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Lord Dubs: My Lords, he is saying no; he is shaking his head. I welcome the fact that the noble Lord wishes to continue the bipartisan policy. We certainly wish to do so. It was a policy to which we adhered when we were in opposition and we would wish it to continue. We need a bipartisan policy not for the benefit of any party here but for the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland.
He commented that the Prime Minister has been unable to move Sinn Fein on decommissioning. Although I very much reject that conclusion, the issue is at the heart of what we are seeking to do with the legislation. The test will come very quickly once the legislation is in place.
Perhaps I may take as one of my themes something that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said in her speech. She said "We have to test the intentions of the paramilitaries". That is precisely what this legislation is about; we are testing the intentions of the paramilitaries. By moving forward in this way--hopefully with the agreement of the Ulster Unionist Party and other parties--the intentions of the paramilitaries will very quickly be put to the test. That is the justification for this legislation.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for what he said. However, the point I was making is that the paramilitaries will be tested clearly and in a transparent way only if the amendments are included in the Bill. If they are not, it will not be possible for us to make clear judgments about whether or not there has been a breach and whether or not the paramilitaries are serious about decommissioning.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I understand what the noble Baroness is saying. If I were to respond to her in detail we would be having the debate that we are bound to have tomorrow. I think she will appreciate that we shall have to keep tomorrow's debate for tomorrow and to confine ourselves more to the general principles, albeit I shall have to answer some of the points of detail because of the questions that were put to me in the course of the debate.
Another key point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, and by many other speakers today. That is the allegation that we are penalising the innocent; not so; emphatically not so. The Good Friday agreement has a procedure within it whereby these matters can be resolved by the review process. The Bill triggers an automatic move towards the review process if there is a breach of the modalities of decommissioning by any of the organisations with which the decommissioning body has been dealing. If there is such a breach, the procedure will be automatic.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, of course I shall not say yes. We do not have an Assembly at present. What we have said is that the legislation will take everyone back to where we are now. So there is no loss in that. Secondly, the review process will enable the Northern Ireland parties to decide whether they wish to exclude from ministerial office any members of any particular party in the Assembly. That is a process which will then lead to the possible exclusion--it may not--of members of a party from an assembly. If it were not done that way, how could there be an assembly based on consent and on both communities in Northern Ireland being represented? How can that be done unless the majority on each side agree that that is a decision that they want to take. We cannot impose it upon them. They must do it for themselves. We are setting up the context in which they can do that. It is up to the local parties and politicians; if they wish to penalise only those who are in breach, they will have every opportunity of doing so. We are providing the context that will enable that to happen.
As I said earlier, we are putting pressure on all the parties, and have done, both in the period up to the Good Friday agreement and since. That is my response to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, who said that the temptation is to put pressure on only one party. Yes, at any given point more pressure may be applied one way or another. But taking the totality of what has gone on since the Government took office, we have put pressure on all the participants in an even-handed manner.
My noble friend Lord Fitt asked about General de Chastelain and the commission. The general's report is in the Library and is available to any Member of this House who wants to see it. The commission has been very active in Northern Ireland in dealing with the complex circumstances surrounding the issue of decommissioning. The annexe to the commission's report on 2nd July sets out some of the activities. If the noble and learned Lord would care to refer to that annexe, he will see what the details are. As the report makes clear, the commission is ready and willing to play a central part, as envisaged in the agreement and the joint proposal published by the two Governments on 2nd July, The Way Forward. The commission is prepared to move forward in the way that I have indicated.
The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, asked a series of specific questions. I shall attempt to deal with the main ones. He suggested that somehow I did not have confidence that those who are on cease-fire would stay on cease-fire. He referred particularly to the IRA. I should regret it if my opening remarks were taken as implying a lack of faith in the intentions of others. If we do not move forward with an Assembly and do not give effect to the Good Friday agreement, there will be a local political vacuum in Northern Ireland. There is a danger that the paramilitary organisations, some of which are not presently on cease-fire, will fill that
The noble Lord also asked about timing. He asked why we do not delay the formation of an Executive until after the first progress made by General de Chastelain in terms of decommissioning. I think the noble Lord understands that we are seeking to sequence the appointment of the Executive and the start of decommissioning. That has dogged the process for many months. We believe that, by the process of sequencing, we can help those involved to achieve a breakthrough, which has so far eluded us on the decommissioning process.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, the Minister says that this is a matter of sequencing. He gives as his reason for putting the formation of the Executive before the start of decommissioning the possibility that something nasty might happen if it were the other way round. But surely, if Sinn Fein is committed to peace, it would not mind a scrap if the sequence were reversed.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, for 15 months since the Good Friday agreement we have been waiting for it to happen the other way round. Because that has not happened, we are now seeking to make progress in the way indicated. What we are talking about, and what the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach made clear is, that we are talking about progress within days of the Executive being set up--I repeat, within days. There is enough at stake to say that it is worth waiting a few days, because we shall then know exactly whether people are as good as their word and whether the process of decommissioning will start across the board for all the organisations in Northern Ireland which have illegal bombs and weapons. That seems a very reasonable proposition. Given how much is at stake, it is worth waiting just a few days to see whether people will deliver. That is the point.
The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, said that those who threatened violence should be excluded from government. I have already dealt with that point, but the noble Lord referred specifically to the position as regards prisoners. The noble Lord quoted the Prime Minister. I do not believe that the Prime Minister has broken his word at all. It is precisely because the Prime Minister is endeavouring to achieve exactly what he said that we are dealing with this piece of legislation--in order to have the start of decommissioning for all parties in the Executive and others. It is not fair and proper of the noble Lord to suggest that the Prime Minister has not been true to his word or has not lived by his undertakings.
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