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Northern Ireland

Volume 685: debated on Monday 16 October 2006

My Lords, with permission, I shall repeat a Statement on political progress in Northern Ireland made earlier today in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The Statement is as follows:

“Between 11 and 13 October in St Andrews, both the British and Irish Governments engaged intensively late into the night and from early morning with the Northern Ireland political parties. That we were able to defy the sceptics and cynics and secure the St Andrews agreement opens the way to a new dawn for democracy in Northern Ireland—a new democracy based, for the very first time in Northern Ireland’s tangled history, on the twin foundations of the rule of law and power sharing. Without question, it may come to be seen as a pivotal moment in Irish history.

“These two foundations stand together or fall together: on the one hand, unequivocal support for the police and unequivocal support for the rule of law; on the other, an absolute commitment by all the parties to share power in a restored Northern Ireland Executive. Delivery on both these foundations was absent from the Good Friday agreement; now it is in prospect. That is a measure of what was achieved at St Andrews—arguably the fulfilment of the hopes expressed on Good Friday eight years ago. The agreement has been placed in the Library and is available in the Vote Office.

“All the parties at St Andrews were crystal clear on one point at least: that in May Parliament had legislated for closure, one way or another, on the political process. Four years since the Executive and Assembly last sat, there has been set in statute a clear endpoint of 24 November by which the political parties would agree to locally accountable government for the people they represent, bringing direct rule to an end. The alternative, as I have made clear, is that the Assembly would dissolve. Incidentally, were the parties to unravel St Andrews at any stage in the coming weeks and months, dissolution would follow as night follows day, and both Governments would move on to formulate plan B. There is not a choice between St Andrews and something else; there is only a choice between St Andrews and dissolution.

“Since the House set the 24 November deadline in statute, there have been important indicators that the context within which the political development can take place has been changing—changing fundamentally, changing for the better and, I personally believe, changing for good.

“Northern Ireland had the best parading season for four decades with not a soldier on the streets on 12 July, something unthinkable just a year ago when 115 live rounds were fired by loyalist paramilitaries at police and soldiers during the Whiterock parade. This year, Whiterock passed off peacefully following a cross-community dialogue. Loyalist leaders have given me assurances, as the IRA has done, that they will now work to ensure an end to their paramilitarism and criminality.

“Last week for the first time ever, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, the right honourable Member for North Antrim, met the Catholic Primate of Ireland, Archbishop Brady”.

I can say to those noble Lords who are following the text of this Statement that the Secretary of State then went on to congratulate the right honourable Member for North Antrim and the noble Baroness, Lady Paisley of St George’s, on their 50th wedding anniversary last Friday. The Statement continues:

“Over the summer, the Committee on the Preparation for Government, with all the parties face to face in the room, did important and constructive work on a range of issues central to the good governance of Northern Ireland. Above all, there has been further compelling evidence that IRA violence has indeed ended, a judgment confirmed decisively on 4 October in the report of the Independent Monitoring Commission, which also confirmed in paragraph 2.17:

‘The leadership has maintained a firm stance against the involvement of members in criminality, although this does not mean that criminal activity by all members has stopped. The leadership’s stance has included public statements and internal directions; investigating incidents of breach of the policy; the expulsion of some members; and emphasising the importance of ensuring that business affairs are conducted in a legitimate manner’.

“The Government firmly believe that the circumstances are now right to see a permanent political settlement in Northern Ireland, with the restoration and the full and effective operation of the political institutions. Anyone with experience of the political process in Northern Ireland will know that it is never easy, that the negotiations are always tortuous and tough and that there is always a danger of things unravelling. St Andrews, like Good Friday, is no exception. But the harder the negotiations, the more likely it is that any agreement that comes out of them will stick.

“There were two main issues to be resolved at St Andrews if we were to achieve restoration of the power-sharing Executive: the need for support for policing and the rule of law across the whole community, which would enable, in due course,the safe devolution of policing and justice to the Assembly; and changes to the operation of the Good Friday agreement institutions.

“On support for policing, I want to spell out to the House what that means by quoting from Paragraph 6 of the St Andrews agreement. It means,

‘endorsing fully the Police Service of Northern Ireland’;

it means,

‘actively encouraging everyone in the community to co-operate fully with the PSNI in tackling crime in all areas’;

it means playing a full and active role in,

‘all the policing and justice institutions, including the Policing Board’.

“For many years now, all in this House have joined the Government in demanding support for the Police Service of Northern Ireland from every part of the community. My honourable friend the Member for Foyle and his SDLP colleagues—John Hume especially—have shown courageous leadership in making that a reality. With one in five—rising to one in three—of Police Service of Northern Ireland officers now Catholics, and the service deploying with local consent right across Northern Ireland, including South Armagh, policing has been transformed.

“But no one here will now underestimate how significant it will be if the republican movement can accept and endorse the agreement drawn up at St Andrews. Based on last week’s discussions, I am confident that it will do so and that this will make for a decisive and irrevocable break from a past of violence and criminality. It will give absolute confidence in an authentically new Northern Ireland of hope and peace and the rule of law.

“I believe that when this active support for policing and criminal justice is seen to be delivered, there will be sufficient community confidence for the Assembly, in line with the St Andrews agreement, to request the devolution of justice and policing from the British Government by May 2008. It is very important to acknowledge, however, that devolution of policing is already very substantially down the road. Following the Patten report, direct-rule Ministers relinquished matters of real importance. The Police Service of Northern Ireland has been accountable for five years to the Policing Board, comprising, as it does, locally elected and independent representatives; it has been accountable to the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and to the district policing partnerships. The remaining devolution of policing and justice is largely institutional, focusing more on the courts and the administration of justice than on operational policing, which in the past has been so controversial to nationalist and republican communities.

“Although nationalists and republicans had major concerns over the primacy of national security being vested in the Security Service,St Andrews makes clear in Annexe E that there is full accountability for all domestic operational security matters because these will be exclusively undertaken not by MI5 but by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which is of course itself fully accountable in Northern Ireland, including those of its officers who may be secondees to MI5. We stand ready, moreover, to develop procedures and to establish protocols on MI5’s activities to provide any reassurances necessary on accountability.

“Taking Northern Ireland out of a divided past and into a shared future can be done only on the basis of agreement on fundamental principles:the principle of consent; the commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means; sharing power within a stable inclusive partnership Government; equality and human rights for all; and mutually beneficial relationships developed between north and south within these islands. Those are the fundamental principles of the Good Friday agreement and they will always remain the bedrock and foundation of the political settlement in Northern Ireland.

“The Good Friday agreement, however, allowed for changes to be made to the operation of the institutions to make them more responsive and effective and, following discussion with all the parties, we have made an assessment of these in Annexe A to the St Andrews agreement. The Government will introduce legislation to enact appropriate changes and other aspects of theSt Andrews agreement before the statutory November deadline, once the parties have formally endorsed the terms of the agreement and agreed on that basis to restore the power-sharing institutions.

“We have now set out a clear timetable for restoration. Tomorrow, a new programme for government committee will begin regular meetings at Stormont to agree priorities for the new Executive. Crucially, parties will for the first time together be represented at leadership level on that committee, as on the existing Committee on the Preparation for Government.

“We have asked the parties to consult onthe St Andrews agreement and to respond by10 November to allow time for final drafting of a Bill to take through Parliament. Once this happens, and on the basis that the St Andrews agreement is endorsed, the Assembly will meet to nominate the First Minister and Deputy First Minister on24 November, the deadline for a deal.

“I do not have to spell out to the House the great significance of these nominations, the more so given those who are likely to be nominated:the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and the deputy leader of Sinn Fein. I pay tribute to the right honourable Member for North Antrim. Like anyone who understands something of the history of Northern Ireland, I realise that this is not an easy step for him or for his party.

“In January, there will be a report from the Independent Monitoring Commission. In March, the electorate will have the opportunity to endorse the St Andrews agreement, either through an election in Northern Ireland or through a referendum. We will listen to the views of all parties before making a decision on the most appropriate way of consulting the electorate and legislating accordingly. Either way, the people will speak. On 14 March, prospective members of the Executive will be named by their party leaders. On 26 March, power will be devolved and the d’Hondt formula will be run.

“This is an ambitious programme and there is still much work to be done. But I do not think that Northern Ireland has been at this point before. It is a tribute to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, the Taoiseach and the British and Irish officials who have worked tirelessly over so many years that we are at this point. Their energy, time and patient attention to the detail of the issue have been unprecedented. But, above all, it is a tribute to all the political parties in Northern Ireland—all of them—which have shown courage and leadership and have taken risks for peace and political progress. They have shown that therecan be accommodation and agreement without sacrificing principle or integrity.

“Friday 13 October was a good day for Northern Ireland. It has the potential to be greater still, to be the foundation stone of a new Northern Ireland, based exclusively on the principles of peace, justice, democracy and equality. Whatever difficulties lie ahead, I trust that none of those who took part in the talks last week will lose sight of that great prize”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement that the Secretary of State made in another place. I also thank the Secretary of State and his staff for giving us early sight of it.

We welcome the progress made in the negotiations at St Andrews and the positive approach adopted by each of the parties. I congratulate the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and the leaders of the Northern Ireland parties on what is clearly a major step forward. But let us be absolutely clear that, for this to happen, Sinn Fein must deliver on policing. Power sharing in Northern Ireland will not work unless all Ministers in the Executive fully support the police, the courts and the rule of law.

In this context, I welcome the reports over the weekend that the Government are planning to amend the ministerial code of conduct to make this a requirement of taking office. Your Lordships may remember—and I gently remind the noble Lord—that the Opposition sought to do this earlier this year through amendments to the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, but we were told that it was unnecessary. I am comforted that the Government have changed their mind and ask the Minister if he could be more specific aboutthe changes that he would like to see.

One piece of the jigsaw missing from the timetable set out in the St Andrews document is the date for the special Sinn Fein ard fheis, which is required to change that party’s position on policing. Can the Minister give the House any indication when that is likely to take place? Does he agree that it is crucial to the process that there is clear movement on this issue before the parties give their responses to theSt Andrews document by 10 November? Will he further agree that support for policing means more than simply joining the Policing Board? It has to include encouraging people in republican communities to report crimes to the police and to co-operate fully with police investigations, as well as urging people from those communities to join the police force in Northern Ireland. Will the Minister confirm, too, that there will be no toleration whatever of individuals or parties seeking to use the community-based restorative justice schemes as a form of private justice or as an alternative to the legitimate authority of the PSNI?

The Secretary of State spoke about possible electoral endorsement of the St Andrews proposals. Will he make it clear that, whatever route the Republic of Ireland intends to follow in that respect, it would be constitutionally quite wrong for citizens of that country to vote on any matters that relate to the internal governance of the United Kingdom? Does he agree that the referendum in the Republic must be confined to any changes in its constitution or system of government?

The Opposition support the institutional changes set out in the St Andrews document, particularly those relating to ministerial accountability and collective responsibility. Subject to seeing the actual texts of the new legislation, we hope to be able to offer the Government our support. We also welcome the Government’s change of policy on capping and additional relief for pensioners when the new rates system is introduced and the retention of academic selection. Will the Secretary of State bring forward a new Order in Council to repeal the complete ban on all academic selection that the Government imposed earlier this year?

I wish the Government well in the course that they have set. The ultimate prize on offer is great—a peaceful, stable and prosperous Northern Ireland with a shared future for people from all traditions, based on democracy and the rule of law rather than on terrorism and the gun. That is an objective that should unite.

My Lords, the St Andrews agreement lends a whole new dimension to the notion of Ulster Scots. I welcome the Minister’s Statement and thank him for the advance sight of it.

It is only fair to say that much praise should be given to the Prime Minister, the Taoiseach and the Secretary of State for their unremitting endeavours to see restoration of the devolved institutions and, with it, an enduring peace. Whatever else Mr Blair’s legacy will be composed of, it will be only fair that he is acknowledged for the role that he has played since 1997 and his assiduous, painstaking and persistent attempts to bring about peace, which now may well materialise.

Some good progress was made in St Andrews last weekend. The paper published by the Government shows that there is now a real potential for achieving devolved government in Northern Ireland within the space of a few months. I am also pleased to see from Annexe B of the agreement that progress is to be made on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland and on a single equality Bill.

I hope the Minister will be able to give some clarification on some further points. First, the published agreement seems to remove a step in the process of formulating an Executive: a cross-community vote to confirm the election of the First and Deputy First Ministers. We all know that this election has caused problems in the past, but nevertheless it is a fundamental principle of the Good Friday agreement. Paragraph 5 of strand 1 of the agreement states:

“Key decisions requiring cross-community support will be designated in advance, including election of the Chair of the Assembly, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, standing orders and budget allocations”.

Such a vote demonstrates that there will be joined-up government in Northern Ireland and that the First and Deputy First Ministers enjoy the confidence of the Assembly. Why will such an important vote be omitted in the future?

Secondly, will the Minister give the House an indication of how the structures for a department of justice will be agreed? Will that be a matter for the Executive, or for the Assembly as a whole? Finally, to reiterate what the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, asked, what will happen to those orders currently in abeyance until 24 November, including the education order that deals with selection and the 11-plus? Logically, and to keep faith, these should not be implemented until Stormont is fully reassembled. It would be cynical if that were not the case.

I am glad to see that the Secretary of State emphasised that,

“there is not a choice between St Andrews and something else. There is only a choice between St Andrews and dissolution”.

I hope it will be St Andrews, and not dissolution.

My Lords, I am most grateful, as indeed everyone will be, for the warm welcome the Statement has received from the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Smith of Clifton. I understand their caveats—I would not even call them caveats, really; they were asides. When it comes to answering on specifics, there are some areas I cannot go into.

The Secretary of State made it clear in the other place that the normal policing rules about recruitment will apply, including police and community support officers. The Statement I have just repeated makes it crystal clear that support for policing goes well beyond joining the policing board. I referred to paragraph 6 of the agreement, which is somewhat detailed; it has at least three or four bullet points.

The date for Sinn Fein to make its own decisions is a matter for it. It is an independent political party, and it knows what needs to be done. In some ways there is a new deadline; 24 November is in statute, and we are not planning to change that, but we have said that we need the endorsement and agreement of all the parties by 10 November to give us time to pass an emergency Bill before the 24th. Anyone can work out, looking at what has to happen, that time is incredibly short. If agreement is not secured by then, the normal process legislated for by Parliament will take place: dissolution will occur at, I think, midnight on the 24th. That is the top and bottom of it.

Regarding the Republic, I have nothing. I was not able to listen to all the comments in the other place, but, frankly, the elections and referendums referred to in our Statements relate to Northern Ireland. This is an issue for Northern Ireland. Obviously the Republic has its own views, but no one has discussed that. The point is that we need the parties to come back to us and talk about the best way of taking the people’s voice. Clearly there is a view to take the people’s voice, and there are only really two ways to do that: an election to a new Assembly, and everyone can see that there are pluses and minuses to that, or a referendum to get the agreement done. We need some discussion about that, and we do not want to foreclose any of the options.

On the code of conduct, I take the point made by the noble Lord about the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. The code was not necessary in that Bill, but it is necessary now to look at it. We were always committed that if the parties came forward with an agreement about changes, it would be a matter for further discussion, and the preparation for Committee is the ideal place to do that. If there is common agreement on that, we said we would do the legislation required.

On academic selection, the 11-plus will still be around for a bit. I think it goes in 2008; it is not as though we legislated to abolish it this year or next. If there is agreement by 10 November and the Assembly is restored by 26 March—that is, the powers are devolved—a decision to ban academic selection will be taken by the Assembly in a cross-community vote. If there is no agreement and no Assembly, the academic selection will remain banned, but it is up to the people of Northern Ireland. Our view is that we hope the 11-plus in its present form will go, but it is then up to the Assembly and local people to determine how best to have a transfer to secondary education. It is a matter for the parties.

As for other legislation, we referred to the capping on rates, and we will do that if the process takes a form. However, the other processes that are in being—indeed, this House will have a Grand Committee on four orders next week, I think—will proceed as normal, as we have always said. The Assembly can take that up at the relevant time.

It has consistently been made clear that there is absolutely no question of restorative justice being used as an alternative justice system. Once criminal justice and policing are devolved, the structure is a matter for discussion. I have nothing in my brief on that. I do not think any decisions have been taken, and there will have to be discussions. It is a matter for the parties to discuss and agree in the months ahead.

The St Andrews agreement is the first time we have given the date of May 2008, the date that is in the Secretary of State’s Statement. Parliament has a triple lock, if I remember rightly: a joint resolution by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, so there has to be agreement there; the Assembly; and Parliament has to agree as well. This cannot be done behind closed doors, nor just by one party. When we legislated in this House for the devolution of policing I remember saying there would have to be an assessment of how well the Assembly had been fulfilling its role and tasks. The view has been taken in the negotiations that if the Assembly is back by next March, we ought to be able to reach a decision by May 2008. That will be for the parties to discuss. If it is their view that it should have the same ministerial oversight as other departments, it will be for the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to set up the arrangements under, I believe, Section 17 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. If it is their view that it should have an alternative structure, it is a matter for the Assembly to legislate using the powers in the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act that we passed earlier this year.

I appreciate the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, on the Prime Minister’s activities. I am new to this, as people know, but by common consent he has devoted more hours and a greater proportion of his time as Prime Minister to this issue than any other. That is not to criticise any former Prime Minister. This has been a nightmare to deal with, and very difficult. As the Statement said, the Prime Minister has been involved in the detailed discussions at every stage of the process. The people around the table have understood that.

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the Minister for repeating the Statement made earlier today in another place and for the assurances, which I think we will all be glad to hear, about the undertakings for support for the police and the institutions of the state. We look to the Government to ensure that there is no watering down in that respect.

In view of the Secretary of State’s pledge given earlier this afternoon to the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party to consult further on the issue of water charges, would it not be prudent then to hold off the Order in Council on water charges which comes before the Grand Committee next week? Will the Minister indicate how far this further consultation will take place? Will he also confirm, if it is held off, that the financial arrangements outlined in Annexe C of the agreement will cover the costs of such delays?

My Lords, I did not hear that exchange but, broadly speaking, I know what answer was given. There is not much I can say about the water charges as the consumer council is mounting a legal challenge to their introduction. The matter will go before the courts. Everyone understands the situation. Water charges were not included in this year’s budget and have not been for two years. I draw the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Laird, to the fact that the Chancellor will discuss with the parties the financial structure and the consequences of theSt Andrews agreement for Northern Ireland. That will cover the matters that he has mentioned.

My Lords, I join my noble friend Lord Smith of Clifton in congratulating the Government and the Taoiseach on the work that they did at St Andrews. It was a marvellous piece of work and all parties to the agreement had a great input. The conclusion has to be one of hope although I do not at all underestimate the difficulties that lie ahead for all parties regarding a shared future for Northern Ireland. I am particularly interested in policing. I was pleased to see that May 2008 is now proposed for the devolution of policing and justice. That is something that everyone can work towards. A tremendous effort has been made by the PSNI and the Chief Constable, Sir Hugh Orde, to engage Sinn Fein in dialogue to make it a full member of the policing board. I hope that the Minister will ensure that members of Sinn Fein understand the remit of the policing board, which is clearly set out in Annexe E. As now, it will have the power to require the Chief Constable to report on any issue pertaining to his functions or to those of the police service. All aspects of policing will continue to be subject to the same scrutiny as now. The security service will participate in briefings to closed sessions of the policing board to provide appropriate intelligence background about national security related policing operations

If Sinn Fein joins the policing board, it will become part of that group which will hear all the concerns about policing and those of the security services as well. That has to be a great prize for the peace and security of Northern Ireland.

My Lords, I agree 100 per cent with what the noble Baroness said. For that reason I shall not say much more as that could make matters worse. As I have always said, the way to get a solution is for all the parties coming to the table to walk away from it feeling that they have been successful and for the language of failure, victory, war or defeat to disappear; in other words, everyone should feel that they have been successful. That is what emerged from the events of last week. The consequences of those events are momentous. The expectation is that the Northern Ireland Policing Board will operate in virtually the same way as policing in the rest of the United Kingdom. That is our aim and aspiration.

My Lords, I welcome the Statement on the St Andrews agreement. That is possibly a misnomer since no one has yet agreed it; it is now up to the main political parties in Northern Ireland to agree it. But it is a proposal from the two Governments. I congratulate and thank the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister of southern Ireland, Mr Ahern, for the energetic way in which they have attended to this issue.

I see the St Andrews agreement as an extension of the Belfast agreement. I congratulate all those who I hope will support it in the coming days. On the so-called elections or referendum, since both Governments discussed this issue the Minister cannot sidestep the question of what will happen in the Republic of Ireland. Will it be a case of a referendum or simply the approval of the southern Irish Parliament? It will be a referendum if there are constitutional problems in the Republic. We need clarity on that issue. I am certain that that was discussed.

As regards Northern Ireland, would it not be odd to have a referendum if all the parties supported the issue? You would get very little enthusiasm for that and parties would be very unwilling to commit money to a referendum where the result was obvious. It may well be better for political parties to get a new mandate on the basis of the St Andrews agreement.

Will the Minister clarify the position on academic selection, as I am still slightly confused? If the St Andrews agreement proceeds and the Assembly and the Executive come into operation, will academic selection continue without taking any further decision? Will it be changed only after a cross-party vote in the new Assembly?

As clearly it was discussed with the southernIrish Government, and there is reference to it in theSt Andrews agreement, what is Plan B? Or do we have to use other means to find out what it is? The people of Northern Ireland need to know what the alternative is.

Will the Minister tell us more about the suggestion of a reduction in corporation tax in one part of the United Kingdom? Would that not mean fewer tax transfers from Northern Ireland to the Treasury? Certainly, it would be welcomed by business people, but would it not mean in return that the Treasury might send less money to the devolved institution, resulting in reduced expenditure on housing, hospitals and education?

Finally, when the St Andrews agreement is approved and the Assembly is up and running with an Executive, will the IRA still exist?

My Lords, under the rules of the House I believe that I have a choice of answering two of those six questions, so I will choose the two easy ones. There is no Plan B. If the noble Lord reads Hansard, he will see that the Statement said that if necessary we would formulate Plan B. There is no secret, hidden Plan B. If it all falls apart, we will formulate Plan B.

I repeat what I said about academic selection in case I did not make myself clear. If there is agreement by 10 November and the Assembly is restored by26 March next year, a decision to ban academic selection will be taken by the Assembly on a cross-community vote. When we discussed the order recently we agreed that that matter would be left to the Assembly provided it was restored. If there is no agreement and no Assembly, academic selection will remain banned. That is the position.

I cannot add to what I said on the elections. I do not answer for the Republic of Ireland; I answer for the United Kingdom Government. We shall discuss with the parties the best way of letting the people speak. That is their desire; the parties raised that themselves. There is a choice—an election or a referendum. That matter will be discussed in the weeks ahead.

My Lords, I join others in wholeheartedly welcoming the agreement. I welcome also the efforts made by the Minister, his colleagues, the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach. When the Member for North Antrim, the Reverend Ian Paisley, becomes the First Minister in Northern Ireland, he will be entitled to the support of all parts of the community. Was it not always the case that when he and Gerry Adams sat down at a table together under this agreement, we would make progress in Northern Ireland?

Can the Minister give the House any idea when the ard fheis is likely to be held to approve these proposals? Does he agree that unless the central issue of policing and the maintenance of law and order is addressed, and the rhetoric turned into reality, all the words will wither? Therefore, we need assurances about how to encourage members of the nationalist/republican community to join the Northern Ireland police service, to become involved and to do the things that were referred to today.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, but I would counsel one thing. It does not serve any purpose for anyone anywhere to seek to put further hurdles in the way of any of the political parties in Northern Ireland making their internal decisions. The dates for decisions have been agreed. There is 10 November—and we have promised the Government that we will legislate urgently through this House and the other place—and there is26 March. It is entirely up to the political parties of Northern Ireland, the independent, registered political parties, to make their decisions. They know what decisions have to be made, and they have to be clear and transparent so that we can get an agreement.

I do not think that we should second guess those parties, saying, “We need to know by another date”, or whatever. It is up to them to do that. They are responsible and they want to share in the process. I agree entirely with the first part of the noble Lord’s remarks regarding the leader of the DUP. Nevertheless, it is up to the political parties in Northern Ireland now. The ball is truly in their court now; by 10 November we require their agreement to the St Andrews agreement. Otherwise there will be dissolution of the Assembly.

My Lords, while tributes have quite properly been paid to the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, and to the leadership of Sinn Fein, I detain your Lordships for a moment in paying tribute to the work, dedication and courage of the Prime Minister in bringing about this move towards an agreement. Does my noble friend agree that the success of devolution in Scotland and Wales has helped to change the climate in Northern Ireland? Again, that devolution has come about because of the courage of this Government, and this Prime Minister in particular.

My Lords, I agree entirely with my noble friend. The fact of the matter is that the Prime Minister could easily have walked away from this. He could easily have walked away and not spent the time that he has chosen to spend on it. Frankly, very few people would have blamed him if he had walked away; but he did not. He gave leadership to try to bring the parties to an agreement, and it can only be an agreement where each of the parties feels as though they share some of the success. As I have said, the language of defeat and victory must be abolished. They have all got to feel as though they have a share of the success, and that is what the Prime Minister has been able to do.

My Lords, I congratulate both Governments unreservedly on Friday’s achievement in Scotland and on the contents of today’s Statement. I got into trouble more than a decade ago for congratulating the leaders of Sinn Fein on their courage. I do not think that I shall get into any trouble at all today if I especially congratulate the right honourable gentleman for North Antrim, Dr Paisley, on his courage. Of all the 14 places where Robert the Bruce may have famously observed the stamina of the spider, the most favoured is Rathlin Island, off the north Antrim coast. Now we have further proof. When does the Minister think the most fruitful time would be for your Lordships’ House to debate these historic matters?

My Lords, I cannot comment on that, but I pay tribute to the work of the noble Lord. I am told that the people of Rathlin Island vote to a man and woman for the leader of the DUP, because he got them electricity as a constituency Member, so he is definitely in their favour.

My Lords, like everyone else who has spoken, I think the people who made this proposal for an agreement are to be congratulated from all sides. I have three questions for the Minister. This is about devolution and not independence. Is there any indication from Sinn Fein that when we have a devolved Assembly—if we have it—it will come to Parliament to represent its constituents and make the proper Oath of Allegiance so that it can serve its constituents not only in the devolved Assembly but in this Parliament?

Secondly, I have a question on Annexe B, which says:

“We will establish a forum on a Bill of Rights and convene its inaugural meeting in December 2006”.

Why does a devolved Northern Ireland need a separate Bill of Rights? We already have a Bill of Rights that applies to the whole of the United Kingdom. I would like to hear the Minister’s comments on why there is a proposal for Northern Ireland to have a separate Bill of Rights when it will still be part of the United Kingdom.

Finally, will the Minister explain the sentence on page 5 of the Statement:

“Power will be devolved and d’Hondt will be run”?

Could we know what d’Hondt is? I think I probably do know, but not everyone does, and it would be nice to have it in Hansard.

My Lords, I will choose to answer the one easy question; d’Hondt is the formula for dividing up the proportions of the parties in the Executive to be Ministers. It is a well-known formula; I do not have a visual aid to explain how it works. It has worked before in Northern Ireland; it works elsewhere. Everyone accepts that it is a fair way to distribute seats.

On the other two questions, Annexe B speaks for itself. Northern Ireland has different rights and rules, and there is different legislation relating to equality. There are several mentions of that. Secondly, as far as the noble Lord’s first question is concerned: again, why put further hurdles in the way of parties who are coming to an agreement?

My Lords, I have two questions for the Minister. First, has the IRA now agreed to recognise British courts and British justice, which it has still steadfastly refused to do publicly? Incidentally, when is the McCartney case going to come to trial?

Secondly, I see that there is concern about victims, and that is very reassuring. When Martin McGuinness was last asked whether they would allow back those people who had been expelled from Northern Ireland by the paramilitaries, he said that that would not be in the interests of the community, and they would not do it. Has that issue been taken up? Are the rights of those people, very many of them expelled for the most monstrous reasons, to be taken up? I ask because it is little use to talk about victims without paying attention to the victims who still exist and who need not be victims.

My Lords, as I recall, one of the four orders due in Grand Committee next week relates to victims; it may relate to the victims’ commissioner. I will be happy to take advice to answer that. I cannot possibly comment on the McCartney case; it is not relevant to this Statement.

As far as recognising the courts is concerned, the specific answer to the question is, “I don’t know”. But the point is that we are dealing here with the devolution of the criminal justice and policing system of Northern Ireland. That is what this has all been about, and the recognition and acceptance of that has actually been the key to unlocking movement to get the Assembly back. So movement is under way on this, and that is clearly set out both in the Statement that has been made by the Secretary of State and in the agreement. We will know by 10 November.