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Lord Renton: Before the Minister sits down, perhaps she could explain something to me. The noble Baroness mentioned various steps and inquiries that are being undertaken within the Lord Chancellor's Department which are relevant to the noble Lord's amendment, but can she say whether the Government intend that the conclusions reached within that department, which will then be considered and approved by Ministers, will be put forward at a later stage as amendments to this Bill?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: No. This is a matter for the Lord Chancellor's Department, which, as I said, is currently conducting an internal review. That review may well lead to a wider review, which could go out to consultation. Therefore, even if it were a sensible procedure, the timetabling of all this would not be permitted. In any case, such major issues should certainly be tabled in Committee. From everything that I know about the review of my noble and learned friend's department, it may be several months before it may, or may not, see the light of day in the form of public consultation. So it would not be possible in practical terms. But, even if it were, I would argue that it would not necessarily be desirable because this is a child support Bill from the DSS; it does not seek to address the wider issues regarding the definition of "a child" and who has the responsibility for the child.

If the Lord Chancellor's Department sees fit at some point to produce clauses for an appropriate Bill, that would be another matter. However, even if it were desirable, it could not be done by way of this Bill. Indeed, even if one could, I am not yet persuaded that it would be desirable to do it through this Bill.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: The Minister gave a very careful and extremely interesting response to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. She suggested that the noble Lord's amendment goes beyond the scope of the Bill. I can understand the problem in that respect, as I am

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sure is the case with the noble Lord, who will probably have more to say about it. However, the noble Baroness also said that a broad statement was not a good idea in this Bill and that it would be more appropriate for the Green and White Papers.

Following on from what I said before, surely the noble Baroness does not expect parents to have these Green and White Papers constantly in front of them. They will want to know what the Bill says; indeed, they will want to ask their legal advisers what it means. Should not the noble Baroness take away the matter and think rather hard about whether it is possible to include this kind of statement, which is within the scope of the Bill, in order to help parents understand how the provision fits in with what they consider to be their legal responsibilities? It is no good just saying that such wording is all right in the Green and White Papers. That may be so for us because we can look it up, but parents cannot be expected to have copies of all these documents.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: On the contrary. To my certain knowledge we have distributed thousands of copies, including the abbreviated versions of both the Green and White Papers. Indeed, we have received 1,500 responses, followed by many seminars and discussions. I should be most surprised if as many parents were as familiar with the context of a Bill, or of a parliamentary statute. Their solicitors might be, but they would not.

The presumption seems to be that if one makes a declaratory statement in the Bill this will somehow change behaviour and that, therefore, we should accept it in order to encourage rather feckless young men to take on their responsibilities. It is presumed that if these words were in an Act such young men would read the provision and say, "Oh goodness me! Yes, Parliament has said I must do this, therefore I will". That is not what will happen. We might feel glowing as a result, but, in practice, the young men whom we seek to encourage to take on their parental responsibilities will do so because of a series of quite precise government initiatives, including encouraging them to have the residence of the child so that they bond as early as possible and making that possible through an abatement of maintenance.

We shall also encourage young people to take on their responsibilities by working with organisations like the grandparents' organisation and, if I may put it this way, with some of the men's organisations, as well as others. I believe that the way to encourage young men to take on their responsibilities is by engaging in education in schools and by having face-to-face interviews in local offices where any problems that they have about payment can be sorted out. It is also part of our responsibility to ensure that parents with care recognise that, if they wish that maintenance to flow reliably, one of the best ways to achieve this is to ensure that contact is maintained. That will not only ensure that maintenance flows, it is also good for the child. This seems to me to be the youthful, appropriate and practical way in which young men in particular

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will be encouraged to face up to their responsibilities. It is not a matter of having declaratory statements on the face of a Bill, which, frankly, will have far less circulation than is the case with the White and Green Papers that I mentioned.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Renton: I am sorry to trouble the noble Baroness again, but she said that the matters raised in the noble Lord's amendment are beyond the scope of the Bill. However, the first part of the Long Title to the Bill says that its purpose is:

    "To amend the law relating to child support".

That is just what the noble Lord's amendment seeks to do.

Lord Northbourne: I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Renton. He has just made the point that I intended to make. Indeed, the fact that non-financial support is, and should be, included in the concept of child support is self-evident from the Government's Green Paper on the subject.

I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for her response on this issue. Although we agree on the principles of what is desirable, I believe that we are quite far apart on the way of achieving those objectives. I personally believe that something in the nature of a declaratory statement--an aspiratory statement--should be on the face of the Bill. Indeed, without it, I think that the Bill denigrates the role of fathers, thereby creating a sense of lack of worth and, therefore, unfairness and resentment. I believe that that will motivate against the success of the Bill.

I believe that such a statement should be included in the interests of the better nurturing of children in separated families. The issues are extremely important and it is, therefore, important that the Government should at least give a balanced picture in this respect. In that context, I have to differ with the Minister that the Green and White Papers are adequate. The Green Paper leads up to the White Paper, which, in fact, says a great deal less on this issue. The White Paper then leads to the Bill, which says nothing at all about it.

The conclusion of any reasonable person is that the Government have actually dropped these ancillary considerations. The Government must do more and say what they actually believe. If the noble Baroness can tell me where and when the Government will address these matters in public in a way that will correct the imbalance implicit in the Bill, I shall be happy not to return to the amendment at further stages of the Bill. When are the Government going to say to young men, "If you get a girl pregnant, it is just as much your fault as hers"? When are they going to say to them, "To bring a child into the world when you have no intention of supporting it, caring for it or loving it, is a form of child abuse"? When are they going to say to young mothers, "Your child needs his father. If you exclude the father from his life, you're likely to be damaging your child's chances"?

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More simply, when are the Government going to say to schools, "Bring the fathers in to work with you and to support their child's learning. This will help boys and girls to understand the importance of a child to his father"? If the noble Baroness can convince the Committee that all this will happen soon and that it will be said loudly so that the whole country hears, I shall gladly not pursue the issue at further stages of Bill. For the time being, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Amos: I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

Northern Ireland: Developments

4.19 p.m.

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. The Statement is as follows:

    "I will, with permission, make a Statement about recent developments in Northern Ireland, and the declaration issued over the weekend by the Provisional IRA.

    "On 11th February, I took the decision to suspend the political institutions which had been established barely 10 weeks earlier under the Good Friday agreement.

    "I did so reluctantly, for reasons with which the House is familiar. If I had not done so, there would not only have been a collapse of the institutions, but a total collapse of confidence within unionism, from which the political process would not have been able to recover for a very long time.

    "From that moment in February, we and the Irish Government have worked closely, at all levels, to restore the situation. As at so many crucial points in the past, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the Irish Taoiseach have committed time and energy on a scale that must be unprecedented for busy heads of government. I have kept in close touch with the Irish Foreign Minister. There have been intensive discussions with the parties, in the most constructive atmosphere. I would like to thank officials in both governments whose efforts have been tireless.

    "Our aim has been to achieve the clarity about the IRA's intentions which was noticeably lacking in February; by doing so to rebuild unionist confidence; and thereby to re-establish the institutions.

    "This could not be done quickly. Suspension was a bruising experience for all concerned. Unionists were disappointed that expectations raised during

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    Senator Mitchell's review were not fulfilled. Republicans, and indeed many nationalists, saw great symbolic significance in a British Secretary of State acting to suspend local institutions as I did. People of good will on all sides were saddened that arrangements which had promised so much had proved impossible to sustain.

    "If unionists need the confidence that the IRA is genuinely committed to the path of peace and willing to put its arms beyond use, republicans need to know that the vision which the agreement offers, of a just and equal society in which both traditions are respected, will actually be realised.

    "We and the Irish Government therefore drew up an account of the remaining steps necessary to secure the full implementation of the agreement. Details were communicated to the parties on Saturday morning. I am placing a copy in the Library.

    "The two governments believe that these steps can be achieved by June 2001. In a statement published on Friday evening, we have committed ourselves to that goal.

    "The two governments also called on the paramilitaries to state clearly and urgently that they will put their arms beyond use.

    "For our part, we the British Government indicated that such statements would constitute a clear reduction in the security threat. In response, subject to assessment of the threat at the time, further substantial measures to normalise security arrangements will be taken by June 2001.

    "I am not yet able to say what initial measures will be taken. The Chief Constable is considering in consultation with the Army the situation in the light of the IRA statement with a view to what might be done now and in the period ahead if and when the threat reduces. I assure the House, as I have done before, that the security of the public will continue to be my highest priority. There is no question of trading essential security interests for political progress. But equally there is no doubt that the statements of the kind I have described impact positively on the assessment of the threat.

    "As the House will know, the IRA made such a statement on Saturday afternoon. In the context of the governments implementing what they have agreed, the IRA committed itself to,

    'a process that will completely and verifiably put arms beyond use'.

    "That is not maybe, not might, but will. It went on:

    'We will do it in such a way as to avoid risk to the public and misappropriation by others and ensure maximum confidence'.

    "In the same context, the IRA committed itself to,

    'pursue our respective political objectives peacefully'.

    "The statement further committed the IRA to resume contact with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, under General

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    John de Chastelain. It noted that the IRA's arms are 'silent and secure', and that there is no threat to the peace process from the IRA.

    "In addition, the statement committed the IRA to put in place within weeks a confidence-building measure to confirm that its weapons remain secure. Independent inspectors will scrutinise a number of arms dumps and report to the de Chastelain commission. It will be an ongoing process, with regular re-inspections.

    "It is important that we now hear, in similar terms, from the main loyalist organisations.

    "Since the IRA made its statement, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach have announced that Mr Martti Ahtisaari, the former President of Finland, and Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, the former Secretary General of the African National Congress and now a prominent businessman in South Africa, both widely respected international figures, have agreed to head the inspections. I am pleased to be able to announce that they will pay their first visit to Belfast next Monday, and I am grateful to them for their speedy response at such short notice.

    "I regard the IRA statement as a very significant development.

    "For the first time, there is a commitment to put weapons completely and verifiably beyond use, in a context which is realistic rather than simply aspirational. There is a real prospect of actually achieving decommissioning--no longer just talking about it, or setting conditions for it which make its realisation less likely.

    "There is a more clear-cut assurance of the IRA's peaceful intentions than we have ever heard before. And, as an earnest of these intentions, there is an unprecedented willingness to allow independent third parties to inspect arms dumps containing weapons, explosives and detonators and vouch for their continuing security. An essential element of the scheme is that the process should be continuous, to provide reassurance that dumps have not been tampered with, and weapons have not been removed, between inspections.

    "The right honourable Member for Upper Bann has acknowledged the significance of the IRA statement, and the fact that it appears to break new ground. Not surprisingly, he wishes to examine it carefully, and weigh its implications.

    "That is entirely understandable. He will also want to be confident, as I will, that in moving forward with the agreement, the traditions and concerns of the unionist people will be respected and dealt with sensitively, just as much as the traditions and concerns of nationalists.

    "I believe that all friends and supporters of responsible forward-looking unionism will conclude that the proposals I have outlined today, buttressed by the weekend's statement by the IRA, provide the conditions on which he can lead his party back into government.

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    "On the basis of such a positive response to these proposals, not only from his party but all the proagreement parties, I can confirm to the House that I will bring forward the necessary order to restore the Northern Ireland Assembly and its Executive by 22nd May.

    "In this event, I feel hopeful and confident that the ultimate prize--stable, inclusive government in Northern Ireland and an unbreakable peace--will at long last be within our grasp".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.28 p.m.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made by the Secretary of State in another place. I am particularly pleased at the possibility that once again we shall be able to restore democracy to Northern Ireland and that the Executive will be reinstated. It was suspended by the Secretary of State with the full agreement and support of my party. I believe that without that action we would not be where we are today with the kind of opportunities that are now ahead of us.

Although I welcome the IRA's commitment to,

    'a process that will completely and verifiably put arms beyond use',

I have to be a little cynical. However, this appears to be a step forward. It does indeed appear to go a step further than the IRA has ever gone before. That gives us hope. I should also like to make the point that the so-called loyalist paramilitaries are notably silent. I hope that they will come to the table soon.

However--rather cynically again, perhaps--I believe that we are observing a life-and-death game being played by some of the best spinners in the world on a very sticky wicket. As an Ulsterman, while sincerely hoping that we are watching the end game which will terminate in peace and good will for everyone, I do not believe that life in Northern Ireland is like that. I still need and have to ask for reassurances. I have a number of questions that I should like the Minister to answer.

While welcoming arms and Semtex being put beyond use, how can the Secretary of State guarantee that they will never be used again? That is a serious process. The Sinn Fein Statement refers only to a number of arms dumps being open for inspection. What percentage of the IRA's total armoury will this represent? What is the follow up for the remainder?

Can the Minister again reassure the House that, despite any agreements made recently between the Prime Minister and the Taioseach--I know that this is in the Secretary of State's statement--the process of security normalisation will continue to take into account the threat, as advised by the Chief Constable and the GOC, and that security reductions will not take place for political reasons?

What will constitute a default by the IRA? In the case of an IRA default, what action is the Secretary of State prepared to take? Will the Minister confirm that in the event of a default he will not hesitate to suspend the institutions once again?

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The Unionist Party will require answers to these questions. It may not be clearly understood by all of the population of this country, but we are talking about confidence and trust that has been shattered, shattered and shattered again over the past number of years.

The IRA statement refers once again to this process being about removing the causes of conflict--by which it means partition and the British presence. Will the Minister confirm that the acceptance of the Good Friday agreement means accepting the legitimacy of Northern Ireland's position as part of the United Kingdom, and that there can be absolutely no question of that changing without the consent of the people?

Finally, the road to a Northern Ireland settlement has been long and hard. We are still moving--and we are still moving forward--thanks to a great deal of hard work and the patience of many, many people. But no one should be surprised if there are many, many more miles and late nights to go. However, we on this side sincerely hope that the statement from the IRA and this Statement from the Government mean that the future for Belfast and the people of Northern Ireland once again looks as though it might return to normality, and that the people there will be encouraged and morale raised.

4.33 p.m.

Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, for repeating the Statement made by the Secretary of State earlier today in another place. I apologise for not being here at the beginning of his speech.

Potentially, the Statement provides the greatest cause for optimism since the Good Friday agreement itself that real progress can now be made in achieving a lasting peace in Northern Ireland. It offers a welcome reprieve from the two steps forward, one step back fandango that has exasperatingly characterised the process over the past two years. The prospects for agreement outlined in the Statement mean, it is to be hoped, that the iron law of history, which has scuppered hitherto all initiatives for peace, is itself about to be sundered. Let us hope and pray that such proves to be the case.

Much of the credit must go to the leaders of the pro-agreement parties. They have worked extremely well during the time since the suspension of the Assembly and the Executive. Most importantly, Sinn Fein has responded to the needs of the situation, which became very acute following the reimposition of direct rule. From all sides of your Lordships' House and beyond went the call for a positive move on arms by the IRA, and Sinn Fein appears to have achieved that. The IRA assurance that its ordnance is no longer to be used for violence and that its neutralising is to be regularly verified by respected international authorities is welcome, if overdue. We on these Benches salute the maturity and skill shown by the three largest pro-agreement political parties during the difficult period since the suspension of the Assembly.

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We are grateful also for the efforts made by successive Secretaries of State, all of which have contributed to this apparent breakthrough. The present Secretary of State, Mr Peter Mandelson, has clearly brought his special expertise to the problems raised in the aftermath of suspending the fledgling Assembly. It was a fearful gamble which he has pulled off; he deserves our congratulations. We hope, too, that other paramilitary organisations will respond positively to this IRA statement. But much still needs to be done in the case of Northern Ireland. I hope that the rumours are wrong and that Mr Mandelson is not soon to be reshuffled.

While peace is a necessary prerequisite, the real goal is to see the establishment of authentic, democratic politics in Northern Ireland. The substance of the Statement makes that a real possibility, which all of those who have Northern Ireland's best interests at heart must pray for. The opportunity must be seized. We trust that the forthcoming meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council will support Mr Trimble in the stance that he has taken. I should like to ask the Minister whether he has any information in regard to other paramilitary organisations following suit.

4.37 p.m.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I am grateful for the general tone of the statements made by noble Lords from the two Opposition Front Benches; for their recognition of the potential significance of what has happened; and for echoing the remarks of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in another place that it is important that we now hear in similar terms from the main loyalist organisations.

Perhaps I may deal with a number of the questions raised in the course of the noble Lords' remarks. How can we be sure that the weapons will never be used again? The significance of the Statement is that the IRA leadership has said that it will initiate a process that will completely and verifiably put IRA arms beyond use. So it is committing itself to putting IRA arms beyond use. How that will be done technically is a matter for discussion between the IRA and the decommissioning commission. The IRA also states in its statement that it will resume contact with the Independent International Commission on decommissioning and enter into further discussions with the commission on the basis of the IRA leadership's commitment to resolving the issue of arms. So how it will be done--the technicalities and modalities of it--is a matter to be discussed with the decommissioning commission. What percentage is envisaged? It is envisaged by the commitment that the IRA's arms will be put beyond use.

The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, wished me to emphasise that decisions about security are to be made on the basis of the threat that exists at any one moment and not on the basis of trading security measures against political process. I am happy to give him that assurance. As he rightly said, that assurance was given in my right honourable friend's Statement in another place. There is no question of trading essential security interests for political progress.

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I was asked what the position would be if there was default by the IRA. Under the statement there is a commitment by the IRA to decommissioning coupled with a commitment to the confidence-building measure of allowing an independent inspection, repeated by regular verifying inspections, of arms dumps. That is the commitment that must be looked at. Let us hope that that is what the IRA does. It would be unwise to say what the consequences of not doing it would be. Let us look to the future. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, asked me to reiterate that the Good Friday agreement depends on the principle of consent. Of course I reiterate that.

I think that I have dealt with all of the questions raised by noble Lords on the Front Benches.

4.40 p.m.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, given that the Belfast agreement committed all of the participants to exclusively peaceful means, how do Her Majesty's Government regard this morning's announcement by Mr Adams that his IRA standing army will be retained in perpetuity? Why should a political party in government in Northern Ireland need a standing army? With that goes the fact that some of the IRA's weapons will be stored and protected. Only some, because the Statement itself says that only a number of the dumps will be inspected. Lastly, how do Her Majesty's Government justify that glaring betrayal of those who supported the Belfast agreement, not least Mr Trimble and his colleagues?

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