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My Lords, with permission, I shall repeat a Statement about developments in Northern Ireland during the summer made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in another place. The Statement is as follows:
"First, I know the House will want to join me in marking, with sadness, the passing of two very significant figures from the Northern Ireland political stage, Mo Mowlam and Gerry Fitt. They were politicians of great courage, passion and, above all, humanity, and we all, in different ways, feel their loss.
"But, of course, it was crucial that the words were carried through in actions, actions that had to be independently verified. Two weeks ago, the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning reported that the IRA had placed its arms completely and verifiably beyond use.
"Not many years ago, unionists and republicans were agreed on one thing at least: the IRA would never give up its guns; it would never give up its explosives: 'Not a bullet. Not an ounce'. But the 'impossible' has happened: the war machine that brought death and destruction to thousands of people in Northern Ireland, Great Britain and beyond—and indeed to this Parliament—has gone. It is something that all Members of this House have wanted to see happen for so many years, and many feared they never would.
"But, as immensely significant as IRA decommissioning undoubtedly is, there is more to be done in demonstrating that the IRA has put paramilitary activity behind it for good.
"The next formal report from the Independent Monitoring Commission, focusing on paramilitary activity, is expected in the next week or so. That will give an indication of whether progress has been made in meeting the equally important requirement for a verifiable end to all paramilitary and criminal activity. But as it will have covered only several weeks since
"The Government believe that the interests of everyone in Northern Ireland are best served by local decision making through a devolved assembly. That requires the rebuilding of trust and confidence and we recognise that that will take time. But if these IMC reports confirm an end to IRA activity, then the time will have come to move the process forward.
"The summer also saw a murderous loyalist feud, the vicious attacks on the police and Army by loyalist paramilitaries and sickening sectarian attacks, including obscene threats to desecrate graves in Carnmoney cemetery—all of which disfigured Northern Ireland in the eyes of the world.
"Of course this outrageous behaviour appalled the overwhelming majority of people in the unionist community and I very much welcomed the opportunity to stand with the honourable Member for North Antrim in his constituency, which had seen sectarian attacks on schools, and join him in condemning this barbarous behaviour.
"It has taken a long time for the republican movement to acknowledge that violence does not pay. It is high time that the loyalist paramilitaries learnt it too. My decision last month to specify the UVF/Red Hand Commando sent out a clear signal to those who would persist with that philosophy that they are wrong and that they must stop immediately.
"There remains outstanding the question of whether a financial penalty should be imposed on the PUP following the recommendation made to me earlier in the year by the IMC. I intend to watch developments carefully over the next few months, in particular the role that the PUP plays in attempting to secure peace and stability in the loyalist community, before reaching a decision on this in the context of the January report from the commission to which I have referred.
"With my deputy, the honourable Member for Delyn, David Hanson, I have been visiting loyalist communities, meeting community representatives, clergy, teachers and local residents. Where any community has legitimate concerns, we will address them. But it is equally important that there is political leadership to enable these communities to join in the huge progress that Northern Ireland has made in recent years.
"The summer also demonstrated beyond doubt that there is one organisation that we can all rely on to uphold the right of everyone to live in peace. Officers of the Police Service of Northern Ireland have displayed exemplary courage and professionalism in protecting life and preserving order, despite being attacked with live rounds, blast bombs, petrol bombs and other missiles. We should be under no illusion, following the Whiterock parade, that loyalist paramilitaries were clearly intent on murdering police officers. Police videos also showed some Orangemen taking off their collarettes and hurling rocks at the police front lines—behaviour that I know the vast majority in the Orange Order deplore.
"Even with those vicious attacks on them—and let us not forget that nearly 100 of them sustained serious injuries in a single weekend—the police remained committed to their task. But they can be effective only if they receive the support of all sections of the community in Northern Ireland. Time and time again they have demonstrated their determination to protect all the citizens of Northern Ireland. It is time that everyone in Northern Ireland acknowledged this—from Sinn Fein to the Orange Order to the loyalist communities—and got behind the police to support them in doing their job.
"The transformation of policing in Northern Ireland in line with the Patten reforms is one of the great success stories of the Good Friday agreement. It has led to the policing arrangements in Northern Ireland being admired around the world as a model for change. We remain fully committed to that model in the future.
"A key element in that success is the role played by the Policing Board. I can tell the House today that I have decided to reconstitute the board from
"So what do the months ahead hold for Northern Ireland? The Government will continue to do all they can to facilitate progress towards restoration. But we hope that all Northern Ireland's politicians will seize the opportunity that this summer's developments present.
"The Government will also take forward work in implementing those aspects of the Belfast agreement where work is incomplete or ongoing. We will, for example, continue to support those bodies and institutions that work for the benefit of Northern Ireland on a north/south and east/west basis.
"Some areas of the joint declaration of 2003 were dependent on acts of completion by the IRA. And difficult though some of these will be for some people to accept, there should be no surprises since the Government have long made clear that certain developments would follow on such acts of completion.
"First: normalisation. In the 2003 Joint Declaration, the Government set out proposals to normalise the security profile across Northern Ireland when there was an enabling environment. Following the IRA statement, I published an updated programme, on the advice of the Chief Constable and the General Officer Commanding.
"I want to assure the House that my first and over-riding priority—and that of the Chief Constable and the GOC—remains the safety and security of the people of Northern Ireland. We will not do anything that will compromise that. But the security arrangements we have in place must be in proportion to the level of threat. The normalisation programme published in August, a copy of which I have had placed in the Library, will see the creation of an environment that will allow the return of conventional policing across Northern Ireland, something which all sections of the community should welcome.
"The other commitment set out in the Joint Declaration was that we would reinvigorate discussions with the political parties on the shared goal of devolving criminal justice and policing. The Government will want to explore the scope for doing that over the months ahead. In the meantime we will bring forward enabling legislation for later implementation, when there is agreement among the parties in Northern Ireland.
"We will also take forward plans to appoint a victims' commissioner. I very much hope to make an announcement about this shortly because the many victims of Northern Ireland's troubles deserve much better recognition and support. We will never forget them.
"The House will know that we have undertaken to legislate to deal with the position of individuals connected with paramilitary crimes committed before the Belfast agreement, dealing with those suspects categorised as "on the runs". As the House will recall, these proposals were published alongside the Joint Declaration as long ago as May 2003. This is not an amnesty. Nevertheless, the implementation of those proposals will be painful for many people. I fully understand this. But the Government believe that it is a necessary part of the process of closing the door on violence for ever.
"Notwithstanding the recent turbulence, huge progress has been made this summer. We need to build on that progress.
"The people of Northern Ireland have shown remarkable patience and resilience over the years. We owe it to them not to be deflected from doing all we can to see a peaceful, stable and prosperous Northern Ireland in which all traditions are cherished and respected. They deserve no less".
That, my Lords, concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement of the Secretary of State in another place. I join him in his tribute to Mo Mowlam and Gerry Fitt. I got to know Mo better while she was chairman of the Millennium Commission than I did when she was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, but I knew Gerry well for many years.
My first meeting with Mo was when I was representing the commission in Stormont and she was due to announce the project later known as the Odyssey. She did not seem to be in the vicinity, so I went off to look for her. I found her in her office in Stormont, wig on the table, office in a fairly shambolic state, on the telephone to her husband trying to sort out details of a house she was trying to move out of or into—I did not discover which. But in a few moments, we were arm in arm, walking down the corridor, and she was a real pro on stage launching the project.
My first memory of Gerry was when I came to Belfast and was honoured at the City Hall, having won a gold medal. Gerry made a welcoming and congratulatory speech. Little did I think that I would spend as long as I have with those two notable characters in politics. We shall seriously miss them both for their warmth, determination and humour.
I, too, welcome the IRA decommissioning statement. Better late than never. It is a pity it did not happen five years ago; but it did not, and now we have to move forward and make the best of what we have.
Does the Minister agree that while the announcement on IRA decommissioning was undoubtedly welcome, it is only a first step on the road to building the trust and confidence that is necessary if we are eventually to see a restoration of devolved government? As the Secretary of State says in his Statement, there is more to be done—a few brief words encompassing half a world. In the light of that Statement, does the Minister share my view that further steps are now essential if the republican movement is to demonstrate clearly an irreversible shift to exclusively peaceful and democratic politics?
Does the noble Lord agree that all forms of criminal activity must come to a complete and permanent end and that this must include beatings, shootings, intimidation, racketeering, smuggling, armed robberies and the exiling of people from their homes? Does he also agree that it is no longer acceptable to have Sinn Fein Ministers in the government of Northern Ireland who are not prepared to accept the legitimacy of the police and the courts? Will he please make it clear that support for the police and criminal justice system is an absolute requirement of serving in a newly formed Executive?
On the devolution of policing and justice, does the noble Lord agree that this could happen only in circumstances where the Executive and Assembly had shown themselves to be stable over a period of years?
We strongly join the noble Lord in condemning totally the attacks that took place last month. Not only are such activities wrong, and can have no place in a democratic society, but those who carry them out do nothing but undermine the cause they claim to support. We once again congratulate the officers of the PSNI on their courage and professionalism in the light of these horrendous attacks by loyalists of all people. Will the noble Lord give the House an assurance that the police and all other criminal justice agencies will pursue those responsible with the utmost vigour?
Most people in Northern Ireland feel a sense of disgust at the way in which the so-called loyalist brigadiers appear to strut around the place with impunity. We support the Secretary of State's action to specify the UVF/Red Hand Commando. Will the Minister make it clear to the House that no effort will be spared in tackling these thugs and gangsters and the criminal empires from which, in a number of cases, they all too visibly profit. We hope that the agency will get some of those profits back.
On policing, will the Minister give the House a cast-iron guarantee that no person about whom there is credible intelligence of involvement with an illegal paramilitary organisation will be allowed to join the PSNI, the part-time reserve or the proposed police community support officers or any other wing of the criminal justice agencies?
I note what the Secretary of State says about the reconstitution of the Policing Board. Will the Minister elaborate a little on that? Who will be on it and why is it taking until next April to reconstitute a board which has already been out of date for some six months?
Furthermore, on the subject of "on the runs", will the noble Lord confirm that the legislation we believe will be introduced later this month or next will include proper provision for those seeking to return to Northern Ireland to appear in court and enter a plea in the normal way? Will he undertake not to risk devolving criminal justice until Sinn Fein is fully on side and the Assembly is well tried and tested?
We await with interest the appointment of the victims' commissioner. Victims certainly need more care and attention than they have had to date.
Our position concerning the OTRs is well understood. Will the noble Lord give the House an assurance that not only is there no amnesty, but that each and every one will have to go through the due process of law, even if it leads only to a conviction, sentence and immediate release on licence?
Finally, the Secretary of State mentioned restorative justice. Will the noble Lord assure the House that restorative justice will remain firmly within the criminal justice system and that there are no plans to subcontract it to the thugs of west Belfast or other similar areas?
My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I join the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, in adding to the observations made in the Statement relating to the loss of Gerry Fitt and Mo Mowlam. I knew Mo Mowlam 20 or 30 years ago, when she was a lecturer at the University of Newcastle, and I was immediately struck by her vibrant and attractive personality. That was something that stayed with her and helped her in her role of midwife to the Belfast agreement. Gerry Fitt was known to all of us as a very courageous and doughty political leader. He had qualities that were very necessary to the restoration of a democratic society in Northern Ireland. We shall miss them both.
We on these Benches welcome the IRA statement of
We look forward to the publication of the forthcoming IMC report and will study it very carefully to assess whether there is still IRA involvement in criminal activity or in paramilitary beatings across Northern Ireland. Does the Minister agree that one way in which the IRA can help others to gain trust in its good faith is by publicly stating that anyone who has been exiled from their home by the IRA during the course of the troubles is free to return home safely and without fear of retribution?
We welcome the decision of the Secretary of State to specify the UVF. While it is important for the Government to be aware of genuine grievances from the loyalist community, does the Minister agree that it is essential to be firm with paramilitary groups to show them that violence does not pay and that they should properly present their grievances through debate and political dialogue? We welcome the reference in the Statement to the attitude of Unionist leaders to the violence over the summer, but it must be even stronger. They must exert more influence and demonstrate greater leadership, as should the officers of the Orange order. It is their half of the community that spawns loyalist paramilitaries, so it behoves them to deal with it more forcefully.
We on these Benches certainly associate ourselves with the praise given to the police, who frankly displayed exemplary restraint during the period of loyalist riots and must be commended for it. But while we agree with the devolution of policing and justice functions to the Assembly, when it is restored, can the Minister guarantee that that will not happen until the Assembly has proved to be effective and sustainable? Does he agree that the worst thing for policing in Northern Ireland would for it to be devolved, only for control to revert to Westminster a couple of months later if the Assembly were to collapse again under another political crisis?
Finally, I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, said about legislation for on-the-runs. It is vital that the needs and views of the victims come first. Can the Minister give us that guarantee, as I am sure that he will, and can he also state categorically that those who make use of this legislation will be released on licence and that the Government will be firm in revoking those licences if it is shown that a person becomes involved once again in violence?
My Lords, I am most grateful for the two responses from the Front Benches to the Statement. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, about it being better late than never; but it has happened, that is the point, and it is no good saying that it is not going to happen or that it has not happened. It has happened—late, but it has happened. We have to seize the opportunity. As the Statement from my right honourable friend made clear, it is a first step—a major momentous first step, but still a first step, and there are other issues.
As the Statement said, we need to have two IMC reports because this month is too close to the end of July, and we had the decommissioning report only in September. So it would not be reasonable to take only one report, and we have requested a second report in January. That will in some ways be the key to seeing the overview, because I cannot prejudge what will happen with the report this month.
On the point about all criminal activity needing to end, there is no qualification: it has got to finish, and it has got to be normal. I do not want to say "normal" like England, Scotland and Wales—but that is normal. Here we have communities that have difficulties that have to be dealt with, but not in the way in which they have had to be dealt with in Northern Ireland. We can recognise the difference. It has got to be normal; there will be no acceptance of criminal activity or vigilantes, or anything like that. That has got to end. What is more, we must be told that it has ended by the independent authorities.
As for the police and the courts, there are things that we want to happen in the next few months. We want Sinn Fein members to take their place on the policing board, and we see no reason why they should not. That will be one to decide at the appropriate opportunity. I am not going to prejudge the issue about what should happen if they do or do not; the fact of the matter is that the board must be reconstituted under the d'Hondt formula. Sinn Fein would have the opportunity to take two seats, I believe, because under the process there would be four for the DUP and two each for the other three parties. We want Sinn Fein to take those two seats up, and there is no reason why they should not—but I believe that we should save all other comments until that decision arrives. I believe that that would be the best way in which to approach that matter.
As for the devolution of criminal justice matters, we must be absolutely clear on that matter. We will create the legislation that enables it to happen, but it will not happen until both Houses—because it will come to both Houses—are satisfied that there is an environment that is sustainable in the long term. As has rightly been said, it would be negative beyond belief to do it and then have to pull it back in a short period of time. We have gone through the process once; the Assembly has been suspended for three years; when it is up and running again, it must be for the long run. There must be no time limit—it must not be thought, "Give it another go and see how it goes for a short period". It has got to be up and running and sustainable.
On the issue of who will join the police and the community support officers, we are following the Patten proposals. As the Secretary of State said, there is no chance of people being in the paramilitary one day and in police uniform the next. That will cover those convicted and those associated with terrorism; it will simply not be allowed. We want a police service that people can trust, so there has to be a building of confidence, with the normal process of applying to join the police—and the normal criteria for joining the police will apply to the community support officers as well.
As for seeking out criminality and the proceeds of crime, the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 passed through this House, the same as in the other place. It started off when I was a Home Office Minister when I was in this House, although it was probably a bit low-key. It was one of those Acts of Parliament that not too many people bothered with as it went through. But the instrument that Parliament established under that Act is probably the most powerful public servant in the realm—the person who heads up that recovery agency—because we are going for the Mr Bigs all over. This is not a Northern Ireland issue alone; the problem is all over the UK and includes the drug barons and everybody else who gets other people to do their dirty work for them and who never turn up in court, who have the lifestyle of a criminal. That is what the Assets Recovery Agency is for. No effort will be spared in pursuing the issue.
As for the on-the-runs, I must ask the House to await the publication of the legislation, because it has not been published—and until it is finally published, one cannot be absolutely certain about it. I realise that the issue will be contentious, and I do not make light of it at all, but we are not talking about an amnesty. There will be a process of licensing involving the criminal justice system and the courts. If that is breached, full sanctions will be imposed, which may involve imprisonment. It will be a difficult process. We need to do it to enable us to put the past behind us but to have it codified. It is not simply a matter of wiping the slate clean. A process will operate within the criminal justice system.
As regards the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, on restorative justice, the answer is "yes". The police will carry out investigations. The schemes will deal with low level cases of criminal behaviour, not major ones. They will be referred by the statutory criminal justice agencies. The PSNI will be informed of all referrals. The police will be aware of all the referrals. They will determine whether it is necessary to instigate an investigation in individual cases before they are referred to the PPS for a decision on their suitability for restorative action within a community based scheme. Therefore to that extent the police are part of the process of restorative justice.
I turn to the proposals for the "on the runs" with regard to the ordinary courts and the criminal justice system. They are designed to deal with the specific situation that arises from moving out of conflict. We see the proposals that were published just over two years ago as a way to achieve that. We are not talking about the ordinary courts; a special process will be set up in the legislation but it will be part of the criminal justice system and will involve licensing.
I have covered many of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton. Time is required to enable trust to be built on all sides. Statements are okay. The statement made in July was very welcome, but after that we needed action. We believe that we have seen action in the form of decommissioning and the accompanying statements. Confidence building on all sides is taking place. There will be calls for everyone to make all kinds of statements. I shall not call for that. However, the parties concerned know that if they are to take forward the process with a degree of trust, it is beneficial for them to bend over backwards to show the other community or the other tradition that they are serious in what they say. Issues such as that of people coming back to Northern Ireland free of the fear of being attacked are very important. Such attacks are part of criminal activity which is outlawed under the schemes that we are discussing. If we are ending all criminal activity, there should not be a problem. However, the organisations concerned know what needs to be said to build confidence. With good will and a degree of trust, which has not hitherto existed, that can be achieved.
We have a golden, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity here and it would be very sad if it did not work out. People of good will are involved. We shall have to wait to see what happens. However, the independent monitoring commissions form part of the comfort blanket for all sections of the community, including both Houses of Parliament, and will enable us to take the necessary decisions.
My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for making the Statement. I wholeheartedly condemn the despicable violence that occurred and was witnessed throughout Northern Ireland over the summer.
I wish to comment on the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton. The Ulster Unionist Party, and I as president of the Ulster Unionist Party, absolutely deplore that violence. We are for law and order and we support the PSNI.
I should also like to pay tribute to Mo Mowlam and Gerry Fitt. I refer especially in this House to Lord Fitt. Lord Fitt and I differed on many things but we were firm friends. I was honoured that Gerry felt that I was a friend of his. We differed on the big political debate in Northern Ireland—obviously, he was a nationalist, I was a Unionist. We differed on many economic issues. We certainly differed on social issues. Gerry's social drink was a large gin and tonic; mine was a small gin and tonic.
If I may lighten the mood for a moment, Gerry Fitt represented West Belfast for many years in the other place. His constituents attacked him when he showed that he was against violence. A photograph appeared in the local papers when Gerry's house was attacked violently one night. The photograph showed Gerry, having risen from his bed, wearing a singlet and with a gun in his hand, protecting his wife and family. Thereafter, the wags in Belfast called Gerry, "the fastest gun in the vest".
I understand that General de Chastelain is scheduled to return to Northern Ireland at the end of this month. Will the Minister confirm that he is doing so to facilitate loyalist decommissioning? Which loyalist group is General de Chastelain planning to meet first? Will the Minister confirm that leaders of Sinn Fein/IRA, Messrs Adams and McGuinness, were made fully conversant of the plans to disband the three home service battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment before the officers and men of those battalions were so informed?
My Lords, I am grateful for the statement by the noble Lord regarding support for the police, particularly in view of his important position in the Ulster Unionist Party. I say without qualification that that is extremely welcome. I realise that the noble Lord did not have to say that. However, it is important that it was said and is on the record.
I, too, recall the photograph of Gerry Fitt mentioned by the noble Lord. At that time Gerry Fitt and I were both Members of the other place. It showed some Members of the other place at that time what democratically elected Members of Parliament had to put up with. We did not understand that. Our constituents did not behave like that although of course not everyone agreed with what we did. If we did not understand what went on in Northern Ireland before, we understood it after seeing that photograph.
I am sorry but the noble Lord's other questions are a no-go area for me. I will not confirm one way or the other whether the general is returning this month, who he will see and why he is coming, if, indeed, he is coming. I am in no position to confirm who was told about the Royal Irish Regiment at what particular time of the day. I have no knowledge of that and, if I had, I suspect that I would probably refrain from recounting it. However, I genuinely do not have that information and I shall not offer to write with it either.
My Lords, I never had the pleasure of meeting Mo Mowlam but, like other colleagues in the House, and, following my noble friend Lord Smith of Clifton, I send my heartfelt sympathy to her family. She was an extraordinary person, albeit I saw that only from afar.
However, I remember Gerry Fitt extremely well. Indeed, during my very first debate on Northern Ireland, when I tried to persuade the House that I knew just about everything about policing that anyone could possibly know, Gerry leaned over from the Back Benches, poked his finger at me, and said—I hope that noble Lords will forgive me as I cannot imitate his accent—"What you know about policing in Northern Ireland is nothing". That put me very firmly in my place.
I wish to add my voice to those who have rightly praised the conduct of the Police Service of Northern Ireland during the past few months and, indeed, for as long at it has been constituted. It deserves that praise; its staff have been absolutely extraordinary. I thank the Minister for making the Statement. I refer to the normalisation programme, which will see the creation of an environment that will allow the return of conventional policing across Northern Ireland. To prevent the very serious criminal activity that is occurring now and to make policing "normal" will require a very considerable amount of support and resources. I know that I keep banging on about it, but Northern Ireland is a special case. I did not believe it was as special a few years ago, but I do now, and they really will need a lot of support and help. Will the Minister assure me that this help and support will be given?
My Lords, the answer is "yes". Therefore, I do not need to qualify it. I am grateful for what the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, has said about Mo Mowlam. I was in the House when Mo arrived, and she went on to a Standing Committee and opposed the poll tax from the Back Benches when I was helping to lead for the opposition. That is where I got to know her. She was a one-off; there is no question about that.
The noble Baroness is quite right; the policing situation is different. We want it to be as normal as possible, and the resources will be made available.
As far as the rest of what is contained in the Statement is concerned, I regret that I am more sceptical than I have ever been—perhaps cynical would be a better word. There are implications that the Statement carefully avoids. Does the "cold house for Unionists" statement by our previous Secretary of State Paul Murphy have even the slightest significance with relevance to the attitude of the current Secretary of State? I allude particularly to his determination to disrupt the grammar school sector of education and to structure post-primary arrangements according to proposals from advisors who have no experience of, and no involvement in, state sector education.
Why is the state sector, which caters for a majority of Protestant children, being structured according to proposals coming exclusively from members of the Roman Catholic tradition, which has its own educational arrangements under the aegis of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools? I have defended their right to have those arrangements, but does the Minister expect that the Government's approach will engender confidence or contribute to peaceful stability in the Unionist community?
I have one other question. Is the admitted £1.4 billion avoidance in motor and heating fuel duty tolerated by the Government during the past four years to be allowed to continue as part of the IRA's pension policy? Finally, has the price of disarmament been not only surrender to IRA financial expectations but to arrangements for the subjugation of the basic interest in human rights of Unionists?
My Lords, I clearly welcome again without qualification the statement that the noble Lord made on the violence that occurred during the summer. He speaks with great experience, and I am extremely grateful. As for the rest of the contribution made by the noble Lord, he started off by saying that he was sceptical bordering on cynical; he showed that. I am not going to go down that road, as I said on Monday during the Question.
Words such as "surrender", "subjugation", "victory" and "defeat" have got to be the language of the past. There is success for every part of the Northern Ireland community in the future. There can be success in getting normalisation. There can be success in building a normal community for everyone. There can be some success for every part of the community, and people need not feel or be told by others that they have either been surrendered to or subjugated, when we can pick out degrees of success.
It is true that there will be reform in Northern Ireland, and a whole series of announcements will be made in the near future. They were not part of the Statement today, and I will resist the temptation of going down the road of giving an early taster.
My Lords, I warmly welcome the Statement. I shall just say a brief word about both Mo Mowlam and Gerry Fitt. Mo Mowlam was my boss in Northern Ireland for more than two and a half years, and I have enormous respect and admiration and affection for her. She did a superb job there. She was brave; she knew what she wanted to achieve and—my goodness me—she did achieve it. Many people in Northern Ireland are alive today who would not be alive were it not for the contribution Mo made to the peace process in Northern Ireland.
I have known Gerry Fitt for a long time; about 20 years or so. Some of the anecdotes that I would like to tell about Gerry are probably better told over a drink in the bar than here. If any noble Lords would like to hear them, I have some very good stories about Gerry, which he would be the first to want told, and I would be happy to do that.
On a more serious point, I have a question about policing for my noble friend. It is being said by Sinn Fein politicians that the changes in policing in Northern Ireland are not appreciated, understood, realised or accepted by people in local communities, who feel that there has been no change. Clearly, the changes since the Patten report was implemented have been remarkable and radical—perhaps the most radical changes to any police service in the world. What can the Government do to put over more than has been done so far about the nature of those important changes, which are beneficial to all individuals in Northern Ireland, whether from the Protestant or the nationalist communities?
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, who had distinguished service as a direct rule Minister in Northern Ireland. I cannot really go beyond the Statement to answer his question on policing, except to say that there have been major changes, and he accepts that. The major changes in policing in Northern Ireland have not been fully appreciated by all sections of the community.
In a way, this is where the issue of seeing the deeds and the action is just as important in getting a normalisation process—so that there is policing across all communities, there are no "no-go areas", and the police are there to serve all sections of the community. Changes in the recruitment practices of the police, and in other areas, are ongoing. We support the Patten reforms. I suspect that it will take time, but if other activities and actions can be done to make the point that my noble friend raised in all sections of the community, I will make sure that they are drawn to the attention of my colleagues who are dealing with policing on a day-to-day basis.
My Lords, I was unfortunate enough not to have been here for the Statement, so I cannot ask any substantive questions, much as I would like to do so. I would like to take the opportunity to express my great admiration and respect for Gerry Fitt. He was funny, brave, he had enormous integrity, he was full of charm, and for me it was one of the great experiences of my time in this House to have known him.
My Lords, I identify myself with the remarks made by the noble Baroness. I knew Gerry for more than 40 years. I shared a constituency with him, to his considerable success. The party with which I was involved had not as much success in that area. While we had known that Gerry had not been well for some time, nevertheless his passing has left a tremendous hole that cannot be filled. His colourfulness in Ulster politics will be badly missed. He had that amazing ability to defuse any situation, nasty or otherwise, by turning a joke—usually on himself.
I am delighted to hear that the Minister is visiting local Unionist communities and trying to find out exactly what their problems are. I remind him that a number of us have worked for a lot of years in a very determined way to minimise the efforts of the paramilitaries and to bring some kind of order to Protestant community areas. I have raised this issue with the Minister before. We put our necks on the line politically and possibly in terms of security to do that, but we got no support whatever from the Government, while the sort of activities that we were trying to do were heavily subsidised and funded for the nationalist community by the Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure and the Department for Social Development—with money that in my view was not initially allocated for that purpose. If money could be found for nationalist festivals and nationalist community activities but not for Unionist activities, is it any wonder that there is a tremendous sense of grievance in the Unionist community right now?
My Lords, I reinforce both contributions. The beautiful comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Park, require none from me. Regarding those of the noble Lord, Lord Laird, I appreciate that there has been a history but I make it clear to him that we as a team of Ministers intend to work as much as we can through the elected democratic representatives in Northern Ireland, whether they are councillors, Members of the European Parliament or Members of the other place, so that there is no easy route for the self-appointed, usually empty-barrelled community leaders who fail to get an initiative. We are pledged to work as much as we can through the elected representatives in making contact with all shades of community opinion, particularly those with grievances.
My Lords, perhaps I may give a one minute tribute to the noble Lord and the Statement that he repeated. We are all enormously encouraged by his comments and I listened carefully to the comments of my noble friend on the Front Bench and those of the noble Lord, Lord Clifton. I was interested when the Minister said that there would be no amnesty and he reassured me greatly that at least some measures would be taken to ensure that people who have committed what would be considered as crimes anywhere would be taken very much into account.
The Minister mentioned history. Indeed, is it not seven years since the great Good Friday Agreement? Perhaps he and my noble friend on the Front Bench will know of the little island of Rathlin just off the north coast, where Robert Bruce saw the spider fall, fall and fall again. Perhaps the Minister and members of the Government might take that into account; keep on going and he will succeed.
Religion also has a great part to play in Northern Ireland. I took a great lesson in religion from the honourable Member for North Antrim many years ago. I hope that he will consider the tale of the prodigal son. What we have heard today, and what much of the news has been about is that various Members of another place and, perhaps, political leaders of all communities have not had the most perfect record, yet now they receive benefits and limelight and have come a long way. That is excellent news. But I hope that he will remember all those—as in the tale of the prodigal son—who had the shining face of Ulster that he will remember.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, will remember—I think the Minister works in the place in which I had the honour of working—that agriculture is the number one industry. He might have seen one face, Dr McCracken, from Northern Ireland, the president of the British Veterinary Association, who is one of the people who has been normal. I hope that the Minister will remember Dr McCracken telling us about measures regarding bird flu and the rest. I hope he will remember him along with the progress that has been made.
My Lords, again I greatly respect another former Northern Ireland direct rule Minister. I know that this place has many of them who have had far more experience of the issue than I. The matter does require patience. It can be frustrating sometimes—far more in the past than now, because there is a period of optimism due to the changes that have occurred. We are in a totally different situation than we were prior to July and the announcements in late September. We must be positive. There is success in this for all sections of the community and we must sell it on that basis—not to spin it but to sell it. There is success for every section of the community in taking forward the normalisation process in Northern Ireland.