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Lord Dubs: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his support for the agreement. The House knows of the enormously important role that he has played over many years in seeking to move Northern Ireland away from
I would also thank him for voicing his support for the RUC. I endorse what he has said. The RUC has played a brave and difficult part in the most appalling circumstances over the past 25 or 30 years. Many members of the RUC have lost their lives doing their duty of protecting the whole of the people of Northern Ireland. We owe them a great debt.
I appreciate the difficulties about early release of prisoners. The Secretary of State is fully aware of the difficulties there will be in moving forward in such a way that ensures that victims retain a sense that justice has been done.
I take particularly to heart the comment made by the noble Lord that we must see what pressure we can exert to identify the burial places of people who have been murdered by terrorists, the locations of which are not known. These should be located in order to give the relatives some sense of ease--which is all one can give them, other than a sense that there may be a long-term peace for Northern Ireland.
The agreement says that the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning and the governments have been developing schemes which can represent a workable basis for achieving the decommissioning. It goes on:
It will be very difficult for people to vote in full knowledge of what is to happen if they do not know, at least in rough outline, the content of those schemes. It may be published somewhere, but I do not remember having seen a clear statement of what the intention is in terms of the actual working of the decommissioning process.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, we had a debate on an order here some while ago which put in place a scheme for decommissioning. In order to facilitate the process of the handing-in of arms--weapons, guns, bombs--those handing them in will have to be exempt from criminal charges, otherwise they will not hand them in. That is difficult. At the same time, where arms are not being handed in, the Army and the RUC will be busy hunting down all people who have illegal weapons. We have in place a scheme for the decommissioning body to receive weapons, either by arms being handed over directly or by tip-offs as to where they are located.
It is important that weapons should not be used. At the moment the real test of these initiatives is that there will be proper peace and that none of the paramilitary bodies, who in the past or at present have an association with any of the parties taking part in the talks, will ever use their weapons again.
Then we have to see how quickly we can achieve decommissioning. The Government want to see decommissioning as soon as possible and we are putting in place all the necessary legislative measures as a matter of urgency. We welcome the fact that all the participants have made a commitment to use their influence to achieve decommissioning within two years. We expect all of the parties that have arms to honour the commitment they have made and to ensure that decommissioning takes place.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, there has been a lot of publicity in Northern Ireland about all this. I take the point of the noble Baroness. I will consider with my ministerial colleagues whether there are ways in which we can publicise these arrangements more fully than they have been.
Lord Blease: My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in thanking all those who have participated over a vast number of years in trying to cope with the terrible problem of Northern Ireland and peace in Ireland. I thank all those who have been engaged in seeking to find an agreement over the past few nights and weeks.
The decommissioning of arms is one of the most important aspects of the way forward for the agreement. A commission has been established and from time to time it will be dealing with the decommissioning of arms. Are any arrangements yet agreed for the frequency of reporting of the surrender of arms? In order to gain the confidence of the people it is important that they should realise that this is an on-going situation. It is no use waiting for two years for them to find out. If some surrender of arms were to be announced next week, that would be a great way forward for peace.
Will the commission be making statements to Parliament through the Minister for Northern Ireland or will the commission report frequently to press conferences? It is important that Parliament is aware of this, but it is more important that the people of Northern Ireland, Ireland as a whole and the whole of the British Isles, know about the frequency, amount and from where arms are surrendered. If that were announced they would feel that something was being achieved.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his support for the agreement. As to his specific question, he is absolutely right that confidence will be significantly enhanced in Northern Ireland when we are able to give positive news about successful decommissioning taking place. I assure the noble Lord that we will ensure that any such good news on
Earl Russell: My Lords, I join in the warm welcome and cautious optimism. Will the Minister agree that two changes in mainland Britain have contributed to this agreement? One has been a fundamental change in the attitude taken on this side of the water to Roman Catholics. We understand now that we are a country which was divided by the Reformation and that we have a Catholic heritage as well as a Protestant one. We can take pride in both. Allegiance to the Union Jack is something far wider than allegiance to a Protestant cause.
The other change, as the references to the European Convention on Human Rights in the Statement have illustrated, is that we are far less enthusiastic about the sterile majoritarian view that the winner takes all. In the circumstances, is it now clear that loyalism must be loyalism to the pluralist, diverse Britain of Queen Elizabeth II and not to the mythological Protestant England presided over by King Billy?
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am tempted to ask how I begin to answer that. I think that the noble Earl is taking advantage of me and the House in what might be an animate version through the paths of British history. Let me say to him that of course we are seeking in Northern Ireland to achieve the positive relationship between Catholics and Protestants and people of all other faiths, or of none, that we have had for a long time in most parts, if not all parts, of Britain. It is proper that the relationship which we have here should be extended to Northern Ireland. I hope that the agreement will play its part in helping to achieve that. I hope the noble Earl will forgive me if I do not pursue the history of religion in this country over the past few hundred years.
As regards human rights matters and the intention of the Government to bring the European Convention into law here, of which the noble Lord is aware, I do not see that as a matter of majoritarianism; I see it as a matter of establishing the rights of all individuals. All individuals should have rights and the law is there to protect them whether they live in Britain or Northern Ireland.
Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, I assure the Minister that mine will be a practical and pragmatic statement. Furthermore, I assure the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that what he is talking about is, in fact, actually taking place in Northern Ireland. The news covers the extremes but there is already much integration and pluralism.
I would like to add my congratulations to those who brought forward the agreement on Good Friday, and in particular to the Secretary of State and her colleagues. Anyone who has worked in Northern Ireland will understand that many people in the Province do not believe anything that a British Government Minister says, which makes it twice as hard to bring things forward.
I should also like to point out--and I suspect that it will be left to me to point out--this is the first time that we have had women at the negotiating table. It is difficult to identify their contribution as such, but it must be a step forward. I should like also to praise those who had not previously taken part in negotiations. They have kept their feet on the ground, and even this Friday they had to point out that the future of the people of Northern Ireland was no laughing matter. With people like that participating, the future was bright.
In addition to the praise for the RUC, I praise the Army. Every time the going gets tough we are required to bring back military support, taking soldiers away from their families and putting them into a situation which is always fraught. Without them there would have been more deaths. I worry about the fact that, because politics was at the top of the agenda, it was said of the last death in Belfast, "Not to worry too much. It was probably non-sectarian". There is a great danger that we worry only about sectarian activities and not about living and quality of life in Northern Ireland.
I have two specific questions for the Minister. The agreement contains many cross-border bodies serviced by officials. Such bodies inevitably cost money. No one has said where the money is coming from. Can the Minister assure me that it will not come from areas of need such as health and education or from economic support? Secondly, while a visit from President Clinton may be desirable--though not everyone thinks so and certainly not before the referendum--would it not be more practical if the President turned his support to encouraging more funds from the IFI in order to bring together industrialists who would look at inward investment and support for the Springvale complex which the Secretary of State announced last week?
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