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The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I think that it is reasonable to say that, right from the beginning, this decommissioning issue has been the bugbear. For understandable reasons, people thought that we would solve the easy questions first. That is a very human reaction. The issue of decommissioning has been rearing its ugly head and it is getting bigger and bigger; indeed, it has now brought the process to a halt. Surely the difference between Protestant violence and Catholic violence, for want of better phrases--no one condemns either more than I so--is that the people who represented the Republican violence in the Assembly were not prepared to accept decommissioning. They had to do that. If the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, or myself were serving as local authority councillors, we would not want to sit down with people who have guns. It is impossible; you cannot ask people to do so. That has been visible for a long time. Therefore, when we go forward, can we make absolutely certain that no one comes into such an assembly without saying, "I give up guns. Here are the guns that I hold illegally"? Without that, it is not going to work.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, in the complications of the peace process in Northern Ireland, it is of course understandable that the parties would move, first, to deal with the easy questions. That was not a bad thing because it led to the development of trust. Certainly, the trust in Northern Ireland between the parties and the communities is, I suggest, much better than it was at the beginning of the peace process started by the government, of whom the noble Earl was a member--
Without any equivocation, I can say that it is an obligation on all the paramilitary parties that they should decommission. That is a clear obligation under the Good Friday agreement, and they will have to do so.
Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, I should like to ask the Minister whether the Government now recognise that there is no such thing as "failsafe" in Northern Ireland? Can he tell us whether future plans will be based on that? In addition, there is much conversation about the fact that democrats cannot sit down with people who have guns. However, people in almost all the local councils in Northern Ireland have
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her three questions. I expressed the hope that Seamus Mallon would be back soon because of the contribution that he has made and the enormous contribution that I am sure he will continue to make to the peace process in Northern Ireland. My remarks were not based on fact, but on hope.
As regards a failsafe measure, we intend to consider the Northern Ireland Bill that we discussed yesterday and come back to it at the appropriate time. In so far as the noble Baroness used the word "failsafe" to apply to that Bill, we believe that it may still have a part to play in the future movement towards a devolved Assembly on the lines of the debate that we had yesterday.
As regards the noble Baroness's final point, which I think is an important one, I believe that in about 20 of the 26 district councils in Northern Ireland, Unionist politicians and Sinn Fein politicians sit together. They have been elected together and they sit together along with members of the SDLP and other parties. The question that the noble Baroness asked is not only one for me but for the politicians in Northern Ireland. The fact is that there has been good co-operation across the board on many district councils in Northern Ireland. In a symbolic way, that augurs well for the future of the peace process--if I can utter a word of optimism on a somewhat depressing day.
Lord Mishcon: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Denton. I did not see that her hand was raised. We are all delighted to see her here and to hear her speak. I wonder whether noble Lords opposite realise how heartened we were on this side of the House when on the Front Bench the bipartisanship towards this thorny question was revealed firmly and with no doubt. I wonder too--I say this without making any political point whatsoever--how difficult it was, after hearing that statement, to note that every speech that was made from the Official Opposition Benches criticised the Bill and supported in great measure the point of view of the Unionist parties. It can only be helpful for me not to say any more about that.
However, I express with great humility the hope that we manage to resurrect the peace process with the full help of the Official Opposition, and welcome anything that they can do to assist, whether by supporting our view or by all parties coming together in Northern Ireland, without, as I say, giving them the opportunity to say that there is a division between the Government and the Opposition.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend. This is not the day for recriminations or apportioning blame. I think that we had a clear statement yesterday from the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, the
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I agree very much with what the noble Lord has just said. But at the risk of being misinterpreted by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, I have three real regrets, not recriminations. The first one is that the villains of the piece, who ought to be central to our concerns, are the paramilitaries and the dogged refusal of Sinn Fein/IRA to give a public commitment on decommissioning. My second regret is that much of the blame is being laid personally at the door of Mr Trimble and more generally with his colleagues in the Unionist Party. I believe that our fire ought to be preserved for the paramilitaries. Thirdly, I think that it is a great pity that we were not given an opportunity to see the amendments, preferably at the stage when the Bill was in the Commons, because I believe that might have made a great difference to the outcome and that today might have been very different.
My specific questions follow on from the remarks of my noble friend Lord Cranborne. If the Minister is unable to tell us whether the amendments were seen by, and discussed with, the Taoiseach, will he tell us whether they appeared in print anywhere; and if they did, was Mr Trimble allowed to see them in order to strengthen his hand to argue for the safeguards that he wanted inside the Bill so that this process could proceed in a positive way? That would have strengthened his hand when he met his colleagues last night.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, as regards the amendments, the Government were working on them until pretty late yesterday, but at that point it was clear that they would be inappropriate for today because of developments in Belfast. Hence they were not brought forward. I am afraid that I do not know whether they were discussed in detail with David Trimble. I think that he was well aware of the thrust of the Government's thinking. We could not have brought the amendments forward on the day that the other place debated the Bill because they arose directly from speeches made by the right honourable Member for Huntingdon and the right honourable Member for Upper Bann. Their two speeches were particularly influential and we sought to devise amendments which would reflect at least some of the comments made in those speeches. Therefore, I think that the noble Baroness will appreciate why it would have been difficult for us to move faster than we were setting out to do.
As regards blame, I have not blamed anyone. I have not blamed any of the politicians in Northern Ireland. I certainly do not blame Mr Trimble. I think that he has been a brave man. He has been helpful in the peace process and I very much hope that he will be able to
As regards the paramilitaries, of course people who use guns and bombs against innocent people are to be condemned absolutely. We have lost no opportunity to condemn the paramilitaries on both sides. But the point of the peace process is precisely to persuade the paramilitaries to have a cease-fire. Most of the paramilitary organisations are on cease-fire. I have no reason to think that they will not continue to be on cease-fire. Some of the paramilitary organisations are not on cease-fire at present. I very much hope that they will decide to adopt a cease-fire because that is the best context in which we can move forward with the peace process, move forward with setting up the Assembly, and move forward with decommissioning.
I add one further point on the amendments. The Prime Minister described the amendments in general terms during Prime Minister's Questions yesterday in the other place. Therefore, Mr Trimble was aware in broad terms of what was intended.
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