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The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Ampthill): The original question was, That this House adopts a Code of Conduct for Members of the House of Lords as proposed by the Lord Privy Seal, since when an amendment has been moved to insert an alternative code of conduct in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. Therefore, the question that I now have to put is that this amendment be agreed to.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
The Deputy Speaker: My Lords, the Committee of the Whole House which has considered a Code of Conduct for Members of the House of Lords has agreed a code of conduct in the name of the Lord Privy Seal and has directed me to report it to your Lordships.
The Chairman of Committees: The Question is, That this report be agreed to and that the House adopts a Code of Conduct for Members of the House of Lords in the form agreed by the Committee of the Whole House.
The Minister of State, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The Statement is as follows:
"As the House will know, the right honourable Member for Upper Bann resigned as First Minister with effect from yesterday. I regret his resignation and the reasons which brought it about. The right honourable Member has played a courageous part in the process so far and will, I am sure, continue to do so.
"Under the provisions of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which implemented the devolution arrangements in the Good Friday agreement, the honourable Member for Newry and South Armagh automatically ceases to hold office as Deputy First Minister at the same time.
"Both have provided distinguished leadership to the devolved Executive over the past year or more; a year which has seen the four parties in the Executive working together to tackle real problems on behalf of all the people of Northern Ireland.
"Under the Act, the Assembly must hold an election to fill the vacant offices of First and Deputy First Minister within six weeks. In the meantime, the functions of both offices can be exercised. But if that period expires without a successful election, I am then obliged to propose a date for fresh Assembly elections.
"We face a serious and sombre situation. But I think it is right to recall the progress we have already made: a new Assembly; devolution of power to a cross-community Executive; new North/South and British/Irish institutions; new protection for human rights and equality of opportunity; and a new policing legislation and the first recruitment exercise for the new Northern Ireland police service on a 50:50 basis already under way.
"This process has already created the conditions of stability and confidence in which economic development is thriving. What we have achieved so far has been the result of efforts by all the parties in Northern Ireland.
"Of course we still face many challenges to ensure the stability and full operation of all the political institutions, the delivery of a police service which attracts and sustains support from the community as a whole and to take further steps towards the normalisation of security arrangements as the threat diminishes.
"But, crucially, the basis for progress in Northern Ireland is the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement in full, in all its aspects. That requires that every party be committed, and is seen to be committed, exclusively to democratic, non-violent means. It requires that every party rejects the use of force or the threat of force. It also means that as the institutional, social and legal changes set out in the Good Friday Agreement are implemented they must be accompanied by the putting of illegal weapons completely beyond use. In this of course we all have collective responsibility, but some parties have a particular position of influence with the paramilitaries and, under the Good Friday Agreement, are obliged to use it to achieve decommissioning.
"It is because there remain problems in implementing the Good Friday Agreement in full, as I have described, that I am here today to report further developments to the House. Over the weekend we and the Irish Government also received a further report from the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning chaired by
"Regrettably, however, the report also notes that, despite previous commitments and assurances being reaffirmed in good faith, and all the paramilitary representatives wanting to continue to engage with the commission, there has been no decommissioning by the IRA, UVF or UFF to date. The commission reports that the IRA representative assured it of the IRA's commitment to put its arms beyond use, completely and verifiably, on the basis that it set out last year. This is welcome. But I am disappointed that the commission has still to receive answers to the other two key questions: how and when arms will be put beyond use.
"The simple fact is that the Good Friday Agreement needs to be implemented in full. The people of Northern Ireland want to see a fair and equal society. But, as they and the Taoiseach have made clear, the people of Ireland, both North and South, insist that illegal arms must also be put completely beyond use as part of the process of transformation. We will succeed only if we all work together to move forward in all these areas.
"As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach said after their meetings in Northern Ireland on Thursday, there is now little time left to resolve the difficulties and obstacles that remain. We are determined to live up to our obligations in full under the Good Friday Agreement but others must do so as well. The agreement involves pain for all sides; it will not work if each side implements only those parts with which it is comfortable.
"The overwhelming desire of the people and parties in Northern Ireland is to see Northern Ireland's democratic institutions functioning as intended. They are valued greatly. They want to see them working, not suspended, on the basis of a total commitment by all to democracy and exclusively peaceful methods.
"I expect to be working with the parties, together with the Irish Foreign Minister, this week. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach have stated their clear determination to engage intensively to resolve these issues as soon as possible.
"I will not hide from the House the difficulties that we face. We have seen in recent weeks the dangers when politics appears to be stalling. There have been murderous sectarian attacks; people have been intimidated out of their homes; and young children have been used as pawns in sectarian disputes. And, as so often, the police have had to step in with the support of the Army to maintain the
"Nevertheless, Saturday's Whiterock parade in Belfast passed off relatively peacefully. I commend the responsible attitude taken by the vast majority of those on both sides in a very tense situation, as we approach further parades and marches over the coming weeks. In the coming weeks all of us must show that it is politics, not violence, which works. After such a long period of division, death and deep pain it is not surprising that we face difficult challenges. But these hurts of the past impel all of us to find a way through to peace and stability for the future that ensures that the bomb and the bullet are put completely beyond use as a way of solving our problems. This is not a matter of victory or defeat for one side or the other; it can only be a victory for us all".
Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement made by the Northern Ireland Secretary in another place earlier this afternoon. We on these Benches very much regret that Mr Trimble has been forced to resign. We believe that he did an excellent job as First Minister, and we hope that some day in the future he will be able to continue it.
Throughout the process Mr Trimble has displayed genuine political courage, integrity and statesmanship. At all times he has sought to promote the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland. While we regret Mr Trimble's departure, we fully understand the reasons behind it. Last year he was persuaded to re-enter the Northern Ireland Executive on the basis of promises made by Sinn Fein/IRA to put its arms completely and verifiably beyond use. It was finally beginning to honour the commitments that it made over three years ago under the Belfast agreement. Yet, as General de Chastelain's statement this morning makes clear, that process has not yet begun, nor is there any realistic prospect of it happening. Far from putting arms beyond use, the General's statement makes clear that,
What further evidence is needed to demonstrate the utter failure of the IRA to keep the promises that it made last year? There are those who argue that the mere fact of the IRA guns being silent, as they put it, is sufficient. It is not. The people of Ireland did not vote in the 1998 referendum for an armed peace: an overwhelming majority voted to take the gun out of
We on these Benches have always argued, as did the Taioseach, Mr Ahern, last year, that, for anything but a limited period of time, it is fundamentally wrong that democrats should be expected to sit in government with representatives of terrorist organisations that continue to hold on to their weapons. To do otherwise is to undermine the very basis of democracy in the United Kingdom of which Northern Ireland legitimately, and by the consent of its people, forms a part. That is one reason why we support the action taken by Mr Trimble yesterday. Another reason is that Her Majesty's Government have fatally undermined the confidence of mainstream moderate unionism in the agreement itself, the consequence of which we saw in the recent elections. If noble Lords want proof of it I suggest that they talk to them. I have just spent several days there.
Put bluntly, the Government, and in particular the Prime Minister, have betrayed the pledges that they made to the people of Northern Ireland in the referendum three years ago. Then the Prime Minister pledged, in his own handwriting, that:
What has happened since those pledges were made? Some 430 terrorists have been released early; terrorist representatives have been allowed into the Government of Northern Ireland; and the morale of the Royal Ulster Constabulary has been shattered.
We, in this House, have passed four--I call them "odious"--Acts in favour of Sinn Fein: first, there was the Northern Ireland (Location of Victims' Remains) Act. I will not go into the detail of that; some noble Lords will remember the gruesomeness of it. What came of that? Nothing.
Secondly, there was the Political Parties and Referendums Act which allowed Sinn Fein to continue getting funds from the USA. The first thing it did with that Act was to defeat its own government in a European referendum. Thirdly, there was the Disqualifications Act which allowed Sinn Fein to sit both in Westminster and Dublin. Fourthly, there was the Police (Northern Ireland) Act which has destroyed the morale of the finest force in the country and pleased no one. Sinn Fein still wants more destruction of the RUC and the RUC is unable to do its job properly within the whole community.
Yet still the terrorists--loyalist and republican--refuse to give up a single bullet or ounce of Semtex. Still the terrorists maintain their structures and carry out, as we heard the Minister admit when repeating the Statement, beatings, shootings and murders. What a mess.
There can be little doubt that we now face a most serious situation in Northern Ireland with the very future of the Belfast agreement at stake. A process that was supposed to bring people together, and which my party worked on for many years before the present Government, has ended up by polarising them like never before. The centre ground has almost been destroyed.
There will now be a period of negotiation. The institutions might have to be suspended again. Looking to the next few weeks and months, I ask the Minister four questions: first, in the event of continued failure of the terrorists to move on decommissioning, will the Government consider bringing a motion before the Assembly, or introduce legislation into this Parliament, to exclude Sinn Fein Ministers from the executive?
Thirdly, can the Minister assure the House that if it is necessary to reintroduce direct rule, there can be no question of increasing the involvement of the Dublin Government in the internal affairs of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland?
Finally, will the Minister ask his colleagues to make it very clear to republicans that they will gain no more, but will risk losing some of what they have already gained if this time they fail to deliver?
We hope that the Government can salvage something from the mess that they have created. We still want the agreement to succeed. But it will only succeed if it is implemented in full and by everyone. The time has come for the paramilitaries to deliver and for the Government to deliver on their promises.
Lord McNally: My Lords, it is more than 30 years since, as a young researcher in the Labour Party's research department, I noted the decision of the then Prime Minister, who is now the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, to send troops into Northern Ireland. In various capacities during those 30 years I have heard ministerial Statements of varying optimism about the situation in Northern Ireland. The two words about this Statement that ring true are "serious" and "sombre".
I also pay tribute to both David Trimble and Seamus Mallon. So far as concerns Northern Ireland, they have made great efforts for peace. We must call into question one part of the Statement when it talks about the "overwhelming desire of the people" of Northern Ireland. Sadly, as in 1974, now again at the recent general election, and often in the intervening
The Statement says that the Northern Ireland Secretary and the Irish Foreign Minister plan to meet next week and that the two Prime Ministers--British and Irish--will meet as soon as possible. What kind of timetable of bilateral work between the two governments is planned? Is there a sense of urgency in this six-week period? Would it not be better during that period to set out another British/Irish understanding of the Good Friday agreement? There are, obviously, interpretations and counter-interpretations. We now need some clear objectives which can be kicked off if we are not going to be simply in a fool's paradise. But, first and foremost, do the British Government share Mr Trimble's interpretation of what the Good Friday agreement promised so far as concerns decommissioning? If they do, they need to put some very tough propositions to the IRA in order to make any progress.
With regard to the question of a new appointment or new elections, I do not think that new elections offer any real way forward. The Government probably now have the safest pair of hands in the present Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, John Reid. It may well be that a period of direct rule under Mr Reid's steady hand would be a better prospect for Northern Ireland than continuing to fool ourselves that the present process with new elections and a continuation of the Assembly takes us anywhere other than into a further political morass.
Will the Minister further tell us whether, either jointly or separately, the British and Irish Governments have talked to the American Government and have made any effort to explain the present situation in the United States? One can be as sure as anything that the IRA will be explaining the situation to the American public.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, we share with the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, regret that the First Minister has resigned. Like the noble Lord, I pay tribute to Mr Trimble's courage, integrity and statesmanship. He has been a brave contributor to the peace process. As I think the noble Lord knows, Mr Trimble remains committed to trying to see the Good Friday agreement work, as do we on this side of the House and those on the other side of the House as well. We all want to see it work. Despite concessions, the noble Lord pointed out that the Statement referred to violence continuing. That is correct. The peace is imperfect. But we should not lose sight of what has been achieved by the peace process and we should all work together to try to make it work. I said that it is a sombre and serious occasion and the noble Lord, Lord McNally, echoed that. It plainly is. It is a very difficult time. It is plainly critical that we do not make it any worse by what we say here today. It is equally important that all parties commit themselves to trying to make the agreement work.
The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, asked whether, in the event of failure of the talks, the Government would move to exclude Sinn Fein from the Executive. It would not be helpful for me to hypothesise on what might happen in the future. We are working to get the agreement implemented in full by everyone; not to see it either suspended or any of the parties excluded. The noble Lord asked for assurances on the policing legislation. In effect he asked for an assurance that we will not move any further in relation to the policing position. We believe that we are faithfully implementing the spirit of Mr Patten's recommendations so as to deliver the new beginning in policing supported by both parts of the community for which the Good Friday agreement called. However, if there are areas where parties feel that Mr Patten's recommendations are not being implemented and that risks undermining the new beginning in policing, we are ready to listen to their views and consider them. This is new and wide-ranging legislation. It would be surprising if we got it all right first time. It may well be sensible at some point to review how it is working in practice. But no one should lose sight of the enormous changes that have already been made in legislation, with the first members of the new police service already under recruitment.
The noble Lord in effect said that if direct rule is introduced there should be no increase in intervention in the affairs of Northern Ireland by the South. Again, I think it wholly unhelpful to talk about what may happen in the light of a number of hypotheses. The right course at this stage is to seek to make the
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