Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, perhaps I may, with the leave of the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, explain to the House that his name was omitted in error from the list of speakers. As a result of careful management, he is able to take the usual time to speak.

5.20 p.m.

Lord McConnell: My Lords, I do not intend to detain your Lordships long. It is well known that I am very much in favour of permanent peace in Northern Ireland. That is what we all want. But at the same time we want to be sure that that is what we shall get, not just some mirage which may disappear before too long.

I am not at all happy about the early release of convicted terrorists, who are not repentant but quite proud of the crimes that they have committed. At the same time, the failure to hand over arms and ammunition produces what could be a very dangerous

24 Feb 1999 : Column 1143

situation if those kinds of men have access in future to the arms and ammunition that they have used in the past. Therefore, we must be very careful.

The chief constable recently referred to the punishment beatings and other atrocities that have recently taken place. He is reported as saying that they were centrally organised by mainstream paramilitary groups whose political representatives were members of the Stormont Assembly. It is easy to say that a particular organisation is not presently waging terrorism when it is merely that some of its former members have taken on a new name--they have moved round the corner and they are doing it. And, of course, it has nothing whatever to do with the original organisation that they left! Anyone who believes that is rather naive, but that is what is being put forward for us to accept. I believe that we should look at these matters with care.

We have only to look at other parts of the world where there have been similar problems. In Lebanon, for instance, there was sectarian civil war. Over 200,000 people died. An accord was entered into, all weapons were handed over, and since then there has been very little trouble there. There was civil war for 16 years in Mozambique, with over 1 million casualties. Weapons were handed in, and there has been a great improvement there. There were 12 years of civil war in El Salvador, with 75,000 people killed. Weapons were destroyed and, again, there was very little further trouble there. The exception is South Africa, where weapons were not handed in, and where, since 1989, murder has increased by 61 per cent. and armed robbery by 119 per cent. So the examples in other countries do not support the contention that we should not bother about arms, that they do not really matter and they will not be used. I never understand why people want to keep arms that they are not going to use. It is a question of trying to understand their mentality.

I therefore urge the Government and all those responsible to take the utmost care before placating terrorists any further. I urge them to ensure that it is a good peace, that can be stood over and that will last.

5.25 p.m.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, for initiating this debate. I echo the sentiments of my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby in paying tribute to the work that he has carried out in Northern Ireland. However, it was with a degree of disappointment that I listened to his speech. He seemed to highlight the negative aspects of the present situation in Northern Ireland. There are inherent problems with the peace process; that cannot be denied. However, anyone looking at the progress of the past three years and looking into the future would be incredulous at what has been achieved.

I have recently become Front Bench spokesman on this issue. As always, I find myself on an extremely steep learning curve. One of the things I have found most difficult to understand about the peace process is how it has managed to survive as long as it has. The more one looks at the parties involved, the more one realises how many fracture points there are in the process.

24 Feb 1999 : Column 1144

It is not just a question of the strongly opposed views of the main protagonists but of the positions that are held within the organisations themselves. The difficulty that Mr. Trimble has had recently in leading his party along in the process is an indication. But the difficulty is not only on the unionist side. The very difficult position within the IRA, as between those who would like to move forward and those who would return to violence, also has to be understood. It is only through an understanding of all these positions that the success of the peace process can be understood. Although the peace process seems to be constantly under threat, it has been making steady, if tortuous, progress towards its goal.

However, at present there is an impasse based on the issue of decommissioning. The briefings that I have had recently show that there is logic from both sides on the positions that the two sides are taking. Within the unionist community it is obvious that decommissioning has to take place before Sinn Fein is allowed to take its position within the executive. However, a logical position is also held by those within Sinn Fein who base their views upon the Good Friday agreement itself, which states that there is no specific start time for decommissioning to take place.

The position is becoming tenuous. It is imperative that a start is made. It is unacceptable to believe that in a year's time all arms will suddenly materialise in one place to be decommissioned. However, decommissioning can take many forms. Many questions have been asked about what it would actually entail. I believe, however, that it is an issue for General de Chastelain. He has undertaken some very good work, some of which has been very low profile. It should be left in his hands to verify what may be considered as a start to decommissioning.

In this light, I welcome the brave statement made by the Taoiseach, calling on the IRA to undertake a start to decommissioning. The Taoiseach reflects the opinion of almost everyone in the Republic of Ireland as well as the majority view in the North.

Pressure is growing for decommissioning to take place before 10th March. It would be extremely upsetting if no decommissioning came about and pressure from a number of quarters has been expressed. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, mentioned the situation in America and he was sceptical about the position the Americans may take. However, I believe they can have a degree of influence over the start of decommissioning. We should not forget that it was Senator Mitchell who, through his work, brought about so much in the peace process. It would be unfair not to mention the words he wrote in the Irish Times on 19th February. He said that decommissioning was:

    "a very difficult, emotional and very important issue, but the political leaders must not let this chance of peace slip away after so much has happened and been done by the people, the governments and leaders. I believe there will be a way".

Many noble Lords have spoken this afternoon of the large number of mutilation attacks that have taken place. It is obviously a situation that all sides of the House find abhorrent. However, the attacks are undertaken by the men of violence. I believe that the future of Northern

24 Feb 1999 : Column 1145

Ireland does not lie with them; it lies with the degree of trust being built up among the people of Northern Ireland. The noble Lord, Lord Eames, made a remarkable speech on the difficulties of building trust and the necessity for it. He made one of the finest speeches heard in your Lordships' House for some time. He spoke mostly from personal experience.

The cost of peace is high at the moment, as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, made clear from his experiences. However, the cost of failure of the peace process could be higher. The cycle of violence must be broken and I believe that, considering the pressures on the peace process, it would be irresponsible of us at this point not to commit ourselves to it. We on these Benches are keen that the bipartisan agreement should continue at this time without let up. I ask the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, to give a commitment at this point to the bipartisan approach to Northern Ireland, especially now.

I have seen a lot of violence in South Africa, but have recently seen how that violence can be broken. I believe that the future of Northern Ireland is a great deal more optimistic than may be suggested by some of the actions taking place. I hope that the peace process survives.

5.33 p.m.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew for initiating this timely debate. Few in your Lordships' House have had more direct recent experience of these matters, save perhaps the Minister himself. I agree with everything he said and hope that the Minister will answer the questions posed by my noble and learned friend, as I shall not repeat them.

My noble and learned friend explained that the Secretary of State has not made full use of the lever of specifying an organisation in order to stop its prisoners from being released. It is extremely unfortunate that the Secretary of State has sent out the wrong signal by stating that she can do nothing about the problems, that she does not have the power.

Some, including the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, have worried about where we are on these Benches with regard to a bipartisan policy. The answer is that there is no change. We do not regard the bipartisan policy as giving the Government a blank cheque. On the other hand, we will do nothing that provides succour to anyone involved in terrorism. We do not seek to rewrite the Belfast agreement. That would be fatal to it. On the contrary, we seek full implementation by all the parties. It is also not our intention to break the bipartisan approach to constitutional issues in Northern Ireland.

The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, raised the matter of the cost of the Assembly. It was unfortunate that the costs were underestimated. This House would have provided a good financial model. On the other hand, the existence of the Assembly has gone so far already that I am sure it will be extremely helpful to the peace process. As for the budgetary implications, I am more concerned about the macro-economic effect of reductions in expenditure on security, particularly the RUC. This is a reserved matter, so any savings will go back to the Treasury, not to the Assembly.

24 Feb 1999 : Column 1146

Decommissioning is a show-stopper for the process, as was so well explained by my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew and many others. It has been suggested that my right honourable friend Mr. Mackay and others should apply pressure on Mr. Trimble. The fact is, as we know, Mr. Trimble has no room for manoeuvre whatever. However, while I cannot claim to be confident, I am hopeful, even optimistic that a start to decommissioning is the key to the process moving forward, and I hope that we will get past this hump.

The LVF has shown that the modalities for decommissioning actually work. It might not be significant decommissioning, but it works. This must increase the confidence of the paramilitaries to start the process. Yes, it may have to be step by step. No one would want to stand naked before their former adversaries, but the process must start.

I would also like to take the opportunity to restate what I said last week. It is the Mitchell principle that no one should regard decommissioning as a defeat, a victory or a surrender. I just see it as part of the process of moving from violence and confrontation to peace and democracy.

The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, drew attention to Sinn Fein's aspirations for the RUC to be disarmed as a quid pro quo. However, if we look at the continental police, we find that they are at least as heavily armed as the RUC.

Although progress on decommissioning is painfully slow at the moment, once it actually starts rapid progress could be made. This is important in order to avoid weapons falling into the hands of purely criminal organisations or so-called "splinter" groups, as we have already seen.

My noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew mentioned the dangers of Semtex and the need for it to be decommissioned. It has a long shelf life and can do far more political damage than firearms. In addition it is also a necessary precursor for using home-made explosives.

We on these Benches and elsewhere have raised the issue of what some euphemistically used to call punishment beatings; "terrorist mutilation assaults" is now the term in use. My noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew and the moving speech from my noble friend and colleague Lady Seccombe described the problem in detail. Any suggestion that these assaults are to do with civil administration is totally without foundation, as the assaults grossly violate all the principles of human rights: no properly constituted court, no representation, no appeal and it all ends with a cruel, unusual and illegal punishment.

Thanks partly to the efforts of my right honourable friend Mr. Mackay and the letter from my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew to the Daily Telegraph, and others, the incidence of assaults has been drastically reduced.

The noble Lord, Lord Eames, touched on the issue of parades. It is clear that the only course of action is for the organisers to have confidence, as I do, in the Parades Commission and to demonstrate a willingness to engage

24 Feb 1999 : Column 1147

in discussions to meet residents' concerns, if necessary, through mediation. Finally, all parties need to abide by the determinations of the commission.

Many noble Lords have touched upon the restructuring of the RUC. I share their concerns. The RUC accepts that there will have to be some changes, but I am confident that the Patten commission will not be a pushover for those who have a rather different concept of community policing from your Lordships. The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, referred to the fearful cost to the security forces during the troubles. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the sacrifices made by all members of the security forces. Many members of the RUC are worried that there are several ways to define the Prime Minister's offer of generous compensation. Certainly, the definition of the Treasury will be different from that of your Lordships.

My noble and learned friend's Motion refers to the value of the Belfast agreement. I believe that the value lies in the opportunity for peace and prosperity in the Province. These opportunities can be fully exploited only in an environment of genuine and enduring peace with no threat of violence. I was particularly pleased to hear the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. Noble Lords will be aware that many areas of the Province are not fully developed. To take tourism as an example, only 1.8 per cent. of GDP is derived from that activity in Northern Ireland compared with 5 per cent. in Scotland and 6.3 per cent. in the Republic. However, the City of Belfast has made significant progress. The RUC recently explained to me the challenge of policing the estimated 8,000 to 10,000 revellers who apparently go to the centre of Belfast every Friday to enjoy the night life.

It is also interesting to note that during the total of seven days that I recently spent in the Province this year I did not see any Army patrols or vehicles. Londonderry has great opportunities to develop its tourist trade. It is ideally situated as a major population centre in the north west and serves County Donegal just across the Border in the Republic. There is much opportunity to improve the city as a cultural centre and to make it more inviting as a social centre. That will make the area much more attractive to inward investors. Major retailers are already there and I am sure that more will follow their lead.

We know that unemployment is higher in the Province than on the mainland, but even in the black spots the rate is not much higher than the French national average. The Northern Ireland average is much better than that of France. The average age is lower and the educational standards rather higher than on the mainland. For instance, 90 per cent. of A level students achieve two or more passes compared with only 81 per cent. on the mainland. At the other end of the scale, only 4 per cent. leave with no GCSEs compared with 8 per cent. in England and 10 per cent. in Wales. That fact will not be lost upon potential inward investors who will be waiting to see how the peace process moves forward. I do not underestimate the problems: for example, Catholics suffer much higher rates of unemployment; but economic development by inward investment and SMEs will do much to help.

24 Feb 1999 : Column 1148

I believe that with full implementation of the agreement and the absence of violence, mayhem and intimidation, or fear of these, the Province presents great opportunities for business and thus for the people of the Province. But it is not just the Province that will benefit. The Republic has also suffered from the negative external impressions that flow from the troubles. That is why I believe in the value of the agreement, especially the need to implement all of its provisions.

5.43 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs): My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity given us today by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, to discuss the Belfast agreement and its implementation. I am also grateful for the contributions of noble Lords to this interesting debate. I understand the many concerns that have been raised and I shall attempt to address those in some detail in a few moments. I particularly welcome the optimism about the future of Northern Ireland demonstrated by many, although not all, of your Lordships. In particular I commend my noble friends Lord Blease, Lord Graham and Lord Clarke, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, should also be categorised as an optimist in speaking about the future of Northern Ireland.

It may be useful if I reflect briefly on the historic significance of the agreement. It is all too easy to become focused on the immediate difficulties so that one forgets the huge strides forward that the agreement represents. If I had asked your Lordships about a year ago whether the progress that has been made would be made I suspect that quite a number would have regarded it as impossible. The Belfast agreement represents a unique opportunity for a stable political settlement in Northern Ireland. For the first time the different communities have reached agreement on the way in which Northern Ireland should be governed. That is surely remarkable progress.

It is also right to call attention to the value of that agreement as the Motion of the noble and learned Lord does today. Of course the story did not end last April when the agreement was reached. In many ways that was only the beginning of a long and difficult process of implementation. At the same time, we must not forget that since last April progress has been made across a whole range of issues contained in the agreement. Perhaps I may take a moment or two to remind your Lordships of the many events that have taken place: the new Northern Ireland Assembly has been established and the right honourable Members for Upper Bann and Newry and South Armagh have been elected as shadow First and Deputy First Ministers; agreement has been reached on the future structure of the Northern Ireland departments and the functions of the North-South implementation bodies, and only last week that was endorsed by a substantial majority of the assembly; and the reviews of policing and criminal justice have been established and their work is well under way. I shall say a little more about the policing review shortly. Further, the human rights and equality commissions are being set

24 Feb 1999 : Column 1149

up; there has been a steady normalisation of security measures in Northern Ireland consistent with the level of terrorist threat; there has been the release of paramilitary prisoners, which has been a contentious point in the debate this afternoon; and, finally, there have been a number of important initiatives relating to the victims of terrorism and violence in line with the recommendations of the Bloomfield Report. I believe that, taken together, they represent a tremendous amount of progress.

I do not need to remind noble Lords that the implementation of the agreement has not been easy. That has been the thrust of many of the speeches that we have heard this afternoon. None of us would have expected easy progress from the date of the establishment of the Good Friday agreement. There are people on both sides of the community who remain hostile to the political process. A tiny minority of people have used violence to try to destroy the agreement and continue to threaten to do so. Last summer the atrocity in Omagh and the murder of the three Quinn boys in Ballymoney were tragic reminders of the evils of sectarianism and paramilitary violence and of the past that the people of Northern Ireland so desperately want to put behind them. Efforts continue to try to bring the perpetrators of these vile acts to justice. Your Lordships will have noted the arrests in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of individuals alleged to have been involved in the atrocity in Omagh.

These tragedies have reinforced us in our efforts to press on with the process of implementing the agreement to try to ensure that never again will the people of Northern Ireland have to suffer in this way. Regrettably, there has been a continuing incidence of paramilitary attacks, beatings and mutilations. I share the disgust of all noble Lords at these barbaric attacks. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has met representatives of Sinn Fein and the Loyalist parties to stress that these attacks are totally unacceptable and that they must end. I am pleased that the level of attacks has now reduced significantly. The Government will continue to press for a total end to paramilitary violence. Even one paramilitary attack, mutilation or beating of this kind is one too many.

This is not just about violence but the threat of it and the forced exile of people from their homes and from Northern Ireland. Many noble Lords have referred to forced exile. This is a violation of human rights which is totally incompatible with the agreement. The Government call on all those who are in a position of influence to press for these forced exiles to end.

There have been other difficulties on the political front. Most significantly, there is the continuing stalemate over the formation of the executive committee and the refusal of the major paramilitary organisations to begin the decommissioning of their illegal weapons. Today many noble Lords have emphasised again and again the absolute necessity for all sides to live up to their obligations under the agreement. I wholly support those calls. It is essential to the implementation of the agreement and to the building of trust between the communities that all sides live up to all their commitments. The noble Lord, Lord Eames, spoke

24 Feb 1999 : Column 1150

movingly about the need for trust to be established; and that trust was the key to significant progress in Northern Ireland. That is why the Government have continued to live up to their obligations even when that has been very difficult, most notably in the continuing release of paramilitary prisoners.

This fulfilment of obligations simply must be reciprocated by all sides. That means that we must move quickly to the establishment of the institutions of government in Northern Ireland, because when they are established there will be more trust and confidence in the whole process. It means a start to decommissioning.

Much has been said in this House and elsewhere about decommissioning. I want to say today that the issue of decommissioning is not about creating new pre-conditions. It is not about seeking to exclude people from Government. Quite the opposite. It is about creating the conditions necessary for inclusive and democratic government. Nor is it about surrender, as the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, said. That was demonstrated by the beginning of LVF decommissioning in December. That showed that decommissioning is politically possible. No one was humiliated. It was not an act of surrender. It was an act of good faith, living up to the obligations of the agreement.

Much has been made of the fact that the agreement does not specify a start date for decommissioning, only an end date. But nor does the agreement set a start date for the early release of prisoners and yet the two Governments have clearly demonstrated their good faith by taking forward this aspect of the agreement.

Decommissioning cannot be argued away. It is integral to the very spirit of the agreement as a demonstration of the transition from the violence and threat of violence of the past to the democratic politics of the future. It is a demonstration of the commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means.

When we started the debate, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister was answering questions in another place. I believe that it would be appropriate for me to quote what he said in answer to a Question from David Trimble about decommissioning. It is too soon to be able to quote from Hansard; but I think that it would be wrong if I did not repeat this to the House. The Prime Minister said:

    "The advice is very clear. They should decommission their weapons. I agree with what the Taoiseach said. The whole of the agreement must be implemented and we must know that violence has been given up for good; and it is unreasonable to expect people to sit down together unless they know that that is the case".

It is now time for parties associated with paramilitary organisations to demonstrate their good faith by making real progress on decommissioning, just as it is time for inclusive, democratic government to begin. I agree with noble Lords that all obligations under the agreement must be met in full.

I welcome the continued commitment to bipartisan support of the main thrust of the Government's policies from the Opposition party and the Liberal Democrats. Of course that does not mean that we expect a blank cheque. But we welcome the continuation of that

24 Feb 1999 : Column 1151

bipartisan support. It is important that people in Northern Ireland know that that is the case so that they do not seek to divide us here on the main thrust of what we seek in Northern Ireland.

Many questions were asked. Consistent with time, I shall do my best to do justice to them. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, asked a number of questions. I totally condemn the vile attack in Beesbrook last night. Every effort will be made to bring those responsible to justice. If convicted they will not be eligible for early release under the agreement. It has not yet been possible to determine which organisation, if any, was responsible for the attack. The RUC investigation is continuing.

I cannot confirm the statistics of the noble and learned Lord about the number of people forced into exile. However, as I said earlier, I totally agree that such activity is a disgraceful violation of human rights and must end.

The noble and learned Lord asked about the judgement of the ceasefire becoming more rigorous over time. The Secretary of State will make her judgment in the round taking into account all relevant facts. The noble and learned Lord will agree that it is not an easy judgment to make. Over time, as the implementation of the agreement continues, the consideration of the relevant factors will become more stringent. But it is a serious judgment and noble Lords must be aware of the serious consequence of declaring that the ceasefires are at an end. It is clear that to say the ceasefires are at an end would prejudice all the progress that has been made and might take us way back to where we were before the peace process began under the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew.

The noble and learned Lord also referred to the possession of Semtex. I agree with him that the holding of explosives of any form is incompatible with a commitment to exclusively peaceful means. The RUC will continue to do all it can to secure the removal of all illegal weapons and explosives and to bring to justice those in possession of them. At the same time I believe that the full implementation of the agreement is the best way to secure the decommissioning of these weapons.

Reference was made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and other noble Lords to the number of paramilitary beatings and attacks. There have been some indications of a decline in number. Nevertheless I share the disgust of all noble Lords at these barbaric attacks. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has met with representatives of the Sinn Fein and loyalist parties to stress that they must come to an end. By their nature, the statistics are unreliable. However, I can confirm the indications that there has been recently a significant reduction, in particular of those attributed to the republicans; but one attack is one too many.

The noble and learned Lord also asked why we did not use the lever of stopping releases. If that were to happen, the consequences would be immense for the whole process in Northern Ireland. I do not say that it would never be right to come to that judgment; it is just that I do not believe that such a judgment would be right

24 Feb 1999 : Column 1152

at this point in time. To demand a decision to be reached that the ceasefires are at an end, when we judge that they are not, would bring down the whole Good Friday agreement. That would be a consequence. The view that stopping prisoner releases would increase the chances of the Good Friday agreement being implemented is not one that I share. I do not believe that it would have that effect. The situation is never perfect, but in 18 months we have come further than people believed we could; and that has been with all the difficulties--tactical, strategic and of principle--inherent in the situation.

The judgment about the ceasefire must take into account all the evidence, including the security advice we receive. On the basis of that evidence, we do not believe that it is justified to conclude that the ceasefires have broken down. In saying that, I repeat that I do not minimize our anxiety about continuing paramilitary attacks.

The noble Baroness, Lady Park, and the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, asked about support in the United States for the Continuity IRA as evidenced by the collection of funds. The support of the US Government and of President Clinton in particular has been an invaluable factor in the peace process. President Clinton has made clear that there should be no support from America for those who would seek to wreck the agreement through continuing violence. There is close co-operation between the agencies of the British and United States Governments to prevent the illegal funding of dissident terrorist groups, including of course the Continuity IRA.

The noble Baroness, Lady Park, and many other noble Lords asked about policing. Under the Good Friday agreement, the Government have appointed an independent commission on policing with Chris Patten in the chair. Its broad terms of reference are set out in the agreement. It is to report next summer, and is consulting widely throughout Northern Ireland. We want the best possible policing service for the people of Northern Ireland based on principles of fairness, impartiality and effectiveness, which works in partnership with and is supported by the community.

I do not know what Chris Patten's commission will decide. However, the Prime Minister has made it clear that the RUC will not be disbanded, so that is not on the Government's agenda. I join the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, in paying tribute to the RUC and the work it has done over many years in extremely difficult circumstances. Its members are very brave men and, tragically, many of them lost their lives in defending their communities in Northern Ireland.

The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, in what I thought was a pessimistic speech, asked about the release of prisoners. He used the word "amnesty". There is no amnesty for prisoners. Under the legislation agreed by this House, prisoners are given early release on licence, in line with the agreement.

The noble Lord and others suggested that it was wrong to reduce security when a threat remains. Individual normalisation measures are operational decisions for the Chief Constable to take in the light of his assessment of the threat. As a result of his advice, certain security measures have been scaled down. The

24 Feb 1999 : Column 1153

advice of the Chief Constable and the GOC determines the Government's response and the closing of any establishments.

Several references were made to the running costs of the Assembly. With devolution, it is fitting that Northern Ireland's locally elected politicians and leaders should take decisions on how to allocate resources within the transferred field. One cannot say, "We are giving you devolution", and then tell them how to exercise their responsibilities. That would be inconsistent. Therefore, the cost of the Assembly is a matter for the Assembly itself. I do not wish to comment in detail on the figures which were quoted, but they refer to the next financial year when, all being well, the Assembly will be responsible for its finances and will have to live with the consequences of any expenditure under one heading at the expense of others.

The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, referred to the Washington Summit. The United States Government have provided vital support to the political process in Northern Ireland. That includes work by the Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, as well as the President himself. A number of political leaders from Northern Ireland, as well as the Secretary of State, will be in the United States in the middle of March. We expect that those who are in contact with them will encourage them to show the courage and determination needed to make further progress.

The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, spoke about changes to Articles 2 and 3. The constitutional amendments were approved by a referendum on 22nd May 1998 in accordance with Article 4 of the British-Irish agreement. The Irish Government are bound to ensure that these amendments take effect immediately on entry into force of the agreement. This will occur immediately on the transfer of powers and the formal establishment of other institutional aspects of the Belfast agreement.

The noble Marquess, Lord Donegall, said that punishment attacks had been committed by released prisoners. There have been allegations of that, but we have no firm evidence and the Government cannot and will not act on the basis of media speculation.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page