into discussions with very real contact with our friends in the other devolved regions of the British Isles, including some of the smaller units yet to be included. It is a great mistake that we do not provide a flexible device of some kind to allow for these boundaries, as they might appear to be at the moment, to be crossed and fruitful discussion encouraged and developed between the various regions in addition to the North-South operations.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Elliott of Morpeth): My Lords, before calling the next amendment, I must point out to the House that if Amendment No. 138 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 139.

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 138:

Page 54, line 15, leave out from ("Crown") to ("; war").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 138, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 154 and 155. The question here is who should control the powers of the Armed Forces of the Crown when they are acting in support of the civil power. We all know that the Armed Forces have been called upon to support the civil power in Northern Ireland for 30 years or so and that they have done an absolutely magnificent job. However, when they were first used in that role it was felt necessary to institute direct rule. That was the immediate cause of the introduction of direct rule.

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Since then the Armed Forces, along with the rest of the security forces, have been under the control of Whitehall and Westminster. That continues to be the case and, I understand from the Government, it is intended to continue to be the case, at least for a little while. We all hope that it will not continue for very long and that the support of the civil power by the Armed Forces will shortly be able to be discontinued. When that happens, no doubt all powers relating to public order--obviously, that means primarily those relating to the police--will be transferred to the Assembly and the Executive.

If at some stage following that it is necessary for the Armed Forces once again to be employed there, it seems to me that in that role, as well as in their main roles, they should continue to be under the control and direction of, and to have their powers decided by, Whitehall and Westminster and not by the authorities in Northern Ireland. I do not say that because of any lack of trust in the authorities in Northern Ireland. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, said yesterday, we must think of such "fail-safe" devices in case the situation should deteriorate at some stage. That is because there will be considerable difficulties in getting cross-community agreement within the Assembly and the Executive, as set up, to take resolute action in the face of threats to public order.

However, the underlying principle I want to emphasise to the House is that it seems right that the powers of the Armed Forces in support of the civil power should be the same wherever in the United Kingdom they operate and that they should remain under the control of Whitehall and Westminster in that role as well as in their wider roles. That is the purpose of this group of three amendments. I beg to move.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I am afraid that I am not totally in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Cope, on this occasion. In my service career, it was always the rule that in any internal security situation when the Armed Forces were in support of the civil power--in other words, in almost any internal security situation--they were managed by those in the civilian administration. That does not mean that the civilian administration tells the Armed Forces how to do their job, but it does mean that the specific tasks that the Armed Forces are being asked to carry out are decided by the civil power and not by the military powers concerned.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I strongly support the amendment. The precise reason why we need it is because we do not know the future of the RUC. It is especially important, it seems to me, to make it clear that the maintenance of public order, which presumably covers all the activities of the armed services acting in support of the civil power and their immunities, should remain an excepted matter. It is an issue of perception. It relates necessarily to the future of the RUC.

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According to the press, the nationalists are telling the Patten commission on policing that the RUC must be abolished, not reformed, and that not one single RUC officer should be accepted into the "people's police" which they want to set up instead. They would presumably scarcely consider accepting military support in support of that civil power. So this is not the moment, I suggest, to abandon the UK's control of these matters or even to appear to consider devolving them from excepted to reserved matters as, by implication, we are doing. The nationalists are behaving as if they were the only community in Northern Ireland.

If the amendment is not accepted, we shall be sending a signal to the majority community that we have abandoned our responsibility to protect the rights and needs of the vast majority of people who are law abiding and do not expect the police to have a political agenda. We should surely, in any case, await the recommendations of the commission. That is the only way at this stage to ensure, as the Government's own principles of policing and, indeed, the Belfast agreement state, that the police remain free from partisan political control. It may not be easy politically once we classify something as "reserved", not "excepted", to take it back into the "excepted" group. That would be regarded as a major political decision. While it will always be possible, if the situation becomes more settled and more favourable, and depending on the recommendations of the commission, to relax control through devolution, meanwhile I strongly urge that we should retain those powers as a prime responsibility of the British Government.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I would have been inclined to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, had we been in a situation similar to that in which his late father or my noble friend Lord McConnell served. People can say that the administration in those days may have had its faults, but then all administrations have their faults, some more than others. The problem as I see it is that in the present circumstances, under the auspices of this Bill, we shall not have an "administration" as we understand it here in Westminster. It is not just a temporary coalition; it is a permanent structure depending entirely on a kind of points system which will be only marginally affected by a general election. I shall not go into the problems of how certain parties fight elections or of how they would ever draft a manifesto to appeal to the public to get themselves elected. That is a matter for another day.

However, I imagine--my noble friend Lord McConnell will correct me if I am wrong--that in the days before the abolition of Stormont, the general officer commanding could act in support of the civil power, being the Stormont government and its various echelons and layers of administration, secure in the knowledge that that was a stable administration co-operating and consulting continuously with the sovereign government--that is, the Parliament at Westminster. There will not be such a guarantee now. I am not certain how many parties will end up in the new Executive when it is formed. The number will probably

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run into double figures. There will be no unity of purpose and no stability in the sense of decision-making on matters such as supporting the civil power.

If we do anything other than what has been suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, I should not like to be in the shoes of any GOC (Northern Ireland) or even in those of the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland.

Lord Elton: My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister will lay to rest a shadow of a doubt raised by the intervention of my noble friend Lord Glentoran. As I understand it, the effect of the amendment would not be to transfer the authority in the Bill over the forces out of civilian hands, but merely to change them from civilian hands in Belfast to hands at Westminster. If that is the case, it seems to me that everything that has been said about stability and clarity of vision in support of the amendment must stand. The only question that remains is whether, at some future longed-for date when the political situation in Belfast returns to being stable, it will be possible also to return that authority there. Until then, I agree with my noble friend Lord Cope that it is not timely to do so.

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