Northern Ireland: Legacy of the Troubles

Debate between Baroness Suttie and Lord Caine
Tuesday 7th May 2024

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Caine Portrait Lord Caine (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for her question. As I said in an earlier answer, the High Court in Belfast found that the legislation is compatible with human rights law in respect of independence and the ability to carry out effective investigations. To take her point about disclosure, the disclosure provisions offer the prospect of better outcomes than current mechanisms.

Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
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My Lords, does the Minister accept that the ongoing uncertainty caused by the Government’s appeal against the High Court ruling on immunity is merely prolonging the pain and uncertainty for victims and their families who have already waited so long for justice?

Lord Caine Portrait Lord Caine (Con)
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The noble Baroness will not be surprised to hear that I do not agree. The commission, as she knows, became fully operational last week and is now proceeding with its work under the distinguished leadership of Sir Declan Morgan, the former Lord Chief Justice, and Peter Sheridan, a former senior police officer.

Northern Ireland Executive Formation

Debate between Baroness Suttie and Lord Caine
Thursday 1st February 2024

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
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My Lords, I too thank the Minister for repeating yesterday’s Statement and commend him and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for their dedication and hard work in all their efforts to secure the deal that we are discussing today.

Northern Ireland is in a significantly more hopeful place as a result of this deal, which is greatly to be welcomed. After two years of political vacuum in Northern Ireland, the most important thing is that the Executive and the Assembly can get back to work as soon as possible, for there is so much to do. It is tragic that so much time has been wasted when so much has needed to be done. It has been nearly two years, during which time the healthcare system, education and public services in Northern Ireland have reached crisis point. But, as Naomi Long, leader of the Alliance Party, said on Tuesday:

“The priority now is where we go from here, not where we have been”.


I am glad that the deal has very much been welcomed in Northern Ireland, at least by the majority. There is a palpable sense of relief, and a recognition across the board that it is surely better for local people to be taking these decisions and, if necessary, pushing for further improvements and further reforms. Once the Assembly and the Executive are fully functioning again, Northern Ireland will have a stronger voice in both Westminster and Brussels. It is also welcome that the funds, the £3.3 billion, can now be released, as the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, said. It is the Executive who will be best placed to decide how this money should be used.

The stalemate of the last two years has served nobody well. Indeed, the stop-start nature of devolution in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday/Belfast agreement has meant that Northern Ireland has been held back from reaching its full potential. It is unacceptable that, for five of the last seven years, there has been no functioning Executive.

But people and businesses in Northern Ireland need to know that this deal will last. As was said many times during debate on the Statement in the House of Commons yesterday, there needs to be a bedrock of stability so that it is no longer possible for one party to collapse the Executive. Like the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, I would be grateful if the Minister can confirm that he will, with the parties in Northern Ireland, examine ways to ensure that the stability of the institutions can be better protected in future.

As has been said, particularly in the House of Commons, this is now an opportunity for Northern Ireland: an opportunity to ensure that it is a place where people want to invest and where families want to choose to come and live. There is so much potential, and I sincerely hope that, this time, this agreement will last.

Lord Caine Portrait Lord Caine (Con)
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My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Murphy of Torfaen, and the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, for their support for the deal reached by my right honourable friend that was announced yesterday. In response to the noble Lord, he talked about this as a considerable achievement. He knows from his own experience as the negotiator of strand 1 back in 1998, just how difficult and challenging these issues are and can be. I am grateful for what he said and will of course pass on his congratulations to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, which I know will be greatly appreciated.

The noble Lord, Lord Murphy, also mentioned the contribution of civil servants. I completely agree that they have done a fantastic job in Northern Ireland, keeping public services running and, in many respects, really holding society together there. In addition, I put on record my thanks to officials, both in the Northern Ireland Office and the Cabinet Office, for the outstanding work that they have done in pulling together the deal that was announced yesterday.

I also place on record that I agree with the noble Lord about the contribution of Sir Jeffrey Donaldson. I have known Jeffrey since 1988, believe it or not, so we go back some way. As the Secretary of State mentioned in his Statement, he has always been a true unionist, committed to making Northern Ireland a safer, more prosperous and better place. I really do commend the contribution that Sir Jeffrey has made to this outcome.

The noble Lord referred to the guarantees around the internal market, which are of course very important. Northern Ireland’s biggest trading partner by far is Great Britain, which is by far the most important market for Northern Ireland. We are confident that, as a result of what has been agreed now, there will be a smooth flow of goods circulating throughout the United Kingdom. He was right to highlight the benefits that will bring to Northern Ireland, alongside the privileged access that it will retain for goods moving into the EU single market. That should be a huge selling point for the newly restored Executive in working with the UK Government to try to attract foreign direct investment into Northern Ireland. It really gives Northern Ireland some unique advantages that are not available anywhere else.

The noble Lord referred to the strand 2 bodies. As noble Lords throughout the House are aware, the Belfast agreement is a three-stranded agreement, all of which strands are interlocking and dependent upon each other. Without strand 1 in operation, the Assembly and Executive, the strand 2 bodies have not been able to function properly or to realise the hopes and objectives for them that were contained in the 1998 agreement. With the restoration of the Assembly and Executive, those strand 2 bodies will start to function fully again, along with the strand 3 bodies. For the past couple of years, there have been notable absentees from the meetings of the British-Irish Council, for example, with two empty chairs for the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland. I look forward to the next meeting of the BIC and seeing the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister taking their rightful places in those bodies.

The noble Lord also made reference to the financial package and strongly welcomed the sums available. It is a significant package, alongside a new Barnett formula. Going forward, the formula will be subject to negotiation between the Treasury and the Northern Ireland Executive. What has been agreed around that is very positive for Northern Ireland and will significantly help an incoming Executive to meet some of the very real challenges the noble Lord raised, and which I fully acknowledge, in the coming months and years.

The noble Lord asked about the next steps. The next step is for the parties to approach the Speaker to recall the Northern Ireland Assembly. The first item of business will be to elect a new Speaker. Thereafter it will be to appoint a new First and Deputy First Minister. The next step is to run the d’Hondt system, which the noble Lord knows only too well, in order to allocate the Ministers from each of the parties who are eligible to take up places in the Executive. Hopefully, that will all happen very swiftly. I cannot give a precise timetable. One of the reasons the other place is debating the statutory instruments today, only one day after publication, is as a clear signal of our intent that this moves as quickly as possible, and we get the institutions back up and running in the shortest possible timeframe.

The noble Lord and the noble Baroness talked about trying to introduce reforms and measures to promote greater resilience of the institutions and to prevent a similar scenario—one party pulling down the institutions—happening again. We all recall that, between 2017 and 2020, Sinn Féin did that and of course we are familiar with the history of the past two years. It is something that, at some point, I personally think we will need to look at, and the Government have always made it very clear that the Belfast/Good Friday agreement has never been set in tablets of stone. There is the capacity for it to evolve, as it did at St Andrews in 2006, and changes were made after the Stormont House agreement in 2014. We have always been open, as I have said on a number of occasions in this House, to sensible reforms, so long as those reforms command cross-community support and are consistent with the underlying and enduring principles of the Belfast agreement.

The priority for now must be to get the institutions back up and running, established and functioning, supported by the financial package, to finalise the programme for government and then to start tackling the really tough challenges the Executive face. Thereafter, I think there is room for a sensible debate about how we can possibly prevent this happening in future. For now, we should focus on re-establishing the institutions and getting things up and running with the support of the UK Government and, where appropriate under the three-stranded approach, the Irish Government. They will be supporting and helping the Executive to get stuck into the challenges and to start building that brighter, stronger, more prosperous future for Northern Ireland, which I have always maintained, along with my right honourable friend, is the surest foundation for strengthening our union.

Northern Ireland: Industrial Action

Debate between Baroness Suttie and Lord Caine
Wednesday 17th January 2024

(5 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Caine Portrait Lord Caine (Con)
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I am grateful to my noble friend. I entirely agree with his first points about the Windsor Framework. From everything I have seen, the framework appears to be working very well. On his second point, I am afraid I part company in that I see no evidence to support the proposition he made. In respect of reform, we have always made it clear that we will look at any sensible reforms to the system that are consistent with the underlying principles of the Belfast agreement.

Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
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My Lords, the continued lack of an Assembly and Executive is now reaching crisis point, and the people of Northern Ireland are being badly let down. Clearly, as the parties in Northern Ireland have said, the funds should be released. Further to his answer to the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, can the Minister confirm that, in the forthcoming legislation to deal with the situation in Northern Ireland, nothing should be left off the table in terms of reform?

Lord Caine Portrait Lord Caine (Con)
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I am very grateful to the noble Baroness. I repeat what I said to my noble friend Lord Clarke of Nottingham; sensible reforms will always be considered so long as they can command widespread consent across the community and are consistent with the principles of the agreement. On the legislation, I am afraid I cannot pre-empt what my right honourable friend is likely to announce next week. All I can do is urge the noble Baroness to contain her excitement for a few days.

Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill

Debate between Baroness Suttie and Lord Caine
Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
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I echo a lot of the comments that the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, has just made, and the Minister’s comments about remembering. It is very important that we never forget all those impacted and killed by the Troubles.

I too start by thanking the Minister for the constructive way in which he has engaged on the Bill, given the constraints that he faces at the other end of the building. He has always shown himself willing to meet and discuss, and I know that he has dedicated a considerable amount of time to the Bill, including during the summer holiday last year, perhaps. For that we thank him.

Again, like the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, most of us feel that, although the amendments are to a very large degree to be welcomed, they are not game-changing; they have not really changed the Bill to the extent to which many of us would have liked to see. I am sure that we will return to that issue at later stages, but this group is a positive example of amendments that these Benches are happy to welcome.

Lord Caine Portrait Lord Caine (Con)
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I am very grateful to the noble Lord and noble Baroness for their support and kind words, and I hope that this year I might actually get some time off during the summer. That might be the triumph of hope over experience, but you never know. I take great heart from the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Murphy of Torfaen, when he describes the Government as having made a “clever move”. I welcome that, and I am very grateful. The amendments that I have proposed will strengthen the independence of the commission.

Flags (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations 2023

Debate between Baroness Suttie and Lord Caine
Wednesday 26th April 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
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My Lords, it has been an interesting short debate. I too shall be brief because, clearly, the Liberal Democrats also support the regulations that we are debating today.

As other noble Lords have said, the debate is perhaps an opportunity to remember the late Queen Elizabeth II and all that she did to strengthen the United Kingdom and our relations with Ireland during that extremely historic visit.

I hope the Minister may recall that when we last debated designated flag days last September, I asked him whether further consideration had been given to adding to the number of days through commemorating the Battle of the Somme. Several noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, gave their support to the idea. Have the Government reached a view on adding that battle to the designated flag days?

While I support the regulations, I think it vital that we repeat the importance of respecting how people feel about the flag and its symbolism. I also support what the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, said about hoping that the Northern Ireland Assembly returns as soon as possible.

I sincerely hope that the Coronation goes smoothly and enjoyably, and that the festivities go well in Northern Ireland as well as elsewhere in the United Kingdom and the wider world.

Lord Caine Portrait Lord Caine (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to those who have contributed to this short but well-informed and important debate on the regulations before us. As seems customary on these occasions, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Murphy of Torfaen, with whom I concur on virtually everything he said. He and other speakers, including the noble Baroness, my noble friend Lord Rogan and the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Belmont, rightly paid tribute to the legacy of Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth. Like other noble Lords, I was privileged to be present at some of those historic occasions; for example, the handshake in the Lyric Theatre in 2012 during the Diamond Jubilee tour of Northern Ireland. Like my noble friend Lord Rogan, I was also present at Bushmills on that day in 2016 when Her late Majesty unveiled the statue of Robert Quigg. It was a poignant and moving ceremony.

I agree also with what has been said about His Majesty the King and his deep commitment to Northern Ireland. Without in any way going into private conversations, I think we can all be confident that His Majesty will do everything to maintain the marvellous legacy of his late mother, whose ability to bring people together from across the community divide in Northern Ireland was a remarkable achievement. I am sure that will continue under His Majesty.

I also agree, of course, with the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, about the need to get the Assembly back up and running and this being an absolute priority. My noble friend Lord Rogan referred to the events of 25 years ago, with which he was intimately associated—as was the noble Lord who chaired strand 1 of the talks. He referred to the fact that we were together at Queen’s last week for some events to mark the 25th anniversary. It reminded us how important it is to get these institutions back up and running as quickly as possible so that we can start to build a Northern Ireland that works in the interests of the whole community there; that is the surest foundation for Northern Ireland’s position in the United Kingdom.

Windsor Framework

Debate between Baroness Suttie and Lord Caine
Tuesday 7th March 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Caine Portrait Lord Caine (Con)
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I am grateful to my noble friend; I cannot imagine what possible point he is trying to make with his question, but I can assure him that the attributes he set out are all ones that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has in spades.

Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
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My Lords, does the Minister agree that what businesses in Northern Ireland need now is stability and the ability to plan? Does he further agree that, while it is reasonable to allow all parties, including the DUP, time to examine the Windsor deal in detail, it is not reasonable to allow one party to continue to block progress indefinitely?

Lord Caine Portrait Lord Caine (Con)
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I am very grateful to the noble Baroness. She is absolutely right that Northern Ireland needs stability and certainty. As I said in response to a Question last week, for those of us who passionately believe in the union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and Northern Ireland’s position within the United Kingdom, restoring the institutions and having political stability in Northern Ireland, and building a Northern Ireland that works for all parts of the community, is the surest foundation for strengthening the United Kingdom.

Stormont Brake

Debate between Baroness Suttie and Lord Caine
Thursday 2nd March 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

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Lord Caine Portrait Lord Caine (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord. I must call him my noble friend, because we go back so many years. He makes very important points. I thank him for his contributions on these subjects, not only today but over a number of months and years. Of course, he is right to highlight the importance of stability, to which I referred in an earlier answer. That is the surest foundation for the union and for strengthening Northern Ireland’s position within the United Kingdom.

On the broader point, he referred to derogations. So much of what we have had to do through grace periods and easements has now been made permanent because of the Windsor Framework. That allows us to move on. In a similar vein to my noble friend Lord Cormack, I hope that one of the consequences of this is that we can now move forward, not just in Northern Ireland but in our broader relationships with friends, partners and colleagues in the European Union.

Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
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My Lords, I, too, welcome the agreement and hope that it will lead very soon to a return to a functioning Assembly and Executive—for if there is no Stormont, there is no Stormont brake. Given the very real concerns of the Alliance Party and the SDLP, can the Minister say whether the Government intend to introduce a review mechanism to assess how the Stormont brake is working in practice once it is up and running?

Lord Caine Portrait Lord Caine (Con)
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Of course, and I recognise that different parties will have different views and concerns. One purpose of the engagement that my right honourable friend will undertake in the coming days will be to establish what they are and where we can find agreement. As I said in my Answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, the framework—the clue is in the name—sets out the framework for the Stormont brake, but there are some details to be filled in as to how things are codified. There will need to be legislation in this area setting out things in more detail, and I am sure that will be part of it.

Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland: Supreme Court Judgment

Debate between Baroness Suttie and Lord Caine
Thursday 9th February 2023

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
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My Lords, further to that answer, does the Minister agree that this ruling increases the urgency to make real progress on the negotiations as soon as possible? The sooner there is a return to Stormont and the Executive, the better this will be for the people of Northern Ireland, given the cost of living crisis they currently face.

Lord Caine Portrait Lord Caine (Con)
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The noble Baroness will be aware that I have been a consistent supporter of the Belfast agreement since it was reached on 10 April 1998. We are about to mark its 25th anniversary. I agree with her earlier comments. A protocol that was designed to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland and to protect the 1998 agreement in all its parts is now having the unintended consequence of undermining and placing strain on that agreement. I agree with the noble Baroness entirely that we need to resolve these issues as quickly as possible and get Stormont back to work.

Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill

Debate between Baroness Suttie and Lord Caine
Lord Caine Portrait Lord Caine (Con)
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That was in response to you.

Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
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Indeed, it was in response to my request. So I think we in this Chamber all recognise that the Minister not only has engaged very actively but has a tremendous amount of personal experience on this. Because of this, he has a tremendous amount of doubt about some of the elements currently in the Bill.

It is very welcome that the Minister has made a commitment to use Committee to continue to listen and engage on these concerns, and to listen to the very strongly held views of the House, which reflect the wider concerns in Northern Ireland and beyond. It is in that spirit that I hope that he will listen to the debate today.

Amendment 1 seeks to probe whether the definition in the list of eight narrowly defined characteristics on page 2 of the Bill is sufficiently broad to ensure that all those who wish to use the ICRIR are in a position to be able to do so. The trouble always with producing such lists is that they often accidentally result in some people being excluded and could therefore risk seeing some victims being denied justice. While acknowledging that the list is actually broader than was contained in the Stormont House agreement, it should be noted that the Stormont House agreement allowed for alternative legal routes, such as civil cases and inquests. It is worth exploring in Committee whether a longer list, or a more flexible approach to a list, could be adopted. We would be very happy to discuss the possible wording with the Minister between now and Report.

The Minister will know that the Commission for Victims and Survivors has expressed particular concern about the need to demonstrate severe psychiatric damage. At the time when many of the atrocities took place, people did not always have access to mental health medical services, so the link between the incident and mental health may not be clear.

The Minister will be aware that the Joint Committee on Human Rights has also expressed concern about the current list of eight characteristics producing arbitrary outcomes. As paragraph 73 of its report on the Bill states:

“For example, consider that there are two similar cases concerning torture but resulting in differing harms. The first case results in severe brain injury—this type of harm falls under the definition of a ‘serious offence’. Where immunity is not granted, the case may be prosecuted. The second case of torture results in severe damage to one or more organs—this type of harm does not fall under the definition of a ‘serious’ offence—there is, therefore, no possibility of a prosecution. It is not clear why these cases ought to be treated differently.”


To give another specific example, I would query the use of the terms under subsection (6)(e) and (f), which list the characteristics of “total blindness” or “total deafness”. Surely, partial blindness or partial deafness would still have a potentially very traumatic impact on a person’s life. I urge the Minister to examine this section of the Bill again to see whether it could be redrafted in a more flexible manner so that people are not accidentally excluded from access to the ICRIR. I am sure—or at least I hope—that this was not the original intention behind the drafting of this clause. I beg to move.

Northern Ireland Elections

Debate between Baroness Suttie and Lord Caine
Monday 14th November 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
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My Lords, I too am grateful for the opportunity to discuss last week’s Statement. An election at this time, as the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, said, would have been an expensive distraction and would almost certainly not have resulted in any kind of breakthrough in the impasse. It is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Murphy. Not only does he speak with such great authority and common sense but, for many of us, me included, he symbolises a more optimistic time in Northern Ireland politics.

Nearly 25 years on since the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, it is very important to recall that it was not always like this. There have been times of great hope and optimism. The peace process has previously been held up as a positive example to many other troubled parts of the world. But, as the Minister knows all too well, with all his years of experience, those more optimistic times did not happen without hard work, dedication, dialogue and commitment at the highest level. Mutual respect and trust were absolutely key to this.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, I appeal to the Prime Minister to take an active role in finding a solution and a way forward out of this impasse, for it is in the interests of the whole United Kingdom for him to do so. Continued stalemate in Belfast is damaging to our reputation and is not in our national interest. So can the Minister confirm when and whether the Prime Minister plans to visit Northern Ireland next?

I am a Scot who believes strongly in the United Kingdom. I am not from Northern Ireland but, in the six years of closely following Northern Ireland matters in your Lordships’ House, I have come to understand the intensity and strength of feelings—and indeed anger—that have come to pervade Northern Ireland politics since 2016. An already complex history has become so very much more complex and complicated since Brexit. Cross-community consensus is the only way forward but, to quote my honourable friend Stephen Farry MP,

“power sharing is about power sharing happening; it is not about blocking it from happening.”—[Official Report, Commons, 20/7/22; col. 1026.]

The Minister will be aware that the leader of the Alliance Party, Naomi Long, wrote to the Prime Minister on 25 October setting out some suggestions for reform. If the choice becomes between deadlock and direct rule, is this not the time for the Good Friday/Belfast agreement to evolve and develop to meet the current circumstances? As the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, said in a debate last week, any reforms to the Belfast agreement have to be “by agreement”; it cannot be

“changed unilaterally by one side or the other.”—[Official Report, 7/11/22; col. 535.]

Can the Minister indicate when he anticipates that Naomi Long will receive a response to her letter?

As a true believer in devolution, I say that it is hard not to reflect what a fully functioning Northern Ireland Executive would be in a position to achieve right now. A functioning Executive could have been working to resolve the crisis in the healthcare system and to deal with those issues surrounding legacy and moving on from the past—for example, through promoting a truly integrated education system. Perhaps most importantly, a functioning Executive could have been promoting Northern Ireland as a positive place to do business and to attract inward investment, with its unique access to both the United Kingdom and EU markets.

I am not in any way underplaying the scale of the problems facing Northern Ireland politics at this time, but surely the Government, as well as all the political parties in Northern Ireland, owe it to the people of Northern Ireland to try again, to change the tone and to start again with a fresh approach to negotiations, both in Brussels and in Belfast. Not to do so would, I believe, be unforgivable as we approach the 25th anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement.

Lord Caine Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Caine) (Con)
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My Lords, before I reply to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Murphy of Torfaen, and the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, I want to place on record my sadness at the news today of the death of the very eminent Northern Ireland historian Dr Éamon Phoenix, an outstanding public figure who will be greatly missed. We send our deepest sympathies to his family. Also, I am also very conscious that today marks the 41st anniversary of the brutal murder by the IRA of the former Member of Parliament for Belfast South, the Reverend Robert Bradford, and the caretaker at the Finaghy Community Centre, Kenneth Campbell. If I can pick up on some comments that have been made recently in Northern Ireland, there was always an alternative to terrorism.

I am incredibly grateful to the noble Lord who, as always, speaks with great wisdom on Northern Ireland affairs, as a very distinguished former Secretary of State; as, indeed, does the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie. I welcome their comments on the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and the approaching 25th anniversary. The noble Lord played a key role in securing that agreement back in 1998 as the chair of strand 1, I believe. The House should be in no doubt that this Government are absolutely determined to restore as quickly as possible a fully functioning devolved Administration, which will then allow the other institutions in strands 2 and 3 to function effectively.

The noble Lord and the noble Baroness highlighted some of the problems that Northern Ireland currently faces and that we should be looking to a restored Executive to address as a matter of urgency. Only recently, the outgoing Northern Ireland Finance Minister pointed to a £660 million black hole in the Executive’s finances and this, of course, is having a very damaging impact on key public services, not least the National Health Service and education in Northern Ireland. So, I absolutely agree with noble Lords who are very keen and very desperate to get the institutions back up and running. I can assure noble Lords that that is the Government’s very clear commitment.

The noble Lord, Lord Murphy, referred to the need for a plan and a structure. I very much take on board what he says about that, given his experience. I too have been involved in a number of talks processes in Northern Ireland—some successful, some less so. It is always a difficult decision, how exactly we move these things forward, but I very much take his comments on board. One of the reasons, obviously, for delaying the election and postponing the election duty under which the Secretary of State is currently, is to give extra time and space, first for our discussions with the European Union over the protocol but also in the hope that the Northern Ireland parties can come together in some form, ready to restore an Executive.

Both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness referred to prime ministerial involvement. I hope both will welcome the fact that the Prime Minister attended the British-Irish Council meeting in Blackpool last week—the first that a Prime Minister has attended, I believe, since 2007. I understand that at that meeting there was very constructive engagement between the Prime Minister and the outgoing Taoiseach, Micheál Martin. I look forward to those discussions and that engagement continuing. I cannot give the noble Baroness a precise time and date as to when the Prime Minister will next step foot in Northern Ireland itself, but I assure her that resolving these issues is very much a top priority.

I will add one word of caution—or a caveat, if you like—based on all our experiences. Yes, of course prime ministerial involvement is important, but it is not always the silver bullet. The noble Lord, Lord Murphy, will recall Leeds Castle in 2004 and the Hillsborough declaration in 2003. I was involved in the Stormont House negotiations, when there was limited involvement from the then Prime Minister yet we had a successful agreement. Prime ministerial involvement is not always a guarantee of success, but I very much take on board the comments made.

I absolutely share the sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, about not wanting to drift into direct rule. Both he and I have both been in the Northern Ireland Office during periods of direct rule, and it is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs. I agree entirely that Northern Ireland is best governed when it governs itself under the devolved Administration.

The noble Baroness referred to the letter sent by Naomi Long to the Prime Minister. I will go back to officials and try to establish where we are with the draft response to that.

We had long debates about reform of the institutions on the then Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill. As I set out at the time, the Government are not opposed to the reform and evolution of the institutions, but the noble Baroness will be aware that since the mid-1990s we have proceeded on the basis of what is known as the sufficient consensus rule. This means that changes to arrangements in Northern Ireland should have the support of parties that represent the majorities of unionism and nationalism. We are always open to ideas about how the institutions will evolve, so long as any reform or evolution is consistent with the underlying principles of the Belfast agreement which, to our minds, should be sacrosanct.

I am very grateful to both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness. I will take on board a number of their comments in discussions that I will have with the Secretary of State as we chart the way forward over the next few weeks and months with the sincere hope that the Belfast/Good Friday agreement is upheld, maintained and protected, and the institutions restored as soon as that is possible.

Northern Ireland Protocol Bill

Debate between Baroness Suttie and Lord Caine
Lord Caine Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Caine) (Con)
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My Lords, I am very grateful, as ever, to the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, for moving Amendment 25. Much to my astonishment, the debate has veered away somewhat from the strict terms of her amendment. However, let me say at the outset, as I have said before, that I very much share the noble Baroness’s frustration at the lack of a sitting and functioning Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly. Of course, one of the motivations behind this legislation is to try to facilitate a situation in which those institutions might be restored. It is sensible that we always go back to why we are doing this and why we are legislating.

I can also sympathise with the intention behind the noble Baroness’s amendment, but the Government’s view is that it is unnecessary. To answer the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, and I think to some extent the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman of Darlington, the Government have absolutely no intention whatever to use the powers in Clause 15 to alter the operation of the democratic consent mechanism in Article 18.

I appreciate that there are different views on the mechanism itself; they were aired to some extent a few moments ago. They have been debated extensively in this House, and I seem to recall that they even managed to make their way into the debate on the Ministers, elections and petitions of concern Bill at the end of last year and the beginning of this one—so, if my noble friend Lord Dodds of Duncairn will forgive me, I do not really wish to reopen that whole debate again at this late hour of the evening.

To answer the further question from the noble Baroness, the vote in the Assembly will be on Articles 5 to 10 of the protocol.

Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
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Is that the protocol as amended, or the original?

Lord Caine Portrait Lord Caine (Con)
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The vote will be on Articles 5 to 10, regardless of any changes in domestic law made by this Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, will recall that securing the consent mechanism was, in the view of the Government at the time, one of the key measures which paved the way for them to agree to the revised Northern Ireland protocol in the autumn of 2019. It follows therefore that it would make no sense for the Government subsequently to remove what was seen at the time as a key part of the protocol. It is perhaps because this point is so self-evident to the Government that we did not see the need to protect this element of the protocol under Clause 15(1). The clause is not intended to provide an exhaustive list of every single article of the protocol that we do not intend to alter and therefore we have not listed other articles which we have no intention to amend.

For the avoidance of doubt, I can confirm to the noble Baroness that the democratic consent process remains an integral part of the Northern Ireland protocol. The protocol should not, and indeed cannot, continue unless it retains the support of a majority of Members voting in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Again, I hear the points made by my noble friend Lord Dodds of Duncairn in that respect, but I am just setting out the position as it stands.

I hope that this reassures the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman, Lady Suttie and Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, that we have no intention of using the powers to alter in any way the mechanism in Article 18.

Northern Ireland Protocol Bill

Debate between Baroness Suttie and Lord Caine
Lord Caine Portrait Lord Caine (Con)
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As the noble Lord rightly pointed out, we will deal with this subject in the fourth group of amendments. I shall be responding for the Government, so if he can contain himself, we will deal with it at the appropriate point—if we get there this evening.

In summary, we do not think that it would be right to make implementation of measures in this Bill contingent on the restoration of the institutions, given the urgency of the situation in Northern Ireland to which the Government must respond.

I turn briefly to Amendments 68 and 69, also in the name of the noble Baroness. Taken together, these would make the commencement of all operational aspects of the Bill dependent on the approval of the Northern Ireland Assembly. At the risk of repeating myself, it is because of the operation of the protocol that the Assembly has not sat since February. We do not know how long this state of affairs will persist. The situation in Northern Ireland is urgent, and we cannot allow addressing the problems with the protocol to be delayed indefinitely.

The noble Lord, Lord Bew—I should really call him my noble friend—rightly referred to the fact that trade has been a reserved matter ever since the Government of Ireland Act 1920. The amendments would essentially prevent the Government making secondary legislation in a reserved area. That is another reason why we cannot accept them.

Given the urgency of the situation—the need to fix the protocol—it would not be right to make the implementation of the vital measures in this Bill contingent on the restoration of the Assembly and Executive. For those reasons, I ask the noble Baroness not to press her amendments.

Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
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My Lords, I begin by echoing the Minister’s comments on May Blood. On behalf of these Benches, I pass on our condolences to her family. I heard about her when I first went to Belfast, and she was held up as a role model for so many in Northern Ireland.

At the outset, I said that this would be a probing amendment. It would be fair to say that it has provoked and probed quite extensively. We have covered a variety of topics, with some very interesting and thought-provoking speeches. In particular, I single out the very measured speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and that of my noble friend Lord Bruce, who perhaps displayed his irritations and frustrations with the situation a little bit more clearly than I did.

As ever, I found myself agreeing entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann. They are both absolutely right in their analysis that things are being done to Northern Ireland rather than for it. That is, in essence, the purpose of these amendments: they are probing amendments about the principle of consulting, and not just with one part of one community.

I totally agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. It was a wonderful piece of common sense. Would that we could all now finish what could perhaps be described as a waste of our collective time. There was an interesting series of contributions none the less.

I want to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, who rightly said that the amendments are about the principle of consultation—consulting the Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly and, in their absence, making sure that they are properly involved in the process. I fear that the Minister did not really expand on how that will happen in the weeks and months ahead.

It is, perhaps, one of the peculiarities of this Bill that no one department ever seems to want to take ownership of it. However, it was very welcome to have the Minister from the Northern Ireland Office today because, with all his experience, he was at least able to speak first hand about the consultation and the details of this legislation.

To repeat, the Northern Ireland protocol is a problem of this Government’s own making. Finding practical solutions needs to be their responsibility. However, it is important to listen to all voices in Northern Ireland and, as I said earlier, not just those of one part of one community. It is hard to see how creating further ill will through this legislation will achieve that aim. However, I will not press these amendments this afternoon but reserve the option of re-tabling them on Report, depending on what happens in the weeks ahead in Northern Ireland around the possible elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly. I beg leave to withdraw.

Northern Ireland: Operation Kenova

Debate between Baroness Suttie and Lord Caine
Thursday 14th July 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Caine Portrait Lord Caine (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for her question and acknowledge her work on Kenova, and as a former Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. She makes a large number of points, which are probably worthy of a debate rather than Question Time. She highlighted the point that over 30 case files are currently with the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland. Funding for the DPP and the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland is a devolved matter for the Assembly, not for Her Majesty’s Government. It highlights the fact that the cases where criminal justice outcomes have been sought take a huge amount of time. The Government are trying to focus on moving towards a more information recovery-based approach to legacy cases, which will, we hope, allow victims to access more information more quickly than would be the case with long, drawn-out prosecutions.

Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
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My Lords, as the Minister said, he knows how important it is to build consensus on this matter in Norther Ireland. However, it is clear—I hope he will acknowledge this—that there is no consensus for the legacy Bill. I am pleased the Minister has agreed to meet the victims’ groups and the political parties in Stormont over the summer, but will he commit to listening to what they say and bringing forward a different Bill or, preferably, to scrapping the Bill as it stands?

Lord Caine Portrait Lord Caine (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for her question. As I think I have outlined in my response to previous questions, I am very happy to do that. I think she will know, from experience of dealing with me, that I am always prepared to listen.

Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland

Debate between Baroness Suttie and Lord Caine
Monday 16th May 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
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My Lords, does the Minister acknowledge that unilateral action would not carry the support of the majority in the Northern Ireland Assembly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, has said, and could potentially do huge economic and diplomatic damage at this time?

Lord Caine Portrait Lord Caine (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Baroness. In recent days, I have reflected on the number of people who, for decades, told us that we could never proceed in Northern Ireland on the basis of majority rule and majoritarianism, who are now the greatest champions of proceeding on that basis. It is clearly unsustainable to have a protocol in operation in Northern Ireland in its current form, which does not command the support of the largest designation of the Northern Ireland Assembly. That position is unsustainable and is what we are trying to fix.