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Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, to the extent I needed it, I have the reassurance that the Minister and I want to achieve the same purpose. I am not thoroughly convinced by the argument about the drafting, but I shall not argue at this point. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 32 not moved.]

Schedule 5 [Northern Ireland Assembly Commission]:

[Amendment No. 33 not moved.]

17 Nov 1998 : Column 1228

Schedule 10 [Devolution issues]:

Lord Dubs moved Amendments Nos. 34 to 36:

Page 75, line 36, after ("5") insert ("or, where such notice is given to the First Minister and the deputy First Minister, those Ministers acting jointly").
Page 76, line 27, after ("13") insert ("or, where such notice is given to the First Minister and the deputy First Minister, those Ministers acting jointly").
Page 77, line 29, after ("23") insert ("or, where such intimation is given to the First Minister and the deputy First Minister, those Ministers acting jointly").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 14 [Transitional provisions and savings]:

Lord Dubs moved Amendments Nos. 37 and 38:

Page 89, line 24, after ("made") insert ("and approved").
Page 89, line 31, after ("made") insert ("and approved").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 15 [Repeals]:

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 39:

Page 92, line 23, column 3, at end insert--
("Section 28(1).")

On Question, amendment agreed to.

9.18 p.m.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. I do not think it would be appropriate for me to speak for long on the merits of the Bill which we have considered at great length, albeit in a short span of time. It is, as we have made clear throughout, a Bill to give effect to the Good Friday agreement in the most effective way possible, with consensus where possible on any additions. I believe that it fulfils that purpose faithfully, more faithfully, indeed, as a result of the amendments your Lordships have accepted, deriving from points made in this House or another place or in consultations with the parties in Northern Ireland.

I am well aware that we have asked your Lordships to consider a great deal of material--much of it very complex--in a short period of time throughout the passage of the Bill. My noble friend Lord Williams and I are deeply indebted to your Lordships for the courtesy, understanding and good humour displayed in facing those demands. I pay particular tribute to noble Lords on the Front Benches opposite who have had the particularly onerous and, in some ways, thankless task of probing and challenging all the proposals we have brought forward. Noble Lords concerned have been assiduous in discharging their responsibilities and on many occasions have given us rather more to think about than we could respond to on the spur of the moment. I am grateful for their understanding when some detailed points appeared particularly elusive.

There have also been many distinguished and persuasive contributions from the Back Benches in all parts of the House, informed by the highest degree of expertise and always made with the moderation and thoughtfulness that characterises debates in your Lordships' House.

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We shall have to return to your Lordships from time to time with further subordinate legislation, much of it provided for by this Bill, to complete the arrangements for implementing the agreement under it.

For the present, perhaps I may say that we are profoundly indebted to your Lordships for the commitment made to the consideration of the Bill and for the quality of the deliberations on it. I hope it will be acknowledged that we have responded to a substantial proportion of the points that your Lordships have raised during the various stages of the Bill.

I am grateful for all the effort that has been put into the Bill. I pay tribute to my officials who worked very hard throughout the summer and during the Bill's passage to ensure that we were kept up to date in all respects. This has been a very full Session, and this Bill has been a key element. I hope and believe that it will appear in a few years' time to be another great milestone in the transformation of Northern Ireland and its prospects. Your Lordships have played a vital part in enhancing its capacity to achieve that. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.--(Lord Dubs.)

Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships long; however, it is right to say that with the passage of this Bill we have participated in the most extraordinary parliamentary event. It is barely recognisable as the measure that passed through the other place before the summer. It has been totally transformed. I dare say that we have dealt with more amendments than on any comparable Bill, including a number of amendments today which were far beyond the normal parliamentary experience at this stage. I cannot say that it has been an orderly procedure. However, I believe that all of us accept that it has been in a great cause and we have been prepared to bend our patience considerably in order to deal with it.

In the context of patience, it is right for me, in turn, to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for his courtesy, his tenacity and his incredible stamina during the Bill's passage. We thank him very much.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I, too, am grateful for the Minister's kind words to those on these Benches. I reciprocate in thanking him for the way in which he has conducted affairs with his colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn.

As he said, the Bill has been based on the Belfast Agreement and has therefore had our support. We have co-operated with the Government as much as possible--though I have to say with a considerable amount of unease on two grounds: first, that it has sometimes seemed a very ramshackle way in which to reform the United Kingdom constitution; and secondly, at times there has been a feeling that the whole of the agreement has been in grave danger.

On the first point, this Bill will leave the House in a very different form from that in which it came. Nearly 500 government amendments were tabled. Not all have actually reached the face of the Bill, because some were withdrawn before we even debated them. However, the

17 Nov 1998 : Column 1230

vast proportion have passed into the legislation. That process has continued even this afternoon. Frankly, that makes us doubt whether the Bill is watertight even now. Obviously we hope that it is. But it has also become clear again this afternoon that devolution is proceeding on a most inconsistent basis across the United Kingdom. This Bill is on a very different basis from either the Scotland Bill or the Welsh Bill, which themselves differ, and no one has even attempted to answer "the English question".

The second cause for our unease is the more serious. The Belfast Agreement was settled on Good Friday. It is now past Michaelmas and progress on implementing the agreement has been, to say the least, very patchy. The constitutional changes incorporated in the Bill and other legislation, and all that go with them, as well as the prisoner releases, have gone full steam ahead. But decommissioning has not started at all. I do not know whether the Minister is in a position to give any further information about that.

Without decommissioning, this Bill ought to moulder on the shelf and never be put into operation; and for that matter, I believe that the prisoner releases should also come to an end. We all hope that that will not happen and that all parts of the agreement will proceed so that the Bill can come into force properly. Otherwise, the bitterness and mistrust on all sides will be heavily reinforced.

I honestly hope and pray that the agreement is implemented in all its parts, massively to the benefit of all the people of Northern Ireland and of the United Kingdom as a whole. It is for that reason that we have supported the Bill throughout and done our best to improve it with the co-operation of the Minister, for which I am grateful.

Lord Molyneaux: My Lords, perhaps I may briefly but sincerely say a word of appreciation on behalf of the Northern Ireland contingent in your Lordships' House for the patience and the courtesy shown by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. I also thank his colleagues on the Front Bench for their supporting role, and others elsewhere. It has been a difficult operation. I noticed that during the final stages of the Scotland Bill earlier this evening the Scottish team said, almost as a boast, that they had dealt with some 300 amendments. We are coming to nearly double that number in our case.

Lord Monson: My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for his unfailing patience, courtesy and good humour in coping with the prolonged passage of this major and ever-evolving Bill. I would also like to thank him for the meticulous way in which he has answered in writing virtually every question asked of him in the course of our debates, and for the way in which he and the Northern Ireland Office have kept us so well briefed. I also pay tribute to those of his Front Bench colleagues who have been involved with this Bill and the Front Bench spokesmen of the two other main parties.

In doing so I must enter one caveat--and I hope that noble Lords will not mind me doing so. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn--and I am sorry not to see him in his place; I had somehow expected that he would

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be--and the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, are the most intelligent and best-intentioned of men. However, on 26th October in Committee they both, in quick succession, appeared to fall into a Republican trap. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, said:

    "the problems described in"
--the clauses dealing with discrimination--

    "occur in England and Wales but not to anywhere near the same extent and have not ... brought about more than 3,000 deaths in a relatively short period of time".--[Official Report, 26/10/98; col. 1746.]
Very shortly afterwards the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, said,

    "the nub of what we are trying to do is to tackle the religious and political discrimination which has led to 3,000 deaths and untold other agony".--[Official Report, 26/10/98; col. 1747.]
I hope that the words used there were slips of the tongue and do not represent the considered convictions of the Labour and Conservative leaderships respectively. As a small "u" unionist, I have never claimed myself to be wholly impartial, but I do not think that any impartial historian would agree that individuals place bombs in a bus station, blowing a dozen strangers to pieces, or drill through the knee-caps of their co-religionists, merely because they suspect that someone slightly less qualified than themselves has unfairly been promoted over their heads.

We should remember the refusal of the nationalist leadership in the north to accept the authority of the state, the sustained bellicosity of De Valera and the Republicans in the 1920s and much of the 1930s; the subsequent irredentist claims in the 1937 Constitution; and the massive ethnic cleansing that took place in the south between 1920-25, leading to the expulsion of at least 105,000 people, most of them unionist civilians but many of them Catholics who had served in the Royal Irish Constabulary, the British Army or the Royal Navy. No impartial historian would deny that these factors have contributed to a very substantial extent to fear and tension in the north, paving the way for the subsequent violence later on.

More than 29 years ago, on the 12th September 1969, in the wake of the Cameron Report, the Times commented:

    "The grievances--though real--are towards the bottom of the scale of human injustices--and are not getting worse."
Indeed, some of those injustices, such as the restrictive local government franchise--which was no different from that pertaining in England and Wales up until 1945--had already been rectified by the Stormont Government, and other reforms followed on swiftly afterwards. So not for a quarter of a century has the small degree of discrimination remaining objectively justified as much as a broken finger. But cultural and national antipathies and suspicions, once aroused, have their own momentum.

I hope, on reflection, noble Lords will agree that it is inadvertently playing into Sinn Fein's hands to suggest that almost 3,500 people have been killed, and thousands more have been knee-capped and otherwise maimed for life, because of some wholly unprovoked

17 Nov 1998 : Column 1232

minor discrimination like jumping a council house queue that took place more than 25 years ago. I hope they will agree that green fascism, as it is called, and other less extreme forms of national sentiment on both sides of the divide are at least as responsible for the violence and probably much more so.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I should make it clear that my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn is very busy at the moment dealing with the consequences of an earlier vote in this House. Perhaps I may also say that I am absolutely certain that he and I--and I am sure I can speak for the noble Lord, Lord Cope--would utterly condemn without reservation every single death, shooting and other injury that has been caused by terrorists in Northern Ireland. I say that without reservation and without equivocation.

Perhaps I may deal with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, about decommissioning. The Government's view is that decommissioning is an integral part of the agreement. It is an obligation that must happen; and the question is not whether it is to happen but simply when. The only way to achieve decommissioning is by the full implementation of all aspects of the agreement by all the parties, including the Government. In taking this Bill forward, the Government have moved substantially in fulfilling their part of the agreement. We ask all other parties to the agreement to fulfil their parts.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.

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