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The Earl of Longford: My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Viscount one question. What happens if the Protestant paramilitary organisations fail to give up any of their weapons. Will they be allowed to hang on to them?
Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, the Bill is about the Executive and those who will be nominated to it. Therefore, it primarily refers directly to Sinn Fein/IRA because the other terrorist organisations have not obtained positions in the Executive. However, I entirely agree with the noble Earl and others, that all possible pressure should be put on the Protestant paramilitaries, and the Republican paramilitaries who are not truly on cease-fire. In turn, Sinn Fein would be faced with the fact that for once, perhaps for the first time, they cannot hold us to ransom and have a veto over this democratic process. That would seriously be the first time that any of us had seen that they did not have that power.
The third scenario is that the IRA do not appoint a negotiator and do not make a declaration in the next few days, and we can go no further. However, I believe that the second scenario is the one that will occur, and that a representative of the IRA will be appointee as an intermediary. It will probably not be an IRA person. I believe that we shall be back in the same situation as we had in regard to the victims' remains and the authorities will be talking through intermediaries. The representative will probably be a priest or a solicitor. In effect, it will be someone with whom General de Chastelain cannot really come to grips. And we shall be in for yet another fudge. That is where an amendment to the Bill could enable a timetable to be open and public. I suspect that it cannot be on the face of the Bill, but a proposal can be laid out openly and publicly when the matter is decided, after General de Chastelain has spoken to the groups concerned.
However, as the Bill stands I believe that we shall see fully armed terrorists in the Executive of part of the United Kingdom if David Trimble and the Unionists accept the Bill in its present form--and I suspect that they will not now be asked to do so.
However, when it is pressurised to produce weapons, it will say, "Look, everything is very quiet. Do you the Government and the decommissioning body really want to jeopardise that by suspending everything? It is up to you. We are still trying. Do you want to go back to all that violence tomorrow?". What shall we do then? Shall we introduce more hasty legislation to try to get round that point? I dread to think. I am not accusing the Government of laying themselves wide open to that, but I cannot see what else will happen. The Government and De Chastelain must have in mind what will happen in that case. But either way, the law-abiding people of Northern Ireland will be the losers, because the Government have allowed too many loopholes--and we hope that some of them will be filled in tomorrow--in the Bill as it presently stands.
I wish to make one more point on the wider constitutional picture. During the passage of the House of Lords Bill the Government have thrown scorn on the suggestion, which was not mine, that after the expelling of hereditary Peers this House might not be the ultimate defender of our constitution in a case where there is an overwhelming majority in another place. Here is a Bill that infringes our democratic rights and allows fully armed terrorists to take part in governing a part of the United Kingdom. I cannot imagine anything less constitutional. I say to life Peers, primarily to those on the Government Benches: this is the time to prove, when we are talking about fully armed terrorists in government, that you are prepared to make a stand on a vital constitutional issue; I hope that you will prove your independence by supporting the more important amendments that will come before the House tomorrow to make this a better deal and bring democracy to Northern Ireland.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I find myself in the position of agreeing with almost everything that has been said during the debate so far. Above all, I found myself agreeing with just about every word that the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, said--especially his remark about the prime defect of the Belfast agreement. He asked why there was nothing in that to resolve the issue of decommissioning at the very beginning. But of course the answer is clear, and the noble Lord knows it. Sinn Fein would never have accepted such a commitment--which causes us to wonder whether they will accept such a commitment now. How right he was to remind us of just what the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, meant when he warned that the
But here we are again, as ever, with Northern Ireland legislation: finding that it is being rammed through without adequate time for reflection, consideration and consultation outside this place. Again it is a rush. Every piece of legislation that has been brought forward has been in a great rush. Why the rush? Why cannot we have more time for consideration? After all, if the Government had given themselves more time for consideration, they would have persuaded themselves of the virtues of what my right honourable friend John Major said and what Mr Trimble said yesterday in the House of Commons. There was nothing dramatically new in it. Ministers could have thought of it had they given themselves a little more time for reflection.
Let us be clear what this Bill is about. It is about the breaking of the Prime Minister's word given to the people of Northern Ireland to persuade them to vote for the Belfast agreement. The Prime Minister promised that the spokesmen for the terrorists would not be admitted to government while the terrorists remained active. In his words,
Only a week or so ago there was the attempted murder here on the mainland of a man who had been an IRA informer. Yet we now see the representatives of those who committed that crime being proposed as Ministers in the Executive. In his Question Time broadcast the Prime Minister confirmed that he regarded the IRA/Sinn Fein as one organisation. I shall come back to that point later. One question that we have to ask is whether his ally and partner in many respects as regards this legislation, Mr Ahern, the Taoiseach, considers it to be the same organisation. I understand that the other day he said that he had come to the conclusion that they were now separate. I shall return to that point later, too.
That is the background against which we are asked yet again to buy a pig in a poke. It is always the same pig and the same poke, and it has never been delivered yet. We are asked yet again to trust the Prime Minister, legislate in unseemly haste and concede more to Sinn Fein/IRA.
Yesterday in the other place the Secretary of State refused to make any concessions to allay the fears of the Ulster Unionists. It appears that the Prime Minister was a little more constructive today. I hope that we shall see the amendments very shortly. Indeed, when the Minister replies to the debate, I hope that he will be able to give us a clearer indication of exactly which of the propositions by Mr Major and Mr Trimble will be the subject of government amendments. No doubt the Secretary of State was supporting the view of Mr Martin McGuinness that any such concession would be,
I put this point to the Minister. If General de Chastelain is confident that he will announce a breakthrough in the decommissioning process by the middle of next week, why not delay the formation of the Northern Ireland Executive until the middle of the week after? That does not seem to be outrageous, unless IRA/Sinn Fein is so impatient that it could not bear to wait another week. After all, if it is committed in a way which enables the General to say that he will make an announcement within the next few days, why not let it be made before the Executive is formed? Indeed, why not wait until the General publishes the timetable for decommissioning? Why cannot we have that timetable? The answer is in Schedule 2 to the Bill. The Government choose to bind themselves to meet the deadlines which they have themselves set out. But if Mr Trimble's Unionists do not accept the terms of this Bill, the deadlines cannot be met in any case. So the Government may find themselves between a rock and a hard place.
I also suggest to the Minister that this Bill would benefit from a clearer definition of the word "decommissioning". Therefore, will the Minister at least assure us that all the parties are agreed, including Sinn Fein/IRA, that decommissioning relates solely to terrorist arms and that there are no parallel commitments on the part of Her Majesty's Government to disarm the RUC or the Army in Northern Ireland in parallel with any disarmament by the IRA?
Perhaps it might be helpful to define decommissioning in the Bill in that way. It certainly could do no harm. If not, I can envisage Sinn Fein claiming that the IRA was unwilling to decommission until the Government did so too. I can find nothing in the Bill, in the Belfast agreement or in other legislation flowing from it which precludes Sinn Fein from
What would the Government do then? Would they accept that and allow Sinn Fein to continue as a party of peace based on its democratic mandate at the Assembly elections while the IRA quietly went about its business and maintained its arsenal? What if the Provisional IRA finds that its weapons have been stolen by other republican terrorist organisations? Members of that organisation might say that, while they would love to decommission, their dastardly quartermasters had defected with the weapons which were now in the hands of the INLA or some other group. But the Provisional IRA could not be punished for that; after all, its weapons had been stolen from it, and it would be sinful to punish the innocent in that way.
No doubt the Minister will tell us that that is a matter for the General to decide, but that presents me with a difficulty. How does Parliament hold the General to account? I do not know him; I have never met him. How many noble Lords have? By what means can we be assured that he is not merely honourable but that he is robust in the ways of politics as well as war? What if the General declares that whatever agreement he may make, and with whoever he chooses to make it, has been broken? The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, put his finger on it. Would the Government then argue that things had been going so well in the Assembly and Executive--this event might not arise until the turn of the year--that it would be risking a renewal of violence if the Executive was suspended?
The Minister shakes his head. I hope that later he will do more than that and set out the position clearly, preferably in the legislation but certainly in reply to the debate. The argument would be that what really mattered was not where the arms were but whether they were being used. If all was quiet and peaceful, would it not be taking a terrible risk with peace to disturb things when they were going so well? Like the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, I suspect that that situation is one that we shall face some time before May of next year. Unfortunately, this Bill is shot full of holes which will allow such events to occur. It is a Bill which gives every encouragement, not to the Democrats, but to the bandits.
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