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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I hope that nothing I said detracted from that point. I was merely making a point about a specific quote mentioned in your Lordships' House on Monday, which may have caused a number of your Lordships some alarm. Our ambassador to NATO has made the UK's position clear; it is a position shared by other partners. We will not support anything which undermines NATO. Any treaty change would have to be based on a unanimous vote. Therefore, if we do not agree, it simply cannot happen.

Northern Ireland

3.9 p.m.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to repeat a Statement made earlier today in another place by my right honourable friend

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the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The Statement is as follows:

    "I should like to make a Statement about political developments in Northern Ireland. The House will be aware that yesterday, although a day of great progress, ended in disappointment. We had high hopes that a sequence of actions involving political parties, the IRA, the Independent International Commission for Decommissioning and the governments would result in a positive new atmosphere of trust at the beginning of the election campaign.

    "I believe that we were close to achieving that result. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach devoted much effort to the task both yesterday and in the preceding weeks. But the significant feature of this recent phase of the process was the direct engagement between the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party and of Sinn Fein.

    "These discussions and related developments have, in my view, brought us a good deal further than the position we reached in April. Let us be clear what has now been achieved.

    "First, we have concluded that an election should now be held in Northern Ireland. The date, Wednesday, 26th November, was announced yesterday.

    "Secondly, we have an important statement from the leader of Sinn Fein which was endorsed by the IRA. When Mr Adams says that there will be full and final closure of the conflict and his remarks are endorsed by the IRA, I regard that as a significant and welcome step forward.

    "Thirdly, with the Irish Government, we have established the Independent Monitoring Commission to ensure that the promise of the full and final closure of the conflict is a reality.

    "Fourthly, the IRA authorised its representatives to re-engage with the IICD with a view to putting arms beyond use at the earliest opportunity.

    "Fifthly, there was an important act of decommissioning about which General de Chastelain reported to the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach. He confirmed that the arms dealt with included light, medium and heavy ordnance and associated munitions, and that the quantity involved was considerably larger than that dealt with in the previous event. His colleague, Mr Andrew Sens, made the point that the material involved could have caused death or destruction on a huge scale if it had been used.

    "It is, of course, a matter of great disappointment that the IICD, constrained by the confidentiality insisted upon by the IRA, was unable to report all this in a manner sufficiently detailed to enable the right honourable Member for Upper Bann to make a positive statement about his party's willingness to re-enter a devolved administration following an election. He did, however, say that there were good things in Mr Adams's speech which were encouraging.

    "The two governments have made clear in the Joint Declaration that arms need to be put beyond use in a manner that is conducive to creating public confidence. This has not so far been achieved.

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    "As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister indicated at Hillsborough yesterday, we shall continue to try to find a way through this difficulty. Further discussions between the parties are obviously essential. The IICD will need to be involved and the British and Irish Governments will do all they can to resolve this problem quickly.

    "In the mean time, the necessary legal steps need to be taken so that the election announced yesterday can take place. Accordingly, I have made an order to enable fresh elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly to be held on Wednesday, 26th November.

    "I have also made an associated order to defer the publication of the new electoral register due on 1st December because the necessary work cannot be carried out during preparations for an election. And I am putting forward a further order permitting the Electoral Commission access to polling stations.

    "I cannot hide my disappointment at yesterday's turn of events. I hope and believe that agreement can be reached so that the comprehensive acts of completion which the Prime Minister called for last October can be achieved, and we can move towards a stable, devolved government in Northern Ireland.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.13 p.m.

Lord Glentoran: I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made by the Secretary of State in another place. Members on this side of the House are also very disappointed at the outcome of yesterday.

I agree with the noble Baroness that things have certainly moved forward over recent weeks in the attempts to maintain the momentum of the Belfast agreement, and we support the Government's decision to hold elections. However, I must ask the noble Baroness a few questions as to how yesterday ended in such a complete shambles.

First, did the Prime Minister or anyone else know that General de Chastelain had been confined to strict confidentiality by the IRA as to what he could reveal before he went public? Secondly, had the Government not verified with Mr Adams and Mr Trimble exactly what each thought the deal was, and as it is the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach who have made clear in the Joint Declaration the need for "creating public confidence", had they not assured themselves that sufficient had been delivered and in such a way as to achieve that objective? If not, does the noble Baroness agree that to have run the government spin machine, seriously over-hyped the possible outcome of yesterday's events and brought the Prime Minister almost from his sick bed, was a huge mistake?

Furthermore, does she agree that the over-spinning of the outcome could have been misinterpreted by republicans as triumphalism on the part of the Government—hence having a negative effect on the process?

The noble Baroness spoke about a number of positive developments that have taken place, such as the speech made yesterday by Mr Adams,

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subsequently endorsed, as we understand and the noble Baroness has just confirmed, by the IRA. The Prime Minister said earlier today that Mr Adams's speech satisfied his demand—made in April—that all IRA paramilitary activity would end and that the IRA would cease to exist as an effective paramilitary force. Perhaps for the record and for the sake of clarity, the noble Baroness will tell the House exactly where in Mr Adams's speech this has been stated in those terms.

Moreover, if it is the Government's belief that the speech made by Mr Adams means that paramilitary activity will end, why can Mr Adams still not bring himself to use precisely those words?

Another development to which the noble Baroness referred was the third act of IRA decommissioning that took place yesterday, as witnessed by General de Chastelain. Obviously we welcome that act in so far as we know what it actually entails. But do not the events following the general's statement yesterday afternoon underline the need for a much greater transparency on the whole issue of decommissioning, and on whether the so-called war is over?

I shall quote from what my leader Iain Duncan Smith said to the Prime Minister today in another place:

    "Last night, the media reported that British officials had spoken in briefings about the kinds of weapons that had been decommissioned. Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that if the people of Northern Ireland knew what he knew, they would be satisfied".

Surely the time has come to end the secrecy over this act of decommissioning and put the full details into the public domain so that the people of Northern Ireland can judge for themselves what has been done.

Surely there is now an urgent need for the Government to give us the details of what has been agreed about an ongoing process of decommissioning that will lead to all illegal weapons finally being put beyond use. Only then will the necessary trust and confidence be established so that, once the elections are out of the way, there is a chance of reforming the executive and of moving this process to the successful conclusion that we all want.

3.18 p.m.

Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made by the Secretary of State in another place. Yesterday marked a disappointing but hardly surprising turn of events. At least there is now to be an election for a new Assembly which noble Lords on these Benches have been calling for long since. I correctly forecast last October that the suspension of the Assembly was likely to be very prolonged. In May and June I argued that a new Assembly be elected so that negotiations about the formation of a new executive could take place between the pro-agreement parties within the Assembly whose mandates would have been renewed. That, six months later, is what will now happen.

In pursuing the course of actions adopted, the Government wasted six months. But worse than that delay has been the huge collateral damage inflicted

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on those political parties which have effectively been excluded from the negotiations. By confining negotiations to Sinn Fein and the UUP, the Government, with Dublin's compliance, has sidelined the SDLP, the Alliance, the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition and the PUP to all intents and purposes. This will have severely impaired them in the forthcoming election. It will not be held on a level playing field.

Practising the black arts in smoke-filled rooms—I speak metaphorically now that Dr John Reid is no longer Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—with an attempt to exercise rigid control on the part of No. 10, has proved not to be the best way to resume democratic devolution. As we saw yesterday—and as could have been predicted—the UUP/Sinn Fein deal fell apart in the Government's hands. Trying to manipulate the process in this way has been counter-productive and is the very antithesis of inclusive democratic dialogue. The Government must now rue the day they peremptorily and unilaterally aborted the May election.

At least there is now going to be an election, and that is to be welcomed. After that, the pro-agreement parties— along with, I suspect, the DUP—will seek to establish an executive. I hope they succeed. In the mean time, the Government would be well advised to back off trying to choreograph down to the last detail some kind of a deal between Sinn Fein and the UUP. Will the Government now proceed with a much lighter rein and go in for much less micro-management? Even if the duopolistic deal can be revived, there is no guarantee that David Trimble can deliver given the ruptures within his own party and in the wider Unionist community.

Let the people of Northern Ireland now speak; let their freshly elected representatives attempt to form a power-sharing executive; and let us hope that it is successful.

3.21 p.m.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their comments but, before I answer the specific questions that have been raised, let me say that I am a little disappointed with their response. Considerable progress has been made and it is not helpful to describe the outcome of yesterday's discussions as a shambles when talks are still ongoing and we are in the midst of very delicate negotiations. We all know how difficult peace processes are; we all know how difficult it is to reach the stage where negotiations are concluded; and we all know that there will be points where we take steps backwards rather than forwards. Of course we are deeply disappointed—we will have to consider what happened yesterday—but, at the same time, recriminations are not helpful.

Talks have been going on between the UUP and Sinn Fein. The Government have not been a party to those talks. The leaders of the two parties have been engaged in those talks and that is a considerable step forward given the position of the parties only a few months ago.

Specific questions have been asked in regard to confidentiality in decommissioning and inclusivity in the talks. The decommissioning legislation expressly

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provides for the principle of confidentiality if the organisation doing the decommissioning asks for it. The Government are clear that they would like to see greater transparency, but that is the nature of the legislation. It was considered necessary when the system was established in order that decommissioning should take place at all. We all agree that we need a system to deliver complete decommissioning, but it should be done in a manner which is conducive to creating public confidence. That is the next stage. In answering questions in another place today, the Prime Minister made clear that we would be working on finding a way to disclose and that the talks will continue. I hope that that will reassure the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran.

As regards hype, this is entirely a matter of confidence between the parties. The process has not been orchestrated by the Government. We have done all we can to facilitate engagement between the parties and we shall continue to do so. We shall try and try again in relation to that.

The issue of inclusivity was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton. Devolved government was suspended because of a lack of confidence between two of the parties. Restoration of confidence has been a key requirement for moving forward and, as noble Lords will know, there have been a large number of meetings between those two parties. However, it is important to put on record that we would not have made the great advances of recent times without the collective effort of all the pro-agreement parties. I pay tribute to the courage and commitment of them all. As I said in the House earlier this week, there have been ongoing discussions with the other parties.

As regards the speech of Mr Adams, as I said in the Statement, he called for a full and final closure of the conflict—and that was endorsed by the IRA.

3.25 p.m.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, on the basis of the information made available to us, the two Governments are to be congratulated on having brought the talks so close to success. Many of us wonder why the talks failed because, technically, the differences appear to be slight. Was there a reason for the breakdown? Given the assurances of the Prime Minister, does my noble friend agree that if everyone knew what he knew we would be satisfied? Will not the parties in Northern Ireland think again about the outcome—which has not succeeded so far—and redouble their efforts to bring these talks to a conclusion? We have been so close that it would be a tragedy if they cannot bring it off this time.

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