Skip to main content

Northern Ireland: Elective Process

Volume 570: debated on Thursday 21 March 1996

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

3.34 p.m.

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on the arrangement leading to all-party negotiations in Northern Ireland now being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

"In my Statement to the House of 28th February, I announced that all-party negotiations would commence on 10th June. In a communiqué issued on the same day, the British and Irish Governments also agreed on intensive multilateral consultations with the Northern Ireland parties. The purpose of these was to help the British Government draw up proposals for a broadly acceptable elective process, including the possibility of a referendum, and to try to reach agreement on the format and agenda of all-party negotiations.

"In the course of these consultations the Government have met all the major parties and most minor parties in Northern Ireland on several occasions. Sinn Fein has of course excluded itself. There have been several meetings between the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Tanarste, Mr. Spring, including a review of the outcome of the consultations. The Irish Government have also had a number of meetings with the Northern Ireland parties.

"In some areas, we have seen encouraging signs of convergence between the parties' views. In others, sharp differences have remained. The form of elections has been one of the main areas of disagreement between the parties.

"Three main systems have been proposed: first, an election in 18 constituencies, each electing five members by single transferable vote; secondly, an election on a party list system across one single Northern Ireland constituency; thirdly, a single constituency election across Northern Ireland with votes for parties but not for named candidates. None of these systems has secured the clear support of major parties representing each of the main communities. Some parties have even threatened not to participate in the process and thus abort the possibility of all-party negotiations should one of the other systems be chosen.

"I made clear in my Statement on 28th February that, if no agreement proved possible, the Government would come forward with proposals based on a judgment of what is most likely to be broadly acceptable to the parties and to the people of Northern Ireland. Whatever the merits of each of the three main systems, it is clear that none on its own meets this criterion of broad acceptability.

"We have therefore considered how to proceed. We have decided to propose a new system including the most attractive elements of other proposals. We will therefore introduce legislation immediately after the Easter Recess providing for an election on 30th May using a list system rather than individual candidates, organised in 18 constituencies but not by single transferable vote, and supplemented by Northern Ireland-wide party preference.

"Briefly, electors will have to register just one vote which they will cast for the party of their choice. Five seats in each of the 18 constituencies will be allocated from party constituency lists of candidates, published in advance, in proportion to each party's share of the vote. In addition, the votes in all the constituencies will be aggregated and the 10 most successful parties across the whole of Northern Ireland will secure two elected representatives each from party lists published in advance.

"I believe this is a fair and balanced system that will produce a representative outcome. The Province-wide element should help achieve the widely shared objective of making the negotiating process as inclusive as possible through representation of the smaller parties.

"These elections will create a pool of 110 elected representatives. The successful parties will be invited by the Secretary of State to select from among their representatives negotiating teams for the negotiations to begin on 10th June. The transition from the elections to the negotiations will be automatic and immediate.

"Our aim is to see inclusive negotiations. Sinn Fein have, however, currently excluded themselves from negotiations by the ending of the IRA ceasefire. That is their choice. But they can make themselves eligible to participate through the unequivocal restoration of the ceasefire. That, too, is their choice.

"These negotiations need to take place in an atmosphere of confidence. As I told the House on 28th February, all parties will need to make clear at the beginning of negotiations their total and absolute commitment to the principles of democracy and non-violence set out the Mitchell report and to address, also at the beginning of negotiations, Senator Mitchell's proposals on decommissioning. There can be no backing away from this. Equally there must be confidence that, as the negotiations proceed, they will be comprehensive and address all legitimate issues.

"As well as furnishing negotiating teams, the elected representatives will be members of an elected forum to meet in Belfast on a regular basis when negotiations are not in session. The purpose of discussion in this forum will be to promote dialogue and mutual understanding within Northern Ireland.

"The forum will not engage in the negotiations, which will be free-standing, but could interact with and inform the process at the request of the participants in negotiations. For example, the negotiators might agree to commission discussions, studies or reports from the forum. The legislation will also provide for the forum to be able to conduct hearings at which public submissions by relevant bodies or individuals can be made.

"The forum's life will be time limited to 12 months, renewable for up to a maximum of a further 12 months. It will not continue in existence if negotiations are no longer in process. In its procedures, it will be required to proceed by broad consensus.

"We have also looked at proposals for referenda. We agree that the people of Northern Ireland must have full ownership of the negotiation process and its outcome. The electoral legislation will give the Government powers to hold referenda in Northern Ireland. This will enable us to meet our undertaking to put the outcome of negotiations to the people of Northern Ireland before submitting it to Parliament.

"It has also been argued that a referendum could be valuable, for example, on the use of violence for political ends. Our judgement at present is that the case for such a referendum has not yet been conclusively made. But we have not ruled out the option of holding a referendum with an appropriate question or questions on the same day as the elections.

"There is one other important area which needs to be settled before negotiations can begin, namely, the ground rules for these negotiations. At the end of last week, a consultation paper was issued to the parties. This paper sets out what an acceptable approach might be, drawing on the experience of the 1991–92 talks round and preliminary consultations with the parties. Further consultations with the parties will continue to ensure that the maximum common ground can be identified.

"I have outlined today what I believe to be a viable and reasonable way forward. Everyone in this process has had to make compromises, some of them difficult ones. Everyone has needed to exercise patience. I am grateful for that. But the basis of our approach has remained unchanged, namely, the principles of democracy and non-violence set out in the Downing Street Declaration and the need for an approach which can build confidence and lead to an agreement capable of winning the allegiance of both main communities.

"I therefore urge the Northern Ireland parties to look carefully at the announcements I have made today and the short paper giving more detail which we are publishing in parallel. No party has got all it wanted. Equally, I see no issue of principle here which could reasonably cause any party to walk away from the democratic process I have set out. I do not believe the people of Northern Ireland would understand if any party did.

"Let us also not forget that the threat of terrorism continues to hang over this process. That is why the Mitchell principles of democracy and non-violence, and parallel decommissioning, remain so important.

"The IRA used the lack of a fixed date for all-party negotiations as an excuse to break its ceasefire. There was never any justification for its actions. Now its excuses are running out. What I have set out today represents a clear and direct route to all-party negotiations. The prospects for a just and lasting settlement are better than they have been for a generation if all parties take advantage of the opportunities now before us.

"But let me make clear yet again that, while we want to see all parties round the table, the process will go on with or without Sinn Fein. If it excludes itself from taking part in democratic negotiations, it will not be able to exercise a veto against others doing so.

"Once again the people of Northern Ireland are watching the latest steps along the road to negotiations with bated breath. Their hopes for peace could not be clearer or more overwhelming. We need to move beyond procedures to the substance of negotiations as soon as we can. The chance is there: no one who stands unreasonably in the way of a settlement will be readily forgiven.

"I therefore commend to the House the approach I have set out, and hope that the House will today send a clear signal of support for this democratic process. That would be the best answer to the terrorists who continue to threaten it."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.47 p.m.

My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made in another place. This is a very delicate and dangerous time in the history of Northern Ireland and we who do not live there but have great affection and regard for those who do need to bear that constantly in mind. I know that the noble Viscount the Leader of the House will accept that that is our approach and will remain our constant concern. We wish the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State to succeed. There is no ambiguity about that.

But I am troubled that some of the present proposals are a shade opaque. They seem not to have been fully worked out. That may be put right in the short paper which the Leader of the House indicated is to be published in parallel. I have not seen that paper and it would be of assistance, I believe, if we could know when it is to be published and when it will be available.

We believe that elections and electoral mechanisms are only a present means to a future purpose. Is the noble Viscount the Leader of the House able to assure us that the elective process he has set out today is going to lead to all-party negotiations and nothing will be allowed to delay or derail those negotiations? What work is presently being done with the Irish Government and the political parties on the ground in respect of the rules for the negotiations? How is the forum to work? It is very large in number, bearing in mind the population of Northern Ireland. Who is to determine its rules of procedure? Is it to have a chairman? If it steps outside its apparent mandate, who is to control it?

Those are not finicky questions of detail. I foresee with regret that they are likely to be stumbling areas if they are not precisely defined as soon as possible. Will the forum have any power to direct or influence the course of negotiations, or will the negotiating body simply be able to direct the forum to carry out investigations? What are the ground rules to be?

As I understand the Statement, the ground rules are to be drawn on the basis of the Mitchell Report. That means parallel decommissioning. That in turn means the beginning of all-party negotiations without a single weapon being handed over. Is that acceptable, on the Government's present best judgment, to unionist opinion in Northern Ireland? Some of these are harsh questions; they are not intended to be partisan. But there are dangers ahead which we need to avoid if we can. Are the negotiations to be based on the three-stranded process, which has been the common concern of Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the Irish Republic?

I have one or two further questions of detail to ask. On a constitutional point, if this legislation is to be introduced immediately after the Easter Recess, I should welcome the noble Viscount's assurance that we shall have the draft before we part for that Recess. It is essential that we have ample time to study it.

What proposals are there about the details of how many persons are to be designated from each elected party as part of the negotiating teams? It is of extreme importance—it may be of central importance—to know the Government's judgment about whether there is to be a continuing role either for Senator Mitchell and his two present colleagues or for a successor body. That may be of vital importance when one considers the issue of parallel decommissioning.

From these Benches we shall put forward no obstacle to the passage of legislation designed to bring about all-party talks. But we respectfully repeat: the electoral mechanism is only a first step on a very long journey, which may be tortuous indeed.

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made by his right honourable friend. The noble Viscount knows that these Benches support all the efforts that the Government are making through the Secretary of State and his team in an impossibly difficult situation. We congratulate them when they succeed and commiserate with them when they fail. However, consensus on ends cannot entirely preclude criticism and comment on detailed means.

The electoral system seems to be a real hotchpotch. As the noble Lord, Lord Williams, said, it bears some signs of haste. My fear is that, like any project designed to have something for everyone, it may end up pleasing no one rather than representing what we all know is important in Northern Ireland; namely, the maximum point of compromise.

I particularly regret, given that the main representation that the system will produce comes from 18 five-member constituencies, that the Government did not choose to use the single transferable vote in those constituencies. That would have given the voters a chance to get in on the process, to express a preference between those in favour of peace and those less in favour of peace and to distinguish between people as well as between parties.

I saw some fairly confused and bemused looks around the House as the noble Viscount explained the system. I hope noble Lords understand that this is a classic party list system vote, where the only vote that the voters from Northern Ireland will be able to make is for a party, albeit the parties themselves will put a list of candidates in each constituency. I put some emphasis on that point because I feel it is extremely important that the Government, having set their hand to the plough of getting the public of Northern Ireland to be involved in the process as well as the parties, should do everything that they can to maximise vote of participation and ownership of the elections.

I have one or two other questions. The forum which seems to be created by this procedure lives a curious kind of half life, does it not? It is riot a legislature. I imagine that the choice of the word "forum" was considered rather like the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation in the Irish Republic. Who decides the agenda of the forum and who will chair it? Where will it be? We know that that is an important issue in Northern Ireland. What is the so-called one-way valve which links the negotiations to the forum? How will that work?

With regard to the negotiations themselves, the issue that most concerns your Lordships is, I feel, the potential representation of Sinn Fein. The Prime Minister's Statement seems to indicate on page 5 that the only condition for participation by Sinn Fein is that there should again be a ceasefire. Of course there should be a ceasefire. We all want, expect and must see that. But what other conditions apply? Perhaps I am asking an obvious question but I should be grateful for an answer: does Sinn Fein have to take part in the elections? Does it only enter into the negotiations if it has taken part in the elections? As well as undertaking a ceasefire, standing for election and being elected, does it also have to adhere immediately at the first meeting to the Mitchell principles and put decommissioning on the agenda? If it does not, is it then asked to leave the room? I am very unclear about that and many people would like to know the answer.

I mentioned the importance of involving the people of Northern Ireland in the process as the main justification for going down the election route, as, incidentally, it would be for a referendum. It is extremely important that the Government commit themselves and the Northern Ireland Office to a campaign, first, to get voter registration. In some parts of Northern Ireland, voter registration is extremely low. The precedent set by the Home Office of direct door-to-door canvassing would be perfectly possible. Even when there has been a voter registration drive, they should go on from that to run a campaign to get the people of Northern Ireland to turn out and express their wishes, to vote for peace and progress in Northern Ireland. If we are to take the gamble that, in a sense, that stratagem represents of engaging—as the framework document envisages with a referendum and this process does through elections—the people of Northern Ireland, may we encourage them to turn out and make the elections a success?

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for the spirit in which they approached what the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, rightly described as an extremely delicate process. In no way do I take amiss the fact that both noble Lords asked a series of extremely pertinent questions. I have to say to the House that I shall not be able to give a clear answer to all those questions. I suspect that neither noble Lord would expect me to do so at this stage. However, I shall endeavour to do my best. As I said, I want to emphasise my own personal gratitude and that of Her Majesty's Government for the extraordinarily co-operative spirit that both Opposition parties have shown during this difficult and tortuous time.

Both noble Lords asked about what the noble Lord, Lord Williams, described as the "opaque" nature of the proposals, referring particularly, as did the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, to the nature of the election. I had considerable sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Holme, when he said that the list system tends to distinguish between people and parties in favour of parties. I yield to no one in my strong feeling that one of the glories of the British electoral system is that it maintains a direct link between a Member of Parliament and his or her constituency. Those who have had the honour to represent constituencies realise the enormous value of that link.

Nevertheless, in this case we were presented with a difficulty. Since it was clearly impossible for a genuine compromise to be reached as the result of the negotiations between 4th and 13th March, as foreseen in the Statement that I repeated in the House the last time that we addressed this question, the Government had to make a judgment about the system which, in their opinion, was most likely to achieve the primary purpose: a series of elections which they hoped, whatever their reservations, would encourage all the parties in Northern Ireland and particularly the main parties to participate in; and once they had participated, to take part in the forum.

We do not know—I would be foolish to assert otherwise—whether we have achieved our primary objective. I hope that by the end of this afternoon we shall have a clearer idea as to whether or not our judgment proved correct. I can only hope that, in spite of the reservations which I am sure virtually every party will have and indeed the Government have about the system we propose, everybody will recognise that this is the "least bad" in the circumstances. I am certain that were I standing anywhere other than at this Dispatch Box or were my right honourable friend standing anywhere other than at the Dispatch Box in the other place, neither of us would quarrel with the fact that the system we propose is not perfect. However, any other system would have its own drawback.

I hope the House will forgive me if my answer is somewhat longer than usual. Both noble Lords asked a series of extremely important questions which deserve a full answer. One of the advantages of the system is, above all, that each person will vote only once on one piece of paper. The process of voting is therefore simple. That is a considerable advantage. What is rather less simple is the allocation of seats which must be made as a result of the voting system. The allocating of seats, as a result of the fractions that will result, is still the subject of discussion.

Noble Lords will be aware, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, with his party's well-known addiction to various forms of proportional representation, that there are a large number of recognised systems for allocating seats under a constituency list method. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Williams, that we examined those systems with some care in order to try to satisfy ourselves that they are workable and fair. However, we have not made a final decision on which method to use. We should like to hear representations from individual parties before we bring forward definite proposals in the Bill. A number of possibilities exist, though I shall spare your Lordships the details. The noble Lord, Lord Holme, in particular will be familiar with the Hare system, the Droop system and the d'Hondt system. I shall be happy to discuss those with him and perhaps take his advice outside your Lordships' House.

I cannot say that the elective process will definitely lead to negotiations. What is absolutely certain is that we and the Republic of Ireland Government are determined to drive this process forward. In order for it to work we must do our best to ensure that the various parties take part in it. It is for them to choose. The elections will take place on or around 30th May subject to the appropriate legislation gaining parliamentary approval and thereafter the negotiations will begin on schedule on 10th June.

Both noble Lords wanted to know how the forum will work. In a sense the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, was right when he said that the answers had not yet been thought through. That is, at least in part, deliberate. The forum itself will have the ability to establish committees, as has been set out in the draft guideline document—it is very much a consultation document—issued to the leaders of the main parties last weekend. I do not know whether either noble Lord has had the chance to study that document. If they have, they will no doubt have noted that, particularly in its revised form, paragraph 19, though not specific, conveys the sort of function anticipated for the forum. Paragraph 19 states:
"The Forum will have the ability to establish committees to consider specific issues within its remit such as social and economic questions, cross-community reconciliation, equity of treatment and aspects of human rights. There will be a requirement that the membership and chairmanship of committees be allocated on a proportional basis reflecting party strengths in the Forum. The Forum or its committees will also be enabled to conduct hearings at which public submissions could be made by relevant bodies and individuals such as community, voluntary, women's and youth groups, trade unions, business and professional organisations, the Churches, academics and others. Any negotiation, any discussion, studies or reports of the Forum could inform the negotiating process which could commission such work. This or any other interaction between the Forum and the negotiating process which might be proposed by participants in the negotiations and which might be of benefit in developing agreement will be by agreement among the participants in the negotiating process and at their instigation".
I am aware that that is not a prescription to be imposed on the forum by the Government. I suggest that that in itself is a strength. If the forum can take that guidance and translate it at its own initiative into working practices, the forum will be much more able to develop a force of its own rather than relying on imposition from Her Majesty's Government.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, asked about negotiations and whether they would still be in the three-stranded form. The answer is "yes". In relation to the assurance that he asked for, that we would have available before Easter a draft of the proposed legislation, I shall do my best to make sure that the draft is available as soon as is practicable and I shall need to investigate when that date will be. However, we are extremely anxious to share what is proposed on a bipartisan-tripartisan basis in both Houses of Parliament and will be anxious to take both Houses into our confidence as soon as is practicable.

The noble Lords, Lord Williams of Mostyn and Lord Holme of Cheltenham, asked a key question in relation to the role of Siren Fein and its associates, the IRA. I do not believe that. I have heard any dissent from any of the Unionist parties in this regard; if it wishes, Sinn Fein can take part in the elections. We would encourage it to do so. In view of its past record, it would do nothing but good for it to expose itself to the rigour of electoral politics. I hope that it will not duck that challenge. If it does, we can draw our own conclusions.

Thereafter, like everybody else, Sinn Fein can nominate negotiating teams from the membership of the forum in order to begin discussions. In order for it to be able to enter the negotiating chamber at all, as the noble Lord, Lord Holme, said, Sinn Fein will need to have ensured, if it is within its power, an unequivocal renewal of the ceasefire. If the IRA has not renewed that ceasefire, Sinn Fein will not be allowed into the negotiating chamber.

A question still hangs in the air from both noble Lords. We took a chance last time round that the ceasefire was permanent. We made an assumption—I believe we used the word "working" assumption—that, since no bombs had gone off, that ceasefire was permanent. We were cruelly deceived and disappointed. We have to ask ourselves what the IRA can do to convince us, if there is to be a renewed ceasefire, that this time they mean it. The answer must come at the very beginning of talks, of negotiations, and when that comes we will expect every party to sign up, in exactly the same terms, to the six Mitchell principles. If any party refuses to do that—and your Lordships will remember that the Mitchell principles are very specific—then there is no question but that that party will be shown the door. They also, in the words of the communiqué, as part of the first item on the agenda, have to address the question of the mechanics of parallel decommissioning as set out in paragraph 34 of the Mitchell Report.

We will see whether that happens, but I would also like to remind your Lordships that it is not only bombs, bullets and murder that is at stake here. Any party that is committed to peaceful means does not need the paramilitary organisation which enables a terrorist organisation to exist; and we must remember that that paramilitary organisation, during the period of the ceasefire, has not only not been demolished, it has been enhanced. That is something which we would do well to remember in the coming critical days and weeks.

I am well aware that I have trespassed on your Lordships' patience for rather longer than, perhaps, I had any right to, but I would like to take note particularly of the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Holme, for a voter registration drive. I would very much like to communicate his suggestion to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. I am sure he will treat it with the seriousness which it deserves.

4.12 p.m.

My Lords, first, I would like to thank the Leader of the House for his explanations so far. One point on which I was not quite clear was at what stage the IRA and Sinn Fein must declare a ceasefire. Is it right that they must declare the ceasefire directly before the talks or directly before the election? If it may be as late as after the election and they are allowed to the polls, this means that we are permitting an election to occur under the intimidation of the terrorist organisations whilst they are not in a ceasefire mode. That, I believe, could be very dangerous indeed.

Whatever his answer may be, either that they must declare it before the election or that they must declare it before the talks, how soon before? If it is before the election, do they have to declare it before the ballot sheets are printed because, if so, there must be a time given. If they do not, then their party would appear on the ballot sheet and one would get destroyed votes as a result, if those votes count for nothing. If it is before the talks, may they continue bombing up until 9th June, if the talks are on the 10th, and then declare a ceasefire and walk through the doors?

This is all very important because, if we look at what the IRA has done over a number of years, when deadlines like this have occurred they have tried to get to the very doors and, if possible, ambush the other parties by persuading the Government to give way slightly on something—for instance, any one of the Mitchell Report requirements—in order for the Unionist parties or other parties to then boycott the talks. Sinn Fein will then say: "We are ready to talk, and it is the Unionists who have destroyed it."

I accept what the Leader of the House said, that the parties would have to sign up to the six requirements in the Mitchell Report. Are these requirements, one by one, to be signed up, or is the Mitchell Report to be signed in totality? If it is only piece by piece, there may be a chance—I would hope not—that the Government might allow one or two of the lesser ones not to be signed up to, and that would put the Unionists out of it. I think that these are important points, and I hope he will be able to answer them.

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. They are extremely important points. My noble friend will know, almost better than anyone else in your Lordships' House at the moment, that throughout the troubles since 1969 Sinn Fein councillors have been able to present themselves for election. So, when I answer his first question, he will understand that there will be no change from the present situation.

In the absence of a ceasefire, Sinn Fein will be able to take part in elections; but what is perfectly clear is that, unless they declare a ceasefire, they will not be able to begin negotiations. I would go further than that: just as they attempted recently to gain entrance to Stormont Castle during the consultation talks beginning on 4th March, they would find exactly the same refusal as they found then, in the absence of a ceasefire. So I put this with all the clarity at my command: unless there is a ceasefire, they cannot enter the negotiating chamber.

The second question which my noble friend asked I regard as equally important. There is a clear danger that, when presented by the terrorists—as is always possible and, indeed, it is one of their favourite ploys—with the option of giving a little or, on the other hand, facing a return to violence, the terrorists always calculate that we will choose to give a little. Let me be perfectly specific. We have no intention of having the Mitchell principles chipped away in the way that my noble friend fears. The representatives of Sinn Fein will have to sign up to all six unequivocally at the outset of their entry into the negotiating chamber. Unless they do that, they will be asked to leave.

My Lords, may I ask the noble Viscount the Leader of the House how far, if at all, the Irish Government have been consulted on these matters? I ask, because I think it is of very great importance that we carry the Irish Government with us as far as is possible on all these matters, and I was relieved, in fact, to hear the noble Viscount the Leader say that Sinn Fein would be able to take part in the elections. I say that, not out of any regard for the lizard-like manoeuvrings of Mr. Gerry Adams, but because my mind goes back to the days of 1916 and afterwards, when we had to come in the end to negotiations with noted terrorists such as Michael Collins. The treaty was, in fact, signed with Lloyd George and Michael Collins. He came back and the Irish Free State was formed.

At that time the Republican Movement refused to accept that treaty and civil war followed. The Irish Government shot and executed more Irishmen during the next few months than the British had ever done since 1916. That is why it is important, it seems to me, to carry both Sinn Fein, if possible, and certainly the Irish Government with us so that, when we do get a settlement, there is absolutely no doubt that every interested party, except those who will never accept anything but the total triumph of the IRA, is behind the peace process.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I have tried to emphasise in response to similar comments on previous occasions like this the importance of the two governments keeping closely in step and I am happy to re-emphasise that today. The Irish Government have been made aware of what we propose, although I should make it clear that on the point of elections this was a matter for the British Government because we are dealing with elections within the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, as a matter of practicality and courtesy, it was right, once we had decided, that we should advise the Irish Government of what we had decided.

I should perhaps emphasise that the ground rules on negotiation remain the same as forecast and as have been forecast for many months now. Strands two and three of the three-stranded process, about which the noble Lord, Lord Williams, asked me, remain to be negotiated in the form forecast, and strand one is concerned purely with relations within Northern Ireland and is not a matter for the republic. Nevertheless, I should like to emphasise once again that it is important that the two governments march in step and we shall endeavour to continue to do so. If there is any suggestion that the IRA is beginning to split the two governments, it will make further progress increasingly difficult.

My Lords, I wish every possible success to the proposals in the Statement read out by the noble Viscount. Can he say how the British Government, or indeed the Dublin Government, will keep in touch with the new elected body? It will be there discussing and, presumably and it is to be hoped, coming to sensible conclusions. Will Her Majesty's Government have observers there, or is some other arrangement in view?

My Lords, the elected body is within part of the United Kingdom and therefore the Republic of Ireland does not have a locus in the proceedings of that body. I am sure the noble Lord would want that to be so. At the same time it is clearly important that this highly complex negotiating process, if, as we hope, it manages to get under way, should be co-ordinated in terms of its mechanics if not its substance. Therefore it is suggested—it is merely a matter for consultation at the moment—that there should be a co-ordinating committee to look at the mechanics of the three-stranded talks and on which representatives of the government of the republic would sit. That perhaps is the best way in which we can ensure that good order and discipline are maintained.