The Second Deputy Chairman:
With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment No. 55, in page 1, line 8, leave out from beginning to end of line 11.
Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 11, at end insert—
'(1A) But, notwithstanding the provisions of that agreement, the Monitoring Commission shall consist of two members only, who shall be appointed by Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, and of whom one shall be from Northern Ireland.'.
Amendment No. 65, in page 1, line 12, at end insert
'( ) establish the Monitoring Commission'.
Amendment No. 66, in page 2, line 21, at end add—
New clause 3—Requisition of Report from Monitoring Commission—
'.—When requested to do so by any party represented in the Northern Ireland Assembly to make a report on—
(a) paramilitary activity, or
(b) whether a Minister or another party in the Assembly is not committed to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means, the Monitoring Commission shall do so within fourteen days.'.
Amendment No. 64 would restore the rightful role of this, the Parliament of the United Kingdom. As was said on Second Reading, there is a feeling not only among many people in Northern Ireland but among many Northern Ireland Members that that role has been somewhat usurped. Having been raised initially by Andrew Mackinlay, the issue was then raised by several others. It was felt that Parliament ought to establish the monitoring commission and ensure not only that it has been established but that its composition is appropriate; any further scrutiny could be conducted through the parliamentary process.
The genesis of the commission's establishment has been dealt with at length today. It is, of course, rooted in the abject failure over the past five and a half years to deal adequately with the problem of having a terrorist-related political party in government, and the inability either to proceed against that terrorist-related party or to remove it from government without using the proverbial sledgehammer to ensure that all the democrats get a sore head as well.
The problem has been highlighted in the past 12 months by the suspension of the Assembly. The problem has been compounded by the inadequacy of the voting mechanism to remove the terrorist-related party, namely Sinn Fein-IRA, which is obviously regrettable.
Amendment No. 64 is very similar to amendment No. 1, tabled by my hon. Friend David Burnside. We shall not seek to divide the Committee on amendment 64, in the knowledge that my hon. Friend will do so on amendment No. 1.
Amendment No. 55 was also referred to on Second Reading. A number of Members mentioned the Bill's apparent inability to deal with an IRA breach. We have witnessed several breaches in the past five years, and many Members have alluded to the fact that if devolution is restored, we could well face several more. Of course, the problem with the independent monitoring commission—amendment No. 55 attempts to address it—is that such breaches will be very difficult to define, and to relate specifically to the Provisional IRA and, consequently, to its political affiliate, Sinn Fein.
Let us imagine that a security breach occurs, and that the Chief Constable and the security services indicate that, in their opinion, the Provisional IRA is to blame. If the IMC investigates the complaint that would doubtless be levelled—by an Assembly Member or by someone else wishing to complain—vagueness and greyness could well arise, whereby the Provisional IRA's leadership were not told that they in fact sanctioned action against the innocent civilian or security forces member who was targeted.
On the other hand, there are those of us who believe that if the Bill is not amended in this respect, a fig leaf may remain. Some Unionists could pass the buck for security breaches to the IMC, in the belief that it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the IMC definitively to say that the Provisional IRA was responsible for such an action, that it sanctioned it at an official level and that the following sanctions should apply. Of course, those who would wish to use that fig leaf would then say, "We tried our best. We established the IMC and we left the issue with it, but it has not been sufficiently precise, clear and definitive for the sanctions to be applied." They could then decide to proceed in government with those terrorists, as they have in the past. They could try to hold their hands up as if they were clean, yet they would be sitting in government with those who support terror and murder.
Amendment No. 1 deals with the fact that the monitoring commission ought to consist only of members appointed from within the United Kingdom. In the circumstances, it also seems reasonable that one of the two members appointed be from Northern Ireland. As was debated at some length on Second Reading, the difficulty is that if the Bill is not amended and someone from the Irish Republic is appointed to a position that enables them to have an input into the internal affairs of Northern Ireland, that would constitute a clear breach of Northern Ireland's internal politics. The amendment seeks to rectify that.
Amendment No. 65 deals with the establishment of the monitoring commission and the principle of parliamentary sovereignty. If the monitoring commission is not established and approved by the UK Parliament, as outlined in the amendment, the charge will be laid that the Irish Republic is exerting an influence that heretofore the people of Northern Ireland have not had to bear.
Other amendments are consequential. Amendment No. 66 proposes that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland should appoint the monitoring commission. Again, if that were not the case, we would be in serious breach of what was previously termed the strand 1 position in the run-up to the Belfast agreement.
New clause 3 deals with a significant omission in the Bill, proposing a specific time frame within which action should be taken by the commission. The new clause specifies "within fourteen days". We preface the provision with the word "shall" do so within that period. As with previous breaches, we believe that unless action is taken immediately, there will undoubtedly, as in the past few years, be delay and prevarication. The commencement of legal proceedings will then enter the frame and evidently there will be a prolonged delay in dealing with the issue. We know about what happened in Colombia, which has been ongoing for a prolonged period and the issue is likely to continue into the next calendar year, so we want a specific timetable so that the general public can have some confidence that their concerns are being dealt with expeditiously. Failure to do so would lead to the belief that the Government, perhaps even the commission, had tried to sweep the matter under the carpet in the hope that it would not see the light of day.
I have explained the reasons for our proposed amendments and we hope and expect to receive some support from across the Chamber.
I want to put on record succinctly the Liberal Democrat position on the amendments. In our view, they are all essentially wrecking amendments, given the way in which Mr. Campbell and his colleagues voted on Second Reading. It is, of course, perfectly legitimate for them to table wrecking amendments at this stage, but I am afraid that we cannot be party to them.
I am truly bewildered. I listened carefully to what Mr. Campbell said. On the narrow but important issue of there being some time scale, I thought that he expressed an entirely reasonable point of view. I am surprised to hear Mr. Carmichael describe the measure as a wrecking amendment. It seems eminently sensible and I hope that the Minister will pick up on it.
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. I was damning all the amendments in the group by association, but that one is an honourable exception. The effect of amendment No. 1 would be to remove the Republic of Ireland completely from the work of the commission, and that cannot be seen as anything other than a wrecking amendment. A number of drafting difficulties also arise. For example, I have tried to put amendment No. 66 in the context of the Bill but I cannot do so.
I speak in support of amendment No. 1, which is in my name and that of my hon. Friends. It is not a wrecking amendment and it should cause no offence to our colleagues, neighbours and friends in the Irish Republic. Nor should it cause any offence to our allies, the United States of America, whatever Administration are in power. As an Ulster Unionist, I believe that Unionism suffered badly for many years because it did not promote itself with the American Administration and Congress. Nor, indeed, did we argue our cause with the Irish Republic.
Amendment No. 1 is based on a matter of principle. Our experience in Northern Ireland since the internationalisation that resulted from the 1985 Anglo-Irish agreement—which I mentioned on Second Reading—is that we have been under a form of joint authority that would not be acceptable in any other part of the United Kingdom. We wish to have co-operation from the Irish Republic. Indeed, we wish that we had had much more co-operation during the 30 years of terrorism from the Irish Republic on extradition, on acting against the Provisional IRA and on removing the arms dumps in the Republic, which were contrary to its constitution. We also wish that we had had more support from the US Administration in undermining Noraid and other fundraising for republicanism and terrorism. Some things have changed. Good has come from evil, with the worldwide campaign, after
However, it is not right that a representative from either the United States or the Irish Republic should sit on the commission. It should be the sole sovereign responsibility of the United Kingdom Parliament and Government. We have had enough experience of the Anglo-Irish agreement and its implementation in terms of interference in our internal affairs by the Government of the Irish Republic. We also had an international commission on policing, but it did not reflect the views of the majority law-abiding community in Northern Ireland. It was an internationalised commission that, for political reasons and not good, sensible policing reasons, forced through several changes that did not, and do not, have the consent of that majority.
We wish to divide the House on amendment No. 1. It is an important principle that the Government of United Kingdom, and thus Northern Ireland, has the sole responsibility. We do not need more international commissions or representatives from the Irish Republic. We need help, support and co-operation, but not formal participation from either the Irish Republic or the United States.
Why does the hon. Gentleman think that two people are sufficient for the composition of the commission? Notwithstanding his concerns about the international nature of the body, surely it cannot work practically or effectively with only two members?
Not being a Liberal Democrat, I have never been a believer in large committees, either in my business or my political life. I have believed that small, concentrated decision-making bodies, providing advice to the Executive, are the best way to run a Government. I have proposed in this House on a number of occasions that a commission should be set up that would be a Committee of this House. It would comprise the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the leaders of the Liberal Democrat and Ulster Unionist parties. It would seek advice from the Chief Constable and the General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland. They would give their views on whether Sinn Fein, which is inextricably linked with the IRA, was involved in terrorist activity.
That would be a much better and much more British form of institution than yet another internationalised body. I believe that the proposed commission will be toothless and ineffective.
When the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, Mr. Spellar, replies to the debate, I hope that he will confirm that clause 1 contains no reference, oblique or otherwise, to the functions of the independent commission. In fairness to me, and in the interests of accuracy, that must be put on the record, and the response to the debate will provide the opportunity for that.
Mr. Campbell suggested that some awful consequences might flow if it was not shown that the monitoring commission was established by this Parliament. I am not sure what the need for that is, as the proposals show that it is being established under the royal prerogative. I should have thought that that was enough to show the clear British ownership of the concept.
If the amendments are accepted, the proposed monitoring commission will never come into existence, and the procedures that have been discussed and agreed will fall with it. The commitments that have been given about acting in accordance with monitoring reports will disappear into a limbo, and I do not know whether they can be dug out again. If the amendments are carried, the whole idea will disappear into a limbo, as Mr. Carmichael noted.
I cannot go along all the way with the comments about insularity made by Mr. Mallon, but I hope that the gentleman sitting to my left, David Burnside, will reflect on the fact that the problem with which we are dealing is not confined to Northern Ireland. That might be the place where some of the problems are most acute, but they are not confined to Northern Ireland. We know that it extends further afield—indeed, much of the infrastructure of the republican movement is south of the border.
Unionists have complained about that, year in and year out. They have talked about the need for co-operation, but how can that be achieved if they will not deal with people? To assume that a person nominated by the Irish Government must be that Government's agent is a little fanciful. However, the basic point remains: if one wants co-operation, one needs to speak to people and set up procedures that allow them to have their input. We need access to intelligence in the Republic of Ireland. We also need the co-operation of the relevant agencies in the US, and much reference has been made to events in that hemisphere.
Before we cut off all the sources of help, it might be worth pausing for consideration. For that reason, I make it clear that we in the Ulster Unionist party cannot support the amendments.
This set of amendments goes to the heart of the Bill. I believe that it is the most important set that we will deal with in the short time that we have available. I regret to say that each amendment deals with a number of vital issues. For that reason, since the House will not wish—nor will you, Sir Michael, flexible and generous though you always are—to extend us the time for a vote on each, we must choose which is the most important. I wish to speak about several, but it may help Whips and others to know our view that it would be best to divide on amendment No. 1. There is a similarity between that and amendment No. 64, so we will seek to withdraw that and hope to find the Chairman generous enough to allow us to divide on amendment No. 1.
Amendments Nos. 64 and 1 deal with who runs Northern Ireland and whether it is appropriate for people from other countries to be directly or tangentially involved in its governance. The amendments make it clear that we believe that the commission is a United Kingdom matter and that those involved in decision making should therefore come from the United Kingdom, and from the United Kingdom alone. I do not agree with Mr. Trimble that in order to have friends around the world one must involve them in the day-to-day operation of our country. That is nonsense. We can be best friends with our neighbours in the Irish Republic and the best friends of the Government and people of the United States without having them dealing with matters directly relating to Northern Ireland. Where assistance can usefully be given, it is appropriate to ask our friends for it, but it should not come with the price of allowing them a role—I might say an interfering role—in the way in which the Province is run.
That is all the more important when one considers that the Government of the Irish Republic publicly announce that they speak at meetings with Her Majesty's Government on behalf of the nationalist community in Northern Ireland. They are a partisan player in Northern Ireland matters. Would that there were someone at the table to represent the Unionist community. The Government do not see themselves doing that; they see themselves as neutral. When consultation takes place between the Government of the Irish Republic and the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, one party is partisan in favour of the nationalist community, arguing for and speaking for it, while the other partner claims to be neutral.
The IMC should, in my view, be an entirely United Kingdom body, appointed by the United Kingdom through Ministers answerable in this House. There should not be one member appointed by the Government of the Irish Republic, and one by both Governments on the recommendation of the United States. That is a major point of principle, and I do not support the internationalisation of the Northern Ireland situation. That was the folly of the Ulster Unionist party. Lord Maginnis—as he now is—was the one who publicly announced for an international commission to take a role in decommissioning matters, thus starting the process of internationalisation.
The hon. Gentleman refers to internationalisation of matters relating to Northern Ireland. Can he tell me who agreed to the ground rules and the basic concept of the three-stranded talks back in the early 1990s?
I hope that everyone agreed to the ground rules for the three strands, which clearly said that only the parties in Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom Government should be party to any discussion relating to the internal affairs of Northern Ireland. The Government of the Irish Republic were to be involved in those matters only where the relationship was between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. It seems good common sense that if one wants a relationship with the Irish Republic, one should talk to the Irish Republic. That was the argument. That is why we were round the table with the Irish Republic at that strand. It is not internationalising the Northern Ireland situation. It is having a relationship with your neighbour, not bringing them in to take decisions on the internal affairs of Northern Ireland. Sadly, the right hon. Gentleman and his party, or half of it at least, have been responsible for that.
Other amendments, of which amendment No. 55 is perhaps the most significant, deal with the responsibility of the monitoring commission. Should it have the broad sweep of responsibility—dealing with monitoring behaviour in relation to the pledge to keep politics exclusively peaceful and democratic—or should it be expanded to deal with normalisation, which is a Government matter, and indeed with political issues relating to the pledge of office? Clearly, the latter two are included only because the Government do not want Sinn Fein to be standing out there on its own. That is no good reason to try to bring other people into the process and to expand the role of the monitoring commission.
Amendment No. 55 would restrict any role that the Government might give a commission to determining whether people are exclusively committed to peaceful and democratic means, which seems appropriate. We would like to vote on all the amendments in the list, but clearly the key issue is encapsulated by amendment No. 1.
It would be interesting for the Committee to remember that those of us on the Unionist side who were in at the early talks all agreed that strand 1 was a matter for the people of Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom Parliament and Government alone to decide. The south of Ireland had no say in strand 1—we won that, only because we took a determined stand—although when we went to strand 2, which dealt with issues of neighbourliness between the two parts of Ireland, the Irish Government were there. However, the Irish Government did not like that situation. On every occasion that they could, they insisted that they were the spokesmen for the nationalist people of Northern Ireland.
Only one body can speak for the people of Northern Ireland, democratically speaking, and that is this Parliament. The Irish Government did not say that they were speaking in the interests of the Irish Republic. They said that they were the spokesmen for the nationalist community. One cannot have that sort of carry-on at such talks. There must be people who speak officially for each of the parties. The time has come to revisit this issue. We must insist that the southern Government have no say in strand 1. It is not their bailiwick: it is that of this Parliament, this Government and the people of Northern Ireland.
Lord Molyneaux reminded the other place of what a great Prime Minister and leader of the Labour party and the British people, Mr. Wilson, had to say on the subject: that the governance of Northern Ireland is for the people and the Parliament of the United Kingdom. We hold to that.
During the early part of this debate, I found myself in some agreement with the Liberal Democrat spokesman, but I have recovered.
I am not entirely sure which amendments will be dealt with, so I shall try to encompass all of them in my remarks, as several of the issues that were raised overlap. Amendment No. 55 would limit the role of the IMC to reporting on paramilitary activity. It would remove references in clause 1 to normalisation and the pledge of office. That is not acceptable in policy terms, as it undermines the purpose of the Bill; nor does it acknowledge the realities of the situation.
The agreement carefully provides for reports on three specific matters. The need for reports on paramilitary activity is certainly not in question, but we want and need to go further in order to ensure that there are independent reports on matters that are at the heart of implementing the Belfast agreement. Those reports will help to rebuild trust and confidence. That is our aim.
Normalisation reports are a crucial part of that process, as is the stability of the democratic institutions. To those who are concerned that the joint declaration sets out a normalisation programme, I point out that it will not begin until the right security environment is achieved. The IMC will have no role in monitoring the programme until notified under article 15 of the agreement.
Hon. Members have focused on amendment No. 1, which concerns the membership of the commission. The commission will be established by the international agreement published on
The international agreement gives effect to the proposals agreed between the Governments at Hillsborough earlier this year, as set out in the monitoring and compliance document published on
Amendments Nos. 65 and 66 would make the monitoring commission purely a UK body. They would put the setting up of the commission and the making of appointments to it solely in the hands of the Secretary of State. They would not of themselves amend the provisions of the agreement published on
David Burnside said that the amendments were not intended as wrecking. In part, I take his point. However, they would have an effect on the Bill: namely, the creation of a parallel commission. It would be established by the Secretary of State and appointments would be made by him. Later references in the Bill would thus be to that body and not to the one that would be established by the agreement—the Government policy to which the measure gives effect.
The amendments would seriously undermine our purpose of helping to restore trust and confidence through independent monitoring of paramilitary activity, normalisation and political breaches, so we cannot accept them.
New clause 3 is unnecessary. We believe that the IMC should be constituted under the international agreement that we propose. That is the purpose of the legislation. Article 6 of the agreement already permits the commission to consider a claim by any party represented in the Assembly that a Minister or any other party in the Assembly is not committed to non-violence or exclusively democratic or peaceful means. That is in line with the terms of the proposed new clause.
I am aware of the time and realise that the Committee wants to deal with some of the other amendments, so, in summary, we believe that it is right that the commission is constituted on an international basis, for many of the reasons eloquently expressed by Mr. Trimble.
Before the Minister strays too far from new clause 3, he might like to comment on timetabling, which is one of its elements. Many of us are concerned that the Bill would allow considerable delay and that weeks or months could pass while a serious issue confronted the Assembly. What is the Government's view as to the length of time that the commission should take when considering such matters?
I am sorry—I had hoped to make progress, but I will now have to refer to new clause 3 in slightly more detail.
The current provisions permit the consideration of claims where the allegation is that a Minister has failed to observe any pledge of office set out in the agreement or that a party has not committed its members who are or may be Ministers to doing so. Those in favour of the amendments and new clause 3 would not allow the commission such a remit. We believe that it is essential to cover such matters. [Interruption.] I shall deal with timing in a second. The operation of lawfully constituted democratic institutions in good faith is essential to partnership government, and so to peace and stability in Northern Ireland.
The international agreement puts the commission on a fixed time scale. It has to report at six-monthly intervals. The two Governments jointly may also ask it to make other reports. In principle, we believe that the reporting cycle envisaged by the agreement is correct. Consideration of paramilitary activity across the board, as opposed to the affairs of individuals or a political party, may require a great deal of evidence to be considered.
New clause 3 would render proper reporting impractical, by giving any party the right to commission such reports as often as it saw fit. We believe that a workable, practical timetable has been outlined that will not lead to endless delay. Equally, the commission will not be pressed into ducking and diving between a number of different issues, so it will be able to put in the sustained work that is necessary.
On whether the commission should be placed on an international basis, we believe that it should have a remit to consider not only the commitment to non-violence—absolutely vital though that is, for all the reasons that have been given by hon. Members tonight—but other threats to the stable operation of the institutions.
The commission should report regularly on paramilitary activity. Subject to that, we believe that it is for the commission itself to judge how long it is necessary to take to evaluate properly and to reach conclusions, and it will obviously want to do so as expeditiously as possible to maintain trust and confidence. Obviously, undue delay would militate against that. For the same reasons, the commission must not produce superficial or insufficiently investigated reports. It must be able to judge in those matters. Accordingly, we believe that new clause 3 is misconceived, and we cannot support it. If Opposition Members persist in wishing to press the matter to a Division, I will ask my hon. Friends to oppose them in the Lobby.
I wish to respond briefly, as I am anxious about the passage of time. A number of substantive points were made by hon. Members who spoke in favour of these amendments, but of course, Mr. Trimble was not one of them, which would not surprise most of us. He suggested on a couple of occasions that the entire concept would fall—I think that that was the phrase he used—if these amendments were agreed to. When we align that with some of the statements and references that we have just heard the Minister make, it would appear that the substance behind the IMC seems to have been agreed in advance, that any amendment is likely to be futile and that whatever deal has been arrived at is one of sum and substance.
The right hon. Member for Upper Bann suggests that if we tinker with the proposals at all, they will fall. I do not know whether that is because the entire Bill has been discussed between himself and Mr. Adams, who also happens to sit on the IRA army council, and agreed with him, and we will have to see whether that is coloured by the public protestations by Sinn Fein about opposition and non-co-operation with the IMC.
The other issue that leaves us somewhat lacking in information is the Minister's response to the timing. Under new clause 3, we attempted to try to tie down the issues so that the matter would be responded to and dealt with at a brief juncture. He now tells us that there will be a report by the IMC at six-monthly intervals. Given the precedents established by the decommissioning body in Northern Ireland—
May I clarify the matter for the hon. Gentleman? I apologise if I had not made the position clear. The international agreement, as I said, puts the commission on a fixed time scale to report at six-monthly intervals. The two Governments may also jointly ask it to make other reports.
I thank the Minister for that. The two Governments indeed may do so. We will wait and see whether there are any reports that do not amount to a string of beans in between the six-monthly intervals. The issue on which I wanted to elaborate slightly, however, was that the precedents are not good in that we have what amounts to an international decommissioning commission in Northern Ireland, which has been in operation for a significant period. It has not exactly been overburdened with work—that is being polite and very kind. In fact, it has cost millions of pounds but it has done virtually nothing. It reports very infrequently. Will the mighty international commission that we are being asked to endorse, without any amendments, it appears, be any more definitive? Will it take any more substantive action, or will it be a case yet again of an attempt to fudge an issue and sweep it under the carpet in an endeavour to try to get the show back on the road and to get devolution restored in the hope that eventually people will be worn down and accept the inevitable, as some people would try to present it?
To assist the Minister, I will repeat what I and some of my colleagues said: because of amendment No. 1 being similar in substance to amendment No. 64, we will not pursue amendment No. 64 to a Division. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment proposed: No. 1, in clause 1, page 1, line 11, at end insert—
'(1A) But, notwithstanding the provisions of that agreement, the Monitoring Commission shall consist of two members only, who shall be appointed by Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, and of whom one shall be from Northern Ireland.'.—[David Burnside.]