My Lords, I have listened intently for over four hours to all the fine speeches and contributions that have been made in your Lordships’ House today. The Belfast or Good Friday agreement, whichever you prefer, has largely featured; our debate has been dominated by some excellent speeches both for and against it. However, like the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, I have been asking myself whether Members have actually read the Belfast agreement. I have it to hand. I do not fully recognise in it some of the comments that were made.
I speak to your Lordships this evening from a border town. I could be at the border in 15 minutes. I have lived all my life here. We know what goes on at the border and what has happened in the past 30 or 40 years, with all the activity that has carried on there. I listened intently to the two excellent speeches of my colleagues, the noble Lords, Lord Dodds and Lord McCrea. They have something in common: they are both survivors. The noble Lord, Lord Dodds, had an attempt on his life when he went to visit his very sick son in hospital. The noble Lord, Lord McCrea, knows what it is to have his family home spread by automatic gunfire in an attempt to wipe out him and his family. So we know all there is to know about the border. Do any of us want to go back to those days? Absolutely not. Today, we have heard the lawyers and the philosophical arguments but all we want is a practical, common-sense solution. If a noble Lord can point out to me what is wrong with that, I will be ready to listen.
My remarks this evening will focus on Amendment 161 in particular. Although it reads okay, it is a contradiction of other parts of the Bill. My party has no objection to the content of the amendment, but it is important that there is continuity throughout the Bill. It is totally contradictory to insist on this type of amendment to this clause but to tolerate similar clauses elsewhere in the Bill.
Northern Ireland should be treated as an integral part of the United Kingdom in all respects. It has to be said that there appears to be an attempt to orientate and assimilate Northern Ireland with the Irish Republic, despite assurances in the Belfast agreement that change in the constitutional position of Northern Ireland will come only when there is consent from the people of Northern Ireland. Europe and others seem to have the mindset that the unionist community is of lesser importance than the nationalist community. Let me be very clear: as a unionist, I do not fear a society of equals—but I do not want a society where some are more equal than others.
Much has been said in debate in your Lordships’ House over recent years and today about a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. We have constantly been told that there would never be a border, whether in the Irish Sea or a land border. However, when I read my morning paper, I am not reassured. With less than eight weeks to go until the transition period ends, the Government are furiously at work putting in place the border that we were told would never happen. It is reported that within two years a £200 million project will be completed. Those who have been lobbying and pushing for no hard border have in fact been most instrumental in creating what allegedly they do not want.
The freight industry is extremely concerned—in my opinion, with some justification. Unfettered trade between Britain and Northern Ireland has been put in jeopardy by Europe and by those who shouted the loudest against a hard border. I hope that they will reflect and see the consequence. It should be stated that 65% of the goods that Northern Ireland purchases come from GB. The best way to sustain peace is through a buoyant economy, which in turn underpins stability.
We have heard again today that there is a threat to the Belfast agreement. Is it not ironic that those who were directly involved in negotiating and creating the agreement are not saying this? Incidentally, as I said earlier, I live a matter of minutes’ drive from the border. I suspect that a lot of your Lordships who are speaking this evening have never been to the border, so I speak with some knowledge. Are we now to have government by threat? Some in your Lordships’ House are in that mood: if you do not accept what is thrown at you, there is worse on the way. I implore the House to retain Part 5 of the Bill.