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Lord Stallard: My Lords, before the noble Lord continues--like many of his noble friends--simply to address this issue as anti-IRA, may I ask him this? When did the UVF, the UDA, the ULA or any Unionist organisation give a promise of decommissioning?
Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, one Unionist organisation of that character has already begun decommissioning. The important point is that that did not result in it being told: "You have egg on your face. You have surrendered. You have laid down on your back". It decommissioned through General de Chastelain's commission and in consequence its leaders have been treated as statesmen. We are asking that that admirable example be followed by the IRA and other so-called "loyalist" organisations. But this is part of the harm of the structure of this Bill. The noble Lord looks surprised, but I can assure him that it is true.
What seems to me to be part of the harmful character of the structure of this Bill is that the only sanction it proposes is the suspension of the institution set up for devolved government in Northern Ireland. Those institutions, as all noble Lords will be aware, were sought as a prize by Unionists in particular. If the Government suspend the Executive and the Assembly they deprive those who are not at fault of that for which they have worked and secured as a prize. For the loyalist paramilitary organisations and their political parties it is no skin off their nose if those organisations are suspended because they are not represented on them, so that will not induce them to decommission.
Some people will say that the IRA cannot be expected to decommission if the loyalists are not doing so. The IRA will say that it has to protect its people. I can imagine those comments only too readily. I respectfully suggest that one harmful feature of the Bill is that the only sanction is the suspension of the devolved organisations. That will not influence the remaining loyalist organisations that have yet to decommission.
The theme of the Bill is justifiable in certain circumstances and for a brief period. However, there must be genuine failsafe mechanisms that operate automatically. The Bill needs the same clarity and starkness that characterised the Prime Minister's assurances to Unionists at the time of the Good Friday agreement and the referendum and more recently. They are too well known and too numerous to need reciting today.
There has to be a penalty for default that will bear on the guilty automatically--a penalty that will hurt. All that we have at the moment is the automatic availability of a mechanism. We do not have the automatic operation of that mechanism. Anyone who has even glanced at the Bill knows that the mechanism can be operated only if there is a 60 per cent majority for it in the Assembly. Of course we accept the assurances of Mr Hume and Mr Mallon that they will not sit down with those who rely on terrorists, but we have not heard whether the SDLP would continue to sit on the Executive if Sinn Fein was expelled.
There is no precise timetable for compliance. Given the independence of General de Chastelain, that cannot yet be achieved, so there is no failsafe. That leaves halting the early release of prisoners as the only option. That would be an effective deterrent. It is significant how promptly Martin McGuinness denounced the Government for even thinking of it, as apparently they were doing, and warned them off any such notion. Why should he do that if the IRA was planning to decommission?
Halting the early release of prisoners can be achieved consistently with the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998. On the entitlement to early release and the maintenance of a ceasefire upon which that depends, the Act tells the Secretary of State to take into account whether an organisation is co-operating fully with the de Chastelain commission. Clause 1(1)(a)(ii) of the Bill makes failure to co-operate with the commission by not taking any step required by it a matter that would result in automatic suspension. Why could it not also result in the automatic halting of prisoner release if that failure to co-operate persists?
The Government ignore at their peril--and perhaps no less importantly at the peril of the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party--the public's resentment at the continuance in the present circumstances of early release. It is seen as inconsistent with anything other than a discreditable explanation. That can be readily overcome by an amendment of the sort that I hope and believe the Minister held out promise of a few minutes ago.
In conclusion, I have greatly admired most of what the Government have done in Northern Ireland and I greatly admire the personal qualities of my successor. I have not kept my admiration under a bushel. However, I have always differed with the Government on prisoners. It is only because of my firm adherence to the Good Friday agreement and to the objective that it is intended to serve that I find my disagreement on that score at its sharpest tonight.
Lord Fitt: My Lords, at the risk of repeating myself, let me say that the Bill is about one issue alone: the decommissioning of arms. That issue should have been settled before the agreement was signed. It is beyond my comprehension why it was not. If it had been dealt with there would be no need for the Bill because all the other issues in it would be settled by now. That has been an obstacle ever since the signing of the agreement.
I am not a unionist. I have opposed Unionist politicians all my political life, but I understand their fears, occasioned by the murder of 302 policemen and many members of the British Army, and incidents of indiscriminate murder carried out by the IRA and by loyalists. Many members of the Catholic community in Northern Ireland have been cruelly murdered by loyalist paramilitary forces. There is no difference between decommissioning of the IRA and of loyalist paramilitaries.
I have been looking back over my many years in politics. An attempt is now being made to bring about inclusive government in Northern Ireland--a government containing Catholics and Protestants, unionists and nationalists. I have been through that experience. Brian Faulkner, the last Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, engaged with me and the SDLP at Sunningdale. We brought about an inclusive Executive, representing all the nationalist and unionist opinions in Northern Ireland. That experience was brought cruelly crashing to the ground by the activities of the loyalist paramilitaries, ably aided and abetted by the IRA terrorists. During the five-month existence of that Executive, the IRA was bombing and murdering every day in collusion with loyalist paramilitary organisations. The paramilitaries on both sides brought the agreement to the ground.
It is interesting to look back because the man now under siege in attempting to bring about an inclusive, all-party government is none other than David Trimble. In 1973, David Trimble was a member of an extreme Unionist party called Vanguard. He was using all his political ability to prevent the Sunningdale Executive from coming into being. I am delighted that he is now using all his energies to try to create that which he helped to break down in 1973 and 1974. I believe that David Trimble is genuinely trying to create a system of government in Northern Ireland that will be inclusive of nationalists and unionists. I know that there will be great difficulties in doing so. Those difficulties cannot be ignored.
In the executive envisaged by this legislation, there will be four parties. There will be the DUP, who are anti-agreement, and the UUP, who are pro-agreement. Sinn Fein will be called in, and there will be the SDLP. Given all the history of Ireland, and all the bitterness, suspicion and distrust we have had for hundreds of years, can one imagine those 10 people sitting around a table? I believe that the answer is yes. I have sat down with Unionists, who were my former political opponents, in an executive, and we found a good deal in common. Perhaps we had something which present people do not have. I had been a Member of the Opposition at Stormont when there was a Unionist Government. When the Executive was created, we knew each other because we had been parliamentary adversaries. The same criteria do not apply this time, so they will find it even more difficult.
I have listened to Sinn Fein say that David Trimble does not want Catholics or Fenians in the executive. I do not believe that that is right. I believe that he wants to bring about a community government in Northern Ireland and that he has had very little help from this Government. David Trimble is in a very tricky position. His executive--the people who combine to form the Unionist party--may reject him as the leader of the party if he appears to be settling for what is proposed.
The question has been asked as to what would happen if there were to be exclusion. I have heard General de Chastelain lauded to the high heavens on the basis of what a good fellow he is, with a good record, including a good war record. What has he been doing for these past four or five years? Why has he not made some approaches to people in possession of illegal arms over that period? Why can he not tell the Government that he has ensured that there will be decommissioning? He does not live in an ivory tower in Northern Ireland. He does not sit there with his other two colleagues, not taking in the impressions of everyone else. He must surely meet government Ministers. He must surely meet civil servants in the Northern Ireland Office. They are bound to have had the odd drink at a golf club somewhere in Northern Ireland. They are bound to run into each other. Then the Government say, "We can't talk. We don't know him at all. He is independent". I believe that it is incumbent upon General de Chastelain to do something now to try to get us out of what is an awful political position.
It is all about trust in Northern Ireland. I listened to some speeches in the other place yesterday. The Unionists have their backs to the wall. I remember going into Stormont in the early 1960s. At that time, Northern Ireland was a one-party state. The Unionists never brooked any opposition. They ran the whole show themselves. They never found themselves in any great difficulty when having to negotiate with their political opponents. That is why they find themselves in such a weak position now. Unionism has totally and absolutely splintered. I think that they admit that themselves. PR has been an absolute disaster for the party and its beliefs. In those circumstances, it is up to those people who see the advent of an executive to do everything they can to ensure that David Trimble is not brought crashing to the ground.
As I said, I listened to the debate yesterday. The Unionists now see themselves as being lectured to by the SDLP and being threatened by Sinn Fein and the IRA. At the moment, it looks to the Unionists as if there is a pan-nationalist front against them. Their backs are to the wall. Sinn Fein, the SDLP, the Irish Government, led by the Taoiseach, and Irish-American opinion have a good many representatives running around Belfast at the moment, all putting pressure on the Unionist leader, David Trimble.
Before there can be any hope of peace in Northern Ireland, it must be accepted that there are two communities. There cannot be victory for one over the other. You cannot defeat one and have triumph for the other. It must be realised that there is a unionist community in Northern Ireland. Its members are of Protestant background. They are not of the majority religion in Northern Ireland, but they are there and there they will stay. If we are ever to have any hope, that fact must be taken into consideration.
Over the past months, I have heard it said, "If you do not accept the Government's proposals, do you want to go back to what has been happening over the past 30 years?" Let us analyse that for a moment. We are asking ourselves whether we want to go back to the murder, mayhem, the killing of policemen and soldiers, and the bombing of Belfast, Manchester and London. There is an implied threat there, is there not? That threat is coming from the IRA: "If you don't do what we want, we will go back to killing soldiers and policemen." I believe that to make any further concessions to the IRA under that threat would be a denial of every democratic concept we have. We must not allow ourselves to be placed in that position.
What would happen if Sinn Fein were to be excluded because the IRA had not decommissioned? This decommissioning is so symbolic. If the IRA wants to see an inclusive executive and wants two Sinn Fein members sitting on that executive, it could make a gesture by giving up some semtex. I would like to see it give up everything. It has no need to give up its revolvers and rifles and other paramilitary equipment. But semtex is an offensive weapon. It has nothing at all to do with bringing about an agreement in Northern Ireland. The IRA could make that gesture--a gesture which, I believe, would meet with the approval of its own supporters.
If the IRA is excluded and does not make any moves to bring about decommissioning, what will the executive do? There will be an automatic exclusion. I agree with everything that has been said. If the IRA refuses to decommission, then the Secretary of State can wipe out the whole executive, and the guilty will be there with the innocent. That is an extremely unfair threat to hold over the democratic parties in Northern Ireland. What would the SDLP do? The noble and learned Lord, the previous Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, has asked that question, as have many others. I predict--and I am a former SDLP member--that John Hume, the leader of the SDLP, will in no circumstances desert Sinn Fein. John Hume drove Sinn Fein from the political
There are other people in the SDLP. The SDLP is not unanimous in its support of Sinn Fein. There could be a split in Sinn Fein. There could be a split in the SDLP over its attitude to Sinn Fein. I know many SDLP members who detest Sinn Fein. Some of them have actually spoken in this House. But having brought Sinn Fein from the political gutter to political credibility, I cannot see that John Hume will ever desert it.
So what do we do? The Minister says that he is contemplating bringing forward some amendments tomorrow. I hope that those amendments relate to the speech made in the Commons yesterday by the former Prime Minister, John Major. I thought his speech was one of the most constructive and compassionate I have heard. I hope that what he said has borne in on the Government and that they bring forward amendments based on his proposals.
I do not wish to speak for too long here today--in fact I have spoken for too long already. Tomorrow may be the day to make further contributions. When I arrived this morning, I received a little missive. It has absolutely nothing to do with the debate, or at least so I thought. It has to do with freedom of action. It is about the sacking of the hereditary Peers. There is a quotation, which I think has some relationship to this debate:
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, it is a great pleasure, perhaps even a great honour, to follow the noble Lord who has just sat down. Quite apart from the fact that I agree with every word that he said, it gives me an opportunity yet again to pay tribute to his consistent courage in the face of terrorists who understand the danger that he has presented, at least over the past 30 years, to their methods of politics.
The Prime Minister and indeed the Secretary of State in another place have said repeatedly, particularly during the course of yesterday's debates in another place, that this question is a matter of trust. I believe that they are entirely right when they say that. I have just come back from a brief visit to Northern Ireland and I was not surprised to find that there persist there, as well as in a number of quarters on this side of the water, some perceptions which I think need to inform the attitude of those of us who are considering this legislation, because they certainly inform the attitude of many Unionists of all shades at this difficult time.
Those perceptions are three. First, those who hold them are convinced that whatever Sinn Fein may say to the Prime Minister or to those representatives of the Government with whom it is negotiating, to its own supporters its message remains clear--I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, mentioned this during the course of his remarks--and can be encapsulated as follows: "Don't worry, we won't give up an ounce of Semtex or a single rifle. We will use our rhetoric to get into the Executive and then no one will dare to kick us out".
The second perception that I found widely shared was the following--it is one to which the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, gave his usual eloquent expression a moment ago--namely, that the SDLP would never dare to continue in an executive, or in a new executive, after Sinn Fein had been expelled. I have to say that as I listened to the debate in another place yesterday it is a perception that the leader of the SDLP did nothing to dispel in his speech.
The third perception--which I think underpins the rest, and the attitude of those of us who have been concerned about Northern Ireland over many years from perhaps rather a Unionist point of view--is that we have a suspicion. I make no criticism of this because I think that governments of both colours have the whole of the United Kingdom to think about. We have a suspicion that when confronted with the threat of a general return to violence a British government will always in the end give way to terrorists, and that they will ask the Democrats to make the concessions, not the terrorists.
I believe that the combination of these three perceptions means that any mechanism designed to link terrorist participation to their membership of an executive must be--in the words, I think, of the Prime Minister--cast iron if Unionist and other fears are to be allayed. I have to confess that in its present form I do not think that this Bill fills that particular requirement. In that I certainly agree with my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew with his infinitely greater experience than mine in these matters.
Under those circumstances the burden on General de Chastelain would be enormous. We have already seen the pressures to which he has been subjected in delaying his report in the crucial moments leading up to the proposals last week. As we have already heard from the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, the burden on the SDLP--which I think has to possess great courage to participate in a reconstituted executive if Sinn Fein were to be expelled from it--is also great. Further there is the burden on the Government who have to face the possibility of taking actions which might lead to a general return to violence. That perhaps is a pressure at least as great as the pressure on the others.
Therefore, it seems to me important that this legislation should both give greater reassurance to those who need it and, if possible, relieve those responsible, in so far as we are able, from having to take decisions under intolerable pressure. Therefore, the mechanisms should be as automatic as it is possible to make them if this legislation is to have any chance of inspiring
It seems to me that the first element of decommissioning should take place--as the Prime Minister suggested--a small number of days after the Executive has been formed. I would find it difficult to understand why that should not take place any more than five days after that. I believe that that would be an enormous reassurance to all of us if it were possible to put that on the face of the Bill. Any party that failed to observe the timetable laid down in such an amendment at any stage would clearly automatically lose the right to sit on the Executive. It would be the responsibility of General de Chastelain to make that decision, not the Secretary of State. I have already mentioned the great pressures that the general is under; but if the general were able to explain the reasons for his decision, that in itself would make a great contribution to public confidence.
As my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew made clear, there is really no excuse for continuing to release terrorist prisoners if a terrorist organisation, or one that represented terrorists, were to be expelled from the Executive. I shall not add anything to what my noble and learned friend said in that respect.
It is curious that if Sinn Fein is expelled from the Executive, the Executive would dissolve and then have to reform. There is another reason, apart from the ones that noble Lords have adduced so far, why I think that this is not a good idea. I come back to the whole question of the SDLP. I sympathise with the SDLP and the great dangers that it might run at the hands of Sinn Fein under those circumstances. Therefore, from that point of view alone, it would be sensible for the Executive to remain in being after expulsion; then the SDLP would have to make a conscious decision to leave as well.
We should consider a little the question of the Patten report. We know that it is causing a great deal of anxiety, not only in the ranks of the RUC but all over Northern Ireland. I, of course, have not the faintest idea of what is in the report--I do not think that many of your Lordships do either, with the greatest respect--but clearly the nature of the RUC, or whatever it is to be called as a result of the report, will change in the light of normality returning to the Province. However, if there are still armed terrorists about, it would seem rather odd to change the nature of that police force and risk its not being able to deal with armed terrorists in the magnificent way that the RUC has so far managed to do. I hope that the Government will be able to answer my question of whether they see a link between the
Such amendments would greatly help build the trust which the Government and all of your Lordships believe to be so essential. As your Lordships have said, it has now come down to the difficult and intractable matter of decommissioning. In other conflicts decommissioning has been a pre-condition for peace after years of guerrilla war. Indeed, academic studies show that we are right to suggest that decommissioning should be a pre-requisite. We certainly regarded it as such in Kosovo, for instance; why should it be different in Northern Ireland? If the terrorists have exchanged the Armalite in favour of the ballot box, they can prove it by throwing away the Armalite. If they do not, why should we believe them? Indeed, why should those who believe in government through representative institutions be cast as villains for refusing to surrender to the blackmail of the men with the Armalites?
It is a matter of trust. I hope that when the Bill is amended we will be able to approve of it as a genuine contribution to the building of that trust and a way forward to defusing the extremely difficult situation that obtains in the Province at the moment.
The Earl of Longford: My Lords, it is always a special pleasure to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, if only in my case because of his grandfather's kindness to me when I first came here half a century ago. There were just a handful of Labour Peers then, but his grandfather was very constructive in his approach and was really the founder of the modern House that we know.
When it comes to Northern Ireland, the noble Viscount speaks from a considerable family tradition. In the corridor there is a picture of his great, great grandfather, the noble Marquess, bringing about the defeat of the Irish Home Rule Bill in 1893. Although I regard that as fairly disastrous, I must confess that my father and my mother's father were backing him up. So I do not pretend to be any better than he is in such a matter.
When it comes to his views on Northern Ireland, I am only sorry that instead of myself the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, is not replying. After all, when he went to Ireland in an official capacity in 1969, he came back and said "There are too many guns". Where were these guns? Whose guns were they? They were mostly Protestant guns. After all, it was the Protestants who brought the guns to Northern Ireland. The noble Lord, with general acceptance, sent the British Army to protect the Catholics from the maltreatment and terrorism of the Protestants. So we must look at this in a fairly broad minded way, as has been suggested by other noble Lords.
All of that apart, I come before the House in the rather rare capacity of a super loyalist; an almost obsequious member of the party. I am capable of disagreeing with my leaders on one or two matters--recently, for example, on the reduction of the age of consent for
I am someone who has written on Irish history; who has been given a drink of Irish whiskey by Sir James Craig, the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland in the early 1930s; and who, after all, if I may be allowed to make the point, spent a night as a guest of one of the leaders of the Ulster Volunteer Force, one of the paramilitary organisations. Surveying the whole issue historically, this initiative of my right honourable friend, backed up by that wonderful person who I do not know--I wish I did--Mo Mowlam, will be one of the greatest of history, Irish or English. I am one hundred per cent loyal and I wish them everything that is good.
As to tactics, we must leave that to them. Occasionally we must leave the tactics to our leaders, and I am ready to do so on this occasion. Whatever they think is best, at the moment my mood is to follow them and to wish them everything that is good.
Of course, that does not mean that one should ignore the problems with which they are faced or the problems of Mr Trimble. I pray for success for all those concerned. Above all, every night and four times a day I pray for Mr Trimble. He needs prayers more than any of us.
Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, my name is down for the next debate on the Northern Ireland 1974 Act Order. That was a mistake because that debate was listed prior to my realising that this one was to take place. The House definitely will not have to listen to me twice.
I will speak briefly about the Bill. I will not go into too much detail because, owing to circumstances beyond my control, I will not be here tomorrow to hear the good news that the Government will bring to us.
I am not going to go back over the details of release of prisoners or decommissioning--or the lack of it--up until this time. Suffice to say that there are so many instances of the law-abiding society in Northern Ireland and the Government giving an inch and then going that extra mile while the terrorist organisations, on both sides of the divide and their political wings, have conceded absolutely nothing--not even an earthly tremble, let alone the seismic shift that the Prime Minister said he has detected. Perhaps we are sleeping, but I think not. Those of us who know Sinn Fein and the terrorists would perhaps consider that it was wishful thinking.
It has been very difficult to accept the steps that the Government have taken in recent months to appease terrorists, as some of us would believe--almost anything in order to avoid the threatened action by
How twisted and one-sided can we get? Is it the last chance for the terrorists and their political apologists to declare by their words and actions that peace is for now and ever? I do not doubt, indeed I know full well, that the Government want peace--but please do not let us accept that their yearning is any greater than mine and that of other people who have lived with terrorism and violence in Northern Ireland for so many years.
So we have this Bill before the House, supposedly to overcome the last obstacle to peace, and the forming of a devolved administration in the Province. Let me make one point first. The Bill would be totally unnecessary had the terrorist organisations made any move at all to decommission, demobilise, or whatever we wish to call it. Frankly, the Bill was not on the cards and need not have occurred had people acted honestly, as the impression seems to be they will act in future. We even passed an Act to enable weapons to be handed in with immunity for those involved. Nothing happened--hence this Bill.
Should the present impasse over weapons continue, the Bill will, in practical terms, punish law-abiding citizens by denying them the democratic right of government. That is of course if, as I suspect, there will be no decommissioning and the SDLP does not live up to its responsibilities.
Perhaps I may quickly run through the three scenarios of events that could occur in the next 10 months as a result of the Bill as presently drafted. The first is easy. The IRA appoint a negotiator or intermediary this weekend; declare their intention to decommission and, in the following months actually begin to do so. In that instance, we are in the clear--provided the vast majority of weapons are handed in by May next year.
The second scenario is that negotiators are appointed and the Executive is formed, but, owing to the lack of any practical decommissioning, the Secretary of State suspends the Assembly under Clause 1 of the Bill. However, the SDLP seems to have implied that it would not necessarily support the restoration of the devolved government, as the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, said, without the political wing of the IRA if weapons continue to be withheld; it would not go into the Executive without them. So, we are back where we are now.
That is where the Bill has a major flaw. It should be amended so that, instead of suspending the whole system, those who are not living up to their obligations--in this case, Sinn Fein--should be expelled on their own from the Executive only. At that stage, John Hume in particular, and the SDLP, can either stay in the Executive or show how sympathetic they are to Sinn Fein by resigning from it, actively removing their support from the democratic process that has been signed up to, from the Good Friday agreement to the protocol of a couple of days ago and now this Bill. After all, John Hume is a Nobel Peace Prize holder. He is a democrat, someone who frequently condemns violence, and is one of the catalysts in the whole process. He should be given his last chance to see it through. Can he really stand as a world figure, as he presently is, and deny the right of democratic progress as a result of a relatively small group of people withholding weapons?
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