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Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation of the order and also for the background to it that he gave the House. I am extremely glad that it has been made possible to complete all the necessary arrangements by the required date. I accept the Minister's apologies and I agree that it was necessary to move quickly. The order certainly has been on or off. The disadvantage of moving quickly is that it is difficult to have full consultation on matters such as the lighthouse authorities which Mr. Trimble mentioned in another place last night. However, we need to strike a balance between the need to consult and the need to have the order in place today. I note that page 39 of the order, which covers lighthouses, refers to the need for further legislation. I hope that it will be possible to have full consultation beforehand.
Noble Lords will recognise that the order very nearly completes the jigsaw of implementing the Belfast agreement in full. We should leave no excuse for paramilitaries not to decommission. I am grateful for the comments of my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew on that point. Almost all parties to the agreement have
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, our new Front Bench spokesman, my noble friend Lord Redesdale, had, unfortunately, when the debate was announced, already arranged to be in the Province. While that might seem to be a good illustration of the pulling power of the soon-to-be-devolved responsibilities envisaged in the order and the diminishing power of Westminster, I can assure your Lordships that that is not the case. It was merely the unfortunate shortness of time in the announcement of the debate. It has fallen to me to present the Liberal Democrat response to the order.
I reaffirm that we on these Benches remain fully committed to the Good Friday agreement. Although the process of implementing the agreement was never going to be easy, implementing it remains by far and away the best hope for continued progress in Northern Ireland. Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, we regret that so little has been done on the decommissioning issue and that it has been necessary to postpone the calling day for the new Assembly. Nevertheless, we wholly endorse the actions of the Secretary of State and hope that they may prove to be fruitful in this respect. Likewise, we wholeheartedly support the order, which descends directly from the Good Friday agreement.
I should like to pay tribute to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland for managing to reach agreement on the number and form of the six new bodies described in the order. Given the political pressures they have been under, and continue to be under, that was no mean feat. Coming as it did just before Christmas, its announcement was inevitably lost in the celebration of Christmas. That was a shame. The British and Irish governments also deserve praise for their part in facilitating the agreement, and in particular for fleshing out of what was a broad accord into the detailed proposals we have before us today. It is testimony to the diligence of those who have sought to detail every part of the agreement on the six bodies that we have such a volume of paper to support the order. However, it is the details that will determine the success or otherwise of the arrangements.
I should like to raise two small points relating to the bodies established by the order. First, with regard to the funding of the bodies, the order empowers the new Northern Ireland assembly to determine how much
Secondly, I have a specific point about the new body set up to deal with the special EU programmes. The United Kingdom has a relatively poor record within Europe of taking up what is ours as of right. Opportunities to make the best of EU funding programmes have frequently been lost because the British Government have been unwilling to put up matching funds. These matching funds are often necessary before European moneys can be allocated. Consequently, no investment has occurred. With the role of procuring special funds from Europe being devolved to this all-Ireland body, it may be that the problem could get worse as the London Government are distanced further from the process. The further away they are in bureaucratic terms, the less committed London may become.
If that were to happen, it could be very unfortunate indeed. I do not need to explain how vital some of the EU special funding programmes are to Northern Ireland. I should therefore welcome an assurance from the Minister that every effort will be made to ensure that, where matching funds are required before a programme can commence, they will be made available when necessary.
The order before the House is testimony to the fine working relationship that has developed between the British and Irish governments. I hope that the new bodies established by the order will benefit similarly from such a happy working relationship, both between the Belfast executive and the Irish Government and in themselves. They are an important beginning in establishing new relationships between North and South. From these Benches we wish them well.
Perhaps I may make a few brief observations. I very much agree with many of the remarks made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew. In so far as the Government have been successful in our policies in Northern Ireland, we have built on foundations to which
I understand and sympathise with the noble and learned Lord's comments about the need to meet deadlines. The experience of the Good Friday agreement and the various negotiations that took place indicated that setting Northern Ireland politicians deadlines means that they are more likely to reach agreement than if one gives them all the time in the world to negotiate. It was with that type of discipline in mind that the Secretary of State set one deadline--that was not possible; but that is why she set another deadline of about three weeks' time. It clears the mind and is a helpful way of encouraging local politicians in Northern Ireland to move forward from the position in which they now find themselves.
I very much agree with the noble and learned Lord about the enormous contribution made to the process by both the First Minister designate and the Deputy First Minister designate, and over many years by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux. I am sorry that the noble Lord was not able to be present this evening. I also agree that fudging is not a helpful way forward. It will be very much up to the local parties in Northern Ireland to move forward. However, I believe that they understand the need to do so in a clear-cut manner.
I wish to comment about paramilitary attacks and beatings. Such attacks are appalling. The noble and learned Lord said that they had abated somewhat, and I believe that they have. However, as I said on an earlier occasion, one paramilitary beating, shooting or mutilation is one too many. None of us can be relaxed, and I know that the noble and learned Lord certainly is not while there are any such incidents at all, even though some abatement is clearly to be welcomed.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, asked about the Commissioners of Irish Lights. It is a matter in which I understand the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, is also interested. Perhaps I may briefly explain the position. First, I warmly acknowledge the work that the Commissioners of Irish Lights have put in over the years. They have put in a great deal of work, and it has been very successful. I pay tribute to them.
The new Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission will become the general lighthouse authority for the whole of the island of Ireland. The change will require changes to the Merchant Shipping Act to make the body the lights authority. The lights function of the new body will continue to be funded by the General Lighthouse Fund. It will, however, take some time to prepare the necessary new financial arrangements and to consult the various interests before bringing forward legislation. The commissioners will be fully consulted and their experience will be invaluable in developing the new arrangements.
The treaty and the draft order provide for enabling arrangements to be drawn up before the date of devolution or as soon as possible thereafter. I should like to say that that can be done within a week or two, but it is likely to
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