Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, with his usual courtesy, the noble Lord gave me some pre-knowledge of the ground he would cover. He dealt with what might happen in the autumn. I am reluctant to be led into speculation because our genuine, abiding hope and belief is that we shall have elections in the autumn. I must reflect on one or two of his questions and will write to him. I can confirm that decisions taken in relation to the implementation bodies under the agreement, which he mentioned, have been and will be taken in accordance with its provisions. I believe that the noble Lord used the phrase, "in accordance with correct and legal procedures". I am happy to reaffirm that.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, I ask these questions as someone who presumed to write to the Prime Minister and my successor, Dr Mowlam, to congratulate them on the Good Friday agreement. Does the noble and learned Lord recall the words reported in today's Irish Times from Sinn Fein's chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness? He said that,


If those words, despite their outlandish character, are tested dispassionately against the published position of Her Majesty's Government, is it not plain that it is the IRA that is refusing to fulfil its part of the agreement and to come to terms with change by refusing to say unequivocally that republican beatings—and even crucifixions and exilings—will henceforward cease?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I have not read the text of what Mr McGuinness said but I have no reason to disagree with what the noble and learned Lord recited. I cannot see a betrayal by the British Government or the Irish Government of the Belfast Good Friday agreement. That was certainly not done at the behest of the Ulster Unionists, if it was the consequence of anyone's behaviour.

I return to my original question, on which I believe the noble and learned Lord and I will agree: were those three questions from Prime Minister Blair legitimate to be asked? Was there any ambiguity in their terms or purport? If the answer is that they were legitimate and plain, why—this is not a rhetorical question—are we not entitled, entirely consistent with the Belfast agreement, to request, on behalf (I repeat) of our fellow citizens of Northern Ireland and our citizens in the rest of the United Kingdom, plain answers to those simple questions? We do not need any biblical scholarship any more. It is perfectly plain. If there was betrayal, that cap must be worn where it properly belongs.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord consider that the formula "peace with honour"

6 May 2003 : Column 1082

could help paramilitary groups of all kinds to cease punishment attacks, intimidation and exiling? Does he agree that such things are far more obnoxious than the retention of unused weaponry? Would he further accept the need for some kind of transitional arrangement between the status quo in many ghetto areas and the extension of normal policing to all parts of Northern Ireland?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I do not regard any of those activities as consistent with honourable behaviour. I do not regard them as consistent with the Good Friday agreement. There are different aspects of the 1998 agreement and I do not believe that it is fruitful to say which is the most disagreeable of the activities that contravene it.

If one looks at the declaration and at what has already been achieved by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, one sees that despite great difficulties they have been working towards "normalisation". It seems to me that all the steps that have been taken are not partisan steps; they are for the benefit of the whole community. I repeat that the benefit of the Belfast agreement is undoubted in a civil society. Heaven knows, this Parliament has taken matters on trust. We have passed things with which we have not immediately been content and many noble Lords have worried and troubled themselves as to whether they were doing the right thing in every appropriate circumstance. It seems to me that the British and Irish governments and large sections of political opinion in Northern Ireland have behaved not only honourably, but also generously. What is rightly looked for now by Prime Minister Blair and Taoiseach Ahern is a decent reciprocity of response.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I want to pay the warmest tribute to the Government for the way in which they have handled this matter. It is absolutely right that they have stood up for the needs of the people and I believe that the people will recognise that. I very much respect the way in which further equivocation by the IRA has not been accepted. That is entirely reasonable and proper. I pay tribute to that.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Baroness. All noble Lords can usefully look at those three questions and at the answer. I shall not offer the answer to my next question: is that a mealy-mouthed answer or does it have the candour that we are reasonably entitled to seek?

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, two positive points have come out of tonight's events. It is a very sad night and I am sure that all noble Lords who have a concern for Northern Ireland feel that, but two positive things have emerged. The first one, paraphrasing what my noble friend Lady Park said, is that it is wonderful to see such complete solidarity between the two governments. Both governments have decided that they have not had the unambiguous and clear statement from Sinn Fein/IRA that would answer the questions. The fact that there is that solidarity is good.

6 May 2003 : Column 1083

Secondly, I was absolutely delighted to hear the noble and learned Lord refer to Sinn Fein/IRA rather than to the IRA. I now believe that at long last people believe that there is complete cohesion between Sinn Fein and the IRA and that there is nothing—not even a cigarette paper—between them. We have just arrived at those two points and we have to accept them. My question is whether we believe that we shall ever receive a clear and unambiguous response from Sinn Fein/IRA.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I hope so because that is what history, politics and morality require. However jaundiced one's view is, I believe that two of the three questions were answered in a satisfactory way, as Prime Minister Blair pointed out. The third question was there for the answering. It is not simply a matter of playing with words, as has been claimed; a commitment is required. When others have made a significant commitment we should not overlook the degree of anguished compromise to which some Unionists have had to put their hearts and minds. As I said earlier, we want a decent reciprocity of response. I am grateful to the noble Baroness because I looked at the responses of the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister in Dublin this afternoon before our Prime Minister returned here and both governments said that not enough had been done.

6 May 2003 : Column 1084

We are tantalisingly close. It is a great shame sometimes that the obituaries of people such as Mr Sissulu in South Africa are not read with more care.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House for both the Statement and his courtesy. It is impossible to tell from this Statement whether the IRA would have been forced or faced with the need for the clear and unambiguous statement now demanded from them prior to new Assembly elections if the Assembly had not, for causes we know, been suspended last October.

Does the noble and learned Lord accept that the two governments' expression of the need for this clear and unambiguous statement now is a good product from a bad business, and that the decision now to postpone the Assembly elections in current circumstances enjoys support among some in your Lordships' House, even at this mildly inconvenient hour after ten o'clock?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I think the outcome is a required outcome which comes from disagreeable decisions made by others. Those decisions having been made by others—I ought to say, having failed to have been made by others—made the position of the Irish Government and the British Government quite inevitable if they wanted to discharge what they saw as their duty and to honour their commitments.

        House adjourned at twenty-eight minutes before midnight.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page