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Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I sincerely thank the Minister for moving this historic order. Today, we are taking another momentous step forward down the road to the culmination of the peace process in Northern Ireland, which was started by my right honourable friend John Major many years ago. Thanks to the patience and dexterity of Senator Mitchell, the support of President Clinton, various Prime Ministers and the determined courage and leadership of David Trimble and other party leaders, a political balance has been reached which allows the setting up of the Northern Ireland Executive and the devolution of power to the Province.

However, this is not the end of the process but, I suggest, the end only of phase one; and I am not convinced that the most difficult phase has yet been completed. David Trimble and the Unionists have jumped, but will Sinn Fein and Gerry Adams decommission? I suggest that the world is watching and waiting--hopefully. It is now for the British and Irish Governments to ensure that the decommissioning of all paramilitaries takes place as soon as possible.

The Conservative Party strongly supports the Belfast agreement, which we see as offering the best chance for lasting peace and stability in Northern Ireland. We have always made it clear that we want to see the agreement, which builds on a process we started in government, implemented in full. As a result, we warmly welcome the order. It finally brings to an end the system of direct rule from Westminster and once again enables Northern Ireland's priorities to be determined by locally elected representatives. In short, it returns the democratic principle to the people of Northern Ireland.

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We now look forward to the full implementation of the Belfast agreement, including the establishment of an inclusive, devolved government and the decommissioning of all illegally-held arms and explosives by May 2000.

The Conservative Party continues to believe that it is fundamentally wrong for democrats to be expected to sit in government with representatives of fully-armed terrorist groups. However, as my right honourable friend William Hague made clear in the debate on the Queen's Speech, we have always said that we could accept,

    "the formation of an inclusive Executive alongside the beginning of a credible and verifiable process of decommissioning, leading to complete decommissioning by May 2000 in accordance with the Belfast Agreement".--[Official Report, Commons, 17/11/99; col. 17.]

We believe that the statements made by the Northern Ireland parties and the Provisional IRA now offer the prospect of achieving the twin goals of decommissioning and devolution. In our view the formation of the Executive and the beginning of the process of decommissioning should begin virtually simultaneously.

However, there is a note of caution. The terrorist threat has not yet gone away and organised crime flourishes under cover of the various paramilitaries. A high level of security, policing and vigilance must remain in the Province, and, I suggest, on the mainland, despite the political problems that that may create. We must hope that Sinn Fein will encourage its constituents to support the forces of law and order in the Province for which it now shares responsibility in government.

I do not wish today to anticipate the debate on the Patten report, except to say that while many of the recommendations are not in dispute, there are some which are--such as the cap badge insignia and the name, to which we would not have recommended changes. However, there is a third category which, in our opinion, it would be dangerous folly to consider before there is a lasting peace. Those familiar with the report will know what those are and will be glad to hear that I do not intend to enunciate them today. We sincerely hope, however, that the Minister will reassure the House that the Patten report will be treated with the utmost sensitivity and caution. I suggest that the two fundamentals to be addressed are the need to maintain control of law and order and the need to win the support of the republican community to support the forces of law and order of the Province.

We passionately want the process to succeed and agree with the Secretary of State that we should be preparing for success not failure. However, in the event of any terrorist not delivering, we believe that the Secretary of State should give his full backing to the First Minister, David Trimble. Mr Mandelson told the House of Commons on 22nd November that,

    "if there is default, either in implementing decommissioning, or indeed for that matter devolution, it is understood that the two Governments, British and Irish, will take the steps necessary to cease immediately the operation of the institutions--the Executive, the Assembly, the North-South Ministerial Council,

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    the British-Irish Council, the Civic Forum and the north-south implementation bodies".--[Official Report, Commons, 22/11/99; col. 346.]

We believe that in that situation the democratic process should not be allowed to cease and that the democrats should not be made to suffer. Will the Minister assure the House that that is the Government's intention?

In summary, we support the bipartisan approach to Northern Ireland; we support the Good Friday agreement; we support the Government's decision to devolve power to the Northern Ireland Assembly; and, while we support the Secretary of State's approach to the default mechanism, we ask him to ensure that in the event of a default--from wherever it may come--it will not be the democrats who suffer.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I rise on behalf of the Liberal Democrats to express our full support for the order and for the process which it implements. I should like greatly to join the tributes given already to Senator Mitchell and to the political leaders in Belfast, at Westminster, in Dublin and in the USA. I add one name to those already mentioned; that is, my noble friend Lord Alderdice, who is now the presiding officer of the Assembly. His Alliance Party is unfortunately not represented in the Executive, but it has for many years been a quiet and effective voice for peace, justice and sanity amid the fury and the shouting.

This is not an occasion for celebration. The time for celebration will come if and when we are ever able to get rid of the Byzantine complexities of Part III of the Northern Ireland Act and allow an executive to be formed on a more usual basis such as we know in this country. However, if this is not an occasion for celebration, it is certainly one for relief: relief that the peace process has got as far as it has in its voyage and has escaped the rocks which could so easily have smashed it. It is an occasion also for hope; hope that the process will continue and that the Act will provide and prove to provide a workable solution which will lead ultimately to the end not only of the violence which has scarred both Northern Ireland and Great Britain for the past 30 years but an end also to the hatreds which have divided Northern Ireland for four centuries.

Some concern has been felt about the holding of important offices by Martin McGuinness, in the case of the education department, and Peter Robinson in the case of the Department for Regional Development. I hope that the Minister will be able to say which checks and balances are in position to allay people's fears about actions by Ministers representing parties whose views are highly controversial. For example, is it correct that a cross-community committee will work with each Minister and that such a committee will have to approve secondary legislation? That is one matter on which I hope that we shall be able to obtain clarification. Broadly, we believe that these provisions are to be greatly

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welcomed as a step, and perhaps a crucial step, although clearly not the final step, towards a final settlement of the problems of that unhappy Province.

Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, I, too, welcome this order and the constitutional changes that it brings to our Province. We are where we are today as a result of the courage and the amazing efforts of successive governments. I, too, wish to pay tribute to past governments, the present Government, Secretaries of State and the people of Northern Ireland. I pay tribute not least to Mr Mandelson, David Trimble and those who supported him last Saturday, which was all important. It is now up to Sinn Fein/IRA to come up with the goods--namely, decommissioning. It is wrong to dwell on that matter at this moment. Suffice to say that it is as easy for them to give up weapons as it is for them to refuse, and they should get on with it.

It is not only the Unionist politicians who have had to swallow the unpalatable and concede principle time and time again while Sinn Fein/IRA concede nothing. No one should underestimate what the ordinary people of the Province have had to put up with for so long. In addition, we now have Martin McGuinness as Minister of Education. It is often said, and it is right and true to say, that our future lies in the hands of the younger generation. Imagine the effect in Great Britain if such a post in Westminster were to be held by a terrorist godfather who has yet to prove that he has turned away from his past.

That is only one example among many of the extraordinary courage and trust being shown by the citizens of the Province in their fervent hope of a peaceful future. Remember that the loyalist and republican terrorists are only on ceasefire; they are not yet at peace for ever.

The future will be a difficult and hard road. I should like to mention one of the key issues which will affect how the future develops. In order to move forward we need to maintain a peaceful environment, although we must remember one essential fact: the terrorists still exist. Some observe the ceasefire and some do not; some are mainstream and some are dissidents.

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