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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I am inclined to support the amendment. It will send a message from this place to certain people in Northern Ireland: that this place is serious about wanting to punish terrorists, and to see that they remain punished. I was unable to speak on Second Reading. Had I been so able, I think I would probably have pointed out that we were sending a strange sort of message to future terrorists, particularly
It is all right to talk about reconciliation. We all agree with reconciliation, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Sheppard, said, there have to be compromises. Of course there have to be compromises. The problem is that as far as I can see so far the compromises have all been one sided. Mr. McGuinness is still talking about the "terrorist British Army" which has to be withdrawn. There has been no modification of the language against the British Army and the security forces in Northern Ireland. We have not seen the compromises that some of us believe should be made in Northern Ireland if we are to achieve a lasting settlement--a settlement which is acceptable to all the people of Northern Ireland.
The noble Lord, Lord Sheppard, said that people would think it strange if this Parliament were to pass an amendment of the sort that has been moved by the noble Lords, Lord Tebbit and Lord Molyneaux. But this is still the Parliament of the UK. It does not really matter that the Good Friday Agreement, or any agreement, has been made. In the last analysis, Parliament still has a place, and, indeed, a duty to discuss this agreement, and to make any amendments which it feels are necessary.
I hope that people will not be intimidated into thinking that, because they are Members of this place, or the British Parliament, they no longer have any say over matters which go on in Northern Ireland, because they still do. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, moved his amendment briefly. I believe that it is an amendment that would give encouragement to many people in Northern Ireland. It would give people who have been convicted of terrorism an opportunity to recant in some way. They would be helping towards the maintenance of peace by taking weapons out of Northern Ireland.
Let us not forget that so long as those weapons exist, they are a threat to the new assembly and to the new order in Northern Ireland. That is why it is necessary, and good, that this place and other people should consider the linkage of terrorist early releases to decommissioning. As I have said, while those arms remain--whether they are in the hands of the IRA, the UDA, or whoever else--they are a threat to the continuation of the assembly and its success. I will support the amendment if it is put to a vote.
The Earl of Longford: The greatest danger in Northern Ireland is the existence of the paramilitary bodies. There are half a dozen or more of them. Half of them are Protestant and half of them are Catholic. Half of them are involved in the agreement and half of them are not. If those who are involved gave up their weapons tomorrow far more dangerous paramilitary bodies would
Lord Cope of Berkeley: It is a pity that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, was not present to make his speech on Second Reading. He will find that some of the sentiments he expressed were expressed at the time. He referred to the position of the British Army. Of course at the moment the British Army is engaged in protecting the Garvaghy Road and the enclave there. I do not know whether that will change the opinion. I think it unlikely. It should change the opinion a little of some of those whom he mentioned.
In referring to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Sheppard, I have to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, regarding the lack of relevance of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We all agree with reconciliation, but the difficult question for us to answer is whether the prisoners, whom it is proposed to release, have, in reality, put the violence behind them or whether they will return to it. It will not do any good to release them if they have not given up violence. It would do no good for reconciliation. That is the nub of the question which the amendment addresses in respect of decommissioning.
I have no wish--quite the contrary--to make life more difficult for any members of the assembly, Mr. Trimble or anyone else. I have no wish to step outside the agreement. I do not believe that members of the assembly have taken any soft option in supporting the agreement, being prepared to stand up for it and entering the assembly on that basis. However, the question is whether a linkage with decommissioning is within the agreement.
I have difficulty with this amendment because the linkage proposed is personal to the prisoner rather than collective to the organisation to which he belongs. My amendments, Amendments Nos. 13, 15 and 18, and Amendment No. 14 which the Liberal Democrats propose, attempt to look at linkage to the organisation to which the prisoner belongs. I make no judgment as to whether it is more desirable or more effective to have the linkage personal to the individual prisoner as opposed to a collective linkage. I am making a judgment as to which is more in line with the agreement.
As regards prisoners, in later amendments we seek to stiffen up a little--my noble friend seeks to do so in this amendment--the specific linkage between prisoners and decommissioning, which is part of the general linkage. The real link is the terrorists themselves. It is the terrorist organisations which have to put decommissioning into practice; they have to decommission their weapons. It is the terrorist individuals in prison who stand to benefit most from the Bill and from this part of the agreement.
The Earl of Longford: How does the noble Lord propose to deal with the paramilitary organisations, Protestant and Catholic, which are outside the agreement and have no intention, it seems, of coming into it?
Lord Cope of Berkeley: They are not dealt with by the Bill because they are specifically excluded if they are not on ceasefire. There is no way that we can deal with those. As I said at Second Reading and on other occasions, the idea that the Bill or the agreement will bring total peace, even if everything goes as smoothly as we all hope it will, is a mistake. There are likely to be organisations on both sides--I make no distinction--that will continue violence for political reasons and for the rackets. That is why a continual security presence and a continual security effort will still be required for a considerable time. But that is no reason for not doing the best we can to put everything in the agreement in place. But the idea that everything will be 100 per cent. successful is wishful thinking of a high order.
I wish briefly to address whether or not a convicted terrorist, languishing (if that is the right word) in gaol can co-operate with the commission in its decommissioning work. My noble friend gave some examples--by giving information, and so on--of the ways in which prisoners might be able to help. However, collectively they have great influence. For example, it was extremely important that in the interview with the Financial Times a few days ago Mr. Wilson, who is described as the senior member of PIRA in the Maze, expressed himself more sympathetic about the possibility of decommissioning than anyone else in PIRA has ever done in public to my knowledge. That is an individual, influential prisoner arguing for the process of decommissioning, and making it possible. It also points out my belief that if prisoners are not arguing for decommissioning--and the Bill is central as to whether they do--it is most unlikely to happen.
On the other hand, if prisoners are arguing for decommissioning, it is more likely to happen. If it does not happen, the agreement and everything connected with it is ultimately doomed. Decommissioning is part of the agreement. It is linked to every other part of the agreement. We are not supposed to use the words "cherry-picking" any more; we were told off for doing so the other day. But people have used the words; we all know what the expression means. No one can separate the different parts of the agreement. There is a general linkage. This is one specific example.
The linkage in the amendment is personal to the prisoner rather than collective to the organisation. I prefer later amendments which I hope to put to the Committee before long.
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