§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Tom King)
I beg to move,That the draft Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 13th June, be approved.This is the fifteenth time that I or my predecessors lave come before the House to invite it to renew the system of direct rule that was introduced under the 1974 Act. I noted the comments of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) last year, when he described direct rule as patronising, undemocratic, unaccountable, remote and inefficient, and said that it had gone on too long—
§ Mr. King
I am delighted to have the hon. Gentleman with me.
Every democrat in this House will endorse the feeling that this is not a satisfactory democratic system. It was intended to be temporary and it is on all our consciences that as yet we have not found a better alternative. I hope that I do not embarrass the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North by referring to him again, but he referred to that as the highest common factor on which there could be agreement for the government of Northern Ireland.
I agree with that assessment, other than in one respect —and this does not condone the system—that being his description of the system as "inefficient". I do not think that it is inefficient and I shall seek to put before the House some of what I believe to be the real achievements o r the past year. That is not to say that I am in any way seeking to justify the system. Despite the regrettable absence of a more democratic and accountable system, as far as is possible we are seeking to provide for the Province as efficient, as accountable and as open a system of government as we can—and in that I include not just myself, but my colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office and those with responsibilities in the Northern Ireland departments. I shall, as I did last year, comment on the economic and security aspects and then deal with sonic of the political issues.
When I opened the equivalent debate last year, I was able to draw the attention of the House to the fact that unemployment in the previous year had fallen by 10.000. I am proud to stand at the Dispatch Box this year and draw the attention of the House to the fact that in the past year the headline total has fallen by a further 10,000.
The Northern Ireland Economic Council said in its 1989 report that the local economy had performed better in the last year than at any time during the 1980s. The figure for investment by Northern Ireland companies was the highest ever last year, at £;400 million. That is the mainspring of the improvement in the economy—I shall come to the question of inward investment—because the most important contribution is coming from the success and expansion of companies already located in the Province and from people there starting their own businesses.
We have also had some encouraging new industries. Since we debated this matter last year, I was able to announce the investment by Montupet, which will be 509 moving into the old De Lorean factory. Hon. Members may be aware that the company is now starting recruiting for that important establishment, which will employ 1,100 and which offers an exciting prospect for the future as a major employer in Northern Ireland.
I hold the same view about our first investment by a major company from the far east, which we have achieved in the shape of Daewoo. It is interesting to record, when people wonder how Northern Ireland can perform—I hope that every Northern Ireland Member will take pride in this fact—that it was only in November that I joined in the ceremony of cutting the first turf on a green field site in advance of the construction of that factory.
Since then, 100,000 sq ft of new production facility has been constructed and the first dispatch of video recorders has been made from that factory. Considering that we started from scratch in the middle of November, that is a fair indication of what Northern Ireland can achieve. I hope that that will prove to be the first of a number of valuable new investments.
When I stood at the Dispatch Box last year, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Sir M. McNair-Wilson) intervened to ask if I had anything to say about whether the Government had any intentions over the possible privatisation of Shorts. The House will be aware that it is only a few days since I was able to stand here, after having scarcely embarked on that process at this time last year, to announce what I hope will prove the successful completion of that exercise.
In respect of both Shorts and Harland and Wolff, I had real concern last year lest neither of those companies would be able to continue. It is no secret now—we are able to tell the truth—that Shorts was running losses at a level that were unsustainable. The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) will remember that, because he intervened in that debate to urge on me the "ultimate dream", about which we had reservations. I made clear to him at that time my concern for the future of the yard, which faced the prospect of no orders at all and a rapid demise.
I genuinely believe that the acquisition of Shorts, if it is successfully completed by Bombardier of Canada, and the involvement now in Harland and Wolff both of Mr. John Parker and his management and employee buy-out project, together with the crucially important private sector involvement of Mr. Fred Olsen and his investment, offer better prospects for Harland and Wolff—and, with Bombardier, better prospects for Shorts—than have existed for a long time. Far from being concerned about their possible collapse, I now look with considerable optimism at the prospects that they may have before them. Of course nothing can be taken for granted. Many hurdles must be crossed, but the opportunity now exists. If those companies were to start growing, particularly Harland and Wolff after a period of such prolonged contraction, the impact that it would have on the general strength of the Northern Ireland economy can be well understood.
There have been developments in the past year. There was the exciting announcement of a £100 million investment by British Telecom, supported by the European Community, in the new fibre-optic link. It will provide a service to the whole of Northern Ireland and could provide more jobs in the service sector. The 510 Government have announced jobs in the Department of Social Security, and offices in Lewisham, Brixton, Hither Green and in other parts of London will be directly linked to the service in Belfast. That will initially provide 350 jobs and, we hope, in time lead to 500. There may be one or two more interesting announcements shortly, showing the way in which we can take advantage of new technology and obtain jobs for Northern Ireland.
In the past year, we have seen a further expansion in retailing activity. There has been an improvement in retailing facilities, and there have been major construction projects, both outside and inside Belfast, and certainly in the constituency of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume). There is new optimism and a new sense of opportunity. Although there is certainly a long way to go and a very big hill to climb, bearing in mind the level of unemployment in certain parts of the Province, perhaps for the first time people are beginning to see a real way of tackling problems. It is against that background that I look with optimism to the economic prospects for the Province.
Those achievements have occurred in spite of and in staunch resistance to the campaign of terror that still seeks to ruin the lives, jobs, hopes and future of many young people in Northern Ireland. That campaign can damage the economic prospects not only of everybody in the Province but of people throughout the island of Ireland.
We must, as we have on other occasions in the House, pay tribute to the security forces' tremendous courage and determination over the past year and the work that they have done in preventing casualties and deaths. This is the first time that I have stood at the Dispatch Box and not had to report any deaths due to terrorism during the period since I last answered questions on security matters. That is not because the danger is over. Hon. Members will have noticed that I drew attention to the fact that the threat still remains, and there is still a need for vigilance and the closest co-operation with the security forces. Through their determination to resist these onslaughts, the people of Northern Ireland have shown where they stand. We shall certainly seek to ensure that they have the sort of support from the security forces to which they are entitled.
The debate last year was just after the summit meeting between the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach. They drew attention in their communiqué to their wish for close co-operation in the fight against terrorism. I want to put on record again our appreciation of the very good relationship between the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Garda Siochana, and the substantial work that has been done, not least in arms finds and the successful seizure of primed bombs, primed mortars and caches of explosives and weapons by the Garda. Certainly we can look back on real achievements by the security forces.
That is not to say, sadly, that this year has not been marked by some tragic incidents arising from the terrorist campaign. We forget them perhaps all too easily. I have to refresh my memory of Ballygawley; of Benburb where a granddfather and his grandaughter were tragically in the wrong place at the wrong time when coming home from bingo; of the good neighbours in the constituency of the hon. Member for Foyle whose reward from the IRA for concern about a neighbour who might be in distress was their own death; of the tragic murder of Chief Superintendent Breen and Superintendent Buchanan; and of the murder of the young girl in Warrenpoint. Some of those incidents the IRA might have regarded as successful 511 attacks in its awful vocabulary, but others it has recognised as mistakes in its craven apologies, yet all of them show the awfulness of the terrorist campaign.
Against that background, we have sought to ensure that not only the security forces but the instruments of law are fit and proper to enable us to protect the community against the assaults that it faces. We face a sustained attack not merely on the community but on the whole system of justice, whether by the attempts to murder judges, the attempts to murder witnesses, or the attempts to intimidate the whole community so that the terrorists may be above the law. At the centre of my concern has been not only the consideration that in any society it is important that innocent people are not convicted, but the important responsibility of the Government to ensure that guilty people have a reasonable prospect of conviction. We have faced the determined attack on the whole system of justice by trying to ensure that terrorists cannot put themselves beyond the possibility of successful prosecution and conviction.
I mention that merely to put in context the background against which we made changes during the past year. One move was the introduction of genetic fingerprinting to strengthen forensic evidence. We also made changes to allow inferences to be drawn in certain circumstances when people remained silent. We also took steps to ensure that when people are convicted of serious crimes they serve a proper sentence and that if they become reinvolved they will face the full rigours of the law.
Hon. Members will know that a feature of our approach to the prison regime and sentencing in the past year has been to give sympathetic consideration particularly to some who were caught up in the early troubles when very young and who found themselves facing a severe sentence, which meant that effectively they spent all their youth in prison. But that sympathy does not extend to those who become reinvolved after serving a determinate sentence. I have given fair warning to any who think of getting involved again in evil paramilitary terrorist activity that sympathy will not extend to them.
A feature of the past year has been to recognise that in our approach against terrorism we need to use not merely the instruments available to the security forces, but to recognise the need to tackle the evil in every aspect and to deal especially with the terrorists' resources which sustain so much of the terrorism. Some hon. Members have some understanding of the measures that we have taken and the arrangements that we have made to ensure that we are now assembling a much more effective response to gangsterism, smuggling, protection rackets, extortion and intimidation. A feature of the year ahead will be the growing evidence of a more effective counter-attack in those areas, in which we have the very full, active and interested co-operation of the Irish Government, who suffer especially from many of the losses associated with smuggling.
Against that background, I was considerably interested in certain aspects of the recent election results. It is difficult to tackle intimidation when people, with little protection, are understandably, in fear of standing up for what they believe. We can take some real comfort and encouragement from the fact that in the privacy and secrecy of polling booths people are increasingly walking away, especially from the principal party, Sinn Fein, which has been an open advocate and supporter of violence. I note that Mr. Morrison's vote in the European election fell 512 from 91,000 to 49,000—virtually halving. I am encouraged, too, that in the Republic Sinn Fein's pitifully small and inadequate achievement of 1.9 per cent. in the previous general election moved downwards to 1.2 per cent. in the last election. That shows the complete absence of political support throughout the Republic for the evil intentions to which Sinn Fein subscribes.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)
In recent weeks I have been in the middle east, where the point was made to me that there is a comparison between the problems there and those in Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State has just made the point that Sinn Fein, the political wing of the provisional IRA, gets an extraordinarly low vote, and, in the country from where the violence emanates, the SDLP has done so much better. Does that not show what nonsense it is for people in this country to say that we must talk with Sinn Fein, because often in the past we have said that there should be no talks and leaders have become Prime Ministers? Parties must get votes and Sinn Fein has done extremely badly. I hope that the Foreign Office will point that out in many parts of the middle east.
§ Mr. King
I know that that is a favourite analogy that Sinn Fein would seek to make with those, as it were, who have been imprisoned by the British in the past and have then come out to take up respectable democratic positions. There are two fundamental differences. First, they have found themselves in prison because they were leading protest movements in circumstances where they were denied the vote. As we know, in the circumstances of Northern Ireland there is a full opportunity for people to vote for and to support their party. Secondly, not only were those organisations with which Sinn Fein seeks to compare itself denied the vote, but, when they got the vote, they got the majority of the votes. I am on record as saying after the last election that their derisory level of support would not begin to justify a local campaign of civil disobedience, let alone remotely justify the sort of terrorism and violence which Republican terrorists commit. Against that background, we have seen real progress in the economy and in the movement away from support for violence.
I sense that, in Northern Ireland, there is a greater optimism and a real sense of hope. I believe that many others share that feeling. We have sought to reinforce it by a positive campaign aimed to help those areas of real need, particularly in the bigger cities. We have also considered how to help those areas where, undoubtedly, the unemployment levels are far too high and where that optimism and hope have not yet been felt.
In the past year we have made progress elsewhere as well. We have continued our steady work under the Anglo-Irish Agreement and, as I recently reported to the House, we have reviewed the workings of the conference during the past three years. I have published a record of develoments since that conference began. The House will have seen that the Anglo-Irish Agreement is not the great dangerous conspiracy that certain people have tried to dress it up as, as though it was a pernicious attempt to undermine the fabric of society, but that it has resulted in steady, useful and co-operative work. There is increasing recognition of areas of common interest between North and South.
513 I was struck by the fact that the central issues under debate in the recent Irish elections were, without entering into their merits, unemployment, worries about emigration and the state of the economy. Those are the very issues that are of concern to people in Northern Ireland and, given our level of unemployment, it is extremely understandable. We recognise the need for a stronger economy and both Governments recognise the need to wipe out terrorism, which is such an obstacle to improving the opportunities for people in both our countries.
Stripped away from all the rhetoric and the shouting that accompanies some comments about the Anglo-Irish Agreement, I believe that people increasingly recognise that the conference has not been the greatest bogey suggested by some people. We have worked steadily together. I accept that some Unionists do not particularly like the agreement, but the honest ones say that it has not proved to be the great disaster that they feared and that they can see some benefits deriving from it. Many people in Northern Ireland put the problems of terrorism at the top of their list of concerns, and if the Anglo-Irish Agreement has helped to establish a much better relationship between the RUC and the Garda that is of obvious benefit.
In this debate we are seeking to renew the system of direct rule, but, having recognised the progress that has been made in the past year, I also recognise where progress has been virtually non-existent—in the political arena. In this Chamber now are the only people who can change that. We can easily say that we should just go on as we are. Some people may argue that, in the end, the Government will tell them what they have decided they want to do. Perhaps those people will shout, scream and complain about it, but then say that they do not need to suggest anything themselves.
I have heard one or two stories suggesting that I have some sort of hidden agenda, that there is some secret plan that I have tucked away and that come October, I shall impose it on everyone. Colleagues in this House know me well enough to know that I will tell them straight what the situation is: there is no such plan. I do not believe that there is any point in having a plan unless I have a clearer idea of what the people would be willing to accept and what might provide the basis on which people could move forward. There is no point in the British Government handing down tablets of stone which give the parties an opportunity to squabble and row about them. The right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), who has much experience in this matter, knows exactly what I am talking about. I have respect for his experience.
§ Sir Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)
Surely there is one change as a consequence of the results of the district council elections when there was a high turnout in the Province. It showed that the people of Northern Ireland are concerned about their local government. It is also true, however, that in the past 17 years no attempt has been made to reform the structure of that local government, although in this country we have had no fewer than four local government Acts, one of which went through the House only last night. Why do we expect the political parties to do in their Province that which in this country we do first by an inquiry set up by an independent group, which brings forward proposals that are then debated, 514 argued about and ultimately made into legislation? Why do we not use the same procedure in Northern Ireland? Why do we always say that the obstacle lies with those of us who have our various party political allegiances, which, of course, limit us anyway, when we could so easily go out to independent people who could undertake the initial task and inquiry for us instead?
§ Mr. King
I am grateful to my hon. Friend because he approaches this matter in a constructive manner and he has put forward proposals as to how we might tackle it. We need to address those issues.
We may now have an opportunity, if people wish to take it, with or without Government, by independent inquiry or in whatever form, to make progress. My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Sir M. McNair-Wilson) took one message from the local council elections, and I was equally impressed by another. We are here with Unionist Members who will not talk with any Minister. At the moment, they are still stuck with a situation whereby they are unable to represent their constituents. They were the only people in this House who declined to represent their constituents' concerns about education, health or other issues that are of great importance to every hon. Member.
Those Unionist Members feel paralysed and unable to address such matters on behalf of their constituents, but a new opportunity arose at the local council elections. I was struck by the number of councillors wo have chosen to elect a member of one party as chairman or mayor while also accepting the legitimacy and respectability of another party through their willingness to support a member of that party as vice-chairman, deputy mayor or whatever. I am not sure of the previous situation, but such co-operation is something that can be undertaken across the parties.
At local government level, it seems that people have demonstrated that they are there to serve their electorate's concerns. Without abandoning their own responsibilities and their principles they have shown that they will do their best to serve the interests of the people in their community. I welcome that. If it is possible to do that in local government, is it impossible to do it in the Province as a whole? I know that it is not, because I was much assisted in the difficult issue of Harland and Wolff when the leaders of the parties came together and had meetings with me. I asked those leaders to come with me to talk with the Prime Minister and to represent directly to her the concerns of the people of Northern Ireland about that issue. I make no secret of the fact that those meetings were helpful to me in achieving my desired goal. The Prime Minister was able to hear at first hand some of the concerns about this issue.
It is important to remember that, because of the exercise undertaken, Harland and Wolff saved 2,500 jobs. But we have 105,000 unemployed people in Northern Ireland and we cannot stop there. We need now to address the wider issues. I hope that Unionist leaders will not stand back and say that they were willing to do it for Harland and Wolff, but they will not help if there is a problem in Londonderry or elsewhere. I believe that they are prepared to stand up and say that they will join in discussing such important issues.
The hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) has asked why we cannot get together to promote the Province. The outside world is still trying to represent Northern Ireland as a permanent scene of division and 515 battle, and the hon. Gentleman is right to say that we should show that people can come together and are willing to work together for things that are of benefit to the entire community. I am not saying that I do not want constructive and, at times, pretty strong criticism. I believe that the elected representatives have a role to monitor and to hold the Executive to account. They have a duty to challenge the Secretary of State and to question his actions. At other times, they should come together and work for the Province.
I hope that, following these developments, we can find ways in which we can work together for the benefit of the people in the Province. I hope that hon. Members will take the opportunity to come to me, or my colleagues with responsibility for education, industry or health, to talk through the issues that are of direct concern to them and their constituents.
One interesting point about Northern Ireland which is not sufficiently stressed is the unaccountability of direct rule. Unionist Members nod their heads, but direct rule is not as unaccountable as they seek to make it. Northern Ireland Members have far greater access to the Northern Ireland Ministers who take the decisions than have any other hon. Members. There are about 650 hon. Members and, often, there may be 500 different Members wanting to address a Minister on a particular subject. I hope that the hon. Members feel that the Ministers are pretty quickly available to see them when they wish to do so.
Northern Ireland Members should not say that their constituents are unrepresented. They will be unrepresented only if their representatives are not using the channels which are more accessible to Northern Ireland Members than to any other Members by virtue of the presence of direct rule, which means that there are six Northern Ireland Ministers and only 16 Northern Ireland Members of Parliament. That gives Northern Ireland Members an unequalled opportunity to represent their constituents, particularly with the open door policy, which I want my right hon. and hon. Friends to maintain. However, that opportunity means nothing, and will be of no benefit, if it is not used.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury, who takes a keen interest in these matters, said that surely it must be possible to make progress and, of course, he is right. There is absolutely no problem about designing structures and coming up with different concepts for the administration of Northern Ireland. I have deliberately chosen my phrases and, as my hon. Friend knows, I avoid the slogans of the past. I do not talk about power sharing or what is widely acceptable to both communities, but about ideas that might have a chance of working. I am prepared to consider any approaches or options which people want to put forward.
Does the refusal to talk spring from a tremendously strong and firmly held principle or is it a sort of paralysis which comes from not being sure about the way in which anybody wants to go? One issue that worries me is that I have never been convinced that people are clear about what they want to do. If they cannot make up their minds, they will be unable to make any contribution to constructive discussions.
We shall continue to do our best, and I have sought in the account which I have given to show that we have done our best to discharge our responsibilities. Today I have been able to report to the House some measures of achievement, and those, allied to the spirit, courage and 516 determination of the people of Northern Ireland, are the reason why there is a greater sense of optimism and hope in the Province now than there was two or three years ago. However, we must still overcome the problem of finding out how we can establish a more democratic approach.
The solution to the problem lies not in structures or blueprints, but in willingness. I begin to feel that local councils are showing us the way. It would be tragic if Unionists, as Members of this Parliament of the Union, felt that at this level of parliamentary representation we could not reach a level of co-operative and constructive discussion.
I hope that this debate will show that the opportunity will be taken and that we can point a way forward. I have made it clear that I am prepared to discuss any genuinely constructive and helpful approaches which people wish to make which will be of benefit to the people in the Province. If we believe in democracy, we must be prepared to make that effort. Terrorism cannot win, and 20 years on nobody has any excuse for not knowing that terrorism will not win. In the end, democracy must win, and it can do so if it is given the chance. We shall continue to discharge our responsibilities under direct rule.
I look forward to the day when good will and the constructive approach of the elected representatives in the Province will at last offer the prospect, not merely of progress, but of progress with democracy and justice, which is in the interests of everyone in the Province.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)
I listened to what the Secretary of State had to say about not having a secret plan for October. I hope that nobody else has a secret plan for him for October because one feature which he has brought to the role of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, even though I have frequently disagreed with his decisions and actions, has been a dedication and concern for the Province. That must be recognised by people who might find some of his decisions, perhaps because of his ideological background, somewhat surprising.
Nobody in this Chamber today can be satisfied that we are once again discussing the renewal of direct rule over Northern Ireland. If we look at the title of the provision, the Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order 1989, and think of those 15 years, we could say that rather than an interim measure it has, instead, become the manifestation of our failure to find any democratic solution which is acceptable in Northern Ireland.
I shall not be surprised if, later, the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) suggests that the interim nature of the 1974 Act is a major factor in the continuing conflict in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. McNamara
The hon. Gentleman nods his head in agreement but his is a mistaken view. The continued necessity for the 1974 Act reflects our failure to find a solution, but is not the source of the conflict.
The problem is that Northern Ireland has never enjoyed any degree of confidence in its future. Legislation on Northern Ireland has always been considered as an interim measure. That has been a constant theme, as shown by the Government of Ireland Act 1920, the permanent crisis atmosphere of the Stormont regime and even the Ireland Act 1949. It is quite clear that few people in Northern 517 Ireland or the rest of the United Kingdom have ever believed that Northern Ireland's position has been fixed in perpetuity. Direct rule was never intended to be a long-lasting form of government. It was meant to be an instrument for crisis management when the power sharing executive fell. It was hoped that it would allow for the creation of a stable, democratic system of devolved government. However, this has not happened and, because of the absence of purpose, there is a danger that direct rule will simply institutionalise the permanent crisis, as did the Stormont regime.
In many respects, all parties and all Governments have failed to make any advances with Northern Ireland. Perhaps we have stumbled on a more modern and sophisticated system of crisis management, one which is sufficient to secure agreement that it is the best form of government in the worst of all possible worlds.
Today, the Secretary of State expressed a sentiment which I knew he shared with us. He suggested that nobody had any great ambition to preside over a mere system of containment. Northern Ireland will be secure from the threat of political violence and instability only when it has a system of Government which commands the consent of the people of Northern Ireland, not merely their passive and resigned acquiesence.
This debate gives us a useful opportunity to take stock of the extent to which the application of the 1974 Act in the past 12 months has assisted in achieving the objective of a stable and democratic form of Government. I am afraid to say that the record is not too good, as the Secretary of State has said. He referred to economic matters, security matters and the political aspects of the last period of direct rule, and I shall follow his agenda. I shall not say a great deal about the economic situation, as the debate on the appropriation order later this evening will provide an opportunity for some detailed debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) will be less than happy if I shoot all his foxes. The Opposition welcome any sign of improvement in the economic prospects of the Province, particularly in respect of employment. We welcome the fall in unemployment, but at 15.5 per cent. it is still the highest rate in these islands and still higher than it was in June 1979.
The position is not as bright as the Secretary of State would like us to believe. The Government's figures show that, on most of the major economic indicators, Northern Ireland has been lagging behind the rest of the United Kingdom. As the consequences of the mismanagement of the British economy become more and more apparent every day, the impact on Northern Ireland is not conducive to optimism. If we catch a cold on this island, they get pneumonia in Northern Ireland.
The Government have announced the arrival of a number of new industrial projects, and we welcome them, but I cannot help but feel that these efforts would be more successful if the Secretary of State and the Minister responsible for economic development had not been preoccupied with their plans to privatise Shorts and Harland and Wolff. It comes strange from the Government, who are prepared to write off so much in capital debts and capital loans, to claim that those companies were underfunded, when they as the owners had the ability, the strength and the means to supply the 518 funds and the orders and to make sure of the training and the market. They are now looking to the privatised sector to deal with the problems that they had caused by their lack of investment.
The decision to take powers to prepare the ground for privatisation of the Northern Ireland Electricity Service does not augur well. I wonder how the Government of competition expect to find competition for the NIES in Northern Ireland. Given the high energy costs that prevail in Northern Ireland—higher than in the rest of the kingdom—the Government should be more concerned about preventing a price increase than about increasing profits and, therefore, industrial and domestic consumer costs. Just as night follows day, as NIES is fattened up for a profitable slaughter, prices will increase.
The Secretary of State has paid tribute to the work of the security forces. On behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition, I associate myself with that tribute. He mentioned the happy fact that there had been no deaths to members of the security forces recently. That is to be welcomed, and we hope that it will continue, but there have been serious injuries. A marine from my locality was seriously injured by a bomb last week. The problems are still there. However, the problem for us as democratic politicians is that we have been relying on the security forces to hold the ring while we fail to find the political solution. It is incumbent upon us democratic politicians not to become Lundies but to sit down and try to work out how to prevent such deaths and maimings.
It is also incumbent on us to avoid making the performance of the duties of the security forces more difficult. The Government have a duty to pursue policies to undercut the causes of violence, but they must also ensure that the security forces are sensitive to the difficult environment in which they operate. The real world in Northern Ireland must be recognised in the House. We pay tribute to the police and soldiers who daily risk their lives, but until they are fully accepted in Northern Ireland, the risks will continue. Therefore, it is imperative that the security forces avoid needless friction with local residents, that complaints are speedily dealt with and rumours effectively scotched.
It is also essential that the Government do not undermine the work of the security forces by ill-advised measures. It is not the views of the House that matter so much as those of the citizens of Northern Ireland. It is an undeniable but unfortunate fact that the minority community does not regard the Ulster Defence Regiment as a peace-keeping force. It views it in a less favourable light than the regular Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Therefore, I am concerned about the consideration being given to the extension of the use of plastic bullets by issuing them to the UDR. This would be an unwise move because it would show that the concerns and wishes of the nationalist community, and not simply that decreasing minority who support Sinn Fein, have been ignored. No more should be heard of this foolishness. Neither should the UDR be placed in a situation where it feels the need to use plastic bullets.
Furthermore, if the decision is made, the temptation will be there for the military defence to use the UDR for crowd control and riot control, thus relieving the regular Army of this role at a time when demographic considerations are forcing the Ministry of Defence to re-assess the roles and tasks of the regular Army. It would be a tragedy if that were to happen, and the temptation 519 were to be there. I trust that, even though the Secretary of State has said that training will go ahead, it will be stopped. There are only two possible justifications for direct rule. The first is that it offers a possiblity of tackling a fundamental cause of the conflict in Northern Ireland. The second is that it allows the Government to maintain the initiative. On both counts, the Government have not had a good year.
The Government have introduced a series of violations of civil rights this year. This is not the place to rehearse in detail the arguments for and against the various measures. Suffice it to say that the broadcasting ban, the abolition of the right to silence and the Elected Authorities (Northern Ireland) Act 1989 have not enhanced the Government's reputation. These measures were all attempts to suppress the symptoms of the failure to find a political solution, not constructive efforts to eliminate the causes of conflict and the Government, in those circumstances, have been reacting to an agenda set by the men of violence.
I trust that the Government will not be foolish enough to endorse the claim of Sinn Fein that the broadcasting ban was responsible for the fall in the Sinn Fein vote in the district council and European elections this year. Not only would that be short-term opportunism, but Sinn Fein is already claiming it as its alibi for its disastrous results in both parts of the island in recent elections. It would be foolish of the Government to assist the IRA in its attempts to dismiss its dismal performance on the ground that it was not able to broadcast. The immorality and futility of the murder of its fellow Irishmen and women have cost it its vote. Perhaps the most striking sign of the bankruptcy of the Republican movement is what it is doing to close the Belfast-Dublin railway. In ideological terms, it could not be doing more to copper-fasten partition, and one wonders what it is up to.
The Secretary of State spoke about the legislation that he has introduced. I reiterate the Opposition's stance on Government legislation. We shall examine it carefully, and where we think that it is proper, does not in any way interfere with cherished civil liberties and is not counter-productive and has been properly examined, we shall support it. However, as an Opposition, it is our duty and our right to point out to the Government where we believe that they are making errors in their legislation. We believe that they have made errors in the past year, as we have stated in previous debates.
So far as seizing the initiative is concerned, the Government have clearly run out of ideas, as was clear from the latter part of the Secretary of State's speech. All too often in the past, there has not been enough clearly thought out or articulated policy. Events have decided what the Secretary of State was going to do, not his sense of direction. That was shown by the reaction to the tragic massacre in Ballygawley. The Government do not seem to have a sensible or coherent strategy and they allowed themselves to react to the men of violence in a counter-productive way.
However, the Government have done some things this year which are to their credit. They have not totally lost sight of the need to tackle the sources of conflict. The first step in any solution, no matter what one's views may be about the future of the Province, is to ensure equality between the two communities. Progress has been made on the issue of discrimination in employment. For much of last year the Secretary of State, the Minister responsible at 520 the Department and the Opposition were locked in constructive debate on the terms of the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Bill.
It is one thing to pass legislation but another to see that it is implemented and carried forward vigorously and monitored. We will be looking for that and rapid progress in the months ahead. Having passed the legislation. we hope that the Government will not feel that that is all that they must do.
The Minister responsible for the Department of Education in Northern Ireland has taken action on cultural equality, particularly with respect to the Irish language, on education for mutual understanding and in his recent and welcome initiative on community relations. In particular, he has not leaned specifically in the direction of one community. He has said that there are two traditions, two communities and two ideas and concepts which must be savoured, supported and understood. I am sure that that is the proper way for him to act and he must owe much of his success to the advice extended to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam).
That is the constructive side of direct rule. However, the Opposition hope that the Government have not lost sight of what has too often happened in the past. If we wish to avoid the perpetual cycle of terror and repression, we must place more emphasis on the constructive possibilities of direct rule. The Secretary of State gave some signs of that today.
Having berated the Secretary of State, I now feel an obligation on behalf of the Opposition to offer him some guidance for the future. I hope that the Secretary of State will accept that in the spirit in which it is intended. The Anglo-Irish Agreement can be exploited in a much more constructive way than hitherto, as is shown by the document which emerged from the review which seemed to adopt many of the suggestions put forward by the Labour party. In particular, the agreement can be used to tackle the economic problems of the Province. Given an expansion of Community structural funds, it makes good economic sense for both parts of Ireland to exploit jointly their objective one status and to make joint approaches to the European Commission for joint ventures in the interests and to the benefit of both parts of Ireland. There are large areas of economic and social life where such co-operation can be only beneficial. However, that can happen only if the Government do not try to be too clever by half, as they were this afternoon with regard to the use of additional funds and the concept and doctrine of additionality.
An example of the type of co-operation to which I have referred is that between Northern Ireland Railways and Irish Rail on the scheme to upgrade the Belfast-Dublin rail link to produce faster and more direct communications between the two principal cities of the island. Similar projects could go ahead. We heard earlier this afternoon about arterial roads between the different parts of the islands and their importance to the infrastructure of the islands as a whole. Projects in agriculture, energy and tourism would be eligible for EEC support and objective one status if both Governments can come together. Those projects are of the utmost importance if Ireland is to avoid the isolation with which it is threatened as a result of the Single European Act and the single market in 1992.
Perhaps the Secretary of State's most important comments came at the end of his speech this afternoon. Now that the elections are over and there is a period of 521 stability in Northern Ireland, the opportunity exists for both communities to come together. That is ultimately desirable and necessary. The Secretary of State referred to decisions that were being taken as a result of direct rule. However, I believe that matters could rightly, properly and more efficiently be dealt with in the Province. Social matters, education, industrial development and similar policies should be decided by the people in Northern Ireland in their own assembly and councils, working together. That would be far better in the interests of the Province and far better for the self-esteem and dignity of the people in Northern Ireland.
While party representatives in this House are so obdurate in their attitude towards a devolved Government, a whole generation is being lost to politics. That generation could come together and learn to compromise. They need not be Lundies, but they could learn to work together and accept other points of view which, on occasions, must be accommodated even if that is not what people want. People from both communities could work together for the good of their communities within Northern Ireland.
Direct rule and the Anglo-Irish Agreement share the characteristic that they fill a vacuum which the party leaders in this House are capable of filling to give their own people in the North of Ireland the opportunity to take part in the positive direction of their political lives and the future of their own Province. I look forward to a time when orders on direct rule will cease and when the parties come together to present the British Government, the Opposition and this House with a scheme which they have been able to work out. The answer lies in the people in the Province, within both parts of Ireland, coming together, working it out and deciding how they want to see their island governed. That will be the decisive factor. Any British Government can act only to hold the ring for a certain length of time. They can try to help to create the circumstances in which the parties can feel that it is to their advantage to come together.
In the long run the Opposition, the Government and the House can hope only that this will be one of the last of the interim orders on direct rule. We can hope only that we can create the conditions and give what help we can to allow the people of Northern Ireland to assume the responsibility for so many things which are now decided for them in this House.
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)
In his opening remarks, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), drew attention to the uncertainty which has hung over the Province since 1920 about its ultimate destination. I hope that he will not think that it is inappropriate for me to state that one of the factors making for that uncertainty has been the attachment of the Labour party, however qualified, to the idea of a united Ireland. That idea has naturally loomed large in the minds of many people in the Province as they naturally feel that, who knows, there may one day be another British Government less attached to the Union than the present Government. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will consider that 522 when he estimates the value of the practical suggestions put to him by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North.
It might have been better if the Government had granted our request to hold a debate before the review of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. That request was not granted. The review, prolonged, has taken place. The mountain has moved. I am not sure that it has produced much more than a mouse. Ministers have mainly taken credit for the improvement in relations between the RUC and the Garda. That is welcome news but every Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, from Lord Whitelaw onwards, has give us the same diet of hope. It is difficult for us, as we do not have all the information, to measure how important that improvement is. The conclusion that I find difficult to escape is that, although there has clearly been an improvement in relations between the RUC and the Garda, the IRA has also become a good deal more sophisticated. I am not sure where the balance of advantage lies in dealing with the terrorist situation.
On the economic side, we welcome my right hon. Friend's success in extracting money for Shorts. We trust that that will have a happy ending. I worked for a long time on the side of Shorts when I was Minister of Aviation and there is nothing that I would more gladly wish to see.
I come to the guts of the matter—the political situation. Here there is, as my right hon. Friend said, a stalemate. Dr. Fitzgerald tried to suggest that the SDLP was trying to encourage the minority population to co-operate with the RUC. Lord Fitt shot that down pretty effectively in his letter to The Times. From the Unionist party—the majority party—there is clearly no co-operation available for my right hon. Friend.
What is the origin of all this? It is not all that difficult to see. As my right hon. Friend said, he was not using phrases such as power sharing. But for 20 years now the Northern Ireland Office has had a perfectly simple formula —devolved government based on power sharing and an Irish dimension. Without the Irish dimension, the minority population will not co-operate. With the Irish dimension, the majority population will not co-operate.
What conclusion can be drawn? Listening to my right hon. Friend, I felt that I was in a curious time warp. Many years ago I was Under-Secretary of State, Colonial Office, when we still had a Colonial Office. Listening to my right hon. Friend, I could see Oliver Lyttelton and Alan Lennox-Boyd at the Dispatch Box saying, "Look here, our proposals are completely reasonable, but the natives simply won't listen. It is extraordinary. We have put forward what must seem to everybody to be the most sensible possible proposals, from which everybody will benefit. But do you think that they will listen? Not at all." It was exactly the same sort of language. I found it impressive and yet depressing. I remember supporting it as the Under-Secretary of State. It was splendid stuff—the call for power sharing between the Kikuyu and the Masai, the Greeks and the Turks, the Jews and the Arabs. It was much the same, but it never fitted the bill.
The truth is that the longer this colonial situation goes on, the more remote my right hon. Friend must become from the population. He is the governor of a colony. As the governor, he has to be even-handed. Any sign of being more favourable to the Turks than the Greeks, to the minority than to the majority, and his position becomes acutely embarrassing. He has to keep a beady eye on that.
523 Where do we go from here? I honestly think that the situation cannot long continue. The consequences become more serious as long as we try to pursue a policy that has now failed. It failed at Sunningdale and the "Jim Prior" Assembly; and the Anglo-Irish Agreement has failed.
What is to be done? It is not all that difficult. The first thing is to restore full local government. My right hon. Friend should not be frightened by all the tales about local authorities refusing to collect the rubbish and discriminating against one community or the other. He can suspend local government at any moment if he so wishes. He has all the powers to do that. Twenty years have gone by. He should trust the people a hit more. Let us see how they will repay his trust. That is the first thing.
Secondly, my right hon. Friend called for the representatives of the Province to exercise their rights. But we do not give them the chance to do so. He said that they can all talk to him and his colleagues, but much more important than that would be to have some sort of Northern Ireland Grand Committee. Of course it would have to be staffed by Conservative Members in order to get the business through, but at least Ministers would be forced to debate the arguments at a reasonable time of day with the representatives of the Province. They are here —17 of them. That is really quite a lot. That would be a much more sensible system. At least they could have a debate. So, we need local government, and a Grand Committee here.
Then we come to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Perhaps we should let it turn into a security agreement between the Garda and ourselves. It does not look as if it will work any other way. But if we want to go further, my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) and the "Friends of the Union" have put forward the noble concept of enlarging the Anglo-Irish Agreement to make it a general agreement between the Republic and the United Kingdom so that the Republic would have some oversight of all the United Kingdom, including the large Irish population here, and we would have an oversight of the way in which it handles its affairs—the economy, its neutrality and so on. That is a three-point programme which would not involve any great legislation.
As this is a short debate, I shall conclude with this thought. For 20 years, the Northern Ireland Office has been obsessed with the idea of power sharing and an Irish dimension. That has been attempted on three major occasions. All have failed. My experience of Government Departments, such as it is, is that they will make 20 mistales to try to prove that they were right the first time that they made a mistake. They will never change their minds on their own. Only a strong Secretary of State can make the break and force his Department to take a new departure. I beg my right hon. Friend to do so while he is still there.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)
The Secretary of State reminded us that this is about the 15th time that we have been called upon to renew what was originally a temporary order. None of us would quarrel with that statement. He was modest enough to avoid going on to draw attention to the fact that that 15th anniversary coincided with the 10th anniversary of the coming into power of the Administration of which he is a distinguished 524 member. If the newspapers are to be believed, he has great things in store for him, but it is not for me to comment on that. I have enough difficulties as it is.
Whatever our political views may be, and wherever in the House we may sit, we have to admit that the Prime Minister and her Administration have been successful in implementing the manifestos and policies that they have adopted, particularly their strategy for the whole of the United Kingdom, not just Northern Ireland, which was set out way back in 1979. Opposition parties do not like those policies, but they cannot deny that, for better or for worse, they have been firmly implemented.
There has been one notable exception. They have failed to implement the policy for Northern Ireland. They have failed not because they have been obstructed or defeated by the warring factions in Northern Ireland or the awkward Northern Irish parties—as our colleagues in the House are inclined to call us—but because they have been defeated by two Departments of State. The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), who has long experience in these matters, drew a clear distinction between the Conservative party and a Conservative Government. The Government have been obstructed by the Northern Ireland Office, aided and abetted by the Foreign Office.
The right hon. Member for Pavilion said that that obstruction was not deliberate, and nor was it muddled thinking. It is something which the two Departments have latched on to, and so far we have not been able to divert them. The right hon. Gentleman was correct to say that only a very strong Secretary of State would be able to do that. I do not think that he was criticising the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, any more than I am. If the present Secretary of State had the united support of the Government, the understanding, if not the full support, of the Opposition parties and the near-unanimous support of the Conservative party, it could be done.
I am not suggesting that distinguished civil servants in those Departments should be humiliated, but they have to be told that they have tendered advice after advice, submission after submission and drafts for initiative after initiative, and where have they got us? The second state has always been worse than the first. There has always been an obsession with trying something out on the high wire act in the circus when it would be sensible to lay solid foundations and to build a structure brick by brick upon those foundations. There are enough of us in the House representing the parties in Northern Ireland—I am not excluding anyone—who have it in our power to ensure that that structure will endure. I say that with great respect to the Secretary of State and in support of what has been said by the right hon. Member for Pavilion.
The Secretary of State admitted that direct rule is not satisfactory. He went on to make the curious remark that so far it had not been possible to find an alternative. I want to return to what the Conservative party—as opposed to the Government—had in mind all those years ago as a workable alternative. As time goes on, it seems more and more workable. At Question Time today, when we were discussing a Bill of Rights, the Secretary of State asserted that only today for the first time had he received constructive suggestions from the elected representatives of Northern Ireland. I know that he will be generous enough to admit on reflection that his statement was not quite accurate.
525 Before the Secretary of State took up his present post in Northern Ireland, we published a document called "The Way Forward", and the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) made a parallel suggestion. Our document attracted considerable support and attention at the time. It was hailed as a breakthrough in providing constructive proposals, but it all ran into the sand. Shortly afterwards, the New Ireland Forum report was produced and somehow that was thought to be the bee's knees— something which would resolve all our problems. But that document was not based on reality. With all our faults, we managed to put together a document which, however deficient it may have been in some respects, dealt with political reality.
As the Secretary of State has since discovered, the section of "The Way Forward" dealing with a Bill of Rights occupied the best part of two pages in which we set out the reasons why it should be considered in Northern Ireland. While I share the Secretary of State's view that the objective would be best served by a Bill of Rights embracing the entire United Kingdom, I do not think that that is an insurmountable barrier between us. "The Way Forward" contained constructive proposals for meaningful local government. That point has been raised today by the right hon. Member for Pavilion and the hon. Member for Newbury (Sir. M. McNair-Wilson).
I want to refer to the hon. Members for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) and for South Down (Mr. McGrady). I know that the SDLP has reservations about the powers of local government. While I do not accept the validity of those reservations, I understand why it feels that way. But with great respect, I ask the hon. Members to remember that there is a whole range of functions which do not involve advantage or disadvantage to any political party or any creed in Northern Ireland. They should also be reassured by the fact that, for the foreseeable future, there will be a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Perhaps it will not be the same person, but there will be a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland of whichever party.
An hon. Member said that, if power were given to local government, local councils would not empty bins for people they did not like. Ministers will remember that one council refused to do that on a point of principle. A Minister of the day, who is no longer on the Front Bench, but is still a Member, came to me in a state of anxiety. I asked him what he was going to do. He said, "If they do not carry out their duties, I will have to do the job from the Department of the Environment over their heads. Will you not talk to them to prevent that?" I said, "I shall do no such thing. You are the person who should talk to them." He issued a fairly stiff letter to the council warning that if it refused to carry out its duty the Department would do the job over its head and charge the cost to the council and the ratepayers. Honour was satisfied as the councillors could say, "We have no option. It has to be done, because the Minister has taken a grip on the situation. He is forcing us to do it. What can we do but obey him?" We all know that such situations occur in Great Britain. It is a question of checks and balances and no one but a fool would attempt to deny that it works if the responsibility is shared.
526 I shall quote briefly from "The Way Forward". Why should anyone fear the devolution of powers to district councils to repair and maintain roads? The document states:Roads owe no allegiance to those who travel upon them and, for the traveller, such roads are neither green nor orange but only good or bad. It would be a start if the travellers were given a chance to repair them.That is an interesting point.
§ Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)
As the right hon. Gentleman is the leader of the majority party and people in Northern Ireland, I thought that he would draw an analogy between the collection of bins and the potholes in roads and a solution to our problems. He may be about to do that. As a representative of the minority community in Northern Ireland, I look forward to hearing his views on the real issue that is at stake today—how we proceed to a solution—rather than how we collect the bins.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
I accept that bins were a facetious example but that is not untypical of the functions to which local government councillors are restricted now. I am saying, give them more power and see whether they can be trusted.
Before the local council elections it was said that if the councils were not restrained, the majority in a given council would grab a monopoly of seats. I accept that that still happens. However, there are many different examples and I think that the Secretary of State had one in mind. My party would usually represent the majority on Armagh council. The hon. Member for Antrim, North will confirm that the chair of the council is held by a member of the Democratic Unionist party and that the vice-chair is held by a member of the Social Democratic and Labour party. That was the point made by the Secretary of State. It may seem to be small beer to some hon. Members, but it points to a happier future.
The hon. Member for Newbury asked in his intervention why, in view of the turnout at the local government election, there was supposed to be widespread frustration over the lack of progress. A total of 59.5 per cent. of the electorate turned out to vote and I seem to remember a parliamentary by-election in Vauxhall not long ago at which there was a staggering turnout of 42 per cent. Given that 59.5 per cent. of the electorate turned out, are those people not entitled to expect that the powers of their newly elected councillors will be increased, not diminished?
The Secretary of State referred to access to Ministers. I remind him that that was made use of in 1985 when the Anglo-Irish Agreement was being drafted. I talked to the present Home Secretary when he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and urged him privately to go cautiously and not to follow the route that had been mapped out in the newspapers over eight or nine months. I advised against the course upon which the Government seemed to be embarking. The hon. Member for Antrim, North and I met the Prime Minister late on a Friday night at Downing street at the end of August in that year. We put to her not just our objections—we would have been shirking our duty if we had simply said "no"—but specific proposals as an alternative to those being designed. Our proposals are on the record.
The Secretary of State will remember that when he took office halfway through the operation he was kind enough to arrange a meeting with the Prime Minister. When the 527 hon. Member for Antrim, North and I met the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State we had a lengthy discussion. We elaborated upon the proposals we had put at the previous meeting and pleaded with them to avoid confrontation. They listened politely, but when the agreement appeared in its final form it was clear that our suggestions had been ignored. A civil servant who retired fairly recently from the plush seats explained a few months ago why we had to be ignored, why we could not be further consulted and why we could not be taken into the Government's confidence. He said that they did not consult the Unionists because they might have objected. That is a curious and defective way to conduct democracy.
After the new Parliament was elected at the 1987 general election the hon. Member for Antrim, North and I talked to the Secretary of State and his senior colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office for seven months. The hon. Member for Antrim, North will confirm that we were given the impression that we were getting somewhere and that there was good faith on both sides of the table. At the end of those months we drew our thoughts together and put them down on paper. Even more importantly, we put forward outline proposals for a better and more workable British-Irish agreement and for workable structures within Northern Ireland itself.
I say to the Secretary of State without anger, what good did that do? Why do Her Majesty's Government behave as if we had refused to make constructive suggestions when they know, from the Prime Minister downwards, that those proposals are still on the table?
I have put forward in this debate a proposal on local government. I suggest also that in regard to the Anglo-Irish Agreement Her Majesty's Government should at least match what appears to be the Dublin Government's willingness to consider an alternative agreement. That is not an unreasonable suggestion. Also, significant powers should be given, with safeguards, to the district councils. The Secretary of State and his Ministers will know from experience and from watching the pattern of nominations, elections and so on that unless some progress is made, all the parties in Northern Ireland will find it difficult to recruit competent people to represent the electorate and the ratepayers in the council chambers. We cannot continue in this powerless state for another term.
I want to make another suggestion that has already been touched upon. We should have legislation by Bill rather than by Order in Council. In my simple view that should have been done in 1972. When Stormont was abolished, Her Majesty's Government should have said— it was a Conservative Government, although fortunately not the same Prime Minister—"We have taken power to ourselves and we are now going to legislate for Northern Ireland in the same way as for the rest of the United Kingdom." That is not integration. If it is, the Conservative Government at the time should have realised what they were doing. I do not want to reopen old wounds, but the parties in Northern Ireland that advocated and brought about the abolition of Stormont should have recognised that they were taking a step closer to integration. The move to legislation by Bills was not taken in 1972 and it should have been taken in 1974 when the present Northern Ireland Act was introduced. Fifteen years is far too long.
§ Mr. Amery
I think that the right hon. Gentleman is coming to a point I tried to raise. Would he be in favour 528 of a Northern Ireland Grand Commitee where all matters affecting Northern Ireland could be debated? No doubt the Government would have to have a majority on the Committee, but the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues could debate in detail with Ministers issues affecting Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
That would be an attractive suggestion, but it would have the same defect as the Northern Ireland Committee which still exists on paper. As long as the Anglo-Irish Agreement remains in force it would be futile to engage in such an operation because, willy-nilly, it would become part of that infernal process. We have been through all this before. Ministers would never come to the Committee and explain precisely why they were introducing certain items of legislation which had already been referred to and foreshadowed in a communiqué from the Anglo-Irish Conference. They cannot say that the Dublin Government do not have an influence when that Government and Her Majesty's Government boast that they have agreed on the promotion of certain legislation in specific areas.
The Secretary of State repeated his request for suggestions and I—
§ Mr. Tom King
I think that the right hon. Gentleman is getting into a bit of a muddle. I thought that he was asking for greater opportunity to debate measures. The suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Sir J. Amery) was that that should take place on the Floor of the House and I thought that the right hon. Gentleman said that he would be willing to participate in such debates. If that is not possible, my right hon. Friend talked about the possibility of some form of Grand Committee and I also thought that the right hon. Gentleman said he would participate in that. I thought that he was looking for more time to debate issues affecting Northern Ireland. However, when another forum is suggested he says that he would not be prepared to participate. That does not seem to be consistent.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
As the Secretary of State will concede, the relevant part of the mechanism, the equivalent of the Floor of the House, is the Committees dealing with Northern Ireland legislation. We and all other parties have representatives on them. The Northern Ireland Committee, as presently constituted, is a toothless body and unless the Northern Ireland Grand Committee were given powers greatly in advance of those of the Scottish Grand Committee, it would not be an attractive idea for the reason I have given. However, it would be at least worth considering.
The Secretary of State repeated honestly and openly a request for suggestions on what we might like to see. I return to my opening sentences. The present Prime Minister and the late Airey Neave, backed by the then Shadow Cabinet, brought forward proposals for a master plan which was set out in brief in the manifesto that was endorsed by the electorate of the whole of the United Kingdom when it elected a Conservative Government in 1979. The manifesto contained firm proposals. It provided for making a start—I stress that it was not an end in itself —on restoring some degree of control and responsibility to elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland. That was an important objective. Yet that is the only part of the manifesto that has not yet been implemented after 10 years.
529 Armed as we are with the results of two elections in Northern Ireland, I am not sufficiently arrogant to stand here in the House and demand the implementation of Ulster Unionist policies. I will settle for something far more reasonable and modest than that. I simply ask a Conservative Government to consider getting around to the implementation of Conservative party policies.
§ Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)
I shall not disappoint the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). I will begin by asserting my belief that the most important single factor in prolonging the tragedy in Northern Ireland is uncertainty about the constitutional future of the Province. I want to follow up a point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery). He referred to the days when he was an Under-Secretary of State at the Colonial Office. He did not remind the House, although he might have done, that he was also Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
I want to illustrate by example how uncertainty can bring about the very evil it is sought to redress. After the 1979 election, it was clear that the Republic of Argentina was stepping up its claim to the territory of the Falkland islands. It is, of course, the duty of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to seek to resolve all disputes by peaceful means. Thus, although it was, and remains, the policy and conviction of Her Majesty's Government that sovereignty over the Falkland islands remains lawfully and properly with the Crown, the idea was dreamed up that if one was able to transfer ownership of the islands to Argentina and then take a 99 year leaseback, that would settle the problem of the claim by the Argentine to the British territory of the Falkland islands.
Precisely the wrong signal was sent to the men of violence when that suggestion was made by the British Government. When the junta understood that, although was said that there was no validity in the Argentine claim, nevertheless we would transfer the islands and then lease them back, the Argentine Government believed that we would not be serious in defending the rights of the British people of the Falkland islands.
I will give another example and my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion may think that I am straying into the world of fantasy. I do not think so. The Republic of Ireland has always claimed—and its constitution still claims—the territory of Northern Ireland. That claim is denied by Her Majesty's Government. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office dreamed up another scheme which was that we would give the Republic a position of special privilege in relation to Northern Ireland; that we would give the Republic the right to put forward views and proposals about how one part of this Kingdom should be governed;, and we laid a duty on Her Majesty's Government, if they disagreed with those views and proposals, to make determined efforts to resolve the differences.
Many people believed that the Anglo-Irish Agreement would never have been signed unless it had been preceded by a prolonged campaign of terrorist violence. What signal was sent by the Anglo-Irish Agreement to the men of violence? I assert that the same signal was sent by the 530 proposal for a transfer and leaseback of the Falklands to the men of violence in the south Atlantic, as was sent to the men of violence in Ireland by the signing of the Anglolrish Agreement. It added to the constitutional uncertainty of the Province. Northern Ireland has become a bit greener, and it is that perception that has encouraged terrorists to believe that if they can go on a bit longer, they will wring even further concessions from Her Majesty's Ministers.
I want to mark to the House how significant has been the change in policy, even of my own party, in recent years. I want to begin by quoting with approval the words used by my right hon. Friend's friend and mine, Airey Neave. I will quote what he said in Belfast on 7 April 1978, when he was addressing a meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council at which my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) was present. He said:I am able to speak of fundamental principles…Foremost of these is the Conservative faith and belief in the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland…Let no-one in Dublin be under any illusion".He might have added, "Let no one who is contemplating violence be under any illusion," He continued:the Conservative Party stands four-square for the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.That was a ringing declaration of purpose made in April 1978.
I want now to quote with approval from a speech made only two months later by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. She too had gone to address the Ulster Unionist Council in Belfast and, again, my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley was present. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said:Our two parties"—that is, the Ulster Unionist party and the Conservative and Unionist party—share one over-riding common purpose—the maintenance and strengthening of the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.That was said 11 years ago.
I then turned to the manifesto on which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I fought the last election. Do we find a ringing declaration similar to that made by Airey Neave and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in that manifesto? We do not. This is what my own party had to say about Northern Ireland:There will be no change in the present status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom unless the people of Northern Ireland so wish it.I wonder whether the House can mark the contrast between the assertion of our last manifesto, which is without any conviction or declaration of policy and what was said in 1978 by the then Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the then Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Pavilion was right when he referred to the policy of the Labour party. The Labour party's manifesto stated:We believe in an united Ireland: to be achieved peacefully, democratically, and by consent.The Labour party has moved its policy objective towards a united Ireland. In the most solemn declaration that one could make—a party manifesto—my own party has abandoned the language that was used in 1978. I believe that the abandonment of that language and of the commitment to maintain and strengthen the Union is prolonging the tragedy in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Tom King
I regret the line of argument that my hon. Friend is taking. I do not believe that he is seeking to 531 say to the House that the views of either my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister or of myself have changed in respect of the Union. He knows that that is not true. He knows our policy and he knows where we stand on those matters. He knows that we have made our determination to support the position of the majority in Northern Ireland absolutely clear. I have made no secret of that. I often wonder whether my hon. Friend has reflected on something that worries me, which is that by implying that somehow that determination has changed he perhaps falls into that trap which it was his concern to avoid in raising this matter in the first place.
§ Mr. Gow
I do not follow my right hon. Friend's intervention, but if he is telling the House that there has been no change in the view of the Prime Minister or in the Prime Minister's choice of words, I shall reply by giving him a quotation. On 29 July 1982 my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in the House of Commons—I remember it because I was her private secretary at the time—no commitment exists for Her Majesty's Government to consult the Irish Government on matters affecting Northern Ireland. That has always been our position. We reiterate and emphasise it, so that everyone is clear about it."—[Official Report, 29 July 1982; Vol. 28, c. 1126.]My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State does not quarrel when I say that those were the words used by the Prime Minister in this place on 29 July 1982, and that those are not words that the Prime Minister would be able to use now. I am simply saying that there is a contrast.
I agree with the suggestions made by my right hon. Friends the Members for Lagan Valley and for Pavilion. However, why has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who is now the longest serving Secretary of State for Northern Ireland ever, abandoned the policy that was worked out so carefully during the four years when Airey Neave was a shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland? I have never had a convincing answer from my right hon. Friend about why we abandoned the policy in the manifesto.
Why have we not tried to set up a regional council in Northern Ireland with widely devolved powers over local matters? What is the objection to trying to do that? What is the objection to giving modest additional powers to the 26 district councils and to setting up a regional council? What is the objection to ceasing to legislate for Northern Ireland by Order in Council? When my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State replies to the debate, will he tell us why he will not confer modest extra powers on those 26 district councils? Will he tell us why he will not seek to set up a regional council and why he continues to insist on legislating for Northern Ireland by Order in Council?
§ Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
In answer to the hon. Gentleman's questions, I say simply that it is because the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland recognises that we are moving towards 1992 that that process has begun. With the present arrangement between the Irish Republic and the United Kingdom it will, de facto, be possible to absorb Northern Ireland into an administrative all-Ireland arrangement. That is what is satisfying to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and that is why he has not given the hon. Gentleman a proper answer to his question.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
It may not have entered the head of the Secretary of State, but his partner at the Anglo-Irish conference, Mr. Lenihan, said exactly that and spelt it out in all the newspapers at the election.
§ Mr. Gow
I have expressed my view, which is that the views of the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) have never entered the head of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
There are many ways in which Her Majesty's subjects living in Northern Ireland are disadvantaged when compared with her subjects living in Brighton, Bridgwater or Eastbourne. In Bridgwater, as in Brighton, people are able to vote for councils with fairly substantial powers —the district councils. The people of Bridgwater and of Brighton are able to vote for county councils. The Members of Parliament for Bridgwater and for Brighton are able to table amendments to legislation affecting their constituents. The people of Bridgwater and of Brighton are to have conferred upon them from 1 April 1990 the inestimable benefits of the community charge. Those benefits are being denied to the constituents of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley and to the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone. Why those differences? Why treat unequally and disadvantage the people of Northern Ireland.
I was depressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Pavilion using the colonial analogy and talking about "natives". However, from what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State seemed to be saying, I advise him that he cannot make any progress in improving the quality of government in Northern Ireland because the Social Democratic and Labour party, the Democratic Unionist party and the Ulster Unionist party either will not talk to him or will not reach agreement with him.
I advise my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that when those concerned cannot reach agreement, it is the task of statesmen to proceed with the policy and system of government that is best. After all, we have a system of government now which even my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State says is not the best. If the people of Bridgwater are tolerably well governed under the system of district and county councils and by legislation which is amendable, why not treat the people of Northern Ireland in the same way? To say that the people of Northern Ireland are somehow constitutionally different is further to encourage those who believe that if they continue with terror long enough, somehow the resolve of this House and of the British people will weaken. The more that we govern Northern Ireland differently from the remainder of the kingdom, the more we will add to that uncertainty.
My right hon. Friend will not gain agreement among all the parties in Northern Ireland on the right form of government. Indeed, there is no agreement on the present form of government. Why not show leadership and give modest additional powers to the district councils? Why not try a little local government, as Airey Neave recommended? Why not try giving those hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland seats that right to amend prospective legislation that is conferred upon every other hon. Member? What reason can there be for denying them 533 the rights conferred on us? Why cannot there be a community charge in Northern Ireland? Is it because the Republic does not like it, because my right hon. Friend does not like it, or for other reasons? When my hon. Friend the Minister replies to the debate, I hope that he will tell us why those great advantages are to be denied to the people of Northern Ireland.
This debate is about the government of Northern Ireland. The proposals by the hon. Member for Eastbourne are hardly revolutionary or dramatic. In fact, they add up to giving the 1.5 million people of Northern Ireland those rights that my right hon. Friend believes should properly be conferred upon the people of Somerset, Essex and east Sussex. They are not very dramatic, but they would be a signal to those who believe that the more we govern Northern Ireland differently, the easier it will be to detach Northern Ireland. They will serve as a signal to friend and foe alike.
Two hon. Members represent the Social Democratic and Labour party in this place. To my great regret, their role and the role of the nationalists in Northern Ireland has been undermined by the Anglo-Irish Agreement. It actually confers upon the Republic that duty to represent nationalists that properly rests with the elected nationalists. I honour, acknowledge and respect constitutional nationalists in Northern Ireland, as I acknowledge, honour and respect constitutional nationalists in Scotland and in Wales.
The hon. Members for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) are as vigilant as ever in the interests of their constituencies in this place, but they have been undermined by the Anglo-Irish Agreement. I say to them that, if we could have equal treatment for the people of Northern Ireland with the people of the remainder of the kingdom, certainly the place of Nationalists would be protected under a just law. If any of the fears of either of those two hon. Members about wrong doing and discrimination by certain district councils should ever come about, blessedly it would be possible —as has been the case with the Local Government and Housing Bill—to build in protections and have a specially empowered ombudsman to protect the interests of the minority.
I hope that, when we next debate this subject, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will come to the House with proposals, rather than just saying, "I am paralysed unless and until there is agreement among the political parties in the Province."
§ Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)
This debate has been in many ways most interesting and in many ways most distressing. From the start, we have listened to the various strands of Unionism in this House propounding their particular form of Unionism—with the notable exception of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara).
We have listened with great interest—indeed, almost great intrigue—to the Unionism of the time warp, as expressed by the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) and the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow). I hope that no offence will be taken if I say that it reminded me of a line that every nationalist in Ireland has 534 been aware of since childhood—"The ghost of Roger Casement is knocking at the door." It is almost as if the ghost of Airey Neave, who was very much respected both inside and outside the House, is still knocking at the door of that section of Conservative party Unionism in a way that is now an anachronism. The Unionism that has been expounded by Conservatives today is anachronistic. It is not part of the 1980s and nor will it be part of the 1990s. It is certainly not the basis to take us into a new century.
Another sort of Unionism is that expressed by one section in the North of Ireland. I listened with great interest for something within that that would allow me, as a representative of the nationalist tradition. the opposing tradition, to come out of the debate with the hope that somehow, before our next debate next year, something would allow us to move from the present position. I was disappointed. We did a tour of potholed roads, we did a tour in the dustbin lorry, but we came nowhere near that sign of hope.
The playright Pirandello, who certainly did not run in the European elections for an Italian constituency, once wrote a play entitled "Six Characters in Search of an Author". The North of Ireland is becoming almost analogous to that. It is almost as though the political parties in the North of Ireland are sitting on that stage hoping that someone will write the script for them, put in the stage directions, give them the motivation for the plot and, somehow, somewhere, drop from the skies and provide everything to turn it into the theatrical performance that it would be. We could amend the title of the play to "Six Counties in search of a solution." One of the great advantages—probably the only great advantage —of having two elections one after the other in the North of Ireland is the message heard by everyone involved in the elections about the desire for a solution in the North of Ireland.
Today we should not be discussing what happened in the past, and not become involved in the time warps; we should be recognising that there is now a mood and aclimate within the North of Ireland that wants to solve the problems. Rather than throw theories at each other —which is what we have done so far with local government, regional councils or whatever—we should be trying to lay a basis for a solution, and that basis should be that we are willing to move constructively and substantially towards finding that solution, whatever it may be. Today is not a day for writing into the record the sort of solution that any Unionist or, indeed, any nationalist party might want. Today is a day to get that resolve built into the body politic both in the House and in the North of Ireland. That, somehow, will give those Six Counties at least the beginnings of the solution that they very much crave.
That is essential for a number of reasons. I do not want to go over the recent past or the events of the past year —indeed, I do not want to go over the past at all—but I challenge the assumption inherent in the thesis of the right hon. Member for Pavilion (Mr. Amery) and in the remarks of the hon. Member for Eastbourne and of the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), that others, not us, in Northern Ireland should assume the onus for solving the problems that we face.
They seem to believe that by some means, perhaps by having, say, another Committee upstairs, there should be 535 a different way of considering legislation—but that others, whoever they may be, should bear the brunt of finding the solutions to our problems.
That is a cop-out. It is cowardly, although I accept that it is not meant to be. After all, we are the senior political figures who have been elected in the North of Ireland. To borrow a phrase from President Truman, the buck stops here. It stops with the senior people elected in Northern Ireland, and that means us. It does not mean district councillors, most if not all of whom are part-time political representatives, most of whom do not have the resources or time to do what we have asked of them in relation to this measure. That is an essential fallacy in the time warp proposition that hon. Members have made in the debate.
Our job is to lead in search of that solution, and the only way in which we can start to give that leadership and lay the basis for finding that solution is to start to talk. Is there not something unbelievable, if not obscene, given the violence in the North of Ireland, that the constitutional political parties have not engaged in any dialogue for I forget how many years? Is there not something which will condemn us all in the eyes not just of our opposition but of those whom we represent when we have not sat down at a table together to try to talk about the problem and reach a solution to it? We all stand indicted and condemned for that. If we are to move forward, talking must be the first step.
The comments of the Secretary of State deserve a response. He was right to say that no Secretary of State or anyone else can come to the North of Ireland with a proposition and say, "There is the initiative. There is the solution to the problems." Such a solution does not exist. If we have learnt anything from the past—from the last year or 20 years or 70 years—it is that the single immutable factor which will not change is that, irrespective of what happens here or anywhere else, the people of Northern Ireland—the nationalists, the Unionists, the Catholics and the Protestants—will go on living there cheek by jowl.
They can live in the way they are living now, with violence all around them, in a shaky and unstable political situation and with all the disadvantages which derive from that shaky and dubious type of political situation. Or they can ask, "Why should the world pass us by? Why should we not have all the advantages that we can get? Why should we not take part in the building process as the rest of Europe around us builds? Why must we in the North of Ireland always be the people who get the raw end of every stick?" Those questions should be asked and answered, and unless we start to answer them—and I am not one for making predictions—we shall see a disintegration of the political process in the North of Ireland.
Take a close look at the results in the urban areas of the local government elections. Let us not forget that in Northern Ireland now there is an enormous divide between the urban and rural areas. The percentages reach 58, but not in the urban areas; in those parts they reach perhaps 32, as in the European elections. That is worrying, because it is the beginning of a lack of confidence in the political process, and I fear that that is writ large on all the gable walls in Belfast, Derry, Newry, Dungannon and everywhere else. If we do not heed that, we shall be putting the future of the North of Ireland in peril.
I said that I did not wish to rake over the past. The past is over. If we want to, we can engage in rhetoric and give examples of why we should or should not do anything. The 536 past is there and it is our job to create the future. Now there is an opportunity for all political parties in the North of Ireland to respond to the Secretary of State and to say in unequivocal terms, "Yes, we are prepared to enter into discussions with you or without you about the future of the people whom we represent."
We have the opportunity to say that now, and I wish to put on record on behalf of my party that we wish to say, "Yes, the time for talking is now." We wish to see the response to that. We wish to set the time and date for those discussions, however long they may take or difficult they may be. So long as they do not deal in peripheral matters and so long as they are aimed at getting a solution to the problems, we can start talking, and this debate will have been worth while.
But if we do not get a positive response in that way, the message will go out clearly from this House that the age-old quarrel still exists, that the past is that to which we hark, rather than to the future, and that the political process is again about to fail the people of the North of Ireland.
§ Mr. Maginnis
What the hon. Gentleman says sounds fine. The offer, coming from where he stands now, sounds as though it is genuine, but let me ask him a simple question. Is he prepared to disagree with the Fianna Fail manifesto which professed that the only solution to the Northern Ireland problems was within an all-Ireland context? Will he say here and now that he disagrees with that opinion, and hence give us an opportunity, without any veto, to take up his offer?
§ Mr. Mallon
I will certainly take the hon. Gentleman's word about its contents. I was too busy with two elections in Northern Ireland to be reading Republic of Ireland election manifestos. If the hon. Gentleman wants me to state my political position in relation to the ultimate solution in the island of Ireland, he can have it clearly. He knows well that I and my party believe in working peacefully and constructively towards persuading others that unity within Ireland is the ultimate solution. I believe that to be the ultimate position and that it can be positive and constructive.
§ Mr. Mallon
I was kind enough to give way to the hon. Gentleman. I willingly give way to him again if he wishes to restate the question, and he may make a better job of doing so.
§ Mr. Maginnis
Will the hon. Gentleman say that there is a solution, or the possibility of a solution, to the problem in Northern Ireland that does not entail the condition that it must be within an all-Ireland context?
§ Mr. Mallon
I thank the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) for his intervention. I have made it abundantly clear time after time that I regard the creation of Irish unity as the lasting solution. I am talking today about starting to solve the problems. I have made it clear also that, irrespective of what happens, the people of the North of Ireland will live cheek by jowl with each other, and they will do so for a considerable period. I advise anybody who wishes to wait for the ultimate 537 position that I espouse not to hold their breath, or they will be in severe difficulties again. The problems are the challenges of today. We can indulge in debating our political positions, but while we are doing that, the people of the North of Ireland—those on the housing estates, on the small farms and on the streets—are suffering and being neglected, and we are denying them hope. I ask all hon. Members to read Hansard tomorrow and, for the first time in a long time, see a glimmer of hope.
I began my speech with an analogy from the theatre. I will go from Pirandello to Shakespeare. We should closely examine the last scene of "Hamlet", when all the protagonists are lying dead on the stage. Who mounts the throne? It is young Fortinbras who had gone off to war. The analogy is stark. If the problem continues, all the protagonists, many of whom are present, will be the victims of the loss of confidence in the political process in the North of Ireland. Who might young Fortinbras be?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
In this debate, an attack was launched against the Ulster Defence Regiment. My first duty in the House, as a representative from Northern Ireland, is to defend that regiment. I will defend it simply by quoting the statistics that were used by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) at his own party conference. They are not doctored, exaggerated Unionist statistics; they are statistics given by the leader of the SDLP. At his conference on 26 November, he was asked:Up till last Saturday 2,705 people have died in the 20-year period of the current troubles…who killed all these people?His answer was:The statistics are devastating. 44 per cent. were killed by the provisional IRA and 18 per cent. by their fellow travelling 'republican' paramilitaries. 27 per cent. were killed by Loyalists. 10 per cent. were killed by the British Army. 2 per cent. were killed by the RUC and 0.28 per cent. by the UDR.So of all the people indicted for killings or responsible for killings, the UDR was responsible for 0.28 per cent. I wonder why such attacks are launched against the Ulster Defence Regiment when it is not responsible for the large number of killings that are included in such statistics.
It is very strange that the spokesman of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) should take such an attitude against the Ulster Defence Regiment. It is even stranger for the leader of the Liberal Democrats or Social Democrats, or whatever they like to call themselves, to make such remarks against the Ulster Defence Regiment. I cast those remarks back into his teeth. I strongly consider that the view of the people of Northern Ireland should be stated in the House today. I will leave the matter there.
Hon. Members heard pleas for democracy today, not least from the Secretary of State. I stand appalled that the Secretary of State had the audacity to go to the Dispatch Box and make a plea to the representatives of the majority community in Northern Ireland now to yield to democracy. Let us look at the record of the Anglo-Irish Agreement and at what successive British Governments have done for democracy in Northern Ireland. If ever democracy in Ulster has been slaughtered, it has been slaughtered by politicians on both sides of the House.
The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) spoke with great feeling. He vividly and dramatically traced the 538 change of attitude, change of face and, to Ulster Unionists, the right about-turn in the Conservative party's commitment to Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom. I remember asking the Prime Minister whether she believed that any other Government but her Government, any other Parliament but this Parliament and any other people but the people of Northern Ireland have the right to decide the future government of Northern Ireland. She affirmed that her Government, this Parliament and the people of Northern Ireland were the only people who should be concerned with the government of Northern Ireland.
The Anglo-Irish Agreement was hatched without any effort to deal with Unionist opposition. The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) quoted the words of a prominent civil servant who said that the Government could not just have listened to the words of the Unionists, for they would have objected. What is the Anglo-Irish Agreement? It is an agreement to have a conference at which everything in regard to the government of Northern Ireland is discussed in secrecy by the representatives of Her Majesty's Government and of the Dublin Government. The representatives of this Government have given a clear undertaking that they will seek agreement where there is disagreement. Also, boards in Northern Ireland have some little authority, but the South of Ireland has the right to suggest who should serve on those boards, but representatives in this House from Northern Ireland have no right or authority to do any such thing.
Democracy in Northern Ireland has been killed by the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The hon. Member for Eastbourne is right. It delivered to the Anglo-Irish Conference representatives from Dublin the rights of the nationalist representatives who should have been fighting the case for their own people.
We are told that the Unionists are paralysed, that they have nothing to offer. The Unionists have put their proposals to the Secretary of State. I have a letter from the Prime Minister in which she admits that they are concrete, constructive proposals, yet they are now forgotten. We are not paralysed. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) said something that I hope will go to the hearts of all hon. Members. He said that democracy will be destroyed in Northern Ireland if the ballot box is not listened to. The ballot box is not being listened to. The House has tried to destroy the ballot box in Northern Ireland. That is why people are reticent about voting. They ask, "What is the use of voting, when election victories do not bring us any nearer to being listened to?" Those are the facts that the House has to face.
My plea is simple. The Government should say, "We took a wrong turning. We should have consulted the majority. Let us lay aside the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the working of Maryfield. Let the people who really feel that something can be got to satisfy at least the majority of the people on both sides of the divide in Northern Ireland have a say. Let the parties come together and discuss, not in the cage of the Anglo-Irish Agreement but in freedom."
I will not negotiate at any table where the sword is drawn and is hanging over my head. I want to negotiate in freedom. That is all that the Ulster Unionist people ask. I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, that I cannot prolong my speech. I promised to sit down at 20 minutes to 7, and I shall keep my word.
§ Mr. McNamara
With the leave of the House, I shall be extremely brief. The vision of the Anglo-Irish Agreement being a sword over anyone's head or a threat to anyone in Northern Ireland is a profound travesty of the truth. All the parties within Northern Ireland have the ability to take away from the Anglo-Irish Agreement those elements where the Government of the Republic have the right to intervene. They have the power by agreeing on a form of devolved government and on the powers that it should have. As the parties go to a devolved assembly in the North of Ireland, so they go away from the intergovernmental conference and Maryfield.
Perhaps the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) did not listen carefully to what I said about the Ulster Defence Regiment. I said that it is an unfortunate but undeniable fact that the minority community does not regard the UDR as a peace-keeping force; indeed, it views the UDR in a much less favourable light than it does the Regular Army and the RUC. That is a fact. It is not a question whether it is something with which I agree or disagree, or which I purport to support or not to support. It is a tragedy that, when we want people to have confidence in the administration of security matters in Northern Ireland, the UDR is not acceptable. That is part of the challenge faced by the regiment and by the Government.
§ Mr. McNamara
I believe that there is every potential for there being confidence in the UDR. I believe that many members of the regiment go out to do their duty correctly, properly and in a disciplined manner. Indeed, they do their duty courageously on many occasions. I do not deny that, but it does not take away from the fact that there have been bad apples in the barrel or from the fact that is not the way the regiment is seen by the nationalist community. That is the problem to which I was referring.
I shall not delay the House further. The Minister wishes to reply and we wish to know how he has been pursuing his investigations and his discussions with the parties.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Dr. Brian Mawhinney)
In terms of membership of the House, I am among the most junior of those who have taken part in the debate. Yet this is the 11th debate on Northern Ireland in my time here, and I have attended them all. I think that the substance and the tone of the debate have been more constructive than any that I can remember.
The debate is set against a world that has changed since we discussed the subject 12 months ago. Perhaps the greatest change is reflected in the fact that we have had two elections in Northern Ireland in that time. As the debate is about democracy and about the governance of Northern Ireland, I turned to the election manifestos of the three main parties. I noted in the manifesto of the Official Ulster Unionist party that it wanted to give its representatives more control over a variety of matters affecting the day-to-day lives of the people. It went on to say that it wantedunrigged devolution of real power—now.540 I welcome that statement. The debate has been in part about how we will enable the official Ulster Unionist party to implement that pledge that it made to all the Unionists who voted for it in the local elections.
I turned to the manifesto of the Democratic Unionist party and read:The DUP will work towards an alternative to and a replacement of the failed Agreement.To be fair to the DUP, it went on to lay a precondition on talks, but I welcome the fact that it offered its supporters a commitment to work towards a new future.
Then I turned to the manifesto of the SDLP and I read:We believe that there is ample scope and opportunity for all politicians to enter into a dialogue, which can lead to serious negotiations about the creation of future structures that will settle our ancient quarrel. No surrender of principle or loss of face is necessary for that dialogue to take place.As with the other quotations that I have read, from the Official Unionist manifesto and the DUP manifesto, I welcome that commitment also to the people who support the SDLP.
One thing that has changed since last we debated this subject is that all three major political parties in Northern Ireland have sought the support of the electorate on the basis of statements about the future that are constructive and that lay foundations upon which we can all build.
In a sense, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State perhaps set the agenda when he said in a speech on 14 February:What I want to see is the development of ways in which we can work together for the good of Northern Ireland, and I want to know how people feel we should proceed. We know that it makes sense to talk together, we know we can do it when the issues are important enough.We come to the direct rule renewal debate in the fortunate position that the three main political parties in Northern Ireland, together with the Government, all recognise that there is a need to project forward, to care for the interests of the people of Northern Ireland and to talk. Perhaps I, above all of the ministerial team, can say that it is ironic that part of the debate has centred on the difficulty of talking, because talking has never been a problem to Ulstermen. Occasionally not talking has been a problem, but talking has never been construed as a difficulty with which Ulstermen have had to grapple. We have a fortunate basis on which to conduct the debate.
Unless it should be thought that manifestos were specially written for the occasion, I turn to something which the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) said in a Radio Ulster talkback show on 4 April. He said:We can surely talk about matters of life and death without anybody suggesting that they have abandoned their principles.I agree with him, and I think that the House agrees with him, too. That was the view expressed again by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon).
The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) made a speech on 18 March to the Unionist Council annual general meeting. He said—I believe that I quote him correctly—The three Northern Ireland parties can and do make common cause on matters of common concern to those whom they represent. The latest example was Harland and Wolff when no exotic structures were required to enable us to put our case.
§ Mr. Mawhinney
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his endorsement that I have quoted him correctly.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
Another outstanding example was when my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) promoted his Bill on disability. On that occasion he had the agreement and support of all the Northern Ireland parties in the House.
§ Mr. Mawhinney
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for reminding me and the House of that fact.
We welcome that view. We welcome the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley stating that view. We understand him when he says that he does not want exotic structures to enable the representatives of the people of Northern Ireland to sit down together, and together with Government, to think ahead. I do not offer the right hon. Gentleman any exotic strucures this evening. However, I offer him the opportunity to sit down and to look at those matters of common concern. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would agree that, if the jobs of a section of Northern Ireland were important enough to bring the parties together with Government for the common good —the future governance of Northern Ireland and the future of the people whom he and other hon. Gentlemen represent in Northern Ireland and whom the Government seek to govern fairly and to the best of their ability—surely there is enough concern for that common cause to seek to build constructively on the example that the right hon. Gentleman himself has set.
§ Mr. Mawhinney
Forgive me, but I will not give way, because I have a number of points to answer.
The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley said that he wanted us to build structures. We want to build structures, but, again, we offer him no exotic structures from which to start. We want him and his colleagues to contribute to that building process. We are ready, if he is. I could not help but notice that part of his speech in which he reflected on many discussions that he has had with Northern Ireland Ministers over the years. He pointed out that they were speeches of a constructive nature. I ask him if the time has not come to start that constructive dialogue again.
I understood the points made by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). I know that he holds strongly to his view. He knows that I do not share it, but I do not disregard the strength or the sincerity of it. However, I must say that the logic of his case should impel him to the table rather than away from it. If he does not believe that democracy is safe in the hands of the Government, without any restraint in Northern Ireland— a proposition which I do not share—the best way in which he can protect the democratic interests of his people is to sit down and see how in his terms that democracy may be bolstered.
The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley said that the Anglo-Irish Agreement was an impediment, and that was a view reflected by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow). I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that the Government are fully committed to the agreement and to the principles that it embodies, but we have agreed that, if it were to appear that the objectives of the agreement could be more effectively served by 542 changes in the scope and nature of the working of the conference, consistent with the basic provisions and the spirit of the agreement, the two Governments—not just this Government—would be ready in principle to consider such changes. I believe that, when he reads his and my speeches tomorrow, he will see that I have answered the point that he raised.
The issue is not just about talking, though it is worth noting in passing that since we last met to debate this issue, the Archbishop of Armagh, the Moderator of the Presbyterian church, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Down and Connor and the chairman of the Police Federation have all made their contributions to suggesting that the time for talking has now come. The issue is not about talking. The issue is not even ideas about the future. Those who have said in the debate that there are plenty of ideas about the future governance of Northern Ireland are right. We are coming down with ideas. When we get around the table, it will be weighed down with ideas. Ideas are not the problem.
The problem is political will. Northern Ireland has not got where it is today because the leadership of the main parties took a view similar to that of Mr. Micawber, who simply hung around hoping that something would turn up. Positive leadership was offered—leadership that was designed to effect change and to build and shape a future. I put it to the House that it is that leadership and that political will—or perhaps the absence of it—which are the only things now stopping the people of Northern Ireland being represented around the table so that their future can be considered. That future is at the heart of our debate.
Since we last debated the matter, we have seen politicans of note and ability leaving the Province. Mr. Currie, Mr. Cushnahan and Mr. Millar have left.
§ Mr. Mawhinney
Ms. Hoey left too.
My general point is that, whatever hon. Members thought of those men, they were all seen as political leaders in Northern Ireland. They were all representatives of the next generation of political leadership. Like those politicans, the young people of Northern Ireland are also leaving. It is not just the political leaders who are leaving, but the future engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs. Young people are leaving because they do not see a future. They look back over the last 20 years and they ask themselves, "Do the next 20 years have to be the same or can they be more constructive?"
The next 20 years can be more constructive. There is a mood in the Province—
§ Dr. Mawhinney
Those who have stayed are playing their part. They have had their recognition at the ballot box and that recognition from the public is worth more than recognition from me.
The future of the Province concerns all the people of Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) spoke about the need to live together in mutual respect and harmony, cheek by jowl. It is now time to move that process forward and, in the meantime, I commend the order to the House.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 156, Noes 8.544
|Division No. 259]||[7 pm|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Forth, Eric|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Fox, Sir Marcus|
|Amos, Alan||Freeman, Roger|
|Arbuthnot, James||French, Douglas|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Gardiner, George|
|Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Gill, Christopher|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Gorman, Mrs Teresa|
|Boswell, Tim||Gow, Ian|
|Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)||Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)|
|Bowis, John||Gregory, Conal|
|Brazier, Julian||Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)|
|Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)||Ground, Patrick|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Hague, William|
|Burns, Simon||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Burt, Alistair||Hanley, Jeremy|
|Butterfill, John||Hannam, John|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)|
|Carlisle, John, (Luton N)||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Heathcoat-Amory, David|
|Carrington, Matthew||Hind, Kenneth|
|Cash, William||Hordern, Sir Peter|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)|
|Chapman, Sydney||Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)|
|Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)||Hunt, David (Wirral W)|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Hunter, Andrew|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Irvine, Michael|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)||Jack, Michael|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Janman, Tim|
|Corbett, Robin||Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey|
|Cormack, Patrick||Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)|
|Cousins, Jim||Jones, Robert B (Herts W)|
|Cran, James||King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)|
|Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)||Knapman, Roger|
|Davis, David (Boothferry)||Knight, Greg (Derby North)|
|Devlin, Tim||Knox, David|
|Dixon, Don||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)|
|Dunn, Bob||Lightbown, David|
|Durant, Tony||Lilley, Peter|
|Evennett, David||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Favell, Tony||McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)|
|Fearn, Ronald||MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)|
|Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Fishburn, John Dudley||McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael|
|McNamara, Kevin||Shelton, Sir William|
|Mans, Keith||Sims, Roger|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Martin, David (Portsmouth S)||Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)|
|Mates, Michael||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Maude, Hon Francis||Steen, Anthony|
|Mawhinney, Dr Brian||Stern, Michael|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Stevens, Lewis|
|Miller, Sir Hal||Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)|
|Mills, Iain||Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)|
|Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Mitchell, Sir David||Summerson, Hugo|
|Montgomery, Sir Fergus||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Moss, Malcolm||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Thorne, Neil|
|Nicholson, David (Taunton)||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Norris, Steve||Viggers, Peter|
|Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Page, Richard||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Paice, James||Waller, Gary|
|Patnick, Irvine||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Wareing, Robert N.|
|Pike, Peter L.||Warren, Kenneth|
|Porter, David (Waveney)||Watts, John|
|Portillo, Michael||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Raison, Rt Hon Timothy||Wilkinson, John|
|Rhodes James, Robert||Wilshire, David|
|Riddick, Graham||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Roe, Mrs Marion||Wood, Timothy|
|Sackville, Hon Tom||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Shaw, David (Dover)||Mr. David Maclean and|
|Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')||Mr. John M. Taylor.|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Cohen, Harry||Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)|
|Molyneaux, Rt Hon James||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Nellist, Dave||Mr. Roy Beggs and|
|Paisley, Rev Ian||Mr. Peter Robinson.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.