§ Mr. Speaker
We now come to the important debate on the Anglo-Irish agreement. I have not selected either of the amendments on the Order Paper.
§ The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)
I beg to move,
That this House approves the Anglo-Irish Agreement (Cmnd. 9657) signed on 15th November by the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach, Dr. Garret FitzGerald.Since 1969, nearly 2,500 people have lost their lives in Northern Ireland as a result of terrorism, more than 750 of them members of the security forces. As the House is only too well aware, there has also been further loss of life among the armed forces, police and civilians in the remainder of the United Kingdom, including three of our colleagues in this House.
That is the stark background to today's debate and it takes us immediately to the historic divisions between the two communities in Northern Ireland, which we cannot ignore.
Whatever the differences that may emerge in our debate, I believe that we shall all be united in our determination to end the violence and to bring to justice those who are guilty. We shall all be united in our deep sympathy for the thousands of families whose lives have been darkened by the shadow of the gunman and the bomber; and we shall all be united in our admiration and gratitude for the men and women of the security forces in Northern Ireland and, indeed, from all parts of Great Britain, so many of whom have paid the price of protecting us with their own lives.
But it is apparent that any initiative, however modest, to bring the people of Northern Ireland closer together to beat the terrorists raises emotions and fears rooted deep in the past. I understand those fears, although I do not believe them to be justified.
Faced with all that we have seen in the past 16 years, it was not enough for the Government to rely solely upon the security forces, valiant though they are, to contain and resist the tide of violence. Let me make it clear that there can be no such thing as an acceptable level of violence, whether in Northern Ireland or elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The Government owe a duty to the security forces and to all the law-abiding people of Northern Ireland, Protestant and Catholic alike, to do everything within their power to stamp out terrorism—not by giving in to the terrorist, not by giving him a single inch. Indeed, the fact that the terrorists have condemned the agreement is a demonstration that we have done no such thing.
The fight against terrorism is greatly weakened if the community is divided against itself, and it is greatly strengthened if all people committed to democracy and the rule of law can join together against the men of violence. That, the Government felt, required a further attempt to reconcile the two communities in Northern Ireland.
The Unionist community, firmly loyal to the Crown and to the United Kingdom, represent a proud tradition of devotion to the Union which everyone in these islands should respect, and which this agreement does respect. They have a right to feel secure about Northern Ireland's position as part of the United Kingdom. This agreement, by reinforcing the principle of consent, should make them 748 feel more secure, not only today but in the future. Unionists have the assurance that neither an Irish Government, nor of course a British Government, will try to impose new constitutional arrangements upon them against their will.
The nationalist community think of themselves as Irish in terms of their identity, their social and cultural traditions and their political aspirations. The House can respect their identity too and acknowledge their aspirations, even though we may not see the prospect of their fulfilment.
The only lasting way to put an end to the violence and achieve the peace and stability in Northern Ireland is reconciliations between these two communities. That is the goal of this agreement.
I now draw the attention of the House to what I consider to be the most significant points of the agreement. The preamble sets out the commitment of the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic to work for reconciliation; our utter and total rejection of violence; our recognition and respect for the separate identities in Northern Ireland; and our acceptance of the right of each to pursue its aspirations by peaceful means. These principles reflect the hopes of both communities.
Article 1 of the agreement makes it abundantly clear that there is no threat whatsoever to Unionists' heartfelt desire to remain part of the United Kingdom. It provides, in a formally binding international accord, a recognition by the Irish Government that the status of Northern Ireland will remain unchanged as long as that is the wish of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland. It recognises also that the present wish of a majority is for no change in that status. There can be no better reply to the fears that have been expressed in the House than this explicit recognition of the legitimacy of the Unionist position.
Article 2 of the agreement acknowledges in a practical and strictly defined way the concern that the Irish Republic has with matters relating to Northern Ireland. In the past, that concern has sometimes been expressed in critical or negative terms which did not help the cause of harmony between the communities in Northern Ireland. Article 2, therefore, establishes an Intergovernmental Conference. This will have no executive authority either now or in the future. It will consider on a regular basis political, security and legal matters, including the administration of justice, as well as cross-border co-operation on security, economic and cultural matters.
This co-operation will not be a one-way street. The Irish Government will be able to put forward views and proposals on certain matters affecting Northern Ireland. We for our part shall be able to pursue issues of concern to all peace-loving people in Northern Ireland. Notably cooperation in the fight against terrorism—co-operation which goes beyond the borders of Northern Ireland. The matters within the scope of the conference are spelled out in greater detail in articles 4 to 9 of the agreement. I should like to draw the House's attention to three particular points about these articles. First, if devolution is restored, those matters that become the responsibility of the devolved Government will no longer be within the purview of the intergovernmental conference. We hope that the agreement will encourage the constitutional representatives of both communities to come together to form a local administration acceptable to both. This hope has been specifically endorsed by the Irish Government. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern 749 Ireland will be exploring with the constitutional parties how best to make progress. Meantime, the Assembly continues in being, with all its statutory responsibilities.
Secondly, article 8, which deals with legal matters, says that consideration will be given to the possibility of establishing mixed courts. Let me say straightaway that we have absolute confidence in the judiciary in Northern Ireland. Indeed, the integrity and courage which they have shown in recent years in maintaining high standards of judicial impartiality have been outstanding.
We know the difficulties which would be involved in mixed courts both in Northern Ireland and in the republic. We recognise the reservations which are held by the legal profession. We see no easy or early way through these difficulties. That is why, although we are prepared to consider in good faith the possibility of them at some future time, we have made it clear that we are under no commitment to introduce them.
Thirdly, I draw the House's attention to the proposals for improved security co-operation in article 9. This provides for a programme of work to be undertaken by the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Commissioner of the Garda to improve co-operation in such matters as threat assessment, exchange of information, technical co-operation, training of personnel and operational resources.
The really vital element in this programme is fuller and faster exchange of information, especially pre-emptive intelligence which helps to prevent acts of terrorism.
These are specific measures which I believe will lead to real improvements in security—improvements which will be welcome above all to those men and women who live in the border areas and who have been subjected to so many merciless attacks designed to drive them from their homes and farms.
That improvement should be further reinforced by the Irish Government's intention to accede to the European convention on the suppression of terrorism.
The convention's purpose is to ensure that those who commit terrorist offences should be brought to justice and that any offences involving the use of explosives or firearms should not be regarded as political.
Irish accession should greatly increase our prospects of securing extradition from the republic of persons accused or convicted or terrorist crimes. This will be a major and a welcome step forward in the war against terrorism.
I draw the House's attention to the reference in article 12 to the possible establishment of an Anglo-Irish interparliamentary body. Both we and the Irish Government felt that this was a matter for our Parliaments themselves rather than for Governments to pursue. I hope that contacts will be established through the usual channels to consider how discussions on an interparliamentary body can most effectively be taken forward.
I have tried to explain to the House the most significant points of the agreement. In view of some of the mistaken claims about it, I want also to say something about what is not in the agreement. The agreement does not affect the status of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. It does not set us on some imagined slippery slope to Irish unity, and it is nonsense to claim that it might.
The effect of article 1 is to confirm the provision in section 1 of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 that Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom as long as a majority there so wish. That again is a 750 recognition of reality. The guarantee for the majority lies in the fact that it is a majority. That fundamental point is reinforced by this agreement.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
I have listened carefully to the right hon. Lady. Can she explain why the Irish Government signed the agreement?
§ The Prime Minister
I believe that the Irish Government signed the agreement because they share with us its objectives: to try to defeat the men of violence and to try to achieve peace and stability for all the people who live, and who will continue to live, in Northern Ireland. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to read it, all of this is set out fully in the preamble to the agreement.
Second, I want to make it clear that the agreement does not detract from British sovereignty in Northern Ireland—or, for that matter, from Irish sovereignty in the republic. We, the United Kingdom Government, accountable to Parliament, remain responsible for the government of Northern Ireland. Yes, we will listen to the views of the Irish Government. Yes, we will make determined efforts to resolve differences. But at the end of the day decisions north of the border will continue to be made by the United Kingdom Government anc south of the border by the Irish Government. This is a fundamental point. There can be no misunderstanding.
Third, I want to dispel the absurd notion that the Government will listen to the views of the republic on Northern Ireland matters, but not to the views of our own unionist community.
There are already many ways in which the majority community in Northern Ireland can and do put their views to the Government. The right hon. and hon. Members of this House who represent the unionist parties are themselves an important channel. Another is the Northern Ireland Assembly, an important and experienced body which could be used to improve the arrangements for consultation. Yet another is the many representations that unionists make to Ministers. The unionist voice is clearly heard and will continue to be heard.
If the Anglo-Irish agreement is to bring about a real improvement in the daily lives of the two communities in Northern Ireland, it must be matched by a detennined effort on the part of all law-abiding citizens to defeat the men of violence. And that effort must rest on clear and consistent principles of justice, equity and fairness. For if democracy is the rule of the majority, the other side of the coin is fairness and respect for the minority, for all are citizens of the United Kingdom.
On the economic front, we will continue to pay special attention to Northern Ireland's needs. During direct rule, spending on economic and social programmes has risen since 1972–73 by 50 per cent. in real terms to £3,600 million last year. That amounts to nearly £2,500 a head, far more than in any other part of the United Kingdom. Spending on that scale shows the high priority given by successive Governments to the needs of Northern Ireland and its people. Our concern will continue.
On security, our efforts will also continue. Thanks to the magnificent work of our policemen and soldiers, we have already made some progress, but we still have much to do. I believe that our security forces can take new heart from the promise of greater security co-operation that will flow from the agreement.
In commending this agreement to the House, I should like first to pay tribute to Dr. Fitzgerald, who has worked 751 honestly and sincerely for an agreement to bring reassurance to both communities and a real prospect of peace and stability.
Second, I say to the members of both communities in Northern Ireland that, if Parliament approves the agreement, the Government will steadfastly implement it. This House represents all the people of the United Kingdom and its decisions are binding on all of them. We shall not give way to threats or to violence from any quarter. We shall look to the co-operation of all men and women of good will who want a better future for Northern Ireland and for their families.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)
Before my right hon. Friend leaves the point about the accountability of Parliament, will she say whether there will be any opportunity for Parliament to know about the deliberations of the Anglo-Irish conference? Will its deliberations be made public anywhere, or debated?
§ The Prime Minister
It is not expected that everything that is said in the intergovernmental conference will be made public. I am giving consideration to how we can report to the House, for obvious reasons. We attend many intergovernmental conferences in Europe and elsewhere and usually report to the House about those that we attend. I am giving urgent consideration to this matter because I realise that there is concern about it.
Finally, I address myself once more to those among the unionist community who have openly expressed their fears and worries about this agreement. Far from representing any threat to the union of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, the agreement reinforces the union, and that should bring reassurance and confidence to the unionist majority. It clearly recognises—as it should—the validity of their great tradition, and it holds out the prospect of greater success in the struggle against terrorism from which the majority have suffered so much. As one who believes in the union. I urge the unionists to take advantage of the chance offered by the agreement.
We embarked on this agreement because we were not prepared to see the two communities for ever locked into the tragedies and antagonisms of the past. The younger generation, above all, has a right to expect more than that. The price of new hope is persistent endeavour. That is what we ask, and ask equally of all.
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)
Today, as at all times when we discuss the affairs of Northern Ireland both inside and outside the House, we do so against a background of tragedy and atrocity. We think of those who have lost their lives, as the Prime Minister said, and we think of their loved ones and those whose lives have been devastated by sectarian killings and attacks. We remember those families who, when they felt the forces of violence, no matter what the status of those killed—soldiers, policemen, adults, relations or children—have always ended with a despairing question—"Why did it happen to us?" Many hon. Members have heard that question from grieving relations much too often, and, tragically those who represent Northern Ireland seats have heard it more often than the rest of us.
As we debate the accord, we remember too the courage and the fortitude of those who have lived and worked with 752 and within the tortured community of Northern Ireland. We know that the problem of Northern Ireland, plainly, has spilled across the water and scarred Britain. We acknowledge the debt that we owe, both on the mainland and in Northern Ireland, to the civil servants, the police, Members of the House and so many ordinary men and women in Northern Ireland who have been willing to help in the search for peace and a way out of the sterile sectarian divisions.
As we think of these things, we have to remind ourselves yet again that there are matters other than security that are of importance to the people of Northern Ireland, and that there are issues worthy of report and debate other than the constant plague of conflict.
We are sometimes told that there is no solution to the historic problems of Northern Ireland, but, however difficult it may be, and however long it may take, we must never give up the search for a solution. That would be defeatism paid for in blood. If we give up the search for peace, we say to the people of Northern Ireland, "Your agony must endure for ever". In all conscience, we cannot and must not do that.
This House has a special duty to recall that the problems of Northern Ireland are a matter not just for the Province or for the Republic but, most definitely, for Britain as well. In addition to the tragedies and their irreparable costs, there is the price of conflict which the New Ireland Forum research team has reasonably estimated to be over £9,000 million between 1969 and 1982 and a further £1,500 million or so a year with the addition of the £120 million or so a year that we spend out of public coffers in maintaining the armed forces in Northern Ireland. It is not fitting for this House remorselessly to consign such sums to Northern Ireland without at least being able to demonstrate to the people of Wales, Scotland and England that we deliberately pursue all means of achieving an end to the conflict and the massive costs that go with it.
We must also recognise that many of the legislative and other changes that have come about as a result of our inability to find a political solution in Northern Ireland disfigure the democracy of our entire country. Courts without juries, strip searches in prisons, internment without trial and many other things can be said to have arisen from the circumstances of their time, but no democracy can or should bear such changes lightly or for long, because if it does it puts at risk the very liberty that it seeks to defend.
For all those reasons, the Opposition will do whatever they can to promote the chances of peace, and the prosperity that depends on that peace, in Northern Ireland.
The status quo offers absolutely no solution to anyone at all. For that reason, we shall approve the Anglo-Irish agreement, which for reasons of accuracy and not affectation I wish had been called the British-Irish agreement.
The agreement is clearly a development from the New Ireland Forum set up in Dublin in 1983. That was a bold and visionary step taken by the major political parties in the Republic, together with the Social Democratic and Labour party. I pay tribute to those parties and their leaders, one of whom we are fortunate enough to have in this House. None of those leaders has given up his legitimate commitment to constitutional nationalism or his commitment to the reunification of Ireland. They have recognised that, just as they cannot be forced to relinquish their aspirations of getting rid of the border, neither can 753 the unionists be forced to relinquish their desire to keep that border between the north and the south. The constitutional nationalists have decided that, while retaining their historic ambition of unity, they will now give pre-eminence to reconciliation and a formal and binding acknowledgement of the fact that they have long recognised—that unification cannot be achieved without consent.
In the Dail last Tuesday, the Taoiseach, Dr. FitzGerald, said:No sane person would wish to attempt to change the status of Northern Ireland without the consent of the majority of its people. That would be a recipe for disaster and could, I believe, lead only to a civil war that would be destructive of the life of people throughout our island.As well as speaking for the Irish people, Dr. FitzGerald recorded the sentiments of all the British people.
That is the reward that the gunmen got for their violence. They have engendered such revulsion against insecurity, fear and brutality that they have made nationalists seek change even at the cost of indefinitely postponing their own nationalist aspirations.
The terrorists can and will treat the matter with complete cynicism. They will undoubtedly deride the action of the Irish Government and Irish political parties, and they will rely on their sworn enemies in the unionist groupings to erode and erase the agreement. No doubt that is what the Provisional IRA and the Irish National Liberation Army seek. Since they know that the most critical test of the credibility and acceptability of the agreement is its effect on secutity in Northern Ireland, they will continue with their terrorism and the noxious insincerity of their bullet and ballot strategy to sustain insecurity throughout the Province and in the Republic. Those terrorists, like every hon. Member, must know that the success of the agreement will be difficult to build and prove, but that its failure will be easy to contrive.
The gunmen alone cannot make the agreement fail. That outcome would need the most unholy, unsigned, unspoken alliance with those whom they most despise. Will that alliance be forged? Some hon. Members can make a major contribution to providing the answer to that. They do not belong to the Government or a future Government. They are not men of violence, and not even people who tolerate violence—to their eternal credit. They belong to the unionist parties of Northern Ireland. I recognise their fears, I know that they feel beleaguered, and excluded from designing their own destiny, that they live in constant anxiety about a sell-out, and that any failure by a British Government to explain their intentions heightens those feelings of fear. I know that they feel that deals have been done behind their back, and some will feel deep and genuine resentment at that. However modest the agreement, and however cautious and conditional the change, those feelings run deep, and in many quarters of the unionist community those feelings are absolutely genuine.
However, I cannot help thinking that there is a minority in the unionist community who quite enjoy the opportunity that is afforded by anxiety, and who will mobilise fear and bigotry in Northern Ireland. Zephaniah Williams, the Welsh Chartist, said:When prejudice blinds the eye of the mind the brightest truth shines in vain.I do not address the bigots or the wallies on either side of the sectarian divide, when I plead with the majority of non-nationalists not to be blinded by prejudice. I ask them to 754 see that the sole beneficiaries of a breakdown would be the terrorists, that the objectives of the constitutional nationalists for the foreseeable future are limited to reconciliation and stability, and to see their acceptance of consent as the absolute precondition of any change. I ask them to see that the common cause of peace is a greater cause than the preservation of this miserable murderous status quo, and that in the agreement there is no loss of sovereignty by either Government or Parliament—certainly nothing that can begin to compare with the concessions of sovereignty that come as a natural consequence of our membership of the European Community.
I also plead with the non-nationalists to see that, if sovereignty is to be meaningful, it must involve the power to live effectively in peace under the law. Sovereignty cannot be an expression of vanity that covers the inability to rule with those conditions, like clothing on a skeleton. I ask them to see that the role of the Irish Government is consultative, and no more, that even that role can be transferred by progress with devolution, and that the basic reason for the involvement of the Irish Government, even in this capacity, is to be found in the refusal or inability of constitutional Northern Ireland unionists and constitutional Northern Ireland nationalists to share power, despite the opportunities afforded to them to do so.
I plead with them to see that the feelings of slight and suspicion, which are manifested, do not overwhelm them and leave them isolated as unionists from all those people, north and south of the border and on both sides of the water, who want to use their common longing for peace as the means of defeating violence. I ask them to recognise that the motives that led the constitutional nationalists, south and north of the border, to make the agreement are a convincing mixture of material self-interest and moral duty, not a cunning strategem for unification by stealth with the agreement of the British Prime Minister. That is the truth about the agreement.
The Irish state suffers from the contagion of violence—arms, robberies, killings, casualties, the waste of resources and the degeneration of its whole society which comes from a climate of conflict. The Republic cannot and does not want to afford that constant drain on its meagre fortunes, or the risk from it to the fabric of its society. Those are some of the pressing realities that brought Garret FitzGerald, Dick Spring and their colleagues first to the Forum and then to the agreement.
The other motivation, which is less tangible but no less forceful, of those men, whom I am happy to count among my friends, is their moral obligation towards the communities of Northern Ireland—the nationalist community, which is alienated and prey to either the temptations or the intimidation of terrorism, and the unionist community which is impaled, like its neighbours, on insecurity and estrangement.
The suspicious will understandably ask what is in the agreement for FitzGerald's Fine Gael, Spring's Irish Labour party and Hume's SDLP. There are three things that are in it for them. First, there is the possibility of promoting reconciliation. Secondly, there is the practical demonstration that they are trying to fulfil their moral obligations to the whole of Ireland—the Ireland that they love with a special passion. Thirdly, there is the chance of combating the terrorists by intensified joint security measures, and by achieving extra credibility 755 within Northern Ireland for constitutional nationalism to throw back the tide of terrorist nationalism that comes with various pretences.
All those people and parties take great risks, and bring great credit on themselves. They are earnestly trying, against all the odds piled up by history, to put the purpose of securing peace above the easier course of indulging prejudice and courting popularity. Some people in every land are paralysed by history. Others are provoked by it, and they are such people. They have decided to try to be makers of history, rather than observers of it. They took that decision in modesty and responsibility, not in vanity or ambition. They want the history of conflict and waste to be changed to a future of conciliation. They are certainly Irish nationalists, but they are front-door agents for peace, not back-door fixers of unification. Unlike many others, they have decided to be part of the answer, rather than part of the problem. For that, my colleagues and I will support them in their aims and the practical application of them.
In doing so, I wish to acknowledge the contribution made by the Prime Minister to the agreement. I do not underestimate the effort that she has made, and I say without any taunt that it has involved a significant and welcome adjustment in her position during the past six years. I say further that the change is all the more credible because those six years have not only been marked by the continuing pressures of tragedy that come from Northern Ireland; they have also for her been punctuated by personal losses with the killing of Airey Neave and with the death and destruction of the Brighton bombing. I recognise her contribution freely, and I recognise it fully.
It is not, therefore, in any spirit of recrimination that I put this consideration to the right hon. Lady. The cause of this agreement would have been better served if she had taken the advice of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) last year when they asked her to try to spell out to the unionist communities what her intentions were in developing the relationships with the Dublin Government. That might not have assuaged all fears, it might not have silenced all the shouts, but it would have been evidence of trust and consultation which could have provided an essential credential for the agreement now.
I have to say, too, that the right hon. Lady's response to the report of the New Ireland Forum was, as I said at the time, precipitate and peremptory. Subsequent events, including the signature of the Hillsborough agreement, have demonstrated that. My party was the only party in Britain which gave the Forum the interest which it deserved, although I acknowledge the contribution made by a section of the unionist community in providing a coherent and cogent alternative review and set of proposals. That provided an opportunity for an informed debate, but unfortunately that debate was killed before it got started. But had we proceeded along those lines the atmosphere of accord may have been more literal and the atmosphere in which the agreement has been made may have been more propitious.
We gave evidence to the Forum on 19 January 1984. We said then that the way forward lay in the joint British-Irish initiative that could not easily be vetoed by either side of the entrenched communities of the North. We are glad 756 that the agreement recognises that. We further suggested major innovative attempts to cross-border co-operation which could lead to the closer operation of the economic and social policies of the North and South. That is also recognised in the agreement.
We suggested ways of creating links between the criminal justice system in the North and in the South and we note that the Government are at least going to consider such links at meetings of the intergovernmental conference. We endorsed the view of the report that the crisis in Northern Ireland and the relationship between Britain and Ireland required new structures that could accommodate the rights of unionists to effective political, symbolic and administrative expression of their identity, their ethos and their way of life, and the rights of nationalists to effective political, symbolic and administrative expression of their identity. The agreement establishes and defines such structural change and the accommodation of rights, and we welcome that.
That is all to the good, and I draw attention to these matters simply to show that there has been for some time a course which could have been navigated, as we recommended, in a different way and at a different speed, which might have made the circumstances of this agreement more propitious.
In addition to the matters of consultation with unionists and recognition of the validity of the report from constitutional nationalists, there is another point that I must put to the Prime Minister. It is not in any way retrospective and it has a direct bearing on the conduct of affairs and the potential of the agreement. It concerns the economic condition of Northern Ireland. As everyone knows only too well, Northern Ireland is a poverty-stricken place. It has the lowest male wages, the highest shop prices and the highest energy charges of any economic region in the United Kingdom.
The poverty is manifested in many ways, not least the high morbidity and hospital admission rates. It is also manifested among the young in the fact that a high proportion of them leave school without any form of qualification. Most of all, Northern Ireland has a 21.4 per cent. unemployment rate, and that has increased from 9.7 per cent. in 1979. Those rates do not respect religious or political demarcations. In Craigavon and Armagh, unemployment is more than 20 per cent. In Coleraine and Enniskillen, it is more than 25 per cent. In Dungannon, Derry and Magherafelt, it is more than 28 per cent. In Newry, it is 32 per cent. In Cookstown and Strabane, 35 per cent. of the registered workers are unemployed.
Against that background, it is obvious that the agreement between Governments for the purpose of promoting common objectives of reconciliation is a fine thing and the effort at popular consent is a creditable activity. But both need a crucial further element—the prospect, at the very least, of economic development and security.
In addition to the usual arguments for fighting unemployment and sponsoring recovery, Northern Ireland has its own special and unenviable case. It is that violence cannot be excused by poverty, idleness or unemployment, but it clearly cannot be said to be unconnected with those evils. Violence, support for violence, toleration of violence may come from political fanaticism or plain gangsterism, but it can thrive on the scale of Northern Ireland only in conditions of economic insecurity and the 757 alienation which that breeds. [Interruption.] I am telling the truth. I know that the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) is never very keen on that.
Therefore, I say to the Prime Minister that it is essential in Northern Ireland, as elsewhere, for her to adopt new policies of expansion and employment in order to stimulate recovery, to increase opportunity and to generate jobs. [Interruption.] Those hon. Members who are groaning now must answer the question: Do they think that an increase in employment, a reduction in unemployment and the generating of prosperity in that community would have the effect of increasing or decreasing the alienation in that community? Common sense of today, not some imagined history of which the hon. Gentleman speaks, tells us that such alienation, especially among the young, is rooted in the poverty, ugliness and strife that comes out of continual levels of economic deprivation.
We want that kind of economic development and recovery for the United Kingdom and will continue to work for it. Meanwhile, in Ireland, steps could be taken through the provisions and procedures of the Hillsborough accord, to promote the possibilities of economic development. Transport and tourism, as the Secretary of State and, indeed, his predecessors have previously recognised, have obvious possibilities for joint economic strategies, and so, too, does energy, as we have heard from many Northern Ireland Members.
What an absurdity it is that Britain can exchange electricity supplies with continental Europe but that Northern Ireland and the Republic cannot. Why do the Government refuse to put money into the Kinsale gas link when it appears that they are going to accept EEC and even American money for projects? What proposals will the Government make for bringing the agricultural systems of North and South together so that the whole island can secure the advantages that would accompany that? Will the Government make proposals to fill the surplus college places in Northern Ireland with the students who encounter a shortage of places in the Republic?
Those are areas of action which can all give life to the words of the accord and meaning to the work of the Intergovernmental Conference. But the most useful source of reassurance and stability—I repeat it in order to emphasise it—would come from the promotion of economic recovery, deliberately and systematically by Her Majesty's Government.
There are other areas, of course, in which the Government could work in order to mobilise support for the accord. We expect the Government to take deliberate steps to go beyond the current strategy of sending out letters and circulars in order to ensure clear understanding among the unionist and nationalist communities in Northern Ireland of the nature, purpose, potential and limitations of the agreement.
Exaggeration, either of hopes or fears, will be of no practical help to anyone. That will not impress the bullies or the bigots on either side of the sectarian divide. In any case, they are beyond communication. That still leaves a huge majority in both communities to be talked with and not talked at. There are opportunities for Parliament to communicate with the majorities in both communities, too.
We note that the Intergovernmental Conference shall be a vehicle through which initiatives regarding the wellbeing of Northern Ireland are being channelled. However, that should not obviate the role of the United Kingdom 758 Parliament also to come forward with its own initiatives—for instance, the initiative to put into effect the recommendations of the Baker report which was debated in the House last year concerning the operation of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978. In addition, we need not wait upon the Intergovernmental Conference before demanding a review of the procedures for strip searching at Armagh prison, to get prompt action on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland and secure an early repeal of the Flags and Emblems (Display) Act 1954 that has long been sought by the Opposition. [HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."] Conservative Members should be acquainted with the fact that too many people in Northern Ireland say with justification that democracy is what happens in Westminster after 10.30 pm. When we have the opportunity for a two-day debate on those matters, they can expect the debate to be exhaustive and comprehensive, covering matters that concern our fellow citizens in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Kinnock
The hon. Gentleman should go to bed earlier.
The agreement of Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the Republic of Ireland to give appropriate support to the development of a British-Irish interparliamentary body is worthy of further consideration, and we shall be seeking additional details from Ministers. In that area and in many others, there are obvious obligations for everyone in the House to demonstrate interest and commitment in communicating the opportunities that can arise from the agreement.
As a matter of policy and of commitment, the Labour party wants to see Ireland united by consent, and we are committed to working actively to secure that consent. However, that is not the reason for our action in approving the Hillsborough accord. We recognise that the priority is reconciliation in the communities of Northern Ireland and between the communities of Northern Ireland. It is that objective which brings our agreement.
I do not honestly know whether at some time in the future unity will come out of that reconciliation. That can be determined only by a majority which, in future decades, will probably have different components, be in different conditions and have different leadership. However, that peace will come only out of reconciliation and the normality and confidence that reconciliation brings. Further, any unity or development towards community between north and south will come only out of that peace. As an effort for that reconciliation and for that peace, the Labour party approves the agreement.
§ Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)
Since my departure from the Government 10 days ago I have made no public statement or comment. I wanted first to explain to the House the reasons for that departure.
My first encounter with Northern Ireland took place nearly 30 years ago. As a young subaltern I was stationed at Omagh in county Tyrone. It has been my good fortune to return to Ulster on many occasions since then, first as a soldier and then as a Member of this place. I have been proud to count unionist Members of this House as my friends.
759 It is nearly seven years since I spoke in a debate on Northern Ireland, from the Opposition Front Bench, with Airey Neave at my side. I speak today to show that it is not necessary to have a big mouth or a loud voice to care deeply about Ulster. I speak, too, as one who condemns violence in all its forms. I speak as a unionist who repudiates today and who will repudiate tomorrow, every kind—I repeat, every kind—of unlawful or unconstitutional action. Unlike others I do not impugn the motives of Her Majesty's Government. In particular, I do not doubt for one moment the sincerity and the sense of honour of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
Those who fashioned the Anglo-Irish agreement, principally my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, said to themselves, "We are faced with a continuing tragedy in Northern Ireland." I say in passing that I regret that no Foreign Office Minister is taking part in the debate. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary also said to themselves, "Lives are being lost, innocent people are being maimed and injured, property is being destroyed, unemployment is higher and investment lower in Ulster than in any part of the kingdom. We must try to abate those evils. Things cannot go on as they are. We must make a new initiative. We must do something about Ulster."
For years, successive Governments and successive Secretaries of State have told the House that a particular initiative could not be pursued in Northern Ireland because it would be unacceptable to the minority. Note that in this part of the United Kingdom the Government take pride, in my view rightly, in pursuing policies that they believe have the support of the majority despite the objections of a minority.
However, I will be told that Northern Ireland is different from England. I will be told that in Northern Ireland one cannot proceed save with the broad assent of the minority. I do not necessarily subscribe to that argument but if it is valid, how is it possible to proceed now with a policy that may be broadly acceptable to a minority but that is totally unacceptable to the overwhelming majority, among whom is a significant number of Catholic unionists?
The Government believe that the majority ought to be well satisfied with the agreement and profess some surprise that it is not. Conor Cruise O'Brien puts it well in The Times today. He writes:
But the political impact will not be determined by … theories about how people ought to feel, but by how people actually do feel. And the feeling, on both sides … is that the Catholics have won a significant step in the direction of a united Ireland.In round figures, as the House knows, there are 1 million Protestants and half a million Roman Catholics in Ulster, but it is a grave over-simplification to equate religion with political allegiance. I do not ask the House to accept my word for that. It is not only my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) who is testimony to that truth. In the past few days I have received letters from Roman Catholic unionists who endorse that view. I have been authorised to quote from one. A doctor now working in Liverpool writes:
As an Ulsterman—and incidentally a Catholic—who has always voted Conservative (and Ulster Unionist before I came to England) I can only say that I am absolutely appalled by the terms and implications of the Anglo-Irish agreement which gives a 760 foreign Government a say in the affairs of a part of the United Kingdom. There is not a shadow of doubt that the status of Northern Ireland has been changed without the consent of the majority of its people".Nor is it only the so-called Protestant bigots—and there are Protestant bigots in Northern Ireland—who oppose the agreement. Again, with the authority of the writer of the letter, I wish to quote. I do so not because I need to rely on others to support the views that I hold, but because the views of decent people from Northern Ireland are tragically misunderstood or simply unknown in the House. This is the letter that I have been authorised to read:
I am now living quietly in a bungalow with my two sisters … We are the ordinary 'silent' Unionists of Northern Ireland. Our days are filled with caring for our families and homes, and we do not have the time, or the inclination, to demonstrate at protest marches, or wave banners, or gather at meetings of hate. But we are British. And we are also bewildered, and hurt, and angry. How do we, the silent majority, effectively express our hurt and fear and protest at what is being done to us? Our politicians hurl abuse and anger, but I do not think that they gain sympathy that way. The ordinary quiet-living British people of Northern Ireland are totally united in their opposition to the Hillsborough agreement, and in their desire to remain British without condition, but can you tell me, please, if there is any possible way we can convey our wishes to those who are in Government over us and at the same time to gain understanding and support from the other citizens of the United Kingdom? I feel that the lack of understanding from those who do not live here, together with the feeling of helplessness at not knowing how to gain that understanding, is the hardest part to bear.I have done as my correspondent asked. I have brought her fears to the attention of my right hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench. However, I want to repeat her crucial words:
the lack of understanding from those who do not live here … is the hardest part to bear.For many Members of the House, Northern Ireland is a faraway country of which we know little. Indeed, it may be that more Members of the House have visited the Republic than have visited Ulster. I hope that in the coming months more hon. Members will be able to visit the Province, not just to listen to soldiers and members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, heroic though they are, but to listen to the views of ordinary people who often are equally heroic.
Following the signing of the agreement at Hillsborough on 15 November, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that she was a unionist and a loyalist. I shall never question her sincerity, but I have to say to my right hon. Friend that those words were received with incredulity by unionists in Northern Ireland. The Anglo-Irish agreement has been signed without understanding of the views of the overwhelming majority of the people of Northern Ireland. It has been signed against a background that gives wholly disproportionate consideration to the views of the minority. Under the agreement, the Irish Government will put forward views and proposals on political, security and legal matters, including the administration of justice. The Government who will put forward their views and proposals relating to Northern Ireland are the same Government from whose territory murderous assaults have been made on the innocent in the Province and to whose territory the guilty have returned and found too often a safe haven.
Article 2 of the constitution of the Irish Republic lays claim to the territory of the whole of the island of Ireland. One might have thought at least that if the Republic's Government were to be allowed—and in the most 761 solemn terms of an international treaty—to put forward proposals relating to political, security and legal matters, they would have agreed to remove article 2 from their constitution. The British Government claim that it is a major step forward for the Government of the Republic to have given formal acceptance of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. If that is so, why was article 2 not removed?
We are told that the agreement will mean more effective co-operation on security matters between the Republic and the United Kingdom. Is it really suggested that without the agreement such co-operation would have been less effective? All civilised Governments, with or without a formal agreement, should commit themselves unreservedly to the elimination of terrorism. If the Government of the Republic have been unable hitherto to be as effective in combating terrorism as we were entitled to expect, why are we so confident that they will be able to deliver now?
The Intergovernmental Conference will be composed of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and a Republic Minister, who, in effect, will be the Minister for Northern Ireland affairs. The two Ministers will be the joint chairmen. The Republic Minister, even though he has only a consultative role, will be perceived to be the representative of the minority community. Thus, for the first time, a Minister from a foreign country will be representing at official level citizens of this kingdom. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred to the arrangement in her speech. That arrangement leaves unionists with no comparable status. That arrangement will be damaging, and incalculably damaging, for those who are asserting the principle that unionists and nationalists are fellow citizens. Instead of reconciliation there will be further division.
Our fellow countrymen from Northern Ireland will perceive—and will not be wrong in perceiving—that the agreement would never have been signed unless there had been a prolonged campaign of violence. The agreement will be perceived as having been won as a result of violence. The Irish National Liberation Army and the Irish Republican Army will believe that their violence is succeeding. The Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Ulster Defence Regiment will perceive that they have been betrayed.
The new agreement is being trumpeted in Dublin mainly because the Irish Government will be able, in the most solemn terms, toput forward views and proposals on matters relating to Northern Ireland".When those views and proposals are submitted to the United Kingdom Government, they will be made known in Dublin. When those views and proposals are accepted by Her Majesty's Government, Ulster will feel that the views of a foreign power are being given greater weight than the views of the majority in Northern Ireland. The Intergovernmental Conference will not be able to receive the views of the majority. The views of the minority will be expressed, not by the minority itself, but by the Government of a foreign power.
No Member of the House should criticise the agreement without putting forward an alternative policy. I remember the words of our manifesto at the 1979 general election. They were words in which I had a hand. The manifesto said: 762In the absence of devolved government we will seek to establish one or more elected regional councils with a wide range of powers over local services.Alas, following the assassination of Airey Neave, that policy was never implemented. It may be that he was assassinated because that was his policy. Successive Secretaries of State have abandoned that policy. Six years on, although there is still an absence of devolved government, there is still noone or more elected regional councils".I approved of the policy set out in the 1979 manifesto.
I approved, too, of the words of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at a meeting organised by the Ulster Unionist Council in Belfast on 19 June 1978, when she said of the Conservative and Unionist party and the Ulster Unionist party:Our two parties share one overriding common purpose: the maintenance and strengthening of the union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. we shall not consider any plans for the political future of this part of the United Kingdom which could result in the weakening of the union.To my deep regret, the Anglo-Irish agreement is inconsistent with those words.
The Government assert, and continue to assert,that any change in the status of Northern Ireland would only come about with the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland.I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench to understand that, with this agreement, the overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland believe that there has been a change in status. I must tell the House that frankly, so do I.
We should implement the policy laid down in the 1979 manifesto. We should assert that those in Northern Ireland who aspire to a united Ireland will be respected. We should assert that Ulster Unionists are ready to achnowledge the place in Ulster of the Roman Catholic, whether unionist of republican, as in any other part of the kingdom, and that all men and women should be entitled to express their views, opinions and identities under a rule of law which would safeguard their rights. We should assert that the policy of the Government is to maintain and to strengthen the union.
§ Mr. Gow
I shall not give way. The House has been patient and I have almost done.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is in her place. I do not recommend resignation. It is every bit as painful as I had expected. No doubt the Prime Minister would face the departure of some of her colleagues with greater equanimity than that of others. I do not know into which category I fall. However, Ministers of State are of no importance. They come and go, and when they go their room is soon filled. Life goes on for the Department very much as before—although, following the appointment of my hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke), to whom we send our congratulations and good wishes, no doubt very much better than before.
As right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House know, for the departed Minister, tomorrow is very different from today. Only my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and possibly not even she, understands how deep is my regret at my departure. But I have one consolation that is denied to all others the memory of the four years of the previous Parliament, when it was my privilege to 763 have tried to be of some help to the finest chief, the most resolute leader and the kindest friend that any Member of this House could hope to serve.
I disagree profoundly with the new policy on which the Government have embarked. I fear that this change of policy will prolong and not diminish Ulster's agony. With all my heart—it is quite a big heart—I pray that I am wrong.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), not only because he has articulated, in a way that I could never attempt, the views of the rank and file citizens of Northern Ireland—unionists, nationalists, Protestants and Roman Catholics—but because he was a promising Minister who sacrificed a promising career because of his integrity. The fact that the hon. Member was intently listened to, even by those who disagree with him, proves that he is respected and admired for that integrity.
The House will have gathered that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I will be voting against the motion. However, I fully recognise that I have a duty and responsibility to explain plainly and sincerely why we shall take that course. We opposed the Anglo-Irish agreement because it will destroy any possibility of achieving peace, stability and reconciliation—three words that have found themselves by accident in the agreement's preamble. Those words have been repeated—I do not say this in a disrespectful way—rather aimlessly in the debate so far.
During my six years as leader of the Ulster Unionist party, my objective has been to achieve for all the people of Northern Ireland those prizes of peace, stability and reconciliation. As leader of the largest party in Northern Ireland I feel, as I have always felt, that I have a duty to lead. For any party leader, that means some political risk. I accepted those risks, because I had to consider—today I still have to consider—the young people to whom the Prime Minister referred when she spoke at Hillsborough on the day of the signing. The fact that I am nearer the finishing post than are those young people, makes that consideration all the more compelling.
With all that in mind, in April 1984 I endorsed the policy paper "The Way Forward". The main thrust of that paper was equal British rights for all British citizens. I shall read what I believe, and what the Prime Minister conceded in the aftermath of her statement a week ago, to be the key paragraph:The time is now ripe for both communities in Northern Ireland to realise that, essentially, their problems will have to be solved in Northern Ireland by their political representatives and that any future prospect for them and their children is best provided for within the Northern Ireland context. This will require a mutual recognition of each other's hopes and fears. Only rights can be guaranteed, not aspirations".The next phrase is probably the most telling for an Ulster Unionist leader to use:
but it is the responsibility of the majority to persuade the minority that the Province is also theirs.When a leader gives a positive lead, there is always criticism. All party leaders, great and small—I do not mean in stature but in the numbers of their Back-Bench Members—are criticised, and this case was no 764 exception. After much criticism, discussion and persuasion, the entire document was endorsed as party policy. However, although there was widespread interest from within the ranks of the minority, as well as the majority, there was little response from the elected representatives of the minority, except one good friend of mine who said, "You really terrified us with that phrase about convincing our people that the Province is also theirs. That would not suit us." The Leader of the Opposition said that it was a tragedy that we did not carry forward our thinking on that occasion more than 18 months ago. He said that it was a tragedy that there was not fuller debate on that document and on the considerable shift in principles set out in the document. To my great regret, those proposals for achieving peace, stability and reconciliation within the bounds of Northern Ireland have been snuffed out by the Anglo-Irish agreement, and that document must be regarded as so much waste paper.
I owe it to the House to explain why the agreement will bring not peace, but the sword. On the day when the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) announced his decision to abolish Stormont, he justified his decision—he could be forgiven for putting forward that justification at such an early stage—on the grounds that it would end violence. However, as the IRA had demanded Stormont's removal, it naturally regarded the decision as the first payment of the Danegeld. The right hon. Gentleman did not intend it in that way, but I hope that he will accept my word for it that that was how it looked to the so-called army council of the IRA.
The Prime Minister, like many of us in humbler positions, is tempted, especially in times of stress, to use phrases produced by her advisers—to give them their polite title—and such may have been the origin of a sentence uttered by the Prime Minister in her address to journalists at the signing ceremony. The sentence made my blood run cold. To quote from the transcript, she said:I was not prepared to tolerate the situation of continuing violence.That fatal sentence—I fear that it will literally be fatal for many—will convince the so-called army council of the IRA that, reinforced by the sweeping one-way concessions in the agreement, continued violence will extract the third and final payment of the Danegeld in the shape of an Ireland designed to their specifications, not the specifications of Dr. FitzGerald or even Mr. Haughey. Indeed, the IRA claimed credit for the concessions two weeks before the signing. At the Sinn Fein conference, the IRA spokesman, Martin McGuinness, declared that any concessions to violence in the coming agreement would be welcomed by the IRA as a surrender to the armed struggle.
Far from the prospect of peace, I fear that we must brace ourselves for a renewed onslaught from a terrorist movement convinced of victory. That movement is in no way worried about the possible weaning away of Catholic support, which will not reduce its capacity for murder. As General Grivas said, there is a handicap in having too many supporters. He reckoned—he knew what he was talking about—that the maximum number of murderers he needed at any time was about 150. The IRA cares nothing for the predicted drop in support for Sinn Fein in terms of the ballot box, which it regards as ancillary to what it calls its "cutting edge" of terror.
The second casualty of the agreement is stability, because stability depends on a known way. But how can there be a known way when there is no consent? During 765 the past 15 years, the only period of stability was that achieved by the right hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason). He achieved that stability by making it clear in the honest, forthright terms for which he is noted, what was not going to happen, and by making it equally clear, in words and in deeds, that he would stand no nonsense from any quarter. I must say—this may pain Conservative Members—that, ironically, Conservative Central Office accurately forecast the end of what I call Mason stability, in the daily notes to candidates dated 11 April 1979. It stated:The next government will come under considerable pressure to launch a new high-powered initiative on Northern Ireland with the object of establishing another power-sharing government in the province which would pave the way for a federal constitution linking Ulster to the Irish Republic.We need not await the verdict of history to judge the accuracy of that forecast. For the past six years, we have seen a constant stream of foolish, failed initiatives, confusion and instability.
The third casualty of the agreement is reconciliation. Progress in that area is possible only if those who must be reconciled believe themselves to be secure. If Roman Catholics are meant to be assured by the agreement, why do so many of them say that they share my view? Why do so many of them tell me that they have conveyed their reservations to the Northern Ireland Office? I am in no position to confirm that; I depend upon their word. The answer is that they have never accepted—nor do they want—Dublin's protecting power stance. Far more significantly, they have made it clear that they do not wish to live in a cold war atmosphere created by this proposed regime for which the necessary consent simply does not exist.
Tallying with the impressive quotations by the hon. Member for Eastbourne, the nightmare of Roman Catholics was expressed to me last Saturday by three young Roman Catholic constituents as they left the so-called loyalist rally—in reality a pro-union rally—at the city hall. They begged me to persuade the Prime Minister to think again and, as one of them put it, tobeg her not to condemn us to spending the rest of our lives in an atmosphere of distrust and tension with our Protestant neighbours.That was a very moving occasion for me.
That grim prospect has been publicly recognised by church representatives, authoritative newspaper editors, moderate organisations and individuals, and, most of all, by those who have worked so hard for reconciliation in Northern Ireland and are now depressed because all that they have achieved has been obliterated at a stroke.
I notice that newspapers such as The Sunday Times and The Observer criticised the Government's failure to reassure unionists. I understand—this was hinted at by the Leader of the Opposition—that the Northern Ireland Office is contemplating, at the expense of the taxpayer, providing copies of the agreement to every household. But the Secretary of State, who is observant, will know that the main newspapers in Northern Ireland have twice set out the full text of the agreement, unabridged and without journalistic comment. The people have read it for themselves, and the Government's difficulty is that the people understand what they have read. Perhaps the Government intend to circulate a publication placing a gloss on the agreement. Dublin will do likewise, but they will conflict. The statements are already conflicting. I fear that the second state will he worse than the first.
766 The Government have a credibility problem, created not by them but for them by the Dublin Government, who leaked the agreement four days before the signing and who circulated copies of it two days before the signing to foreign embassies and other institutions. That breach of good faith with Her Majesty's Government, not by the Government, placed Her Majesty's Ministers in a position where they had no alternative but to mislead. That is no accusation; I am trying to defend Ministers. In good faith, they had agreed with Dublin to maintain as late as the Thursday afternoon before the signing on the Friday that agreement had not yet been reached. It is not in a spirit of accusation but out of sympathy with Her Majesty's Ministers that I say that three Ministers of the utmost integrity were placed in such a position—the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland during Northern Ireland Question Time, the Prime Minister at Prime Minister's Question Time and the Leader of the House at Business Question Time. All were forced to use the phrase, "if an agreement is reached", when, thanks to the Dublin double-cross, the whole world knew that agreement had already been reached.
I should like to address a personal word to the Prime Minister. Millions of our fellow British citizens throughout this nation feel that the Prime Minister has a lasting contribution to make to the destiny of the nation, but if she is to fulfil their expectations she must retain her standing and authority. I am sure that the Prime Minister knows that she owes it to those people not to damage those assets by lending her name to statements which have no validity or veracity.
One of the Prime Minister's statements asserted that the status of Northern Ireland is unchanged. I accept that the territory is not to be transferred—or not yet at any rate—and technically it could be claimed that the final approval of legislation will rest with Parliament and the Crown. In reality, however, as all hon. Members know and as the hon. Member for Eastbourne clearly stated, the legislation will be formulated and agreed, because the agreement states:determined efforts shall be made through the Conference to resolve any differences.In reality, therefore, Parliament and the Queen will give rubber stamp approval to legislation designed by a form of coalition with a foreign sovereign state.
As I said earlier in my comments about the Prime Minister's commanding position in the nation, my plea to the Prime Minister is not to allow anyone to continue to say in her name that the status of Northern Ireland is unchanged. I trust that she has already rebuked the subordinates who led her to claim that the agreement contains, to quote her own words,the most formal commitment to the principle of consent made by any Irish Government."—[Official Report, 18 November 1985; Vol. 87, c. 19.]The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup pointed out that the same commitment was given by a previous Irish Government in the Sunningdale agreement o 1973—which was also registered as an international agreement at the United Nations. The right hon. Gentleman will also confirm that an even earlier commitment was entered into by the Irish Government in 1925 and that that agreement was lodged at the League of Nations.
In the course of what I hope will be a constructive and well ordered debate—I am not casting any reflection 767 upon the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because the responsibility lies with hon. Members—the House is entitled to ask what is new about that commitment or in Irish attitudes since 1925 and 1973.
The Prime Minister will not mind my saying that, over the years, she has sought my assessment of attitudes and feelings in Northern Ireland. In what may be my last contribution in the House, I am sure she will not object if I report to her in the presence of right hon. and hon. Members. I have to say honestly and truthfully that in 40 years in public life I have never known what I can only describe as a universal cold fury, which some of us have thus far managed to contain. I beg the Prime Minister not to misjudge the situation but to examine and assess the damage which will be done to the aims of peace, stability and reconciliation. Perhaps the leader of the Labour party and the leaders of the other opposition parties will not mind me saying to the Prime Minister that she will lose nothing in the eyes of the House or of the country if she decides to steer a safer course.
§ 5.6 pm
§ Mr. James Prior (Waveney)
Taking part in this debate is bound to be a painful business for anyone who has served in Northern Ireland, as one is bound to have mixed emotions. Over a period, in Northern Ireland and among one's unionist friends on the Back Benches, one develops a great affection and respect for their views. I have come to respect the views of the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) and of other unionist Members.
I did not share the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) three years ago when I tried to set up the Assembly, but recognise that my hon. Friend has always held very strong views in favour of the unionists. I have always considered my hon. Friend to be a romantic unionist. I do not believe that his idea for a regional council, included in the 1979 Tory party manifesto, was a runner in Northern Ireland, but I am sure that I speak for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when I say that if it had been a runner it would have been by far the easiest course to take. I do not believe, however, that at that time or at any time since the proposal would have commanded the support of the people of Northern Ireland.
The right hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason) was applauded by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley, but I must tell him that there was no great peace in his day. He will accept that terrorism continued and stability was lacking. It is a myth to believe that there has been peace or stability in Northern Ireland in the last 14 or 15 years, because there has not.
More hon. Members are dominated by a feeling that if one is in politics and trying to make a contribution one must take some risks, because the risk of doing nothing does not necessarily solve the problem. Had the Government accepted the option of simply continuing without change, there would be no progress towards peace and stability and the agony of terrorism, the murders and the funerals would continue. Accusations that the Government and the defence forces are not sincere in trying to contain and destroy terrorism would also continue. I came to the conclusion that the risks of doing nothing were greater than the risks of trying to make 768 changes, given that any change in Northern Ireland would be bound to be resisted by one side or the other. We have seen some examples of that today.
We have heard, too, that the rundown of the economy, rising unemployment and the sheer weight of public expenditure are far greater in Northern Ireland than anywhere else in the United Kingdom, and it is a very bad thing for any economy to be so dependent on public expenditure. All those things lead one to believe that efforts must be made to bring the community together so that terrorism can be isolated and perhaps in the long term greater peace and security provided. I use the phrase "in the long term" advisedly, because we know that in the next few weeks wicked people will seek to raise the temperature by murdering people to ensure that no settlement takes place. We all know that such people are to be found in the IRA. Therefore, things may well get worse before they get better.
§ Mr. Prior
That may be so—who can tell?—but it does not and should not stop us making a great effort to see what we can do.
The unionists are proud people with a great tradition and they have suffered enormously. The whole House should recognise that. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne has said that the silent unionist majority are not understood. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and most people in the House understand that silent majority and the worries expressed by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley today. We know that the agreement offends their view of the constitution. We must also accept that, although it makes no difference to the status of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, in the eyes of the unionists it changes that status in Northern Ireland itself. Frankly, if it did not do so to some extent, there would be no chance of getting the minority community to accept it. We must accept that and understand why it raises problems for the unionists. We do them less than justice if we do not appreciate that.
I believe that, despite the fears of the unionists, there are great advantages for them. First, there is the reaffirmation of the binding international treaty. Secondly, the signing of the agreement on extradition for political offences is also important. Thirdly, if they can do a deal on devolution, the effect of the Intergovernmental Conference will be reduced. Fourthly, they should now press for more local government powers, to which they are entitled under these arrangements.
I hope that the nationalists, too, will do a deal on devolution, because it is also to their advantage to have government within Northern Ireland by the people of Northern Ireland with less influence from the Republic and perhaps from the Government and Parliament in London. Secondly, the nationalists should now co-operate much more fully on security. We know that the vast majority of them abhor violence, but in the past they have not done enough to convince all the people, and especially the unionists, that they are really serious about security matters. I hope that names will now go forward to the police authority and to the other institutions in Northern Ireland engaged in security matters.
The nationalists should also convince the Government of the Republic that, as the agreement has been well 769 received in the Republic, it is time for the Republic to go a step further and renounce article 2 of its constitution. The Government of the Republic may have been surprised at the welcome given to the agreement, so they are now in a stronger position to take action in that respect.
I am sure that the British Government understand the mood of the unionists, and it is important that they should do so. Hard things will be said and done. Hard things are often said in Ulster because that is the way in which people express themselves, although only the more adventurous spirits do so while the others simply keep quiet.
I believe that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has shown enormous courage. I do not know whether my support is a help or an embarrassment to her, but I assure her that I have nothing but praise for the part that she has played in these negotiations. She has made a very difficult decision. If she has taken some time to make up her mind about it, that is the more to her credit and shows her desire that the unionists should in no circumstances be excluded from the United Kingdom.
A genuine effort has been made to try to achieve peace in Northern Ireland. We cannot go on as we are. Neither the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley nor my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne has put forward any convincing alternative. There is no other way but to take some chances in the interests of peace in Northern Ireland as a whole. All who have been working for reconciliation will wish to know that there is much greater understanding of the position of the unionists in Northern Ireland than they may have thought in the past, but at the same time we look to them to try to come to terms with people whom that have disliked—I put it no higher than that—for so long.
I believe that the unionists should trust my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the House. I beg unionist Members to reconsider their proposal to resign their seats. I believe that by trusting the House and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who is a unionist, they will be able to achieve a more peaceful and prosperous life for their constituents and that the whole of Northern Ireland will benefit. Those of us who have lived in Northern Ireland but are English make no bones about the difficulty of understanding all the workings of the Irish mind. I know that the Irish do not trust us and that they object to much of what we do, but perhaps for once they will recognise that there is genuine respect for their point of view and a determination to try to make some slight progress in the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland and of the United Kingdom. If they can approach this issue in that way, the courage of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—which is echoed a thousand times over by the courage of unionists and others in Northern Ireland—will have some reward.
Some of my hon. Friends may have doubted my motives over the years. My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), for instance, may not always have thought that I was pursuing policies designed to achieve reconciliation or that I fully understood the views of the unionists. I believe that we should all unite under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at this difficult time, because, if we show unity and understanding here, that may have at least some effect on the people of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)
During the course of this debate it seems that we have been tilting at a number of imaginary windmills. Some speakers have referred to the breaking of the Union while others have talked about the creation of a united Ireland. It is quite clear to anyone who has taken the trouble to read the proposals that neither of these issues is contained within the agreement. Repeatedly arguments have ben put up to defeat issues that are not within the agreement.
The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), the leader of the Ulster Unionist part, talked about the possibility of a high-powered initiative for federation which he said was in the 1979 briefing notes sent out by Conservative central office. I personally believe in confederation as an approach. Confederation would enable the Irish of the north who are Catholics to look towards Dublin, whilst the Irish of the north who are Protestants or unionists would look towards London. However, this agreement is no more about confederation than it is about breaking the Union or the creation of a united Ireland.
The agreement is a genuine attempt by the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach to break the straitjacket that has become Northern Ireland. The Hillsborough agreement represents the outcome of months of effort by politicians and civil servants who have made a genuine effort to reconcile the two traditions in Ireland. Like the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), I have had the privilege of spending time in Northern Ireland and the Republic, most recently as part of a Liberal-SDP commission under Lord Donaldson. In July, we published our report entitled "What future for Northern Ireland?" Many of the ideas promoted in that report are contained in the agreement. However, we would have gone further on issues such as the Anglo-Irish parliamentary tier. I was pleased when the Prime Minister said earlier that it is something that the House and the Dail could consider further. A parliamentary tier would help to compliment those initiatives which have been taken in this agreement.
We recognise the Hillsborough agreement as an honest and brave attempt to wrench the initiative from the men of violence and to take a few, albeit faltering, steps away from the bigotry and hatred which have led to 2,500 deaths during the past 16 years, 24,000 injuries, and some £11 million-worth of damage in Ulster caused through acts of political violence. We welcome the initiative because it marks an important change in the attitude of the two Governments towards one another.
Some years ago the brave non-sectarian Alliance party in Northern Ireland said:positive development of Anglo-Irish relations could lead to the growth of mutual trust and respect in place of bitterness and recrimination which has bedevilled Anglo-Irish relations for too long.Hillsborough is a step along that road.
This agreement is the bulwark against Sinn Fein. If it fails, it will give credence to the lie that violence alone can bring progress. It will lead to the enticement of more young men and women into violent organisation and violent actions. This agreement is a courageous step by the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach to challenge and defeat that lie.
Those who choose to distort and lie about the content of this agreement will be taking the side of violence to sustain their tribalistic and sectarian positions, deliberately 771 keeping alive divisions for their own selfish political ends. The Nobel peace prize winner, Solzhenitsyn, understood the nature of violence. He said:Violence can only be concealed by the lie. Anyone who has once proclaimed that violence is his method is inevitably forced to choose the lie as his guiding principle.The way forward in Northern Ireland is through mutual respect, mutual forgiveness for past injuries and wounds and building up the common ground.
During the Donaldson commission inquiry, I visited the Maze prison where I met a young man, Liam McAnoy. That young man, brought up on the Falls Road, at the age of 18 joined the official IRA, and he committed a murder. He has since renounced violence and 12 years later I had the privilege to meet him. Since then we have corresponded.
The hon. Member for Eastbourne spoke earlier about people who had written to him and who had genuine fears about what might happen in Northern Ireland. Liam McAnoy, who has been consigned to the Maze for an act which he bitterly and sincerely regrets, can now see what needs to be done in Northern Ireland if we are to avoid more bitterness and hatred. In a letter to me he says:
Justice requires, just as peace demands, the pacific coexistence of both communities in mutual acceptance and respect and in equality of rights. Violence and talk of civil war makes the attainment of co-existence more difficult.The creation of that justice requires the establishment of bodies such as the Intergovernmental Conference which must win the respect of the Protestant and Catholic communities alike. The founder of the Corrymeela Community, the right Reverend Dr. Ray Davey, in a sermon at Westminster abbey in March 1980, signalled the other prerequisites for peace in Northern Ireland. He said:Truth demands that we be willing to look at another's point of view when it is opposed to ours and to try to understand it.Liberals believe that this requires a moderation which is the only hope of reconciliation.
In the spirit of trying to understand another point of view it is incumbent on all the people of Great Britain, especially the English people, to try to understand the fears and anxieties of the unionists. This agreement was made in secrecy, largely without consultation, without information and without consent. While Dublin—I make no complaint about this—kept the SDLP in the picture, the British Government chose not to involve the Northern Ireland parties in the Hillsborough process. Assemblyman John Cushnahan, the Alliance leader, whom I met here last Friday, told me that many people in Northern Ireland are gravely dissatisfied with the way the agreement was made. We agree with him. Their condition, which is a fair one, is that the secrecy must now end. At the minimum, agendas and conclusions reached by the Intergovernmental Conference must be published. If that does not happen, every matter pursued by the Secretary of State will be represented by some unionists as deriving from the Republic through the deliberations of the Intergovernmental Conference.
Unionists may be tempted to shout treachery and no surrender and to retreat behind historical images of the siege of Londonderry. The unionists claim to be law-abiding members of the Union. How will that square with the erection of shutters and barricades and the repudiation of an agreement endorsed by two democratically elected Parliaments? The remarks by the hon. Member for Upper 772 Bann (Mr. McCusker) were out of accord with the unionist tradition which has always pledged itself to constitutionality. This morning, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) said:The so-called loyalists in Northern Ireland must look again at their definition of loyalty, which means nothing if it does not include support for the authority of the Westminster Parliament. To threaten unconstitutional action even before Parliament has had a chance to debate the proposals will be the action of disloyalists and would only harden the belief of the British people that the unionists are quite incorrigible.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
Would the hon. Gentleman accept that at the rally on Saturday in Belfast, when passions were running somewhat high, the main cheer came for the portion of my speech when I said:Violence is no part of our campaign"?I was speaking on behalf of my colleagues on this Bench and of my colleagues who represent the Democratic Unionist party.
§ Mr. Alton
I am glad to hear the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley say that. It is in complete sympathy with everything that I have heard him say in my six years here. I was distressed to hear the comments of one of his colleagues. I hope that we shall talk, as we have during this debate, about how Parliaments and elected Members can reconcile the two traditions. That is the only way to defeat the people who murder and maim to achieve their political objectives.
We appreciate the suffering of unionists, especially during the past 16 years. As many right hon. and hon. Members have said, they are a keen and proud people, but they should remember that we on this side of the water have also suffered. Many of our constituents who were members of Her Majesty's forces have been murdered in the Province. The financial burden has been heavy, and there has been a not inconsiderable loss of civil liberties in Britain because of the tragedy of Northern Ireland.
We in the United Kingdom do not regard the Republic as our enemy. There is a special relationship between us. Many millions of Irish people live and work in Britain and many thousands of British people live and work in Ireland. We are closely integrated. The unionists have a right to be upset by the triumphalism and the talk of victors and vanquished, of which some Catholic clergymen, alas, and politicians have been guilty.
As an English Catholic, I regret the continued intransigence of the Catholic Church on issues such as mixed and inter-Church marriages and integrated Christian education. Like the right hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior), I regret that the SDLP has so far made no gesture to the unionist community about whether it will participate in the Assembly. I hope that the leader of the SDLP will be able to say something about that later.
§ Mr. Alton
I listen regularly to the hon. Gentleman and admire much of what he stands for. The SDLP should now drop its veto on the Northern Ireland Assembly and commit itself to partnership in government in the North. It should also encourage more Catholics to join the Royal Ulster Constabulary. When I was in Northern Ireland earlier this year and met Sir John Hermon, I was intensely worried by the RUC's difficulty in encouraging more Roman Catholics to join, although there has been some improvement this year.
773 A MORI poll, conducted in 1981, showed that 70 per cent. of Protestants and 62 per cent. of Catholics would accept Northern Ireland remaining as part of the United Kingdom, but with its own Assembly and guarantees for Catholics. My right hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) earlier this year said:
What is needed is a partnership at the level of a devolved government".If the Government use the Northern Ireland (Constitution) Act 1973 as a framework for devolving power, the guarantees that the Catholic community in the North should be able to expect would be missing. I hope that the Secretary of State will be clearer about the power-sharing proposals and that the SDLP's lingering doubts will be removed. Partnership in government is the best way to remove the alienation of the north's Catholics—of finally extinguishing the Bunsen burner that has kept the cauldron smouldering.
Those of us who heard Noel Dorr, the Irish ambassador in London, speak here last night will have noted that he stressed the alienation of the Roman Catholic community in Northern Ireland. The agreement is about removing that alienation. That is why it is worthy of support.
For unionists, the incentive for being involved in such a partnership is that it will reduce the influence held by Dublin. If political leaders refuse to provide their people with the leadership that they are entitled to expect, the people must be prepared to change those leaders, whether they be unionist or nationalist. The Government should ensure that a copy of the agreement is sent to every household in Northern Ireland. It is not good enough to be told that it has appeared in some Belfast newspapers. If unionist politicians now try to wreck the agreement by forcing by-elections—and I desperately hope that they will reconsider such action—the Government should be prepared to consider holding those elections under a system of proportional representation, as currently applies to local government, Assembly and European Parliament elections. That would turn the elections into a far more convincing test of public opinion and enable the Government to reach over the heads of sectarian leaders.
There is something in the agreement for everyone. For unionists, there is a double guarantee of their right to self-determination within the Six Counties. There is an acceptance of their identity by Dublin and an acceptance that it will be registered publicly at the United Nations. There is to be no Executive rule and no joint authority, both of which are anathema to unionists. There is also the Republic's commitment to ratify the European convention on the suppression of terrorism. There is the promise of better cross-border co-operation and improved security—progress on extradition and trials in another jurisdiction.
For nationalists, there is a recognition of their identity, respect for their democratic aspirations and for their symbols, culture, sports and repeal of offensive legislation such as the Flags and Emblems (Display) Act 1954. There is a chance to be partners in government and of parity of esteem and equality of opportunity.
For all, there is an opportunity of better human rights for individuals and groups and a framework for greater cooperation between our two countries. There is the opportunity for more common services to be developed and the chance in the longer term of parliamentary cooperation and a permanent body to oversee the 774 Intergovernmental Conference. There really is something in this agreement for everyone, and I hope that moderate Unionist politicians will re-examine it in that light.
The alliance report, which we published in July, said:the status quo in Northern Ireland is not an option.That view has been echoed time and again today. The Irish and British Governments have acted boldly in an attempt to shift the status quo. They deserve broad support. Perhaps a small window has opened in Northern Ireland. If men and women of ill will now slam it shut, the violence and despair that will inevitably follow will be upon their heads.
§ Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)
This debate provides a unique occasion for Ulster Unionist representatives, because it is not often that a man gets the opportunity to deliver the oration at his own funeral. When the Prime Minister signed the agreement in Hillsborough castle, she was in reality drafting the obituary of Ulster as we know it in the United Kingdom.
It is important for the House to understand why Ulster Unionists came to that conclusion. We did not reach that conclusion simply because of one document that arrived on 15 November. A long series of events led to that occasion. I am old enough to remember when, in 1969, the Labour Government issued the Downing street declaration, which said:
the affairs of Northern Ireland are entirely a matter of domestic jurisdiction.I can recall how our Prime Minister, on 8 December 1980 when in Dublin castle, signed a communiqué with Charles J. Haughey which altered that stance, because the communiqué said thatthe totality of relations within these islandswas now a fit subject for discussion between the two Governments. From that moment we had the outworking of the "unique relations" between the Governments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. We had joint studies, cross-border co-operation and then the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council, the purpose of which wasto provide the overall framework for intergovernmental consultation … on all matters of common interest and concern"—wait for it—with particular reference to the achievement of peace, reconciliation and stability and the improvement of relations".At that stage, the council had a responsibility to deal with matters of mutual interest and concern. We have moved from that to a new status which, under this institution, is to give the Republic of Ireland—a foreign Government—a direct role in the government of Northern Ireland.
It does not end there, because the agreement announced at Hillsborough castle is but the tip of the iceberg. I know that the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and others have been careful to say that there is no other agreement. But, then, we were told that there was no agreement right up until it was signed at Hillsborough castle. Indeed, some weeks in advance of 15 November, the deputy Prime Minister of the Irish Republic had already had a document printed which he sent to every member of his party. It indicated the full text of the agreement. Incidentally, he said that that agreement was signed bythe Taoiseach and the Prime Minister of Great Britain.It represents quite a change in our status when the deputy Prime Minister of the Irish Republic recognises that Northern Ireland is not to be one of our Prime Minister's responsibilities.
775 The document says that the task upon which the conference will embark involves trying to achieve an agreement with our Government on matters such as parades and processions, and putting the UDR out of business. It implies—although we have not yet been told—that the meeting of Ministers will take place in Belfast. It is clearly a framework for further agreements. What other reason could there be for a front cover entitled, "The Republic of Ireland No. 1 Agreement."?
I notice that the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) is in the Chamber. He has at least been honest with the people of Northern Ireland in saying that the agreement is a process. In the Irish News—where else?—he said that it was "a first step." The next day he said that there were to be "progressive stages." Those who had any doubt about where they were to lead were told by him on RTE:We are not waiting for Irish unity. We are working for it.I accept that there is no harm in the hon. Gentleman wanting to work towards that goal, but I wish to ensure that the unionist community in Northern Ireland knows what he and the Republic are working towards. It is clear that this process is intended to take us out of the United Kingdom. Yet the people of Northern Ireland have democratically expressed their wish to stay within it. The agreement is intended to trundle Northern Ireland into a all-Ireland Republic.
The unionist community in Northern Ireland has identified this process. It is not an end in itself, and was never intended to be. It is one step towards a united Ireland. Indeed, the Prime Minister has excused the deal by saying that its laudable aim is to achieve peace, stability, reconciliation and co-operation. That is my aim too. Like some other hon. Members, I live in Northern Ireland. Our stake and investment are in the Northern Ireland community and, most importantly, our families and constituents live there. It is in our interests to have peace, stability, reconciliation and co-operation. If I felt that they were achievable I would grasp them with a heart and a hand, but not outside the union. That would be too high a price to pay.
The document reminds me of another piece of paper waved by a former Prime Minister. In many ways the words are too similar. That Prime Minister's words were "Peace in our time". Under this agreement, peace, stability, reconciliation and co-operation are not achievable. How can they be achieved by alienating the majority of people in Northern Ireland? It was never intended that there should be peace, stability, reconciliation and co-operation as a result of this agreement. After all, if that had been the intention, the Government would have wanted, above all, to take the elected representatives of the majority community in Northern Ireland along with them.
§ Mr. Robinson
This may be my last opportunity to address the House. The first time I did so, it was without interruption. I trust that I will be able to speak without interruption today.
§ Mr. Robinson
If the document has been intended to do us good, the Prime Minister would have been only too 776 willing to allow the unionist community to be consulted. She would have been only too pleased to take it along with her and to ensure that the representatives of the unionist people in Northern Ireland could have some input to the discussions.
The Government of the Irish Republic were only too happy to give the hon. Member for Foyle that facility. The Government of the Irish Republic and this Government briefed people all over the world. The Government of the Irish Republic briefed the Secretary of State to the Vatican. The President of the United States was briefed, as were the United Nations and the European Community. But those who were to be affected by the deal were kept in the dark.
§ Mr. Robinson
I do not intend to give way during my speech. The hon. Gentleman can ask me to give way as much as he likes, but I do not intend to be interrupted by giving way.
I ask the Government to scrap this one-sided, anti-unionist deal and to involve unionists in the process of obtaining peace, stability, reconciliation and co-operation in Northern Ireland. As I have said, we would participate with a heart and a half. More than many, I recognise that it is not my duty simply to say, "No, we will not have it." It is my duty and that of other Unionist representatives to say what can be done in a positive way in Northern Ireland. Before the debate ends, I hope that I shall have had the opportunity to do that.
I want to point out what unionists have done, and are prepared to do within the union.
§ Mr. Dalyell
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My point of order relates to the very nature of the House. I understand that, other than for major speeches and ministerial statements, the House is a place in which hon. Members' views can, within reason, be scrutinised. Some hon. Members complain that they are misunderstood and that we, on this side of the water, do not fully comprehend this or that. However, if we cannot ask questions of clarification, how can we be expected to understand them?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
With his long experience of the House, the hon. Gentleman knows that it is for the hon. Member who has the Floor to decide whether to give way. The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) has made it clear that he does not intend to give way.
§ Mr. Robinson
The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) knows very well that I have given way to him and many other hon. Members before. But because of the uniqueness of the occasion, I do not intend to do so today. I have a message that I want to leave with the House before I walk out through those doors, and I do not intend to be diverted by any hon. Member.
I call upon the Government to consult and not to confront the unionist community. Unionists have been positive. The former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who laid the Assembly legislation before the House knows very well that it was the unionist community in Northern Ireland that went into the Assembly and that co-operated with the Government. It was the hon. Member for Foyle and his party who stayed outside and withdrew their consent. Is it the reward for those who co-operate 777 with the Government that an agreement that is ultimately to their destruction should be foisted upon them to the benefit of the hon. Member for Foyle and his party?
The Northern Ireland unionist parties—the Ulster Unionist party with its document, "The Way Forward" and the Democratic Unionist party with its document, "Ulster—the Future Assured"—put forward positive proposals for peace, stability, reconciliation and co-operation in Northern Ireland.
Even in the Northern Ireland Assembly, with the help of the conciliator, Sir Frederick Catherwood, the parties sat down and reached agreement on a framework that the Government could use in negotiations with the political parties—not only the Unionist parties but the Alliance party. We have been positive in Northern Ireland.
I say again that we are prepared to remain positive within the United Kingdom. We are prepared to allow the Prime Minister to engage unionists in constructive politics, and if the Prime Minister wishes to call my bluff, I should be only too happy. Do not confront us and put us out of the union with this deal.
The willingness of the unionist community to seek an agreement is undeterred. If the Government want peace and stability in Ulster, I ask them where that can best be achieved? There seems to be a new rule in British politics—if there is a dispute within a house, the way to solve it is to reach an agreement with the two neighbours. It is even more strange when the agreement reached between the two neighbours gives aid and succour to one of the parties to the dispute.
If the Government want peace, stability, reconciliation and co-operation in Northern Ireland, they must recognise that that can be achieved only by the politicians|—the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland—reaching agreement. They cannot impose reconciliation; they cannot impose peace and stability and they certainly cannot impose such an agreement which strikes at the fundamental principle in which the majority in Northern Ireland believe, and that is the union. That is the strangest of British strategies.
Does the agreement measure up to the Government's test for the sort of proposal that would be acceptable? The former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland brought the 1982 Act before the House on the basis ofwidespread acceptance throughout the community.He argued passionately that there had to be "cross-community support." Throughout the years there have been homilies from politicians of one party or another about the necessity for consent in Northern Ireland. They told us that Northern Ireland could not be governed without the consent of the minority.
If that is true, I have to tell the Government that they can never govern Northern Ireland without the consent of the majority. Do they have that consent? Have they tried to access whether there is such consent? Will they test whether there is consent? The people of Northern Ireland have the right and entitlement to be consulted about their constitutional future.
Our citizenship of the United Kingdom does not allow the Government to do whatsoever they may wish with Northern Ireland. Our citizenship of the United Kingdom must be on the same basis as applies in any other part of the United Kingdom. If, for whatever reason—be it good or ill—the Government decide that Northern Ireland must be treated differently from the remainder of 778 the United Kingdom, that can be done only if there is consent, and the consent not only of the Government and Parliament, but of the people of Northern Ireland.
It was that principle, enunciated in the House, that resulted in the referendums for Wales and Scotland. Have not the people of Ulster the same right to be consulted as the people of Wales and Scotland? Do they not have the same right to give their approval to any deal that, ultimately, will affect their future and the way that they are governed? I believe that they have that right and that they should be given it. If this House is not prepared to give them that right, it is incumbent upon the elected representatives of Northern Ireland to give them that right.
Right hon. and hon. Members criticise me, but I ask them how they would like it if the agreement affected their constituencies—if the governance of their people was not directly by this House, but by a structure that allowed a foreign power, at its own behest, to make challenges and to request consultation. The agreement goes even further than that and requires thata determined effort is made to resolve the differencesbetween the two Governments. I doubt whether many right hon. and hon. Members would want that for themselves or their constituents.
The agreement is not merely consultative. The House should not pass this measure believing that it is only a talking shop, in which the Irish Republic can make comments. It is much more than that. I am sure that the Prime Minister will not mind if I divulge certain comments made during our meeting yesterday, when we put the point about consultation to her on two occasions. On the first occasion, she was about to speak when the question was answered by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I asked whether only a consultative role was involved or whether it was more than that. He said, "It is not executive." On the second occasion, the Prime Minister said, "It is what it is in this agreement."
What do those who have been more candid say about the agreement? The Prime Minister of the Irish Republic says:it is more than consultation".The deputy Prime Minister of the Irish Republic says:
the agreement goes beyond the right to consult.John F. O'Conner, the dean of the faculty of law at UCC, said:
Whatever the eventual political results, the legal result of the new agreement is that Northern Ireland has now become subject to a status in international law which has no real parallels elsewhere. It never was, nor has it become, a separate entity in international law. It is not a condominium. It is a province of the United Kingdom which for the first time has become subject to the legal right of two sovereign governments to determine how all matters which go to the heart of sovereignty in that area shall in future be determined.It is not only the unionists—[Interruption.] Hon. Members may not like what the dean of the faculty of law said, but if they want to dispute it, they had better do so with him.
It is not only the unionists who believe that the deal is unfair to the unionist community in Northern Ireland. Senator Mary Robinson of the Irish Republic—no relation of mine, I assure the House—rejected the agreement because it went too far. She said:This is absolutely the most serious moment in the political development of this island since we gained independence.That lady is no unionist—she was one of the signatories to the Forum report. Yet even she says that the agreement goes too far.
779 The Belfast Telegraph, never a close friend of the unionist community, said:
Even those who, like this newspaper, can see benefit flowing from closer consultation with Dublin, must draw the line at such institutionalised links between the two countries.I say again that it is not only the Ulster Unionists and the Democratic Unionists who believe that the deal goes too far. The ordinary citizens of Northern Ireland, never previously involved in politics, were present at the mass demonstration at the city hall in Belfast.
I was born a free citizen of the United Kingdom. I was brought up to respect the Union flag. At my father's knee I was taught the love that I should have for the monarchy, and throughout my life I have put that into practice. I was nurtured on the principle of the greatness of our British heritage. I have taught all that to my children. I now have to tell this House that over the last 17 cruel years, when Ulster has been confronted by a vicious campaign of terrorism, not one of the unionist community was prepared to allow that campaign to shatter his loyalty to the United Kingdom.
It is not a one-way street. It never has been for Ulster. We cheered with this country during the Falklands campaign. Ulster suffered its losses just as many did on this side of the Irish sea. During the second world war, we made sacrifices, just as many people in this part of the United Kingdom, and we did it without conscription. During the first world war, Ulster gave of its best for Britain. After watching the Ulster Volunteers on the Somme when 5,000 Ulstermen lost their lives at the enemy's hand, a great British general—General Spender—said, "I am not an Ulsterman but there is no one in the world whom I would rather be after seeng the Ulster Volunteers in action." In peace and in war Ulster stood by the kingdom. That has been the way of loyal Ulster.
I never believed that I would see a British Government who were prepared to damage Ulster's position in the United Kingdom. Our resolve has been hardened by the bitter times in past years when a terrorist campaign was aimed at undermining our position in the United Kingdom. There would never have been a Hillsborough castle agreement if the IRA had not been bombing and shooting. That is a fact of life. Can one blame the people of Northern Ireland for thinking that violence works? It makes the task harder for those of us who chose the way of constitutional politics to tell people not to involve themselves in violence.
I wish that the House had a sense of the deep feeling of anger and betrayal in Northern Ireland. Yesterday, while I was waiting in an ante-room in No. 10 Downing street before meeting the Prime Minister I saw on the wall a portrait of Rudyard Kipling, who was a great patriot. I recall the words of his poem "Ulster 1912", which begins:
The dark eleventh hourDraws on and sees us soldTo every evil powerWe fought against of old.Later, it states:The blood our fathers split,Our love, our toils, our pains,Are counted us for guilt,And only bind our chains.Before an Empire's eyesThe traitor claims his price.What need of further lies?We are the sacrifice.
§ 6.3 pm
§ Mr. John Hume (Foyle)
Listening to some of the hon. Members who have spoken in the debate one could have been forgiven for thinking that we were not discussing a serious problem, but, after listening to the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), one should not be in any doubt that we are discussing a serious problem.
I was glad to see a full House at the beginning of the debate. That is the first achievement of the Anglo-Irish conference. It shows that the serious human problem facing the peoples of these islands has at last been given the priority that it deserves. It has been put at the centre of the stage.
I was glad also that a meeting took place at the highest level between the British and the Irish Governments at which a framework for ongoing discussion was set up. In an excellent unionist speech, the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) told us what we already knew—that he was a committed unionist and that he did not particularly like to associate with the loud-mouthed persons with whom I have to live. We did not learn from him of the problem in Northern Ireland—that we have a deeply divided society. The hon. Gentleman did not bother to analyse why we have a deeply divided society and the political instability and violence which the agreement seeks to address.
This is the first time that we have had a real framework within which to address the problem. The problem is not just about relationships with Northern Ireland. One need only listen to the speeches of Northern Ireland Members to know that it is about relationships in Ireland and between Ireland and Britain. Those interlocking relationships should be addressed within the framework of the problem. The framework of the problem can only be the framework of the solution, and that is the British-Irish framework. There is no road towards a solution to this problem that does not contain risks. The road that has been chosen by both Governments is the road of maximum consensus and is, therefore, the road of minimum risk. We should welcome that.
Our community has just gone through 15 years of the most serious violence that it has ever seen. Northern Ireland has a population of 1.5 million people. About 2,500 people have lost their lives in political violence—the equivalent of 86,000 people in Britain. Twenty thousand people have been seriously maimed. When I say "maimed", I mean maimed. That is the equivalent of 750,000 people on this island. About £11 billion-worth of damage has been caused to the economies of Ireland—North and South. In 1969, public expenditure by the British Government in subsidy, subvention or whatever one calls it was £74 million; today it is £1.5 billion. Two new prisons have been built and a third is about to be opened—our only growth industry. There are 18-year-olds who have known nothing but violence and armed soldiers on their streets. Young people reach 18 and then face the highest unemployment we have ever had. Forty-four per cent. of the population is under 25.
If that is not a time bomb for the future, what is? If that is not a problem that needs the serious attention of the House and the serious attention that the Prime Ministers of Britain and of the Republic of Ireland have given it in the past 18 months, what is? Is this not a subject that screams out for political leaders in Northern Ireland to take a good look at themselves, their parties and the leadership 781 that they have given? There is only one clear-cut lesson to be learnt from this tragedy—that our past attitudes have brought us where we are. Unless we agree to take a hard look at our past attitudes, we shall be going nowhere fast and we shall be committing ourselves to the dustbin of history, clutching our respective flagpoles.
We are being given some choices. The agreement gives us no more than an opportunity to begin the process of reconciliation. The choices offered to the people of Northern Ireland are the choices offered by hon. Members here present. The unionist parties have consistently sought to protect the integrity of their heritage in Ireland—the Protestant heritage—and no one should quarrel with that. A society is richer for its diversity. My quarrel with the unionist parties has been that they have sought to protect their heritage by holding all the power in their own hands and by basing that on sectarian solidarity. That is an exclusive use of power which is inherently violent because it permanently excludes a substantial section of the community from any say in its affairs.
That was spelt out clearly by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) when he said that he offered an act of leadership. He was sincere. He said that the majority should assure the minority that they would be made part of society. He tells me that it is an act of leadership to make me and the people I represent part of our society 65 years after Northern Ireland was created.
We have been lectured about democracy and the democratic process by hon. Members from both unionist parties. They are practitioners of the democratic process. I do not want to spend too much time on examples of their practice, but they were the masters of gerrymander. Today their voices are somewhat muted, but they have not changed much.
In Belfast city council not one position on any board has gone to a minority representative. One council has even apologised to the electorate because it made a mistake in appointing a member of the SDLP to one position out of 105.
§ Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)
The hon. Gentleman is complaining because his party cannot win elections. Many people here have to face the fact that their party cannot win elections. It is a fact of life, but it is not a reason for power sharing.
§ Mr. Hume
I thought that the hon. Gentleman's intervention might be intelligent. I shall not lecture him on how Northern Ireland was set up, how it was deliberately created and how from day one it has been run on a sectarian basis. The only way to break that down is through partnership.
Hon. Members from both unionist parties have lectured us about democracy. That brings us to the heart of the Irish problem. The sovereignty of this Parliament is the basis of the British system and of the rule of law. The sovereignty of Parliament has been defied only twice in this century—on both occasions by Ulster Unionists.
In 1912 the Ulster Unionists defied the sovereign wish of Parliament to grant home rule. That was only devolution within the United Kingdom. They objected and accepted instead home rule for themselves. That taught them a lesson which they have never forgotten—that if one threatens a British Government or British Parliament and produces crowds in the streets from the Orange lodges the British will back down. Others learnt from that that if 782 one wins by the democratic process the British will back down to their loyalist friends and then they say, "Why not use force instead?" Those two forces are still at the heart of preventing a development in relationships within Ireland. Those who threaten violence are those who use it. The same two forces are opposing the agreement today.
§ Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
Does the hon. Gentleman recall that in 1969 he brought on to the streets of Ulster the hordes who, when he left them alone, fell into the hands of violent men? The hon. Gentleman says that he is not allowed to share responsibility in Northern Ireland, but as I have told him before the SDLP refused to put their names forward for positions within the council of which I am a member and tried to nominate Sinn Fein members instead. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will apply his mind to that.
§ Mr. Hume
I am applying my mind to the record of the unionist parties, the members of which have spoken today. I shall apply my mind to my own party later. I am expecting everyone to do a little rethinking.
The logic of the road down which the unionist leadership is taking its people is inescapable. Unionists once again are prepared to defy the sovereign will of this Parliament. When they come back after their elections and Parliament says that it refuses to back down, what will they do? Where will that lead us? They are going down the UDI road. That is their logic. They say that they are loyal to the United Kingdom. They are the loyalists and they must accept the sovereignty of Her Majesty's Parliament. But they do not.
What would happen if London Members resigned, were re-elected and returned saying that the majority in Greater London wanted to keep the Greater London council? That would lead to a complete breakdown of parliamentary sovereignty. That is where the unionists are leading us and they must know it.
It is sad in 1985 to meet people who are suspicious of everybody. They are suspicious of London, suspicious of Dublin and suspicious of the rest of the world. Worst of all, they are suspicious of the people with whom they share a little piece of land—theirneighbours. It is sad that they never talk of the future except with fear. They talk always of the past. Their thoughts are encapsulated in that marvellous coupletTo hell with the future and Long live the past.May God in his mercy look down on Belfast.That is more relevant than the words of Rudyard Kipling.
There has to be a better way. However grand we think we are, we are a small community. We cannot for ever live apart. Those sentiments were expressed in 1938 by Lord Craigavon, one of their own respected leaders. What are we sentencing our people to if we continue to live apart? People are entitled to live apart, but they are not entitled to ask everyone else to pay for it.
The other opposition to the agreement comes from the Provisional IRA and its political surrogates. They murder fellow Irishmen in the name of Irish unity. They murder members of the UDR and RUC—fellow Irishmen. Those members see themselves as protectors of their heritage, but the Provisional IRA brutally murders UDR and RUC members in the name of uniting the Irish people, the heritage with which we must unite if we are ever to unite Ireland.
The IRA's political wing is full of contradictions. I hope that no one in the House has any sympathy with it. 783 Its members blow up factories, yet complain about unemployment. Its political spokesmen complain about cuts in public expenditure and in the same evening the military wing blows up £2 million of public expenditure in one street. A motion rightly condemns the execution of a young South African poet, but the IRA then shoots in the back of the head a young unemployed man and puts bullets in the head of a young man and his wife in west Belfast. The IRA complains about Diplock courts, yet runs kangaroo courts. What does that offer Ireland?
The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) asks about Irish unity. In the late 20th century it is nonsense that there should be divisions. If European nations which twice in this century alone have slaughtered one another by the millions can build institutions that allow them to grow together at their own speed, why cannot we do the same? He quoted me in an interview as saying that I was working for Irish unity, but I went on to say that those who think that Irish unity is round the corner are wired to the moon.
The divisions in Ireland go back well beyond partition. Centuries ago the leaders of Irish republicanism said that they wanted to unite Ireland by replacing the name of "Catholic-Protestant dissenter" with the common name of "Irishman". That was in 1795. Thirty years before partition Parnell said that Ireland could never be united or have its freedom until the fears of the Protestant minority in Ireland could be conciliated. This is a deep problem. It will not be solved in a week or in a fortnight. The agreement says that if Ireland is ever to be united it will be united only if those who want it to be united can persuade those who do not want it to be united. Sovereignty has nothing to do with maps but everything to do with people.
The people of Ireland are divided on sovereignty. They will be united only by a process of reconciliation in which both traditions in Ireland can take part and agree. If that happens, it will lead to the only unity that matters—a unity that accepts that the essence of unity is the acceptance of diversity.
Our third choice is the agreement. For the first time it sets up a framework that addresses the problem of the interlocking relationships between the people of both Irelands. It is the approach of maximum consensus. It is the way of minimum risk. For the first time—this is a positive element in the agreement—it respects the equal validity of both traditions. That is what the right hon. and hon. Members of the Unionist party are complaining about. It is not a concession to me or to the people whom I represent. It is an absolute right to the legitimate expression of our identity and of the people I represent. Nobody can take that from us. The recognition of the equal validity of both traditions removes for the first time every excuse for the use of violence by anybody in Ireland to achieve his objective. A framework for genuine reconciliation is provided. Both sections of our community can take part in it.
Several hon. Members have said that the SDLP has a double veto on devolution. I have already said several times to them in public, but let me say it again so that they may hear it, that I believe in the partnership between the different sections of the community in Northern Ireland. That is the best way to reconcile our differences. By working together to build our community we shall 784 diminish the prejudices that divide us. The agreement means that I am prepared to sit down now and determine how we shall administer the affairs of Northern Ireland in a manner that is acceptable to both traditions.
§ Mr. Hume
No. [HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] I noticed that the right hon. and hon. Members of the Unionist parties were allowed to speak without interruption. When they were interrupted, they did not agree to give way.
The second question that appears to excite people about my party's attitude relates to the security forces and to policing in Northern Ireland. Our position—this is not a policy but a statement of fact that applies to every democratic society—is that law and order are based upon political consensus. Where political consensus is absent there is an Achilles heel. Violent men in Northern Ireland take advantage of that Achilles heel. For the first time the Intergovernmental Conference will address that question. It has committed itself to addressing that question. It has also committed itself to addressing the relationship between the community and the security forces. I want to give every encouragement to the conference to do so at the earliest possible opportunity. If it does so, it will have our fullest co-operation. I want the people whom I represent to play the fullest possible part, as do any citizens in a democratic society, in the process of peace and order. While we await the outcome we shall continue to give our full and unqualified support to the police force in impartially seeking out anybody who commits a crime in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Dalyell
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) has a position to state in this argument. I may not happen to agree with him, but just as it was wrong—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. The hon. Gentleman has raised this point of order before. He knows that it is at the discretion of the hon. Member who has the floor to decide whether to give way.
§ Mr. Hume
What is the alternative to the process of reconciliation and the breaking down of barriers? Why should anybody be afraid of the process of reconciliation? Anybody who is afraid has no confidence in himself or herself. It means that they cannot engage in a process of reconciliation. If they cannot retain mutual respect for their own position as well as for that of somebody else, they have no self-confidence. Therefore, they should not be representatives of the people of Northern Ireland. The only alternative is the old one of hopelessness, tit-for-tat, revenge—the old doctrine of an eye for an eye which has left everybody blind in Northern Ireland.
This is well summed up by a better poet than Kipling, the good, honest voice of the North, Louis MacNeice. Describing the old hopelessness, which is what we are being offered by those who will not take this opportunity, he said:Why should I want to go backTo you, Ireland, my Ireland?The blots on the page are so blackThat they cannot be covered with shamrock.I hate your grandiose airs,Your sob-stuff, your laugh and your swagger,Your assumption that everyone caresWho is the king of your castle.785Castles are out of date.The tide flows round the children's sandy fancy,Put up what flag you like, it is too lateTo save your soul with bunting.It is far too late for the people of Northern Ireland to save their souls with bunting or with flag waving. We should note that the followers of those who wave flags as though they were the upholders of the standards of those flags paint their colours on kerbstones for people to walk over. In other words, there is no leadership and no integrity in that approach and no respect. The alternative that we are offered is an opportunity which, like others, may fail. It poses great challenges and risks. The challenges are daunting and difficult, but the choices are not. There is no other choice. There is no other road.
§ Mr. Adam Butler (Bosworth)
I do not have in my voice today the power of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), but I hope that I can emulate my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow). Even if I speak quietly, I hope that I can speak as much sense as he did. So far, there have been three contributions from those who represent different parties in Northern Ireland. They make me believe that I was right the other night to vote for the televising of the proceedings of this Chamber. If the television cameras had been here, the viewers, whether in Northern Ireland or in the remainder of the United Kingdom, would have obtained a much better appreciation of the problem and of the advocates of the various points of view.
I served as a Northern Ireland Minister for nearly four years. Since then I have had the opportunity for reflection. Perhaps my views are now a little more objective than they were then. Whatever my right hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior) said, although there was mistrust of English Ministers when we first appeared, I hope that I and my colleagues and friends who served with me in Northern Ireland left the impression that we were seeking to do our bit and to make our contribution to the resolution of the problems of Northern Ireland. I know that my right hon. Friend did that.
I have already expressed my view, on the occasion of the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister last week. It is one of general welcome for the agreement. However, I cannot say that I like it, or necessarily welcome one of its fundamental points. Why should I, as a British citizen, automatically like and welcome the fact that advice can come from a Minister of a Government of a foreign state? That is the technical position of the Republic of Ireland, whatever history tells us.
However, I accept the agreement, for a reason that lies in what the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) said. This is where I fall out with my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne and others who have spoken. This point is probably the fundamental point at issue in the Northern Ireland problem. Are we talking about a democratic system, or part of a democratic system, where a simple majority should hold sway regardless, where first-past-the-post should rule and 50 per cent. plus should win the day? If so, life would be easy, but Stormont tried that for 50 years.
I believe the reason to be that stated by the hon. Member for Foyle, and that is the difference within Northern Ireland between the two communities. There is 786 a division now that has been made worse by recent history. I do not need to lecture hon. Members about the position in Northern Ireland. However, one has to recognise certain basic facts. Two thirds, or less now, of the population are fundamentally unionists and loyalists, looking to London and Westminster, while the remainder of the population, on the whole, are nationalists, some republicans and nearly all Roman Catholic with a distinctive regard for the South and the Republic. It is with that that we have to concern ourselves, and that is what the agreement seeks to recognise.
It is no good saying to the people in the minority that, as they are in a minority in part of the United Kingdom, they must think like us, become totally British and prefer the Union flag, not the tricolour. Those people found themselves, because of a stroke of history, north of the border, thanks to the Boundary Commission of that time.
§ Mr. Harold McCusker (Upper Bann)
If the right hon. Gentleman believes that a simple majority rule is not appropriate in Northern Ireland—I can understand arguments along those lines—why should I accept, through article 1 of the agreement, that a simple majority should take me out of my citizenship of the United Kingdom and into a united Ireland?
§ Mr. Butler
That point is somewhere among my notes to be dealt with later. If, by some magic, there were a 51 per cent. majority today, the position would be just as bad in terms of divided communities. The fact is that a majority in favour of leaving the United Kingdom—if such a situation should ever arise—is many years away. It is important to grasp this point because it is no good the Republic of Ireland saying that it has only to wait a little while longer, or for the minority in Northern Ireland to say that it has only to wait for a little while. It must be the greatest consolation to the unionist population that it is a question not of a few years but of many decades, if at all. Therefore, the imperative is on both sides to get together to work out their future.
§ Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)
Is not the advice of the Northern Ireland Office to all those who visit Northern Ireland that demographic changes within Northern Ireland will lead, perhaps within the next 20 years, to the nationalist population becoming the majority? Has that not been said? [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Butler
I am reinforced in what I believe—that there are no such official forecasts—by the remarks of other of my hon. Friends. There are those who see a trend that will lead that way, but I re-emphasise the point that nobody, as far as I am aware, believes that a simple adverse majority—now now I am a unionist—could arise within several decades, if at all.
In looking at the options that should be considered, I have in the past taken seriously the possibility of repartition, because that is the only other option if the two communities will not resolve the problems themselves. Frankly, it is not an option. Anybody who knows he demographic map of Northern Ireland knows that in every square mile of every part of the Province there is a significant minority population. The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) would hardly welcome that part of Ulster going to the South. The hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross), who is 787 not in his place at the moment, would not relish such a proposition for his constituency. I cannot imagine unionists ever wanting to give up the city of Londonderry.
Although that is not a feasible option, it is important to look at it so that it can be rejected, thus leaving the one option, which is working together. One welcomes the agreement because it recognises the fundamental character of the Province.
I follow that point one step further, in regard to the obligation on the two Governments that if a simple majority to leave the United Kingdom were achieved, those Governments would be required to lay before their Parliaments proposals for such a move. It is now in the agreement, although I would prefer that it were not. However, in that event, it would put the decision into the hands of this House, on behalf of the United Kingdom, regardless of what the proposals were, because this is where the decision should rest. We are talking about the choice not of Ulstermen, on whichever side of the divide they come, but of the British people. If I may presume to advise many of those whom I call my friends sitting on the Unionist Bench, this is why it is important to have regard to the feelings of the English, Welsh and Scottish about this affair. As others before me have said, too many are conscious of the resources that have been put into Northern Ireland and of the lives that have been lost by the Regular Army not to feel that this matter could be resolved through a united Ireland.
My last point is the one that I raised in an intervention following my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's statement last Monday. No one must think that this is the tip of the iceberg or the prelude to a united Ireland. It is merely an opportunity for a step forward.
The hon. Member for Foyle was challenged from a sedentary position when he said that he was prepared to sit down and talk. If I may say so to the hon. Member for Belfast, East, it was typical of him to ask why the hon. Member for Foyle had not sat down and talked in the past. I have asked the hon. Gentleman before why he was not in the Assembly, and I am as critical as anyone of the fact that he has not been. But now that we have heard his positive statement as the leader of the constitutional nationalists, it is for the Unionist parties to accept that offer and to try to find a way forward. Only in that way can peace and stability be achieved.
§ Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley, Central)
This accord could be the most progressive and historic step ever taken by the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom since partition—more so in the light of the many attempts and failures at constitutional change since the dissolution of Stormont and the advent of direct rule.
One must recognise the courage of the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister. This time there has been a patient build-up to an accord. Both Prime Ministers have shown foresight and courage, have recognised the majority communities within their frontiers but have been ready to accept the anticipated hostility against the proposed changes, hoping that most people will moderate with an understanding of the accord, especially with the enshrinement of the Northern Ireland Province in a nationally recognised and binding agreement between the two countries.
788 But one must clearly and frankly admit that within the Province there is a great deal of uncertainty laced with anxiety. There is an urgent need to quell the unease, wrath and boiling anger in unionist breasts. It is difficult for most British minds to grasp the depth of feeling among unionists that they may have been secretly betrayed by Conservative Unionist friends, and hardly any of those fears—and fears for the future—have been allayed.
There are many uncertainties and dangers inherent in this treaty. Garret FitzGerald has, with stark reality, forgone the present goal of a united Ireland, and although it is still a claim in the Irish constitution, he has diverted from the immediate nationalist aspirations of the South. That is a major concession. Dr. FitzGerald has shown courage in his search for peace. He knows that the Provisional IRA and its political wing Provisional Sinn Fein will invade his Republic with violence and politics if they make much more political headway in the north. He has been prophetic, has seen the dangers and has faced reality instead of clinging to hope.
But—this is my first concern—will this accord, once agreed, be honoured by Charles Haughey and Fianna Fail in one or two years' time? Haughey began the cross-border talks some years ago, yet opposed the deal in the Dail. He decided not to sabotage it but to wait on the sidelines, knowing full well that politically he will benefit from all the frustrations if there is no short-term success. In a year or two, he is likely to be in the ministerial conference as Taoiseach of the South. What will happen when he has to co-operate with Her Majesty's Government on harmonisation rather than pursue a united Ireland as the priority?
While this accord exists in its present form—that is, that there will be no change in the status of Northern Ireland until the majority of the people so decree—he is bound by it. What then? Unless much progress on security, peace and stability is made in the short term, his victory alone poses a danger to this accord. As he said in the Dail last week:We cannot accept … recognition of British Sovereignty over the North of Ireland in this agreement.Therein lies the first danger in the not-too-distant future.
Running throughout the ministerial meetings in the last few years has been the urge to stifle the rise of Provisional Sinn Fein. That is why so much republican interference in Northern Ireland's affairs has been agreed—to pacify the green, to take politicking away from Provisional Sinn Fein and to let the minority community see that their interests are being progressed by the south and the Social Democratic and Labour party in the north. This is designed to blunt the edge of Provisional Sinn Fein campaigning.
However, there will be a high price to pay, and there are still too many uncertainties. There is to be intrusion by a foreign state—foreign in that it does not belong to the family of provinces within the United Kingdom and subject to United Kingdom law—in almost all Northern Ireland's affairs. On the political plane, the Republic will have a say in "electoral arrangements"—in other words, everything political. That will include district elections, Assembly elections and Westminster elections, and in almost every case intrusions will be seen as offsetting the natural majority in the Province by protecting and promoting the minority. Politically, that means the SDLP. We cannot effectively ban Provisional Sinn Fein, but we can isolate it. That is the objective of the political exercise, but in doing so we might as well recognise that we incur the wrath of all the Unionist parties.
789 On the legal front—and in spite of the Baker report only a year ago which did not recommend any major change in the Northern Ireland system—the Republic will now have an input to the entire judiciary, including the Diplock courts and juries. All the due processes of the law will be subject to southern political intrusion, and allied with that the Irish Government will also be able to put forward views on the role and composition of public bodies in Northern Ireland, including the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, the Fair Employment Agency, the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Police Authority and the Police Complaints Board.
From the unionist point of view, that is seen as a frightening and sweeping intrusion by the south in Northern Ireland's affairs. Even intervention in Northern Ireland's cultural affairs, where many Orange traditions abound, is fraught with danger. There is so much of an assault on the cherished systems, traditions and culture of Northern Ireland life that one can understand the total disbelief of the unionists and their predictable reaction.
I welcome cross-border economic co-operation. That has been developing over the years, and has built on what has so far been achieved in respect of telecommunications, bridges, railways, customs, agriculture, border land drainage and so on. That is a welcome, steady blurring of the border.
Last week the Prime Minister described the accord as a two-way street, but the Province does not see it that way. It is much more a broad highway, with southern traffic invading all the affairs of the Northern Ireland state and taking away too much of Northern Ireland's identity.
§ Mr. Mason
I shall not give way.
The Prime Minister has paid a high price for uncertain returns. On all the varied and sensitive matters, the accord is fraught with danger and anxiety for all those in the North, not just the majority community—because if in the end the majority wrecks it, the minority will also suffer, to the glee of the bomb, bullet and Provisional Sein Fein ballot squads. It is essential for all of us who are concerned about the future of Northern Ireland—I register my concern—to examine the good and positive aspects of the accord.
First, there is no derogation of sovereignty by the Government. That is clear beyond doubt. Secondly, there is no weakening of resolve to stand by the majority. Although southern Ministers and civil servants will be greatly involved, there is no diktat, and moves on all matters will be made only by agreement and with consent. There is a binding affirmation by the United Kingdom and Irish Governments that the status of Northern Ireland will remain unchanged so long as the majority so decrees. Moreover, there is the likelihood that that will be enshrined in an international agreement deposited at the United Nations. Safeguards of that sort on an international plane have never been agreed before.
Security, more than anything else, will determine whether the accord succeeds or fails, and that means the border. It will mean co-operation between the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Garda, and between the British and Irish Armies. We know that the Provisional IRA undoubtedly takes rest and recreation, and has its training areas in the South. Its members raid, bomb and kill in the 790 North and then escape to a relatively safe haven in the South. Will there, therefore, be joint police board operations, covering chases across frontiers, hot pursuits across the border, helicopter patrols, Army liaison, and joint operations by the British and Irish Armies? If security co-operation, which matters most of all, is truly and seriously intended, that is what it will involve. Otherwise, the accord is a sham.
We already have the primacy of the RUC in Northern Ireland. The Ulster Defence Regiment and the Army are there to be called upon, if necessary. The Army is now almost down to its pre-1969 garrison strength. The test is to defeat the Provisional IRA and the Irish National Liberation Army, and to be seen to be succeeding. That is the key to winning the majority community for the accord.
There is not much time. Progress must be made first on that front before progress can be made on any other fronts at the intergovernmental conference. Will the South respond rapidly on the ground? Increased security means stabilising the political turbulence in the Province. In that sort of atmosphere we shall wish to see joint missions of investment seekers from North and South, side by side, addressing the United States Congress, using their influence to denounce Noraid, and acting as ambassadors for Ireland as a whole. Only if that picture is portrayed as real, can we tread the stepping stones to political harmony in the accord, to the possibilities of an inter-parliamentary arrangement, and then to devolution. That is the path that we should all wish to tread.
I do not think that there will be a united Ireland for as far as I can see, but through the measures in the accord the border can be blurred and the two communities brought gradually closer together in the various and newly proposed structures. It will take both time and the unionists' co-operation. Above all, I ask unionists to encourage security co-operation, to help the accord defeat terrorism in their land, and to be careful not to aid and abet the Provos and INLA, and to give glee to Provisional Sinn Fein by any untoward activities which will heighten sectarian strife. We all know that the terrorist forces will do their murderous damnedest to wreck the Province. They may well try to smash the accord by a sudden and increased burst of terrorist activity. They do not want Irish unity. They want to destroy all democratic institutions in the North first, and then to take on the South. I ask unionists not to give them any succour by indirect means.
The special position of the Province within the United Kingdom has been strengthened. There is no need for a unionist election campaign. We know that the majority of the majority community is disturbed, but by elevating fears of the untried to national anger, unionists may well frustrate the laundering of the accord. That may be their objective, but the chances of security co-operation and success will be damned. It will be on their heads if the bullets, the bombs and the Provisional Sinn Fein ballots increase.
That outlook will be grim and bleak for Ulstermen. I believe that the Union is safe. I plead with unionists not to provoke a British backlash, which will alienate them from the mainland. That would be worse than acceptance of the accord. It is their choice. I beg unionist leaders riot to lead their people astray.
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) both on his decision to resign and on his speech. There is an old saying, "Money lost, nothing lost. Honour lost, much is lost. Courage lost, all is lost." My hon. Friend has shown a sense of honour and a degree of courage beyond the call of duty, and I salute his decision. For many years as parliamentary private secretary to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, he inevitably lived in the shadow of our political life. His public decision brings him a new status. It will earn him the respect of all hon. Members, whether we agree with him or not, and our admiration.
I should next like to congratulate the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), who I am sorry to see is no longer in his place, and who is the architect of the Hillsborough agreement. It is no mean thing for the leader of a party, which represents a little more than half of the minority in the Province, to be able to convince the Governments in Dublin and London to reach such an agreement. However, I must warn him and the House that this is a fragile concept and an affair of mirrors. The nationalists are being told that the agreement is a step towards the reunification of Ireland, while the unionists are being told that it is a guarantee of their remaining in the United Kingdom. Although the right hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason) spoke in praise of the agreement at the beginning and end of his speech, he showed clearly the difficulties that lie ahead.
The agreement is flawed in the first place—here my unionist friends will not agree with me—because it renews a commitment to devolution. It is worth recalling that Carson was against devolution. He said that he wanted the Province to be treated in exactly the same way as Scotland, Wales and England. Had it been so treated, the political division in the Province would have evolved along the same lines as it has here between Conservatives and radicals.
Stormont did many good things. It preserved law and order in the Province when the Free State, as it then was, was ravaged by revolution. It preserved law and order when the second world war came on. It was in many ways successful; but it, inevitably perhaps, put order ahead of justice. In my judgment—hon. Members will correct me if I am wrong—it froze the political confrontation into one between unionists and nationalists or republicans. It also had the unfortunate effect, since corrected, I am glad to see, of keeping the leaders of both communities in Belfast instead of sending them here where they were represented by what might be called a second eleven, distinguished though many of them were.
I cannot help thinking that when my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) destroyed Stormont—I am not sure whether he was right or wrong—he had a chance to introduce what my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne called the Airey Neave proposal, to integrate the Province completely into the United Kingdom and just have one or more regional authorities. He did not do that. Instead, my noble Friend Lord Whitelaw went out to try to destroy the unionist ascendancy. He succeeded; he got two of them. I do not know whether that has been of any help from the point of view from which he set out.
792 He and his colleagues then went on to embark on power sharing. Power sharing is a complicated operation. I have some experience of it. I helped to devise a power-sharing constitution for Cyprus. It was an admirable constitutional bit of work. It was approved by the Greek and Turkish communities of Cyprus and by the Greek and Turkish Governments and by our Government. Look at Cyprus now. My father before me tried to introduce power sharing in India. It was broken up, with millions of dead, into three bits. Some other Minister, I forget who, tried to have power sharing in Palestine. There was an admirable power-sharing constitution in the Lebanon, but read the papers this morning or those for any other day for the past few weeks. [Interruption.] I do not think that Sunningdale had much chance, but whatever chance it had was killed by the introduction of the Irish dimension, which introduced an element of condominium.
We have had a little experience of condominium. We had quite a good one in the Sudan because we would not let the other codominus, the Egyptians, come into it. We had an admirable one in the New Hebrides as a result of which no attempt was made to interfere with the tribal customs of the inhabitants, not all of which would have been approved in this House had it been informed about them.
Then we came to direct rule. I must pay tribute to the right hon. Members for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) and for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason) for the way in which they administered the situation. If I may say so, they did it rather better than we have. It had one important result. The leaders of the official Unionists, the Democratic Unionists and the SDLP came here. That is already a step in the right direction. Although they have mainly talked to us about Irish problems, they have been encouraged by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) to talk and to vote on other matters and some have even joined the European Parliament. That was the whole idea that Carson had at the beginning. He believed that this House should be the protector of the majority in the North against the Republic in the South and the protector of the minority in the North against the majority in the North.
People in Britain cannot sit still, particularly the civil servants. That is understandable, but there is a passion for initiative, encouraged by the United States and other elements. So we had the proposal of my right hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior) for the Assembly. Some of us bored the pants off the House keeping hon. Members up late at night saying that that would fail. I am sorry that we kept hon. Members up late at night, but who can say that we were wrong? The Assembly has produced the most disastrous fiasco. Although the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) has talked a lot about co-operation, I am not at all clear from his speech whether he is intending to join the Assembly even now. It is expensive and totally unsuccessful, and I do not see what point it has served.
My conclusion is that devolution perpetuates division and that the best chance lies in integration. The atmosphere of this House softens differences and tends to ridicule extremism. I remember well when Mrs. Braddock, of blessed memory, came into the House. I approached her once on some subject and she said that she did not talk to Tories. Two years later I found her the most garrulous and agreeable of companions. There is some chemistry in the House that operates in this way.
793 I cannot help thinking that the commitment to devolution, as we rejected it for Scotland and Wales, makes the inhabitants of the Province, if not second-class citizens, at least citizens of a different category. It is imposing on them a kind of dual nationality, and that is a fundamental flaw.
Then there is the flaw of the condominium. We are assured, and I believe it, that the representative of the Republic, the Minister who comes, will have only a consultative right. He will not have a right of veto or anything of that sort. But suppose that any of us was in his shoes. He is responsible to the Dail. Any question on some alleged grievance in the Province can be referred through some member of the Dail to him in his capacity as a Minister in his own Parliament. So the affairs of the Province can be discussed in the Dail almost as intimately as if the Province were part of the Republic. He will be under great pressure. As election time approaches, he will be asked what is said and whether he stood up for the rights of Mrs. Maloney, or whoever it may be. That could become serious where security is concerned.
Let us suppose that the GoC or the Chief Constable wants to adopt a new line and puts it to the conference. Let us suppose that the Republic representative does not like it. Will the Secretary of State say, "Perhaps we should be careful. The Republic does not like it." Are operations to be subject to diplomacy? Where will that lead? It is not so much that we have the right to overrule and to decide, as that there could be a reluctance on the part of the British Government to override the view of the people directly responsible for security.
My third criticism is that there is no element of reciprocity. In the United Kingdom we are deeply involved in the affairs of Northern Ireland and southern Ireland. We have a large southern Irish population. It is difficult to be sure how many Irish there are here, but they are entitled to work, enjoy our social services, vote and stand for public office. They come here because of the way in which the economy in the Republic is administered.
§ Mr. Amery
I could perhaps have swallowed the agreement if it had been a step towards a reunion of the British Isles or the Anglo-Celtic isles, whatever one may like to call them, but I cannot help feeling that this is an irretraceable step towards a united Ireland. Certainly that is how our friends in the United States appear to see it.
I accept the commitment of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the union, but I would add a qualification. People are led by the calculation of their brain but also by the heart. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, like her predecessors, has reiterated many times, and several times in her statement on 18 November, the old formula that there will be no change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland unless the people of the Province require it. I cannot help finding that a chilling, cold and clinical formula.
The Queen does not want any unwilling subjects, but I should like to hear the Government and the Conservative party take pride in the patriotism of the majority of the 794 people of Northern Ireland and in the contribution that they have made in shipbuilding, aircraft building and the eight field marshals that they provided during the war out of a total of 11. I want to hear us say that, although we will not stand in the way of their joining the Republic, if that ever crosses their mind, we would do so with the greatest reluctance.
In the speeches of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, I cannot find any of the warmth that I should like to see for our association with the Province. Because I cannot find that, and because of the arguments that I have attempted to put forward in criticism of the agreement, I find it impossible to support the initiative that she has taken.
§ Mr. Hugh Brown (Glasgow, Provan)
Earlier in the debate, the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) said that he hoped that it would be orderly and constructive. I think that it is fair to say that it has been knowledgeable and moving, too. Indeed, the contribution by the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) was entertaining. I say that with respect to a man of experience and knowledge on the subject of partition. It makes me feel a little humble, not just because of any natural modesty, to have the opportunity to make a contribution as a Back Bencher without the vast experience or detailed knowledge of hon. Members who have contributed so far. Having been a Member of Parliament for 21 years, this is the first time that I have ever contributed to a major debate on Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Brown
Yes, or Ireland. Some of my colleagues are sensitive about how I describe things.
My opportunity to make a contribution denotes something that I think the House has already shown, that there is intense interest in the subject and that we all appreciate its seriousness. The attendance in the House is the highest that I have seen for many debates in many years. Therefore, I am conscious of the fact that I have to offer something constructive.
I have no interest to declare, in that I have no family, territorial or religious connection with Ireland. I do not say that by way of pride or criticism; it is merely a statement of fact. My interest in the debate stems from a strand of thinking in the Labour movement. Some of us take some interest in the history of Ireland and the struggles of countries to achieve a national identity. I confess—perhaps it is not fashionable—that I might ever have been influenced by the teachings of Lenin against imperialism. It is against that background and with some knowledge of Connolly, Larkin and some of the people who have made an enormous contribution to Irish politics, that I have something to contribute.
I think that there should be a voice from Scotland. I am not presuming to speak for Scotland. In fact, that is one of the disadvantages. Even in the parliamentary Labour party and the Northern Ireland group, of which I have been a member for many years, there are only a few Members from Scotland who even take part in discussions on Ireland. One of the things that we have to offer is that in Glasgow and the west of Scotland we understand what a Billy and Dan situation is. I shall explain that for the benefit of the unenlightened. It means that we are familiar 795 with some of the problems—they are not identical—of Catholics and Protestants, or Orangemen, to give them another description.
My contribution has some significance because in Glasgow and the west of Scotland, even the media—I make no complaint about that—accept that we have been muted in all the previous deliberations on the subject.
§ Mr. Brown
I see the hon. Lady nodding her head. She knows what I mean by that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) recognises this. Some hon. Members who feel strongly about the issue have kept quiet because we felt that we could not do much to solve the problem, given the expertise of so many people in the House and in Ireland, both north and south. At worst, we felt that we could stimulate discussion in our own constituencies and in areas that would do nothing to contribute to the solving of the problem. In other words, below the surface, certainly in Glasgow and the west of Scotland, there are deep feelings on both sides of the argument.
Way back in the 1970s, with a Conservative Member who is no longer in the House, I paid a private/semiofficial visit to Northern Ireland. I thought that I had better consult some constituents before I went there. I used discreet sources to get at what I regarded as a representative group of people on the Catholic and on the Orange side. Needless to say, I did not meet them together. I was not really surprised but I was positively frightened at their intensity of feeling, which had never risen to the surface in any local discussions in the Labour party or at any election meeting that I had taken part in. That warned me that although things are quiet in the sense that there are no demonstrations of violence in Glasgow or the west of Scotland, there are strong feelings on both sides of the issue and, indeed, about the need to come up with a solution.
Therefore, I make no apology for taking part in the debate. I hope that I shall express what I regard as a pretty substantial point of view of ordinary people who are not always associated with my party.
I have three churlish thoughts to offer, perhaps uncharacteristically. I keep asking myself: why should a Conservative Government with a Prime Minister such as the one we have, get themselves into this situation? What is there in it for a Conservative Government? First, the Prime Minister likes to be seen as a custodian of law and order, so there is something in that argument for the Conservative party. Secondly, the Government are concerned about public expenditure, and there is the enormous cost of the subvention to Northern Ireland, so perhaps that factor comes into play. Thirdly, I even had the unflattering thought that Conservatives were thinking that if the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) has failed, perhaps the Prime Minister can do something that he did not do. I have got the venom about the Prime Minister out of my system, but let me make it clear that I intend to support the agreement and will vote for it.
The agreement is well thought out. Some of my hon. Friends are too critical and suspicious of anything that any Conservative Government do. Sometimes colleagues are 796 afraid of being described as supporting a bi-partisan policy. That has never worried me. If I started analysing some of the occasions when there are many strange bedfellows in the same Lobby, I would never do anything unless I was sure that I was in nice, respectable company. I know that some of my hon. Friends will find extreme difficulty in going into the No lobby with some of the lot who will be in there tomorrow, but that is for them to work out.
§ Mr. Brown
It just so happens that my hon. Friend is sitting near me. I am not addressing my remarks to him in particular. There are other of my hon. Friends, and I know that they have signed an amendment. It is up to them to decide what to do.
In her statement on 18 November, the Prime Minister summed up the agreement well by saying that the principal aims and objectives were peace and conciliation linked with devolution. I do not have time, nor do I have the intention, to go into those two aspects, but devolution is important.
I agree that the ultimate aim of some sort of unification or a united Ireland is a legitimate aspiration for many people in Ireland. There is no doubt about that, and I support it. Ulster unionists' loyalty to the Crown has to be challenged. Perhaps the two arguments are irreconcilable. Perhaps there is no hope for peace or conciliation, but I suggest to the Ulster unionists that it is not enough to preach about peace and conciliation and then use the language of confrontation and, indeed, almost of war. The vocabulary is all wrong, and nothing will convince me that they genuinely want peace and conciliation.
We shall all wait to see what happens and what the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) says. He has a reputation for intellectual honesty and clarity, although sometimes when I listen to him I do not understand what he is talking about. When I understand I do not often agree with him. Nevertheless, on this occasion it will be interesting to see just what he and his colleagues hope to do, and where they are attempting to lead their followers.
We have to look for co-operation. I know that I am getting old, but I am an old-fashioned Socialist. I believe genuinely that there is something to be said for the slogan, "Workers of the world unite". I even thought in my innocence that it was a good enough argument for joining the EEC. I am in the minority in my party in holding that view. I cannot see for the life of me why there should not be an injection of some sort of co-operation between the workers on one side of the border and those on the other through the trade union movement and the labour and Socialist movements. That would be an attempt to bring people together. I want to see less of the flag waving, either the tricolour or the Union flag. Instead, I want to see genuine co-operation, which is about attempting to modify some of the discrimination that has existed and still exists against a minority population, in jobs and housing. Others can say that better than me and with more knowledge. In every part of the country, there is alienation of large groups of young people—in London, Birmingham—
§ Mr. Maginnis
May I tell the hon. Gentleman that Northern Ireland has been administered for the past 12 or 797 13 years directly from the House? Is he accusing Labour Governments as well as Conservative Governments during that time of continuing to discriminate?
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Gentleman can make his own speech. I hope that I have been reasonably objective and historical in my point about discrimination. No one can deny that it took place.
There is another factor—the alienation of many young people throughout the United Kingdom. I am not trying to make a party point, but let us face it, when I see youngsters, whether on the Orange or Catholic side, I see that some are just young hooligans and thugs. However much I understand the causes that give rise to such behaviour, I believe that the problem will not be solved merely by a constitutional agreement, however much I support it. The Government, who uphold society, are incapable of solving the economic problems in Northern Ireland, let alone those of Scotland or any other part of the United Kingdom. That factor must be considered when studying the agreement.
Will the Minister tell the House where the economic assistance is to come from? I hope that it will not come directly from the United States. My gut reaction is that any assistance would be better if it came from some international agency such as the United Nations, although I do not know whether that body has any funds to dish out. If there is good will and a case is made for assistance, that aid would come better from the EC, because the United States is politically provocative to many hon. Members. I shall not go into the details, and I hope that I am not misunderstood on that point. Where is the international financial aid to come from?
I am not one of the diplomats who were involved in drawing up the agreement. I did not have to work out the fine detail, but I believe that there is long-term merit in the proposition that there should be some inter-parliamentary getting together. Social and cultural relations are also important. I would willingly play golf for the parliamentary team anywhere in Ireland, north or south, if that would enhance the opportunity to establish good relations. Sometimes we under-estimate the contribution of social and cultural exhanges.
This is not a priority, but I hope that there will be a general recognition that many hon. Members, who have no axe to grind in terms of votes or influence and power-seeking, can play a modest role in achieving what I believe to be the aim of us all—a more peaceful Ireland.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
I share the interest of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) in Irish history. The hon. Gentleman mentioned James Connolly, who said that when St. Patrick got the snakes out of Ireland, they went to America and became Irish-Americans. I notice that the hon. Gentleman had some suspicion of a transatlantic hand in the agreement.
798 When the agreement was concluded at Hillsborough, the Prime Minister reaffirmed her devotion to the unionist cause, and I believe her. The agreement is not so much a crime as a blunder.
I recall with sadness the occasion when Airey Neave and I accompanied my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, then Leader of the Opposition, on her first visit to Belfast. At that time, my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) was associated with Airey Neave and me. His was the definitive unionist speech in this debate, and I salute him. On that occasion in Belfast I remember how my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was rapturously received in quarters of the city that are now heavy with reproach, foreboding and bitter anger.
The thousands who marched on city hall on Saturday were not only the militant loyalist workers of shipyard and factory. Many of them were outraged business and professional people and clergy, several of whom are known to me and to my hon. Friends. Some would have been backers of Terence O'Neill and Brian Faulkner, but they have never warmed to the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). They are quiet, not strident, men, and they are the salt of Ulster.
The Prime Minister will know of the anguished dissent, not merely of the Free Presbyterians but of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland and of other religious bodies. The Alliance party of Northern Ireland, so impeccably moderate, is split, and in the wings stand the paramilitaries. We have had a period of considerable success against terrorism. The right hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason) told us that the armed forces in Northern Ireland are now almost down to the garrison strength that prevailed before the troubles. I only hope that our soldiers and the Royal Ulster Constabulary will not now find themselves between two fires.
This flawed agreement comes as a diktat, and it will be passed by the House with a tremendous majority. Whatever the verdict of Parliament and the courts, which have disposed so easily of the terms of the Act of Union, an agreement thus thrust upon us seems morally a suitable matter for a Northern Ireland referendum on the partial analogy of Welsh and Scottish devolution. Were that referendum to be granted, I should not wish to divide against the Government.
Despite what the right hon. Member for Barnsley, Central said, I shall not cry hallelujah because once again the Irish Government have recognised, de facto, that Northern Ireland forms part of the United Kingdom. The permanence of the border was the subject of the tripartite declaration of 1925, referred to by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux). That instrument was deposited with the League of Nations, as this agreement is to be registered at the United Nations. There was also Sunningdale in 1973.
The agreement is not a treaty. It is a question of interesting municipal and international law: which has stronger force, article 1 of the Hillsborough agreement or articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution? If that constitution were to be amended and those articles removed, that would do great good, as would the adherence of the Republic to the European convention on the suppression of terrorism.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior) said that the adhesion of the Republic to the 799 European convention was an advantage of the agreement. However, that is not in the agreement; it is only the intention of a transient Taoiseach.
Southern Irish politicians can now claim, and are claiming, that the agreement embodies at least a variant of the third option that was proposed in the report of the New Ireland Forum and counted out by the Prime Minister. The Leader of the Opposition said that the agreement was a matter of consultation and no more. Those were the words I noted down when he addressed the House earlier in the debate. According to Dr. FitzGerald, it provides for "as near joint authority as can be". I have supported the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and I would support the parliamentary tier to which the hon. Member for Provan referred. Perhaps our debate could continue in that forum if it were set up. But this agreement is a dangerous distortion of the intergovernmental principle.
I heard my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State—the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott)—in a television panel of which I was a member, describe the agreement as "definitive". Is it? Others regard it differently. They regard it as a foothold, as part of a process—as the first sour sip from a bitter cup.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
I shall give way this once, but I do not wish to take too much time, because many hon. Members wish to address the House.
§ Mr. Butterfill
My hon. Friend said that some regard the agreement as a foothold. In the Dail debate, Deputy Lyons said:The agreement reinforces British shackles.Not all in the Irish Republic regard the agreement in the same light as my hon. Friend suggests.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
No doubt on the extreme wing thereof.
When we were waiting for this agreement, unconsulted and uninformed, save by leak and rumour, I took courage from the words of the Sinn Fein president, Mr. Gerry Adams MP, speaking at his party conference in Dublin on 3 November. The Irish Times stated:Mr. Adams compared reports about an Anglo-Irish settlement with a report published by the Institute for European Defence and Strategic Studies, entitled 'Britain's Undefended Frontier—A Policy for Ulster'.That is the title I gave it. The article continues:
The report, he said, suggested a joint London-Dublin security commission, including a military sub-committee with representatives from both forces; a fulltime secretariat drawn from Dublin and Whitehall civil servants; and governmental summits at fixed intervals.My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen), who is a signatory of the amendment which the Chair did not accept, and I contributed to that booklet. We were extremely grateful for the commercial from Mr. Gerry Adams. But, alas, Mr. Adams' fears that this was what would happen were exaggerated, because the Intergovernmental Conference is different. It is not machinery for the reciprocal discussion 800 of cross-border questions. The Taoiseach makes no secret of the fact that the agreement lacks symmetry—those are his words—and goes well beyond consultation.
§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Tom King)
On the question of cross-border co-operation, there is total symmetry and total reciprocity.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
In that case, I hope that we shall soon see realised the improvements in cross-border security mentioned by the right hon. Member for Barnsley, Central. If that happens, I shall be the first to congratulate those responsible.
Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), I refer to article 4 of the agreement, which contains yet another wearisome call for devolutionon a basis which would secure widespread acceptance throughout the community.Article 4 contains Dublin's backing for this, which is a matter for internal policy. It is easy to understand why Dublin and the SDLP want power-sharing devolution and why they are pleased that it is in the agreement. Power-sharing devolution would drive a wedge of difference between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and that is seen as a stage on Ulster's way out of the United Kingdom and into a united Irish Republic. But to talk of such acceptance is futile, because the majority rejects power sharing, save in local government, and the minority insists that if there is to be devolved Government, there must also be power sharing.
If the Province is to be allowed to settle down and if the terrorists are to be deprived of the hope of success which spurs and sustains them, Northern Ireland must be governed as truly part of the United Kingdom, and not tricked out with fancy constitutional devices that set it apart. Let there be the fullest administrative devoluton as there is to Cardiff and Edinburgh. I know that Northern Ireland is different. Wales and Scotland are different from England and from each other. Indeed, Scotland is more different, because it has its own legal and judicial system.
Yes, Northern Ireland is different and divided, but, contrary to the conventional unwisdom, that is why Northern Ireland is unsuitable for legislative devolution. Devolution is divisive. The minority is safer under the rule of Westminster; that is the lesson of Stormont. When Stormont was abolished, the hon. Member for Antrim, North assured me that it would never be restored. Westminster's rule has been found to divide Northern Ireland least. The celebrated priest, Father Denis Faul, says that Catholics in Northern Ireland would rather be under Westminster than under the hon. Member for Antrim, North and people of that sort.
The communiqué mentions the two major traditions in Ireland and the identification of religious faith with political allegiance. Let us be careful about oversimplification. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne warned the House about that. The picture of two communities—one Protestant, loyalist and British and the other Catholic, Gaelic and Irish—is false. A staunch unionist lady, fearful of British intentions, once said to me, "The trouble with you English is that you do not want us Irish to remain British."
Northern Ireland should not be patronisingly treated like some exotic colony with its troublesome tribes. It should be regarded and administered as truly part of the United Kingdom.
801 Hon. Members have referred to the Northern Ireland Assembly. I should have thought that those responsible for the Assembly would have kept quiet about it. It has turned out just as we who opposed the Bill predicted. The hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and Unionists debate matters in this House, but they will not debate matters in the Northern Ireland Assembly because the SDLP will not take part in it.
I refer again to the remarks of the hon. Member for Provan and to something that was said by the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) when questioning the Prime Minister on her statement on Tuesday. The hon. Gentleman recalled that sectarian conflict had been killed on Merseyside, in Liverpool and in his constituency because Catholics there had the same liberties as the Protestant majority. I interjected, "And the same Parliament." The hon. Gentleman echoed, "And the same Parliament." The liberties that prevail in the United Kingdom are enjoyed throughout Northern Ireland today under the supremacy of this Parliament.
I am told that Northern Ireland is about the size of Yorkshire. It is narrow ground. In 1825, Sir Walter Scott wrote of Ireland's "envenomed" factionshaving so little ground to fight their battle in that they are like people fighting with daggers in a hogshead.We must end provincial pump politics. Bring the political battles to Westminster and let the poison out.
§ Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
My right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason), a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said that the Irish Prime Minister, Garret FitzGerald had forgone the claim to a united Ireland in his eagerness to have this agreement. That no longer meant anything, although it was still in the Irish constitution.
That was one of my great fears. I struggled to overcome it and return to the old Labour party policy because, in the past, the Labour party had a policy for a united Ireland. It later adopted a so-called bi-partisan policy which did not support a united Ireland. Many hon. Members fought a long battle to try to change that policy and to win the Labour party over to the policy of a united Ireland. That was a real struggle, but we finally achieved it. I want that achievement to be not merely a line in a policy statement but something that is striven and fought for and a fundamental part of the Labour party's policy for Ireland.
After considering the agreement and the sense of urgency that pervaded the discussions, I thought that a situation might arise—a situation that I fear—in which the Labour party merely intoned the line about a united Ireland. Therefore, I gave the agreement careful consideration and worried over it before I concluded that I should have to oppose it because I do not think that it is workable.
The hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) made a fine speech today and I profoundly agreed with most of it. He told me that it could not be wrong for us to be talking on these matters. Long before the hon. Member for Foyle came to the House, I argued passionately for talks to take place with the Republic of Ireland. I want agreement to come from such talks, but I do not want the agreement that we are discussing today because it is premature and not properly thought out.
My reasons for being fearful of the agreement are different from those of most hon. Members. In general the 802 Tory party is in favour of the agreement. The Government have made it clear that they are not in favour of a united Ireland and they try to win the unionists over by telling them that it is clear that they will not support a united Ireland unless one day it is united by common consent.
That is also the Labour party's policy and I abide by it, but I do not want the killing to continue until there is a Catholic majority. I want to try to stop the killing. The policy of the Labour party is for a united Ireland, and I believe that that must be striven for. I do not want to placate people by saying, "You can go along with this. It will not involve a united Ireland because different people are saying different things." I want to make it absolutely clear that the policy of the Labour party is for a united Ireland and I shall worry about anything that militates against that policy and is therefore not progressive.
I was rather worried as I listened to the mollifying and conciliatory speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock), until he explained why things had gone wrong in Ireland. Immediately he did that, there were rumbles from the Tory Benches. As long as there seemed to be a bond in the House on that matter, everything was sweetness and light, but as soon as my right hon. Friend made his fundamental points about the poverty, lack of housing, and all the other terrible things, grumbles emerged from the Tories, trying to convey the impression that they had never done anything wrong in Ireland.
The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) expressed it very neatly in his speech of apology for giving up his post, when he said that the agreement did not have the consent of the majority in Northern Ireland. The majority of all the people of Ireland were not consulted before the line was drawn across Ireland and Northern Ireland was separated by force from the Republic. The original Irish became a minority in a situation in which, according to the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), the unionist majority were not really anti-democratic, did not do anything wrong and never deprived the minority of housing. As the hon. Member for Foyle said, out of 100 representatives there was only one Catholic on the council. The minority still exists. In reality, the unionists still regard as their enemies not just the IRA but the minority community in Northern Ireland which has been mistreated for so long.
During the long years of British occupation Ireland could not be ruled without force. It was a land of constant revolt against an imperialist force which had stolen the land from its owners. Often those revolts were led by Protestants like Wolfe Tone. [Laughter.] The Unionists are laughing at my serious points, but it is a nervous laugh because they know that what I am saying is true. They know about the rebellion of 1798 and what happened in Galway and Mayo. They know who Robert Emmet was just as well as I do.
What is now called Northern Ireland was brought about by force and has never been ruled by consent. It has always been ruled by force against the minority community. James Connolly prophesied in 1912 that the voices who wanted to split up Ireland would reap the whirlwind. The whirlwind has come, and our task is to stop it becoming worse.
Ireland was the first example of British imperialism and it will undoubtedly be the last. What would have happened if an imperialist Ireland had taken over Britain and eventually left but clung on to Lancashire? Obviously the 803 British would have something to say in such a situation. That situation is similar to the Falklands but it would be a lot worse. The partition of Ireland, and the creation of the border was a disaster from the beginning and it has created a whirlwind. It was a mistake which some people are trying to rectify, but that attempt sticks in the craw of others.
Successive Ministers have constantly said that things were improving in Northern Ireland, but the reality is that a short time ago something happened to show that they were not. The solution is still a united Ireland. Nobody has ever asked the Irish people whether they wanted to be ruled by Britain. Their country was taken from them.
If I thought that the Anglo-Irish agreement could begin to solve this terrible and intractable problem, I would vote for it, but I believe it to be a desperate and partly spurious measure. I am more than eager to be proved wrong—I hope that I am wrong—but I am fearful because when I have said previously what I am saying now I have regretted it and been in the minority in the Labour party. I hope I am wrong, and I hope that the agreement will lead to a peaceful solution and will not destroy the Labour party's idea of a united Ireland.
How did the agreement come about and what precipitated it? For years in this Chamber after 1969 all but a small minority of hon. Members said, "Let Sinn Fein go to the ballot box; they will not get any votes." Sinn Fein went to the ballot box and that caused a stir and a fluttering. When I was in southern Ireland a year ago after visiting Northern Ireland, I talked with southern Irish leaders. They were horrified at Sinn Fein's share of the vote. They had thought that Sinn Fein would not get a single vote.
I, too, believed for a time that Sinn Fein would never get any votes, but in fact it took a large number of votes from the SDLP, moving towards a section of the Irish people who did not think that their interests were being dealt with properly. We were all wrong and there was deep worry both here and in southern Ireland. That is what has precipitated this premature agreement. The development a year ago which has returned even stronger than before has precipitated an agreement characterised by a note of desperation that most people will not acknowledge. People who are desperate to reach an agreement will sometimes accept an agreement which strikes at their own fundamental beliefs.
§ Mr. Winnick
I have great respect for my hon. Friend's work on Northern Ireland matters, but does he agree that, however many votes Sinn Fein has gained, it remains a minority within a minority in Northern Ireland? Does he also agree that some of its more recent electoral gains are undoubtedly due to the economic conditions described by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and do not necessarily represent an endorsement of armed struggle?
§ Mr. Flannery
I entirely agree. For whatever reason, those votes were cast, but there is more to it than that. I believe that my original proposition is profoundly true. People felt that no one was helping them towards a united Ireland. On my first visit to southern Ireland I was at a dinner with Conor Cruise O'Brien, who eventually went to The Observer and now seems to have left the scene altogether. He told me that Northern Ireland was not an 804 issue and explained why he held that view. It may not have been an issue to him, but it is now a monumental issue to the parties in Northern Ireland, the parties in southern Ireland and the British Parliament, and Mr. O'Brien has gone the way of those who do not recognise real issues. We now have to do something about that issue.
The Prime Minister calls herself a unionist and a loyalist. She seems to have told the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) something slightly different from what she has told other people, but no doubt they can iron that out between them. In my view, however, the agreement will not further the cause of peace because it is bound to fail. Indeed, it may result in the polarisation of the two communities in Northern Ireland. I sincerely hope that that will not be the result, but we are walking a very dangerous tightrope with a precipitate agreement in a situation fraught with danger for all concerned and especially for the people who have lived through 16 years of misery in Northern Ireland.
The agreement strengthens the border. It makes the policy of a united Ireland more difficult because it gives the border a spurious legitimacy and almost entrenches it in international law. Although it does not say so, I believe that it is a quirky, oblique return almost to a bipartisan policy in which the struggle against the border could be submerged by plausible agreements and plausible arguments. It tackles the consequences of partition, but it is only a palliative and leaves the real cause of strife untouched.
The amendment in my name refers to "British military presence since", but that does not mean that I want to pull out the troops. I believe that there are more troops than my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason) suggests, but no doubt the Minister can clarify that. I believe that the troops should be withdrawn only by agreement and when the situation is such that their withdrawal will not precipitate a Lebanon in Ireland. That is very important to me.
The idea of a referendum brings great joy to the hearts of Ulster Unionists because they regard themselves as sure of victory.
§ Mr. Flannery
The unionists say that that is not so, but in fact it is so. That is how they have behaved through all the weary years in which the minority community has been held in subjection. To the unionists, democracy means assurance of victory. That is not what democracy means here. Democracy presupposes the right of a minority to become a majority, but that fact has never struck the unionists. If the matter is left to them and their referendums, the problem will go on for another 30 years.
§ Mr. Flannery
No, I want to finish now.
There is no likelihood whatever of a minority becoming a majority in a referendum in Northern Ireland and the unionists know that. That is why they want a referendum. Their idea of a referendum is a veto on democracy.
The unionists are keen to have a referendum. They are always shouting about how they want to belong to the United Kingdom for ever more, although they often seem to regard it as a separate country from Northern Ireland which in turn is a separate country from southern Ireland. Yet they refuse the real democracy of the rest of the United 805 Kingdom. They want only tribal, communalist voting. I saw plenty of that in India during the war. We knew that in some areas the Moslems would always win and in others the Hindus would always win because real democracy had not yet prevailed. That is the kind of pseudo-democracy that the unionists love, but it is not democracy at all.
I believe that the deadliest enemy of terrorism is democracy, not the gun. Where democracy flourishes, nobody takes to the gun except a few villains who want to rob people. Where there is democracy, terrorism has no base. For too long the Ulster Unionist tail has wagged the Westminster dog. Whenever a British Government, of whichever political persuasion, were determined to do something, the unionists had only to say, "If you do that we shall be on the streets." We all know what happened to the Sunningdale agreement. It was smashed in exactly that way. Catholics could not get to work because the unionists came out on to the streets, and they may well try to do it again.
Let those who want a referendum have a referendum—a referendum of the entire United Kingdom. Let us invite all our people to vote on the matter. If the result was in favour of withdrawal, I should object strenuously to that being put into operation immediately. I am as confident of winning a United Kingdom referendum as the unionists are confident of winning a Northern Ireland referendum, but I would want the decision taken to form the backcloth for prolonged discussion before any final decision was taken about Northern Ireland.
I believe that unless something is done on the lines that I have suggested the killing will go on and in 30 years' time we shall still be discussing what is to be done. Moreover, if by that time the Catholics are the majority in Northern Ireland, I am sure that the unionists will not accept democracy on that basis.
§ Mr. W. Benyon (Milton Keynes)
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) does not have Hillsborough in his constituency for nothing, and it is ironic that his speech was a strong argument in favour of the agreement.
I strongly appreciate the Hillsborough agreement and pay a warm tribute to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for her tenacity and courage in carrying it through. The reaction of the unionists in the North is sad, although predictable. Like many other hon. Members who have spoken, I hope that they will reconsider their position, and especially whether they will offer themselves for election. I fear that such action will exacerbate matters in the United Kingdom and drive a further wedge between themselves and the great mass of people in this country.
It is only through the co-operation of the two communities in Ulster and of the Governments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland that terrorism will be defeated. There are two inescapable facts which, though they are self-evident, tend to be overlooked. The first is that the communities are divided by almost everything—politics, religion and culture. One acknowledges the Union Jack, the other the Irish tricolour. One may see similar situations in countries such as Cyprus, Belgium or Israel. I do not intend to talk about those countries' Governments, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery). They 806 have been created by history, and we cannot overturn history overnight. Dr. Fitzgerald said in the Dail that this agreement provides the opportunity toremove the alienation of one community and to still the fears of the other.That is the task before us.
Terrorism, it has been said, can be defeated by denying the terrorists a base. It can be done by counter-terror, which the German occupation forces attempted in the last war. That is a repugnant action and out of the question for any civilised state. The only alternative is persuasion. We must have a hearts and minds campaign. We must persuade the harbourers of terrorists that they have a stake in removing the terror. The harbourers of terrorists are not in the constituencies of the hon. Members opposite but in the minority community. The success of this agreement will be judged by its achievements in the reduction of terrorism and violence. This agreement does not please everybody—although to displease such opposites as Mr. Haughey and the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) is a good augury.
It is a remarkable agreement. It has produced, for the first time, an acknowledgement by the Republic of the right of the majority to decide their own future. This is of the utmost significance, and I always thought it had long been demanded by unionists. The sovereignty of their position remains intact. My constituents detest the IRA and the IRA will never force Ulster out of the United Kingdom, but I must say that the loyalists could quickly change that.
I pay tribute to the courage of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), although I do not agree with his views. He quoted a number of letters that he has received. I intervened during questions on the Prime Minister's statement on Monday and was surprised by the number of letters I received not just from my constituents but from people everywhere. I have two examples here:I do not wish to pay taxes to support the Northern rish.I am sure that I voice the feelings of many people in this country when I say that I am heartily sick of sending our young men to Northern Ireland to be injured, maimed and killed in defence of people like Paisley and his thugs".The loyalists must realise that the country as a whole is interested in getting this agreement right. They must know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minster and her colleagues are not traitors. They are good people trying to find a solution to the problem. The country recoils from the bigotry of some hon. Members. The longer I live the more I am convinced that hatred never wins. It produces a counter-reaction. Only reconciliation offers any hope. I admit that it is easy for me to say this in the security of this House, and, indeed, this country. It is not easy to say such things in the polarised attitudes of Ulster. But this agreement must come.
Article 12 concerns the parliamentary tier. I appreciate all the difficulties, but I urge that this should be set up immediately. It is essential to provide the necessary staff so it may operate efficiently. I hope it will not be too ambitious initially. I think that it should start by considering policy which is relatively uncontroversial, but where co-operation between the two countries can produce great benefits for Northern Ireland. It is important to strengthen the ties between Westminster and Dublin. We need to know each oher much better because so much is at stake, and we have an overriding common interest in combating and defeating terrorism.
807 There will be many who will seek to wreck this agreement. However, the agreement has the support of many in this House and, indeed, throughout the country. That support will encourage the Government in their difficult task.
§ Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
I do not believe that the Anglo-Irish treaty is only worthy of criticism because it is a bad agreement. It is an evil thing conceived from a clandestine relationship, in which there is an element of deceit. It is born to betray and it will have to be sustained on a diet of untruths, half-truths and ultimately blood sacrifices.
Unlike some of my colleagues, I do not find it easy to absolve those people who brought about this agreement, be they the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland or the Foreign Secretary, because the result of their ill-conceived and wrong intentions will be that many of my constituents will die. I have to be as blunt as that.
Perhaps I feel better able than some to speak because I am closer to the sharp edge. I represent a frontier constituency where the terrorists come across from the Irish Republic. Indeed, in the last 10 days a father and husband, aged 45, was shot by the terrorists and it looks as though he will be confined to a wheelchair.
I have watched the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland's pathetic efforts to justify this agreement during the past 10 days. His shoddy tactic has been to try to discredit people such as me, my colleagues and those we represent by alleging that we have arrived at a conclusion about the agreement without reading it. He has also suggested incorrectly, as have others—Saturday's demonstration in Belfast should put the lie to it—that there is an element of violence underlying our opposition. Both allegations are wildly inaccurate, to say the least.
Everybody knows that details of the agreement were publicised in the Irish Republic's press two days before the Hillsborough signing. We queried such reports during Northern Ireland Question Time on Thursday 14 November. They caused several Northern Ireland Office Ministers and the Prime Minister to employ every device and quibble to imply that what I and my colleagues were saying was incorrect. We turned out to be absolutely right. The Government's performance was utterly unworthy.
Even earlier information came out in Dublin. Although we suspected betrayal, we felt that democracy would reign in this place. Could the Government really ignore the democratically elected representatives of more than 70 per cent. of the Ulster community? In case it appears that I am wise after the event, I should like to quote from an article that I wrote for a newspaper two weeks before the Conservative party conference:The Prime Minister and her Government are about to surrender to the demands of the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland by allowing the Irish Republic a 'say' in the affairs of the United Kingdom … Northern Ireland, so the Irish Republic asserted, was not only to be overseen by an Anglo-Irish Council of Ministers but was to have an Anglo-Irish secretariat installed in Belfast. Does anyone believe that Ulster Unionists could possibly be persuaded to accept a wooden horse like this in their midst in return for the offer of a juicy 'devolution' carrot? … The real crunch of course is that John Hume and Charles Haughey are already signalling that this deal is not enough. It is, they say, just a foot in the door to a united Ireland. Ulster 808 Unionists understand exactly the point they are making. Meanwhile the IRA looks on without emotion … its declared interest in politics is merely to use the council chambers to promote and endorse further killing, irrespective of any concessions.So much for the Secretary of State's allegation that we prejudged the agreement. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman thought that he was dealing with dummies and that when he went conspiring behind our backs we were incapable of finding out the truth. The three short paragraphs of the newspaper article that I have quoted proved all too accurate. In the first six days after the agreement, the IRA killed three people in separate shooting incidents. Two of the victims were Roman Catholics.
When I tell the House that it will regret this agreement, I am sorry, again, but I know that I shall be proved right. The way in which the elected representatives of Ulster in this House have been patronised disturbs and angers me most. I listened today to the hon. Member for Milton Keynes (Mr. Benyon) lecturing us on the outcome of the agreement. Implicit in what he said was the threat that, if we do not concur, we shall be to blame for the violence that is bound to continue irrespective of what happens—the violence that our Government have not been capable of dealing with during the past 15 years. He is the type of person who, when we talk of loyalty, asks, "Loyal to what?" I call myself not a loyalist but an Ulster Unionist. That is the name of my party. I do not have to call myself a loyalist because I do not believe that my loyalty is in doubt. However, when loyalty is mentioned, hon. Members often ask us, "Loyal to what?"
Perhaps I can tell the House to what I am loyal. I am loyal, as my forebears have been, to the British way of life. If that has meant putting on a uniform to defend the values in which I believe, I have put on a uniform, as did my forebears. If loyalty means looking after my constituents, I can only hope that I have proved my loyalty to all of my constituents—54 per cent. of whom are members of the so-called minority Roman Catholic community. They believe that I am loyal to them because they come to me just as my Protestant constituents come to me. I work for them just as I work for my Protestant constituents. My colleagues do the same for their constituents, irrespective of their religious or political persuasion.
Implicit in what some hon. Members have said today is the suggestion that we intend violence towards those people. When will hon. Members get it into their heads that all of those people in Belfast on Saturday—I cannot say all, how could I, but the vast majority, 99 per cent. of them—are ordinary decent mainly working-class people. We are not as class conscious in Ulster as people are on this side of the water, but what are commonly called middle class and establishment people were also present on Saturday, in surprising numbers. They are decent people who are deeply worried about the agreement that has been foisted on us.
As for the performance of Northern Ireland Office Ministers and the dash to the United States made by the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott), what was the justification for the unseemly haste to report to old Uncle Sam even before Parliament had had an opportunity to ratify the agreement? Who is the monkey and who is the organ grinder? Let the Prime Minister or one of her Ministers tell the House what role 809 the United States has played in the plot. It obviously could not have involved the Ptarmigan contract, so what price have the Government paid for this sell-out?
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Chelsea is not in the Chamber to hear what I have to say, but it is a pity that he never seemed to display the same urgency and enthusiasm when it came to security—security which means life or death to my constituents. Such sterling efforts might have meant much more if they had been directed towards keeping 19 murderers in the Maze prison. But then the current story is that the hon. Gentleman probably visits the United States more often that he visits the prisons in his charge.
I should draw attention to the phrase "views and proposals" that is in the agreement. The Irish Government are to be allowed to put forward to the conference their "views and proposals". The phrase appears again and again. Let us assume that "views" relates to consultations. What then, does the word "proposals" suggest? It does not strike me as something that is merely consultative when I read in article 2(b):Determined efforts shall be made through conference to resolve any differences".Surely that means that a reasonable number of proposals from the Government of the Irish Republic will have to be accepted. An analogy can be drawn with a coalition. Let us suppose that after the next election the Conservatives are in coalition with the SDP—
§ Mr. Maginnis
Let us also be malevolent and assume that the Tories are the senior partners in that coalition. Proposals would be put forward by the SDP and the Tory party and a compromise would be reached in which many of each side's proposals would be accepted. Of course, the decision about which proposals to accept would be presented by the chief executive or by the senior party in the coalition. Is that not exactly what this agreement is? It is a coalition—joint authority.
Thus, through conference, in a thinly disguised way, the Irish Republic has been given an executive role in Ulster's affairs. I do not see any great rush to reassure me, but in case there is I ask hon. Members to consider what other meaning there could be and why Garret FitzGerald agrees with me that his Government have a role which is "more than consultative". Therefore, Northern Ireland's status has already been significantly changed without the consent of the majority.
Incidentally, I wonder what the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) has to offer. During the past 10 days he has been repeatedly asked what he intends to do now that he has got this great concession. He has been asked whether he intends to enter the Northern Ireland Assembly. Personally, I do not think it matters whether he does or not, because we are not listened to there any more than we are here, but if he wants to have a meaningful relationship with the majority, he should think about attending.
It is disturbing that the hon. Gentleman has not said what he intends to do about recognising the RUC. He made a strange and moving speech full of clichés. It did not say anything, but it sounded quite promising. I did pick up the suggestion that, when the conference met, it would carefully consider supporting the police forces. I wonder whether I shall be reassured that there will not be any tinkering with the RUC so that it is divided into county or sub-county forces, so that we have what the IRA has been 810 asking for for some time—a police force that is specially developed to patrol South Armagh. The IRA would not be prepared to shoot at such a police force and we all know what sort of police force it would be.
I notice that special efforts are to be made to encourage members of the minority community to join the police force. I know many members of that community who are in the police force. I have served with them, and admired them because they are tremendously courageous. They are picked out for assassination just as Catholic members of the UDR are. They are our bravest men in uniform. However, I wonder whether they are about to be betrayed. I hope not.
§ Mr. Alton
I very much endorse what the hon. Gentleman has said, but does he not agree that the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) probably meant that there should be much greater co-operation between the Garda and the RUC? Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that is a tragedy that John Hermon and Lawrence Wren have not had a closer working relationship?
§ Mr. Maginnis
I was first in the security forces in 1958 and I know that there was then a terrific working relationship across the frontier which had existed for many years in parallel operations. When such operations involve proper liaison there is no need for joint working groups between the police forces. However, I do not wish to pursue that point.
Article 2 clearly gives conference a right to deal with security and other related matters. That means that another Government are being given an opportunity to deal with a reserved matter—a right that will be denied to British citizens living in Northern Ireland even if they are members of a devolved administration or Members of Parliament. Having served in the security forces for about 17 years, I am not allowed to know anything about security or to involve myself in it, but another Government are to have that right.
A glaring deceit is evident in article 9, where conference is given the right to draw up a programme covering the full organisational role of the RUC, including "operational resources". We are told thatConference shall have no operational responsibilities";but that is meaningless. How can the Chief Constable possibly be said to have operational independence when conference controls his resources? The double deceit is that this is cloaked under the heading of "cross-border cooperation", but the matter of operational resources, including RUC manpower and all military personnel working in support of the police, is dealt with on an all-Ulster basis. There is no separate border force, so the influence of conference and hence of the Irish Government will, de facto, be Provincewide.
§ Mr. Butterfill
It appears that Mr. Haughey does not share the hon. Gentleman's view. In the debate in the Dail he said:It is also our view that the Agreement will lead the Irish Government into an impossible political situation in which they will find themselves assuming responsibility for actions and becoming involved in situations, particularly in the security field, over which they will have no control.
§ Mr. Maginnis
Of course, neither I nor the hon. Gentleman should expect Mr. Haughey to say anything else. He will renegotiate the agreement as soon as he is in 811 power, and as he is 10 or 15 points ahead at the moment we can assume that he will be in power after the next election.
It should be remembered that, on cross-border security co-operation, the Chief Constable of the RUC voiced some criticism at the time of the Killeen bombings. That criticism was not of the professional police in the Garda, but of the lack of resources deployed by the Republican Government. He recently repeated that criticism in the United States. That immediately evoked a bitter response from Dublin and calls were made for Sir John Hermon to be sacked. Dublin claimed that it was doing all that it could to combat terrorism. If that is so, Dublin has nothing further to offer. If it could do more, it is not the good neighbour that it is made out to be in the preamble to the agreement.
Why would a so-called good neighbour wait for 16 years before meeting its obligation to deal with terrorists operating from and returning to its terrority?
The House should remember that more than 100 of my constituents have been murdered in my border constituency, which does not endow me with any great confidence in the Irish Republic. It has traditionally been a haven for the IRA, and traditionally has glorified that organisation. It is significant that one of the first undertakings given by Mr. Noonan, the Minister for Justice, following the signing of the agreement was that no more cross-frontier roads should be cratered. We cratered unapproved cross-frontier roads to hinder terrorists wanting easy access to murder our constituents. Therefore, the House will understand why I am not reassured by the agreement.
It was, of course, the same Mr. Noonan who stated on American television and radio that Dublin's role was substantial, not merely advisory. He said:so, in effect, we have been given a major and substantial role in the day-to-day running of Northern Ireland.Whose version of the agreement is correct—this Government's or the Irish Republic's?
Will right hon. and hon. Members accept from me that, if the agreement causes confusion at this stage, it will not be long before it causes chaos, and chaos costs lives. It will add to the 2,460 deaths and the 27,772 injuries of the past 16 years.
On Saturday, 200,000 men and women thronged the streets of Belfast to show their opposition to the agreement. They were not bigots or extremists, but ordinary citizens who wanted nothing more than an end to the violence. They would not lightly or irresponsibly throw away an opportunity for peace—yet they know, as I know, that the agreement cannot bring other than more tragedy to their lives.
Surely neither the Prime Minister nor the lately arrived Secretary of State, who mocks the working class of the Shankill road in such a scandalous and arrogant manner, can believe that they alone know what is best. Have they forgotten that Ulster people have lived for more than 50 years in comparative peace?
The humorous mythology of the hon. Member for Sheffied, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) is nothing but a fairy story. It will not be possible to please the Irish Republic. While Garret Fitzgerald may be prepared to accept a reduction of 2,000 in the establishment of the UDR, Charlie Haughey knows that it is a con trick because 812 the UDR has been running at more than 2,000 below strength for many years. Such a move will not impress the Irish Republic, and will cause only misunderstanding and concern in the regiment. It will please no one.
Similarly, the release of a significant number of prisoners serving sentences under the Secretary of State's pleasure will—although I welcome it—be recognised as having nothing to do with the agreement. The releases have been in the pipeline for some time and are overdue. Once again, the fact that those young men will be used as political pawns to enhance the agreement will be deeply resented.
The Anglo-Irish agreement was devised without any input from the 70 per cent. of the Ulster population who wish to remain within the Union. It will not have the cooperation, let alone the approval, of that 70 per cent. As a person who has spent his life upholding the merits of our democratic system, I wonder whether the House will abandon its principles and deny Ulster its democratic right to a referendum on the agreement.
The democratic system is not ideal, but it is known to be the best. I hope that the House will recall that in 1973, when those imperfect democratic structures were dismantled in Ulster, politicians were pushed to one side and the men of violence took over. I do not wish that to happen again. If there is no democracy, my colleagues and I will be pushed to one side, and the men of violence are bound to succeed because we will have been discredited in that place in which we placed our trust—this House.
§ Mr. Nicholas Lyell (Mid-Bedfordshire)
In following the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis), I want to quote Edmund Burke, who said:
All Government, indeed, every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter.The House may think that that is a rather surprising quotation but its significance is that it comes from the Ulster Unionist Council's own document "The Way Forward". It has a great deal of truth for the present position.
There is nothing to be feared from the agreement so much as the fear that is engendered by the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. It is the fear that the unionists are themselves engendering in their Province, towards which we want to look warmly, that is causing the problem.
In substance, the agreement does two things that deeply needed to be done. First, it provides the strongest constitutional guarantee that could be devised for the Province. Secondly, it tackles what everyone recognises as the overwhelming problems in the Province, which is that the issues cross the border; the loyalties of the minorities cross the border, and the terrorists cross the border. I believe that the agreement realistically sets out to tackle those problems.
The constitutional guarantee is to be found first in the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 in which this sovereign Parliament enacted that there should be no change in the Unionwithout the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland voting in a pollas prescribed by the legislation. That guarantee is expressly accepted by the Government of the Republic of Ireland in a legally binding international treaty, which is what this agreement will become when it has been ratified 813 by the House and agreed as provided in article 13. I understand that the treaty will be registered with the United Nations.
§ Mr. Lyell
Although the agreement will be reviewed in not more than three years, I can see no way in which this Parliament or any Parliament of the United Kingdom together with the Government of the Republic could more firmly entrench the position of the majority in Northern Ireland. Unionist Members should recognise that as a real step.
"The Way Forward" states:minority representatives are, in any event, presently not interested in power sharing but solely in the withdrawal of the British guarantee of the constitutional position".Far from that, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has negotiated an agreement in which that guarantee is expressly reinforced by the Government of the South. "The Way Forward" was published against the background of the All-Ireland Forum which had proposed constitutional changes. I well understand that those changes were deeply worrying to the hon. Members who represented the unionist interest in the North, and they are deeply worrying to me. The forum proposed three possibilities—joint sovereignty of the Province between Britain and the Republic of Ireland, a federation and a unitary state. Far from travelling down that road, this agreement turns its back on it. That route has been repudiated not only by the British Government, as the Prime Minister did immediately after the proposals came forth, but now by the Government of the Republic of Ireland.
Cross-border co-operation opens the way for more constructive development in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Budgen
My hon. and learned Friend is leaving the issue. He will not face the constitutional problem.
§ Mr. Budgen
Will my hon. and learned Friend comment on article 1(c)? On Friday night, on Channel 4 Mr. FitzGerald said that the nationalists in the Republic attached great importance to that article. I think that Mr. FitzGerald was right. It undoubtedly substantially changes the position in Northern Ireland. It does not merely say that there will be constitutional change only with the consent of a majority. It takes the matter much further and states:if in the future a majority of the people of Northern Ireland clearly wish for and formally consent to the establishment of a united Ireland, they"—the British Government and the Government of the Republic—will introduce and support in the respective Parliaments legislation to give effect to that wish.
§ Mr. Budgen
It was a good point. My hon. and learned Friend should answer it and demolish my point. He should tell me what rubbish it is.
§ Mr. Lyell
If my hon. Friend does not realise that, he does not realise anything. He is a lawyer and it comes ill from me to tell him that he has made a legalistic and false point.
I return to the matters of cross-border co-operation. The agreement provides for four things, which are of crucial importance if progress is to he made. The first and the most important, as the right hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason) said, is security. The agreement provides for cross-border co-operation in security, and that means to hound the terrorist. It provides for co-operation in security matters, and that means to catch the terrorist. It provides for co-operation in legal matters, and that means to prosecute the terrorist to conviction. If the agreement does not succeed, our hopes will have been disappointed. In so far as it seeks to make progress in these areas, it deserves, and I am sure that it will have, the support of all Northern Ireland Members. The agreement provides also for co-operation in political matters.
I do not wish to quote extensively from "The Way Forward" but it contains much wisdom. Whether the document goes for legislative devolution—it recognises the difficulties—or for administrative devolution, which it seems to prefer, it recognises that politically a way must be found to involve and to give confidence to the minority in Northern Ireland. I believe that this agreement gives an opportunity to build confidence among the minority.
Finally, I strongly support the comments by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes (Mr. Benyon) about article 12. I say this in humility because most hon. Members—I openly include myself—know and understand less than we would wish and have fewer opportunities to become deeply involved in the affairs of the Province than we would wish. I believe that we and representatives of the Parliament of southern Ireland would have greater opportunities to learn and Unionist Members would have greater opportunities to teach us about the problems and difficulties of Northern Ireland if an inter-parliamentary body were set up and encouraged. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to encourage any parliamentary measures that go down that route.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
I disagree strongly with the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) on this issue. We do not normally see eye to eye on political matters, but I admire his courage in resigning. Ministers do not normally resign these days when they disagree strongly with the Government. I have not noticed any resignation, for instance, by the Secretary of State for Energy. The hon. Member for Eastbourne certainly played honourably.
We should not build up the agreement, thinking that it will bring peace in the immediate future. It would be wrong to be too optimistic. Unfortunately, peace will not come to Northern Ireland for a long time. The danger also is that the Provisional IRA will escalate its violence to 815 prove that it remains part of the scene in Northern Ireland. We should therefore be careful about how we approach the agreement. We must watch our words.
The agreement is, I believe, a step in the right direction. It recognises the Irish dimension in the problems and future of Northern Ireland. For too long, Conservative politicians and Governments have argued that Northern Ireland is just the same as the mainland. That is what the unionists have said today. The agreement shows otherwise.
The government of Ireland should be able in the Intergovernmental Conference to reflect the feelings, problems and aspirations of the minority community in the Province. Some say that without the Provisional IRA and other terrorist organisations there would be no such agreement. Perhaps if the power-sharing agreement had been allowed to work and had not been destroyed on the ground by unionists in 1974, there would be no need for the agreement which has been negotiated with the Irish Republic. Far too often the unionists have been their own worst enemies. Controversies and debates in the House relating to Ireland go back to well before the first world war and the bitterness over opposition to home rule plans for Ireland.
We should not overlook unemployment, deprivation, alienation and the general economic circumstances in Northern Ireland. In an intervention in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) I argued that some of the electoral support that the Provisional IRA has built up in the last few years is due to the economic circumstances described by my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock). Many Government Members know that what I say is true. Such deprivation—massive unemployment and the feeling among many young people, particularly in the Catholic community, that there is no chance of getting work—aids the terrorist cause.
I do not believe that the majority community in Northern Ireland can be bombed or terrorised into a united Ireland. I accept the Labour party's policy, which is clear. It is in favour of a united Ireland in time—but only by consent. Unity can come only from broad consent. That remains the view of the large majority in the Irish Republic. The Irish people know and understand that if a united state is achieved as a result of the bombing and terrorism of the last 15 years, such a state will not be viable. They know that it would be torn apart. They know that people who have been bombed and terrorised into a united Ireland against their will will not give up their old sectarian quarrels. They will not say, "We have lost today and that is it." Such a united Ireland would be totally unstable and a threat to the future of democracy in Ireland as a whole.
I do not therefore believe that a united Ireland is possible in the near future. Surely the lesson of Northern Ireland over the past 60 years is simply that a substantial minority within the Province strongly feel that no consent was given to the partition of Ireland. A great deal of the present difficulty, misery, hardship and suffering is the result of what happened in 1920. A large majority of the Northern Ireland minority community do not support terrorism. They feel, however, that gerrymandering took place when Ireland was divided against the wishes of the people of Ireland as a whole. It would be foolish to repeat 816 history, whereby a substantial minority—mainly the unionists—thought that they had been bombed and terrorised into a united Ireland against their will. There are all kinds of lessons to be learned from what has happened in Northern Ireland during the past 60 years.
As for the expected reaction of the unionists, Unionist politicians believe that they should have a veto on any matter that affects Northern Ireland. That view is completely unacceptable both to the House and to the British people. Right hon. and hon. Members of the Unionist parties have referred to a referendum, but they want a referendum in Northern Ireland where they know that they have an inbuilt majority. They argue, understandably, that this agreement should be tested in Northern Ireland. However, I want to put forward a different point of view. If there is to be a referendum on this agreement, it should be a United Kingdom referendum.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
That is right; and then let the agreement be applied to the whole of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Winnick
If a referendum were to take place on this agreement, the overwhelming majority of the people of this country would be in favour of it, just as there will be an overwhelming majority in favour of it tomorrow night in this House. However, I very much doubt whether the critics of the agreement would like such a referendum.
If Unionist politicians continue to adopt what can only be described as a completely negative attitude, many people will feel increasingly impatient about this country's involvement in Northern Ireland. There will be an understandable feeling that there is no purpose in the considerable expenditure, blood and suffering in being involved in the Province. Most people are willing that this country should continue to be involved in Northern Ireland. They do not want Britain to be seen as giving in to terrorism. That is understandable, but there is a limit to the patience of British people.
§ Mr. McCusker
I am prepared to accept that there should be a subvention from the rest of the United Kingdom on the basis of equal citizenship and the richer part of the community contributing to the poorer part. If, however, the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that subvention should be based upon charity to those who are no longer citizens of the United Kingdom, I do not want that charity. I speak personally because I have not put this view to my constituents. I would accept the decision of a United Kingdom referendum, but those who voted in that referendum would have to accept its consequences.
§ Mr. Winnick
Unionist politicians and their supporters will take their own decision. I have put forward a point of view that is, I believe, widely shared by many in this country. A growing number of people do not accept that the purpose of being involved in Northern Ireland is to bolster and maintain the unionist veto or to ensure that everybody should remember who won the battle of the Boyne in 1690. That battle is not of immediate concern to the people on the mainland.
The agreement is a step in the right direction. Unionists must accept that there is no going back to the days of Stormont. It is finished. It will never be resurrected. The sooner that Unionist politicians recognise that they cannot have a permanent veto over constitutional and political progress in Northern Ireland, the better it will be.
817 Unionist politicians must accept that in Northern Ireland they have to live on an equal basis with the minority community. That is why I believed that it was right, 11 years ago, to bring in the power-sharing Executive and why today I believe that it is right for the Government of the Irish Republic to have some say in the affairs of Northern Ireland. That is why the agreement will be endorsed by a large majority. Unionist politicians must decide whether they want to remain part of the Union on the basis that Parliament remains supreme, or go down a road that will undoubtedly lead to a unilateral declaration of independence.
§ Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
The watershed of the debate came soon after the impressive speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), whose courage and eloquence we have all admired. It came when the hon. Members for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) and for Foyle (Mr. Hume) both addressed the House for 26 minutes and in their separate ways reminded us that everyone who lives in Northern Ireland is a member of a minority. The Catholics are a minority in Northern Ireland itself and the Protestants are a minority in the island of Ireland.
Therefore, both traditions do not feel secure enough to make a gesture of generosity to the other, and there were few gestures of generosity in those speeches. I listened closely to what the hon. Member for Foyle said, as leader of the SDLP. Like the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis), I was not particularly upset when the hon. Member for Foyle did not say that he would join the Northern Ireland Assembly. However, I was upset that there still seemed to be an element of equivocation in the advice that the SDLP will give members of the Catholic community about wholehearted co-operation with the security forces and about encouraging people to join those security forces.
One lesson that I took away after living and working for almost two years in Northern Ireland was that no political or constitutional initiative can ensure that the people of Northern Ireland will live peacefully side by side. However, a foolish initiative can make it more difficult for the communities for Northern Ireland to live peacefully. I fear that this initiative will make it more difficult, although clearly the intention of those who framed it, both in the Civil Service and the Government, was to advance the cause of peace.
Plainly, the agreement would be much strengthened if there were some sign that the majority community in Northern Ireland at least accepted its existence. Some hon. Members will know that, over the years, I have advocated the use of referendums in constitutional matters. I was disappointed to hear my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister say that she did not intend to hold a referendum on the issue but I was not entirely surprised because it is plain that if a referendum were to be held at this moment, it would be soundly defeated in Northern Ireland.
I commend to the Government the example of what happened on the EEC issue. After we had been in the EEC for some time, when fears about the Community had largely dissipated, a referendum was held and was won by those who advocated staying in the EEC. I urge the Government to consider holding a referendum in three years' time, when in any event this agreement will have to be looked at again, when tempers have had time to cool 818 down, because if the agreement works as well as its advocates say, at that time the majority community in Northern Ireland will be beginning to come around to it. If the Government were now to say, "No referendum at this moment, but we will test the temperature in three years' time," I believe that there would be a greater chance of success.
In her statement last Monday the Prime Minister referred no fewer than 12 times to the fact that the status of Northern Ireland will remain unchanged so long as that is the wish of the majority of its people. That phrase has often been used in today's debate, and at present there can be absolutely no doubt that the majority of the people in Northern Ireland wish to continue as members of the United Kingdom. That fact has been acknowledged by the Government in Dublin. However, given that at present this is wholly uncontroversial, it would be wise to say what we mean by "the wish of the majority of its people".
Plainly, on a matter as important as changing nationality and doing away with the border, a low majority on a low poll will not be enough. When we discussed devolution for Scotland and Wales this House made it plain that it would require a substantial majority on a substantial turnout. Therefore, when it comes to a change of status for Northern Ireland we should make it absolutely plain now—and get the agreement of the Government in Dublin—that this cannot happen until an actual majority of those on the electoral role vote positively in favour of a change. Only then would one begin the long process of deciding the financial arrangements and the preparation of a Bill which a year or two later should again be put to the people of Northern Ireland with the requirement that an absolute majority of those on the electoral role should vote in favour. That is looking a long time ahead. Despite the Anglo-Irish agreement, I fear that trouble will continue, and that the House will have to debate the serious security position in Northern Ireland for many years to come.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)
It is about a year since I had the privilege of speaking in a debate on Northern Ireland from this Dispatch Box, and I am particularly pleased to do so again in a debate on Northern Ireland that will last for two days. We should have undertaken such debates more often, because this is one of the most serious matters that affect the British people and the people of Ireland. Indeed, it might have been an advantage if the debate could have been seen on television, as many people would have learned a great deal from it.
The Labour party accepts the agreement as a small but significant step in the right direction. It is a small step because it does not change the status of Northern Ireland, and may change only the climate of the relationship between Britain and Ireland. That is particularly important, but it does not change Northern Ireland's status in the longer term, as some unionists have feared, and some people, including me, would have wished.
There are three significant areas in the agreement. First, it is significant that the British Government, for the second time in recent years, have ruled out one of the three options on the future of Northern Ireland—the integration of Northern Ireland into the United Kingdom. The unionists are most upset because they recognise that.
Secondly, the agreement is significant because it recognises that the problem cannot be resolved only within 819 Northern Ireland, nor merely in Ireland, but by Britain and Ireland together. It is and always has been a British-Irish problem, and it needs to be addressed at that level.
Thirdly, the agreement is significant because it recognises for the second time in recent years—the first time was at Sunningdale—that Northern Ireland is not a normal part of the United Kingdom. There is nothing surprising about that, because few hon. Members on either the Conservative or Labout Benches have ever treated it as such.
One may argue that Scotland, Wales and England are all treated differently, but for many years Northern Ireland has been treated much more differently. During the debate one of my hon. Friends tried to point out that during the second world war there was no conscription in Northern Ireland, and that the Irish people served in the British forces. On previous occasions I have pointed out that none of the British political parties organises in Northern Ireland. There are many fundamental differences between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
The problem in Northern Ireland is that the two communities have only negative power; and they do not have the power to progress as we think they should have done. It is almost two years since I had the privilege of going to the Forum in Dublin—like my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock), I, too, commend the Irish political parties for that initiative—and saying that an initiative by Britain and Ireland was needed because without it the leadership could not be available within Northern Ireland.
The British have claimed to be the referee for too long when, however well intentioned we may have been, we have been part of the problem. We must recognise that if we are to be honest with ourselves, and with the people of Northern Ireland and southern Ireland.
What do the British people want? Sadly, the Prime Minister has still not addressed that question. The significance of that is that almost everyone in the House, the Unionists excluded perhaps, is a conditional unionist. They are not conditional unionists when it comes to England, Scotland or Wales, but they are conditional unionists when it comes to Northern Ireland, for the reasons that I have already addressed. The unionists in Northern Ireland understand us, as conditional unionists, to be saying that they are only slightly a part of the United Kingdom.
It is precisely because there has been no effective leadership from Britain and Ireland that the negative power within the Northern Ireland communities has led not just to a splitting between the two communities but a splintering of the society. Four major political parties operate in Northern Ireland and many times more small ones. It is not just the political parties that have splintered; it is the communities. It can be taken even further because the paramilitary groups have also splintered. We sometimes address the House as though the paramilitary groups are some well organised, super-co-ordinated groups which do not disintegrate within themselves.
Again, it is worth looking at some of the underlying facts because they say a lot about the overall political climate. Between 1969 and 1985, 119 nationalist paramilitaries were killed by other nationalist paramilitaries. In other words, more members of the paramilitaries on the republican side have been killed by 820 their own people than have been killed by the security forces. Precisely the same applies to the loyalist paramilitary groups. More of them have been killed by their own side than have been killed by the security forces. That is what I mean when I say that the society is splintering.
A breakdown of the citizens killed in Northern Ireland shows that 1,100 Roman Catholics and 931 Protestants have been killed in the same period. Of those, it is worth remembering—unfortunately, we do not always say it outside as loudly as we should—that 570 of those civilians were killed by unionist paramilitary groups. At the end of the day I do not draw a distinction in Northern Ireland between a person who wears a uniform and a person who does not. The killing of any one of those diminishes all of us, and we need to say that loud and clear. But we have to recognise, as I have said many times before, that the paramilitary problem is on both sides of the community, not just on one. We cannot drum that message in heavily enough, not just in order to get balance in the debate, but, more importantly, to help us in the House and Britain to understand the problem in a way that perhaps we have not done to the degree that I would like.
The agony of the unionists—it is an agony—is that they recognise more than most Conservative Members, and, indeed, many of my hon. Friends in the Labour party, that the British people do not really recognise them as British. The British see them as Irish. They may call them Northern Irish or a range of other things, such as Ulstermen, but ultimately the British people see them as Irish.
After the Prime Minister made her statement to the House on 18 November, the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) rose to speak, and his words ring in my ears now. He described his feeling of utter desolation. That says more than anything else. The utter desolation that the hon. Gentleman was expressing was the feeling of the unionist community that they were being pushed out.
In his speech today the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) reiterated that even more powerfully. He talked about the battle of the Somme, the Union Jack, his loyalty to the Queen and the flag and everything else. The battle of the Somme is talked about in Northern Ireland in a way that is not understood here. The battle of the Somme with its acts of incredible heroism, even blind heroism, and the enormous slaughter of the occasion, has some special meaning to all of us. But for Northern Ireland unionists it meant that they were cementing their place in the Union and tying the knot to Britain, to their mistress. Sadly, they saw it that way, but we did not. We wonder why they feel bitter and why they cry betrayal and treason. That is why and that is what we need to understand.
Although it is written down that Northern Ireland will remain a part of the United Kingdom unless it wishes to do otherwise, I have never ceased to wonder why any unionist wants it to be so. It is not there for England, Scotland or Wales. Unionists want it there for one fundamental reason—they feel insecure about their position.
The hon. Member for Belfast, East talked about three houses. Presumably, one was Northern Irish, one British and one Irish. If I walked into a family home and found a notice on a bedroom door saying, "I will not be forced out of this house unless I agree to go," I would ask why that person felt so insecure. The reason, as I have said on many occasions, is that he knows that Northern Ireland is 821 not a normal part of the United Kingdom. People know that not just because of the agreement but because British Governments, past and present, have reiterated that. Therefore, Britain, and particularly the Conservative party, has a duty to say what it believes. The Labour party has made it clear that it wants a united Ireland. We have spelt out on several occasions how we think we should move towards that and we have talked of consent. The Conservative party has not said what it wants. The unionists know what they want, and again that is the reason why they express fears of betrayal and treason. That is the problem.
The right hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior), for whom I have great respect, tackled a difficult problem extremely well. I do not know whether that praise helps him any more than his praise helped the Prime Minister. He knows, and I think still does, that agreements of this nature say to the Northern Irish people, "You will not be a normal part of the United Kingdom." There is only one end to that road. He knows that better than most. Somebody in the Conservative party must start to say that and recognise it.
If we do not address ourselves to that problem, the danger is that we shall drift into crisis management. That touches on all the points that my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn mentioned in his opening speech when he talked about the erosion of democracy. It ends with the super-grass trials, the juryless trials and the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978. I hear some people naively talking about trying to ban the Provisional Sinn Fein. One can almost hear the arguments. They assume that if one tries to smother the symptoms, the problem will go away, but I am afraid that the problem will stay.
§ Mr. McCusker
I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman's remarkable speech. Will he bear one thing in mind? The inevitable conclusion of the Conservative Government, or any other Government, telling us where we stand in relation to the rest of the United Kingdom is not a united Ireland.
§ Mr. Soley
I do not accept that. I understand what the hon. Gentleman has been moving towards during the past few days since his comments about desolation—an independent Northern Ireland. I have looked at that possibility on several occasions, and I do not think that it is a viable solution.
Many people in Northern Ireland are prepared to fight and die for an independent Northern Ireland. That is the danger. We must address ourselves to that when we talk about the way in which we achieve our aims.
The unionists are not stupid or blind to what is happening. They feel betrayed because they recognise that conditional unionism—not outright unionism—the sort of unionism to which the Prime Minister said that she was attaching herself, is not a permanent solution for Northern Ireland. It cannot possibly be. No one is selling the agreement as a permanent solution. Everybody recognises that it is a small step. I describe it as a small but significant step in the right direction. Other people, on both sides of the water and in both the Republic and the North, see it as one useful thing to do to deal with the present problem. Not everybody sees it in the same way as I do.
This is the crucial point where I commend the agreement. It recognises the way in which we need to 822 protect the unionist culture, the religion of Protestantism and unionist civil rights. Those are the things that have to be protected. They represent an enormously strong tradition. If I had a message to give to the unionist people, it would be that such a tradition cannot survive if it lives only on the past and in a siege mentality. It needs to be part of a wider community. The tragedy of Northern Ireland is that it has become so isolated.
I have said that we believe in a united Ireland. We think that we can move towards it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) said so eloquently, and as many others have said, it is no part of the Labour party's philosophy that the people of Northern Ireland should be driven into a united Ireland. People in Ireland who take the matter seriously would not want to do that either. No Irish political party believes that an all-Ireland political settlement could work unless a significant number of people of the North were willing to work that settlement, and that means a majority in one form or another. That is what we mean when we talk about a united Ireland by consent. It must be a solution that works for people.
It is important to recognise that one of the most positive things about the agreement, which applies whether one believes in a united Ireland, as I and my party do, or takes the Conservative party's view, which applies equally as much, is the harmonisation of the social and economic systems, which offers enormous potential to the people of Ireland as a whole. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn said, it is nonsense that, for the purpose of EEC common agricultural policy grants, we treat the two parts of Ireland differently because of the different national policies. That is ridiculous. It does the unionists and the nationalists no good. Agriculture is an important basic industry for both the North and the South. There is great potential in food production, packaging and processing, and joint operations. However, we underplay those things at the moment. If the agreement did no more than realise that potential, I would give it a big welcome.
§ Mr. Soley
I was asked to speak for my party tonight, and that is precisely what I am doing. We are staying on the same lines. The hon. Gentleman might not understand it. I am willing to give him extra time afterwards if he wants to do his homework. Our policy is on exactly the same line and it does not change.
The agreement is a step in the right direction, whether one believes in a united Ireland or, as the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) put it so well, whether one maximises the agreement in order to minimise the violence. I thought that that was very good stuff. However, at the end of the day, the House has to remember that Parliament is sovereign. It decides what happens in the United Kingdom. As long as Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, we shall make the decisions on Northern Ireland. That is why there cannot be a veto on political proposals or developments that are designed to win consent or, as some Conservative Members recognise, to improve an intolerable situation.
We are not saying to the House that the agreement will bring forth miracles. It will not. Sadly, it will not stop the killings. As my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North rightly said, there is even a danger of further 823 killings, not just by one side. That is one of the constant problems that we have to live with when we deal with Northern Ireland.
However, the agreement is an important step forward and the House should support it. Neither I nor any of my right hon. and hon. Friends are prepared to support an attempt to make the present situation just work for ever. It is eroding our democracy and that of southern Ireland. It is playing havoc with the lives of people in Northern Ireland, republican and unionist, Catholic and Protestant. Sooner or later we shall have to deal with that in the way in which we have begun to do today.
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office Dr. Rhodes Boyson
I thank the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) for his support, although I do not agree with his diagnosis. There are alternatives, such as direct rule, but there is no single road.
We have had a wide-ranging debate involving hon. Members of all parties. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), who has always been a man of honour and dignity. We entered the House together and we have often dined together. I regret, as many hon. Members do, his resignation, but respect his reasons for it. His integrity raises the standing of the House.
I enjoyed the speeches of the three "Bs." The constituencies of several hon. Members sent to Northern Ireland begin with the letter B—those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Butler), my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) and the right hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason), of course, Brent, North is another.
I cannot refer to every point that has been made today. There have been many points and about 20 hon. Members have spoken. We have reduced the winding-up time to allow as many people as possible to contribute.
The most important reason for obtaining stability in Northern Ireland is to put an end to the killings. We all agree on that. We also want people to be able to walk the streets in safety. Another matter linked to unemployment and the economy of the Province is that until there is political stability, we shall not get investment from abroad to get the Province moving, a better standard of living and less unemployment, which is often a source of recruitment for the paramilitaries.
The Leader of the Opposition is not present, but I often faced him across the Dispatch Box when we were involved in education matters. We have moved on since then, although he has moved much faster than I have—[Interruption.] That was the understatement of the year. I am moving along gently.
My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne said that Ministers come and go. I come and go, but the Leader of the Opposition has gone. He has not returned to the debate tonight. The right hon. Gentleman said that unemployment had created the troubles, but it has not. We must get that right. Northern Ireland suffers from one tenth of the violence of 10 or 12 years ago, but three times the unemployment. That does not mean that we do not wish to get rid of unemployment. However, the violence comes from the tension between the two communities.
§ Dr. Boyson
The hon. Gentleman may be an expert on rubbish, but the facts are there. At present, we have one tenth of the killings of 10 years ago, with three times the unemployment. That does not mean that if unemployment increased there would be no killings, but it cannot be said that unemployment is the only cause of the killings.
We want more employment in Northern Ireland. The Government are creating more small and medium firms per head of the population in Northern Ireland than in any other region in the United Kingdom. Shipbuilding, small agriculture and textiles have run down more quickly in western Europe and in Great Britain than in Northern Ireland. However, more high technology investment is needed from large combines abroad.
The Leader of the Opposition mentioned unemployment generally, but the worst aspect in Northern Ireland is male unemployment, which destabilises the family more than anything else and can help the paramilitaries. If a man has no integrity with his family because he has no wage to take home on a Friday, he will try to create it in another way. The Province has 21.6 per cent. male unemployment, compared with 15.9 per cent. in the United Kingdom as a whole. Overall, the Province has 20.9 per cent. unemployment and the United Kingdom 13.4 per cent. In Strabane, there is almost 50 per cent. male unemployment.
The Leader of the Opposition said that Northern Ireland needs more money. Since I have been a Northern Ireland Minister, many of my friends have accused me of becoming a neo-Keynesian, despite that fact that I adhere to my monetarist views. Whatever is wrong with Northern Ireland, it is not a shortage of money. As the right hon. Gentleman said, £1.5 billion, or £1,000 for every man, woman and child, is transferred from the Treasury to keep Northern Ireland afloat. By saying that, I do not intend to insult the people of Northern Ireland. The Exchequer transfers money similarly to other under-developed areas in Britain. However, we must face the fact that, unless we can regenerate the economy, that transfer of money must continue, and a once-proud province, which was one of the industrial wonders of the world, will never get off the ground again.
Northern Ireland needs more investment from Great Britain, America, Germany, Hong Kong and Japan. What stops us obtaining that investment is political instability. However, foreign companies already in Northern Ireland are expanding, and yesterday we heard the great news that Du Pont will build its most modern Kevlar plant outside America in Northern Ireland. It is one of the largest investment in the United Kingdom this year. But Du Pont has been in Northern Ireland for more than 25 years. It knows how good is the work force, in Maydown, but the problem is obtaining investment from firms that have never been in Northern Ireland. At present, 11,000 workers are employed by 27 American firms. That represents one in eight workers in the Province; one in three is employed by firms based in Great Britain or other
Some hon. Members asked why my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State flew to America after the agreement was signed. Had America forced us into the agreement, as some people believe, all that he would have needed to do would have been to pick up the telephone and say, "We have done it." He had to go to America to inform Americans of what was happening, because they were intensely interested. Never forget that 40 million Americans believe that their origins lie in Northern Ireland 825 or southern Ireland. My hon. Friend had to tell them what the agreement was about. It seems to me perfectly sensible. I have great faith in my hon. Friend. Sometimes we disagree economically and politically, but we stand shoulder to shoulder on this matter. If this was simply an American plot, he would not have needed to go there. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) appears to be asleep and not listening to my speech—
§ Mr. Hugh Brown
It is unfair of the Minister to put that on the record when the truth is that I am listening to his speech with great interest.
§ Dr. Boyson
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. I meant it in a cheerful way. I must stop being cheerful, because it is dangerous and from time to time one can be misunderstood. I am delighted to put on the record the fact that the hon. Gentleman made an extremely fair and caring speech, which was listened to with great interest. He asked about American investment almost as though American investment was wrong. The mass of the people of Northern Ireland, whatever their politics, would want 10 more American firms in Northern Ireland tomorrow, absorbing 10,000 to 20,000 of the unemployed. That would transform the Province's image.
§ Mr. McCusker
Would the Minister mind me bringing him back to the Anglo-Irish agreement? Is he saying that, in exchange for giving the Irish Republic—let me put it in media terms—a say in the government of Northern Ireland, the Irish Republic will forgo its investment opportunities? After all, Northern Ireland competes with the Republic for investment. Would that be realistic, bearing in mind the fact that, even taking account of the statistics on impoverishment in Northern Ireland, by any standards the Province is better off than the Irish Republic?
§ Dr. Boyson
The hon. Gentleman has an extremely narrow view if he believes that the only alternative to investment in Northern Ireland is investment in the Republic. There are 137 other countries in the world. I should be delighted if we could co-operate with the Republic in attracting more investment and tourism to the entire island. If one reads the survey which we conducted three years ago among decision makers in Britain, the United States and Germany, one discovers that their biggest anxiety about investing in Northern Ireland is its political instability.
When asked, 88 per cent. of the decision-makers in Britain, 86 per cent. in the United States and 63 per cent. in Germany said that the greatest disincentive to investment in Northern Ireland was political instability. There must be political stability if the Province is ever to be revitalised economically and in many other ways.
There has been much discussion in the House today about what the agreement means. Opposition Members have stated their views and tried to explain the Government's view, but I shall now give the Government's view in a straightforward way. This agreement represents the first occasion when in a binding international agreement the Republic of Ireland has affirmed that there will be no change in the status of Northern Ireland without the consent of the majority and that the present wish of the majority is for no change.
The Sunningdale agreement did not become a binding international agreement, nor did it contain any recognition by the Republic of Ireland Government that the present 826 wish of the majority was for no change. The present agreement is different and that is stated for the record. The British Government have no desire to push Northern Ireland away. The speech of the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) interpreted the Government's action and, although it was not a mischievous speech, he could have misled individuals into believing that the British Government were intentionally distancing themselves from Northern Ireland and saying, "Go your own way." The agreement does not say that. As my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland have said, that protection is written into the beginning of the agreement and so protects the unionist community.
The agreement will lead to improved security cooperation on both sides of the border and it registers the intention of the Government of the Republic of Ireland to accede to the European convention on the suppression of terrorism. Right hon. and hon. Members have said that the Republic said that it was co-operating before, and I have no doubt that it was, but creating a structure in the Intergovernmental Conference where talks can take place and ideas can be exchanged will obviously lead to improvements in security. Such structured meetings should lead to the formation of relationships and should allow the RUC and the Garda to work closely together, which should help security in Northern Ireland for the benefit of all. Some hon. Members may laugh at that and think that I am being naive, but I believe that 99 per cent. of the people in this country would be similarly naive and believe what I am saying.
§ Dr. Boyson
I shall not give way. I have already given way and I must get through my speech.
I hope that, with the encouragement of the Government of the Republic of Ireland, there will be more recruitment of members of the minority community into the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Ulster Defence Regiment. In many United States cities and elsewhere Catholic emigrés from the island of Ireland have become the backbone of the police and influential in the army. The Government would welcome their help in increasing numbers in Northern Ireland in the defeat of the paramilitaries.
§ Dr. Boyson
I shall not give way. The hon. Member has already had his share and spoke for half an hour.
I can tell the nationalist minority, like the majority, what their responsibilities are and how they are covered by the agreement. The nationalist minority are not simply observers of the agreement. I am sure that the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) will agree with me. They are participants to help settle the fears of the unionist community by their increased help in security matters.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) mentioned devolution. He is not with us because he is elsewhere at the moment. [Interruption.] At last I have the unanimous approval of the House. I must work on that achievement. I know where my right hon. Friend is. I am sure he is dining well and discussing very important political matters.
The agreement does not mark the end of consultations for the unionist community. The unionist community has 827 a voice in the House. If they disappear for two months, there will be no consultation with them in their absence. It would be difficult to discuss matters with them while they are fighting elections elsewhere. The unionists have representation in the House and in their own Assembly. They have the Assembly and the district councils. Those are all places for consultation if people would use them instead of shutting them down. Only yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister devoted a considerable amount of time to a delegation of unionists who came over to see her.
Those four points are firmly delivered for the unionist community. For the nationalist community, there is full recognition of their identity in Northern Ireland. The agreement recognises that both communities are legitimately there and have a legitimate identity. As one Member after another has said today, we can set up structures to help—we believe that this one will help—but in the last resort success must rest on the co-operation of both communities and their wish to work together to make Northern Ireland a more peaceful place than it has been in the past.
§ Dr. Boyson
No. I am watching the time and I did not give way to others who wished to intervene.
Similarly, for the nationalist community, at the Intergovernmental Conference British Ministers and Ministers from the Republic will meet to discuss matters of mutual concern. In the long run, that should also be of advantage to the unionist community because the traffic will be two way. We shall not simply be replying to what Ministers from the Republic say. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but I cannot imagine my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or any Northern Ireland Minister in any British Government going along to listen to a list off things that the Republic says that we should do without taking a list of our own. It will be a two-way traffic. [Interruption.] I have more faith in our parliamentarians than some Ulster unionists now in the House.
§ Dr. Boyson
No, I shall not give way. I have only four minutes left.
Mention has been made of a referendum. Referendums were held in Wales and in Scotland because they concerned internal matters related to the way in which those regions should be governed. This is an agreement between two sovereign Governments as to how they 828 should work together for the benefit of Northern Ireland as well as the Republic, which obviously also means for the benefit of the United Kingdom. Two sovereign Governments have made an agreement. That is why we are debating it and I hope that the House will pass it tomorrow as the Irish Parliament passed it last week.
On investment, there was no bribe in the shape of money from America. There is still no specification of money actually coming. Obviously, however, especially on the industrial front where investment and jobs are needed, if America wishes to help in the creation of jobs in Northern Ireland and in the Republic it would be foolish and miserable to refuse that help. If 'Tip' O'Neill and President Reagan are delighted by that—[Interruption.] I am surprised at the insularity of Unionist Members sometimes. Most of us would take new jobs in our constituencies if they came from Timbuktu. For the past 14 months, I have worked to bring jobs to the Province and other Ministers have done the same. I regard that as vital in every way.
§ Dr. Boyson
No, I am not giving way.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), with whom I used to argue reguarly about education—he has become somewhat hairier than in those days of yore—asked about the size of the Regular Army in Northern Ireland. It is now down almost to garrison strength—9,000 regulars with 6,500 in the UDR. I know that the hon. Gentleman would have worried if I had not given those figures.
Finally, it is vital that we take a detached but totally concerned view of the Northern Ireland situation and that we are not trapped in history, important though history is. The sense of the agreement is an attempt to distance ourselves from a past in Northern Ireland which has recently had severe difficulties both politically and economically. On one side it gives a firm commitment from the British Government and from the Government of the Republic of Ireland that Northern Ireland will remain part of the United Kingdom as long as the majority so wishes. On the other side, it accepts the legitimate identity of the nationalist community and recognises that the two parts of the island of Ireland have interests in common.
The agreement thus gives to the people of Northern Ireland a promise of a more settled, confident, cooperative and more prosperous future. Such a future is possible if both communities in Northern Ireland are prepared to work for it, and I commend the agreement to the House.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.