Northern Ireland

– in the House of Lords at 4:34 pm on 24 October 2001.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords 4:34, 24 October 2001

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, I shall make a Statement about developments in Northern Ireland. It is the Statement which I have been told so often I would never be able to make.

"Yesterday the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning reported that it had witnessed an event--which it regarded as significant--in which the IRA had put a quantity of arms beyond use.

"The materiel in question had included arms, ammunition and explosives. The commission was satisfied that the arms in question had been dealt with in accordance with the scheme and regulations. In other words, the IRA's act constituted an act of decommissioning under its statutory remit.

"The word 'historic' tends to be over-used about the Northern Ireland political process. There have been so many twists and turns, so many moments of optimism, so many setbacks along the way. But yesterday's move by the IRA is, in my view, unprecedented and genuinely historic. It takes the peace process on to a new political level.

"Rarely has the whole community been so united. As the Belfast Newsletter said this morning:

"for most people, Ulster this morning seems a more hopeful place in which space created by the IRA's unprecedented move will be seized by those with political vision and courage".

"From another perspective, as the Irish Times said:

"a rubicon has been crossed . . . a historic milestone has been passed. It is an affirmation by the republican movement--in tangible terms--that it cannot operate in both the paramilitary and political worlds".

"Let us recall why we got here. We got here through a widespread recognition--after thirty years of death, pain and misery--of the futility of violence. That was the spur and its memory should remain the spur to all of us.

"And let us remember just how far we have come in the last four years: the major constitutional changes, including the establishment of the principle of consent and the ending of Ireland's territorial claim to Northern Ireland. The new institutional architecture has been shown to work, and can and must be revived by yesterday's historic move. The Human Rights and Equality Commissions have been set up--and are hard at work.

"After much debate, an unprecedented new beginning to policing, with cross-community support, has been made.

"None of these has reached full fruition but all of them, we have been told, were impossible to accomplish. Yesterday another seemingly impossible achievement was brought about.

"This is the culmination of efforts by many people over many years, including my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, John Major, successive US Administrations, the republican leadership, which has shown itself to have the vision and confidence to bring an armed movement to the point of ceasefire, the honourable Member for Foyle and the party he leads, and the smaller pro-agreement parties.

"I pay tribute also to the right honourable Member for Upper Bann and his colleagues. Were it not for his persistence, willingness to take risks and sheer courage under attack, it is no exaggeration to say that yesterday's events are unlikely to have happened. It is a vivid illustration of the power of engagement, the powerlessness of detachment. It is those who have taken risks for peace who have achieved this progress, not those who have doubted from the sidelines.

"And of course I am sure the whole House would want to join me in thanking General John de Chastelain and his colleagues. They have shown endless patience and dignity. The best thanks we can give them is to let them get on with their task.

"Yesterday's events opened up opportunities and challenges--opportunities which we need to seize and challenges which we need to face in three areas.

"First, the political institutions which are the democratic core of the Belfast agreement--the Assembly, the Executive, the North-South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council--should now be restored to full operation as quickly as possible, and should operate in a stable and uninterrupted way. The decision of the Ulster Unionist Party today to put the Ministers back into government is a helpful step in creating a new dynamic.

"Secondly, we need to press on with the implementation of the agreement in all its aspects. I have placed the Government's response to the decommissioning commission's report in the Library of the House. But I should in particular mention that we will complete the implementation of the Patten report, including the review of the new arrangements to which we are already committed and the introduction of legislation to amend the Police Act 2000 to reflect more fully the Patten recommendations.

"We intend shortly to publish an implementation plan for the criminal justice review and draft legislation, and to introduce the legislation during the current session.

"And we will undertake a progressive rolling programme of security normalisation, reducing levels of troops and installations in Northern Ireland, as the security situation improves. Our aim is to secure as early a return as possible to normal security arrangements. That is the task which now confronts us in the period ahead.

"But I can announce a step in that direction today. The IRA's action in putting weapons beyond use has wide political significance. It also, in itself, makes a contribution to the improvement we all want to see in the security situation.

"In the immediate aftermath of yesterday's event, I have discussed the situation with my security advisers--including the Chief Constable and GOC. There is, of course, a significant continuing threat from republican and loyalist dissidents. Notwithstanding that, the Chief Constable confirms that yesterday's developments represent a real improvement. We therefore intend, as an immediate response to yesterday's developments, to demolish the observation tower on Sturgan mountain in South Armagh. Work on this is starting today.

"We will demolish one of the observation towers on Camlough mountain in South Armagh. Work on this is starting today. In addition we will demolish the supersangar at Newtownhamilton police station adjacent to the helicopter landing site. Work on that will begin tomorrow. We will also demolish the Magherafelt army base. Work on that will begin tomorrow.

"But there is a third priority. All paramilitary groups should now play their part in building on yesterday's progress. This is not just about decommissioning. When small children cannot go to school without being terrorised or innocent civilians cannot sleep in their beds without fear of bombs, the scale of the challenge facing us is evident. Some of the loyalist organisations have played a crucial part in the peace process. I now ask them to ask themselves what they can do to move the process forward. Whatever else, there must be an end to the mindless sectarian violence of recent weeks.

"There are other difficult legacies of the past. The early release scheme was, I know, one of the most painful and contentious aspects of the agreement. All qualifying prisoners have now been released. We and the Irish Government have now accepted that it would be a natural development of that scheme for outstanding prosecutions and extradition proceedings for offences committed before 10th April 1998 not to be pursued against supporters of organisations now on ceasefire. Both Governments have agreed to take such steps as are necessary to resolve the issue as soon as possible, and in any event by March 2002.

"Piece by piece the Belfast agreement is taking shape. As the Prime Minister said last night, we are a long way from completing our journey. There will no doubt be obstacles ahead, but at a time when the world is grappling with the effects of the most evil terrorism, and we see in the Middle East the awful consequences when political dialogue breaks down and opportunities are missed, I can tell the House that the political process in Northern Ireland is alive and moving forward. To sustain this will require hard work, steady nerves and the continued ability on all sides to reach out and make difficult compromises. The Government are ready and eager to play their part".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative 4:52, 24 October 2001

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal for repeating the Statement of his right honourable friend in another place. We on this side of the House welcome the general thrust of the Statement. Certainly, this is a step forward in the Northern Ireland peace process. There have been many positive changes especially to the constitution during the negotiations of the peace process, as pointed out in the Statement. The fact that there are two republican leaders taking part in the government of a part of the United Kingdom is remarkable and is certainly significant.

I join the noble and learned Lord in his compliments to the right honourable David Trimble and his thanks to General de Chastelain. With that go my thanks and praises to all Prime Ministers and former Secretaries of State who have worked so hard on the peace agreement. Two of my noble friends who are former Secretaries of State are in their places today. We owe them all a due debt of gratitude.

Where I start to part company with Her Majesty's Government is over the matter of further legislation to amend the Police Act 2000. I ask the noble and learned Lord to reassure the House on this matter, especially in relation to the appointment of convicted terrorists to any part of the new structures set up for policing Northern Ireland. Does the noble and learned Lord agree with me that there should be no further concessions to Sinn Fein/IRA in this context? Is the new legislation likely to come before the House shortly? Will it be dealt with in a rush, or will it just take its place in the normal day-to-day routines of your Lordships' House?

Furthermore, does the noble and learned Lord agree that today's act of decommissioning must be followed by a verifiable process which includes all IRA and so-called loyalist paramilitary weapons spread throughout the awful network of aggression and violence, and that all gang leaders from whatever part of the Province they come must get on the bandwagon and join the process? I hope that Her Majesty's Government will turn their attention to how they can start to make that happen after today's developments.

Can the noble and learned Lord also assure the House that General de Chastelain's remit, which runs out in February, will last, and be seen to last, to see the process through? I understand that the responsibility for verifying the process of all decommissioning remains firmly on the gallant general's shoulders. It is important that we do not lose him half-way through the process.

As to future security arrangements, will the noble and learned Lord reassure the House that no reductions of security forces will take place which could leave the people of the Province, and, in turn the whole nation, vulnerable to attack from dissidents from any organisation, especially in the light of this morning's statement by the Real IRA that it intends to take on the mantel of PIRA and continue the armed struggle? For those who do not know it, this follows the history of the republican movement in Ireland and is very depressing.

As the Statement says, there will be many obstacles ahead but the public decommissioning by PIRA is a very significant event in the history of Irish republicanism. Those who know something of the history will have some understanding of the ramifications; namely, the bureaucratic processes, the heart-rending and the arguments that must have gone on in republicanism for some time to arrive at a point where there has been at least some public decommissioning of arms. Although this is only another step on a long road, this event should not be treated lightly.

Photo of Lord Smith of Clifton Lord Smith of Clifton Liberal Democrat 4:56, 24 October 2001

My Lords, in thanking the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal for repeating the Statement made earlier in another place, I too wish to associate these Benches with the main points made in it. It has been an extraordinarily taxing and exasperating process over the past eight years or so. Patience, dogged determination and mental agility in the highest degree have been called for, and in the end forthcoming, from all those involved: politicians and officials alike from both sides of the Anglo-Irish divide. I witnessed their performance for eight years, and I pay tribute to their skills. Their efforts and the complex meanderings of the whole tortuous process will provide further employment for Irish historians for many years to come. Irish historians are about the most viable and enduring industry on both sides of the Border.

The role played by the USA in achieving this outcome cannot be stressed too much. President Clinton was quite remarkable in the energy and time that he devoted during his period in office to the problems of Northern Ireland, and it is good to see that his initiatives and determination have been followed up by the Bush Administration.

In acknowledging the various contributions over the years I also emphasise the persistent assiduity of Mr John Hume whose initiatives early on began the process with the Hume-Adams talks. To this was later added, as the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, said, the remarkable negotiating skills of the right honourable David Trimble. It was fitting that both of them received the Nobel prize. Not merely did they receive that prize but they have continued to live up to it.

IRA decommissioning is something of a watershed. There is still much to be done to promote an authentic democratic polity and its concomitant a liberal civic society. We wish Northern Ireland God speed in that vital regard. There is the immediate problem to which the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, referred, of the position of the loyalist paramilitaries. I know that the Government are fully apprised of the problem. Can the noble and learned Lord indicate how the loyalist groups might be persuaded to accept the Belfast Agreement and join with others to secure a lasting and prosperous peace in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords 5:01, 24 October 2001

My Lords, may I say how grateful I am for the generous responses from both Front Benches? The one thing that unites us in this Parliament, not simply in this House, is that, whatever occurs, at the moment the motive that drives us entirely is the ambition that our fellow citizens in Northern Ireland should have the opportunity of a decent ordered life in--as the noble Lord, Lord Smith, said--a liberal civic society.

It is extraordinary that two republican leaders have been so significantly engaged with a government over part of the United Kingdom. It seems to demonstrate--the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and I are agreed--that the recognition dawns far too late that we must live together in whatever community with whatever differences of view or differences of tradition or religion. The only way to live together is to accommodate the fact that people are different.

The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, asked a number of questions on the Police Act. I specifically mentioned that Act in repeating Dr Reid's Statement. We remain committed to the implementation of effective and representative policing set out in the Patten report and the implementation plan published in August. We are proceeding on that basis. We are committed to the timetable in the August plan. The police name changes on 4th November. The board assumes its powers. At the same time new recruits enter training.

The implementation plan announced, as your Lordships will remember, a review to start next March and to be completed by October 2002. The plan also announced a number of legislative amendments to be made following that. Therefore, that indicates my answer on the parliamentary timetable. I stress that that is my present understanding. Things change so rapidly in the Northern Ireland context that sometimes, as we know too well in this House, one has to alter arrangements for a greater purpose.

As is well known, the appointments have already been made to the board. Sinn Fein did not nominate anyone. A question was put about the verifiable continuing process. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, is quite right that the effects of the act of decommissioning come to an end in February next year. That means that if we want to continue--I say in parenthesis that it seems to me to be overwhelmingly likely that we shall--I will have to come to this House to ask for an extension of the decommissioning act.

I personally of course hope that General de Chastelain and his two colleagues will continue their selfless work. The noble Lord is also right that it is not simply the Provisional IRA that needs to be part of a verifiable process, the loyalist groups do and so do all splinter groups from the Provisional IRA. Until the noble Lord mentioned the matter, I did not know that the Real IRA had said that it had taken on the mantle of the Provisional IRA. It is a small group. It is a vicious and violent group. One of its members has just been sent to prison for five years. If one is allowed to applaud a fellow human being going to prison, it seems to me that that is the occasion for significant applause. Furthermore, the alleged leader of the Provisional IRA is in custody in the Republic of Ireland awaiting trial. It would not be appropriate to say anything more about the course of his trial.

The loyalist groups are not monolithic. They have different views. If what David Irvine said is correctly reported, the situation seems to be rather more encouraging than some responses from other leaders of groups. They are small but dangerous groups.

The noble Lord's final question related to security. He wanted my assurance that there would be no reduction of security in the wider sense leaving the people of the Province not properly protected. I give that assurance. Plainly, in the past 30 years no Secretary of State has ever made decisions of this nature and quality without taking the most careful advice from the appropriate agencies.

I absolutely endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, speaking on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, said. We owe a significant debt to the United States. Both administrations of President Clinton and President Bush have fully engaged themselves. Although President Bush's administration has been for a brief time, it has been a critical time. John Hume and David Trimble are extremely distinguished. Not only did they gain the Nobel Peace Prize but both were--rather more importantly I think in the scale of things--given honorary doctorates by the University of Wales.

I am cautioning myself about being optimistic, but this is a sea change. It is quite extraordinary. I do not think that the full magnitude of it has entered our minds because it has happened so recently.

Photo of Lord Rogan Lord Rogan UUP 5:06, 24 October 2001

My Lords, today I stand here as a proud Ulsterman and the first member of my party in history to speak in your Lordships' House following an act of decommissioning by a republican paramilitary group. As my party leader, David Trimble, said last night:

"This is a day we were told would never happen".

But it has. I would like to pay tribute to him for his brave and resilient stance over the past three-and-a-half years in seeking to implement the objectives of the Ulster Unionist Party--democracy and decommissioning. If he had indeed listened to the advice of a number of other politicians in Northern Ireland--I am thinking here in particular of representatives of the Democratic Unionist Party--we would never have been in the position that we are today.

Does the Minister agree that yesterday's beginning to decommissioning by the Provisional IRA should mark the start of a process which will be completed prior to the expiry of the mandate of the international independent commission on decommissioning in February 2002?

Will the Minister further agree that a move now by so-called loyalist paramilitaries to decommissioning their arsenals of illegal weapons and explosives will give a further boost to the prospects of permanent peace in Northern Ireland? It is only when all the illegal armaments in Ulster and the Republic of Ireland are really put beyond use that we can believe that our Troubles of these past centuries are really at an end.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rogan. I endorse again what the noble Lord said about the right honourable David Trimble. I think that I have dealt with the question of February 2002.

I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord in answer to his first question. To be quite candid with the House, I agree with the timescale that the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, had in mind and the fact that, by necessary implication, we shall almost inevitably be looking for an extension of that period in terms of legislation.

I entirely agree with the second point of the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, about the loyalist paramilitaries. If they have the imagination and if their heart is big enough they should see that plainly we must maintain the dynamic. Mr Trimble responded today immediately. I hope that the British Government are seen to have responded immediately. It was said that we must try and respond with a generous and full heart. That applies to everyone.

The problems of other weapons used for the kind of intimidation--blackmail and general threats--that we discussed yesterday in this Chamber remain a continuing blot on a society which could otherwise be so happy.

Photo of Lord Mayhew of Twysden Lord Mayhew of Twysden Conservative

My Lords, may I too express gratitude for much of what is contained in the Statement? The Government have succeeded in at last laying hold of something which many apparently thought was impossible. It was considered to be a will-o'-the-wisp and incapable of being made real. For that, I wish to congratulate them. In particular, along with the congratulations that have been made so widely today, I wish to add mine for Mr Trimble and General de Chastelain.

For many of us and, I suspect, for the noble and learned Lord himself, it will be a struggle to accept the amnesty that has been announced in the Statement. We must recognise that not only is it a risk as regards peace, but that it is also an act of injustice. As regards the rest, I wish to express my agreement with what has been said by the noble and learned Lord. This is a sea change and I believe that it will be seen to mark a real advance in the process.

In conclusion, is it not right that we should all remember how many continue illegally to hold arms and munitions in Northern Ireland and how far the Provisional IRA itself still has to go in order to fulfil the Belfast agreement? In calculating what reductions in security may be appropriate in response to this real advance, will the Secretary of State continue to exercise true Scottish perception and caution?

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, knowing John Reid as I do, I think I can say that those elements are bred in the bone. The noble and learned Lord is quite right in his final remarks. That is why Dr Reid has taken particular care deliberately to underline the fact that, as is his duty, he had taken advice from the GOC and the Chief Constable.

The noble and learned Lord speaks as a former Attorney-General and as a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I agree with him in his remarks that no one who believes in the rigour of the law likes to see anything other than that rigour of the law applied. I have not used the word "amnesty"; I said simply that outstanding prosecutions and extradition proceedings would not be pursued in respect of those supporters of organisations not on ceasefire and that the precise mechanisms have not yet fully been worked through. But it is right to say that those who may have committed crimes and go unpunished bring a consequential injustice. It was for that reason that I stated last night--knowing nothing of the contents of this Statement--that it was probable that we would all have to compromise, unwillingly, but faithful to the purpose which must drive us on. I do not pretend that my views are any different from those of the noble and learned Lord.

Photo of Lord Eames Lord Eames Crossbench

My Lords, I too should like to thank the noble and learned Lord for repeating the Statement made in another place. I wonder whether he would agree with me that, in the natural euphoria over what has taken place, there are certain ingredients which this House should not ignore?

One of those is a sense of perspective. Anyone who knows or reads about the history of Irish republicanism cannot doubt that what has taken place over the past few days is monumental. It represents a total sea change for that element of Irish life. To that extent, this is a historic moment and one that should not be underestimated. However, would the noble and learned Lord agree with me as regards a view that I know has been expressed recently in a few quarters; namely, that the real test of what we have been amazed to witness is that of what will happen now? This is not the end of the peace process. It does not mark the end of our worries, our problems and our suffering. It is an important stage along the road.

It is extremely important to remember two aspects of that. I beg the Minister to take this seriously. First, a connection must be made as regards what we have been amazed to see and admire over the past few days. I refer to the connection that must be made between the recent events and what is happening at the ground level. The attitudes of councillors and the attitudes of local representatives at community level must be addressed. It will be no use if we applaud this "earth-shaking event"--the words used this morning by one newspaper--but then find that the problems of north Belfast continue. There is no sense in applauding what has been done by the Irish Republican Army and what has been said by Sinn Fein, and then finding that Protestant homes continue to be targeted, pensioners attacked and children assaulted on their way to school. Unless we witness a sea change at that level, many people will continue to be sceptical about the euphoria which, quite naturally, has been expressed in regard to the recent developments.

The second aspect that I ask the Minister to take on board and convey to his colleagues is that the response we now seek in what is a new scenario is a new sense of hope for the ordinary, decent Roman Catholics and Protestants of Northern Ireland. The stop-go scenario of the local administration, brought about by party political reasons which we all accept, has become a generally frustrating influence for all people right across the community. People comment that it is impossible to predict the future. It is impossible to be certain that bread-and-butter issues such as hospitals, education and transport will be dealt with by the devolved administration. As a result, the natural reaction has been a growing sense of frustration with what many had welcomed; namely, devolution. I hope that the Minister will take seriously the danger emanating from the general sense of frustration with the stop-go scenario and that he will convey that difficulty to his colleagues in another place. If we can transmit a vision of hope for Northern Ireland, one that has been rekindled over the past 48 hours, then a great deal will have been accomplished.

I should like to make a final point. Does the Minister agree that, so far in our debate, one element has not been mentioned? I speak from pastoral experience. I wonder whether the House is conscious of the many, many people who have found the events of the past two days almost impossible to contemplate in terms of their sorrow, suffering and hurt? I refer to the bereaved families of those who have been murdered in the terrorist campaign and who now say, "What was the point?". Is human history now going to move on, and will people like myself and my colleagues be left to try to teach a sense of proportion in the healing process?

I believe that those are the considerations that we must keep on board as we thank God for the progress that has been made over the past 48 hours.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I agree with what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Eames. Yesterday evening the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, initiated a debate in this House in which many moving speeches were made in respect of the issues raised by the noble Lord in his remarks. The debate was directed entirely towards the victims of paramilitary violence in Northern Ireland, whether they had been driven away from their own part of the United Kingdom to live in England or Wales, or whether they remained fearful in their own homes. I think that I have paraphrased fairly what was said by most noble Lords and certainly what was said most eloquently by the noble Baroness.

I recognise and acknowledge the points made by the noble Lord. We are asking those who have suffered to commit themselves to great acts. That is because the vast majority of us have not suffered, but we can recognise that it is unimaginable suffering. The noble Lord also asked about a sense of perspective. Of course I agree with him. He asked what would happen now. In response to that I think that the central and critical point, which cannot be overlaboured, is that we must maintain the dynamic. The Government have responded very promptly--and that response has nothing to do with party politics. We are grateful for the support that Mr Duncan Smith has given and for the tone of the questioning here. General de Chastelain must continue his work. Attitudes on the ground of course have got to change, and there are some glimmerings of minimal hope in the earlier responses from some of the loyalist groups.

I recognise and respect the scepticism which those who live in Northern Ireland are bound to feel. Their scepticism will be diminished only by a proven improvement in their quality of life. I agree with the implication of the noble Lord, Lord Eames, that they are not really asking for anything other than what they are entitled to--namely, the opportunity to live a decent life and the hope that their children may have a better one. It is not an enormous ambition, but they have been failed over a very long period of time.

Photo of Baroness Park of Monmouth Baroness Park of Monmouth Conservative

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Minister for what he said about the tenor of the debate last night.

If, as the Minister has told us, the Government are to consider taking no further action against people who might otherwise have been tried and convicted for murder, would it be unreasonable in the negotiations which I presume will continue with the heads of the parties--in particular with Sinn Fein, IRA and the loyalist groups--to say to them that there could be a quid pro quo for this by them putting the word out that everyone who has been exiled shall be allowed to return?

It is not an enormous gesture, but it would be an extremely important one as far as the communities are concerned. Nothing could give a simpler but greater assurance that things are changing than that. It is in their power to do it; they have been able to turn the tap off before. Presumably they could say to the paramilitaries who are terrorising their own communities, "You will do this no longer and the people you have expelled will return and be left to lead a peaceful life". I hope that may be considered as a quid pro quo.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I recognise and sympathise with the thrust of what the noble Baroness said. I am not myself a participant in any negotiations, but I shall certainly personally ensure that the point that was made, and well made, in our earlier debates on these topics is transmitted to the Secretary of State.

Photo of Lord Monson Lord Monson Crossbench

My Lords, I hope that I will not be accused of puncturing the prevailing euphoria, but what proportion of the IRA's weapons will be put "beyond use", to use the noble and learned Lord's words, and how permanently will they remain beyond use? After all, pouring concrete into a bunker containing weapons does not automatically guarantee their permanent and total destruction.

Secondly, how lethal are the weapons which will be initially decommissioned? Are we talking about rifles, revolvers and automatic pistols, many of them of 19th-century or early 20th-century design, or are we talking about the serious stuff--mortars, rocket launchers, heavy machine guns, surface-to-air missiles and Semtex?

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, the answers to the noble Lord's questions are to be found in the report of General de Chastelain, which is dated 23rd October of this year. He reported yesterday to Dr Reid and to Mr John O'Donoghue, who is the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in the Irish Republic. The report states:

"On 6th August 2001 the Commission reported that agreement had been reached with the IRA on a method to put IRA arms completely and verifiably beyond use. This would be done in such a way as to involve no risk to the public and avoid the possibility of misappropriation by others".

The critical paragraph--and, after all, one is not talking about a babe-in-arms; General de Chastelain knows the context in which he is operating--states:

""We have now witnessed an event--which we regard as significant--in which the IRA has put a quantity of arms completely beyond use".

And, in regard to the noble Lord's question,

"The material in question includes arms, ammunition and explosives".

The report goes on to state in paragraph 3:

"We are satisfied that the arms in question have been dealt with in accordance with the scheme and regulations".

That, of course, is the statutory decommissioning scheme. The report continues:

"We are also satisfied that it would not further the process of putting all arms beyond use were we to provide further details of this event".

Paragraph 4 states:

"We will continue our contact with the IRA representative in the pursuit of our mandate".

Therefore I am not in a position--nor would it be prudent, sensible or responsible--to go beyond what the General said as recently as yesterday.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip 5:26, 24 October 2001

My Lords, with apologies to the noble Lord, Lord Chan, who is waiting patiently to make his maiden speech, I have been asked to remind noble Lords that our first debate was interrupted by Statements. Of our two-and-a-half hours we have already used 41 minutes; therefore 109 minutes remain. The time is now 5.26 p.m.; the debate will therefore conclude in 109 minutes' time at 7.15 p.m. I should also mention that we are near the start of the speakers' list and we are already running seven minutes over time. If Back-Benchers take more than their allocated time it will be at the expense of Front Bench spokesmen. Noble Lords should remember that as soon as the clock shows five minutes their five minutes' speaking time is up.