§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. David Davis.]
§ 7 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Brooke)
I am very glad that we are having this debate today. It is taking place at the request of the leaders of three of the main constitutional parties in Northern Ireland and is of a somewhat different nature from our usual debates. Normally, they take place in connection with a particular piece of legislation or in response to events in the Province. On this occasion, we have a welcome opportunity for a wide-ranging and perhaps more reflective debate. I propose to keep my remarks relatively brief, but it may assist the House, if I give a general appraisal of the Government's general approach.
It is a paradox that, despite the vicious terrorist attacks which occur in Northern Ireland, numerous studies over the years have shown the Province to be among the most socially stable and law-abiding communities in the western democracies. There are strong local communities and a long tradition of good neighbourliness. Northern Ireland people are known for their work ethic and their strong Christian values. Northern Ireland has achievements in the industrial, agricultural, academic, medical and other spheres of which it can justifiably be proud.
§ Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)
The Secretary of State has referred to the incidents of violence that have occurred. He will be aware of the massive car bomb that exploded in my constituency this morning. He will know that that caused extensive damage to many properties in the heart of the commercial centre of the town. They will have to be demolished. However, I am pleased to tell him that the Union flag, although somewhat tattered, still flies on its flagpole in the centre of the town.
In that spirit, the traders will rebuild their businesses. Will the Secretary of State assure my constituents that they will receive not just interim compensation, as I trust they will, but will be assisted to get back into business even from temporary premises as quickly as possible? Will he also instruct the appropriate authorities to cut the red tape so that my traders are able to get back into business?
§ Mr. Brooke
I intend to refer to that event later, but I shall deal with the hon. Gentleman's specific questions which relate to compensation and help to get back into business. The Government have already reacted to the bombing in Lurgan. Fourteen loss adjusters and a team from the Northern Ireland Office were on site this morning to ensure that people have the advice to make claims, which will be processed as quickly as possible. In the Province, there is a tradition of rapid response to such situations. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to say that.
I was referring to the achievements of the Province. Northern Ireland has the lowest rate of infant mortality in the United Kingdom and one of the highest rates of success in renal transplants. We lead the world in certain neurosurgical techniques. In mathematics, Northern Ireland children at 11 and 15 out-perform their counterparts in England and Wales. They get better results more generally at A-level and contribute to the highest level of participation in higher education in the United Kingdom where, again, success at national level attends 497 them. The uptake of the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme is higher in Northern Ireland than in England and Wales, as is charity giving. Levels of indoor sport participation are the highest in the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland pioneered the vertical take-off jet, the modern farm tractor, the ejection seat, the portable heart defibrillator, the four-wheel drive and the pneumatic tyre. I am told that tonic water was also invented there, to the benefit of sobriety throughout the world.
At the same time, overlying those attributes are the stresses of which we are all aware, arising from the fact that Northern Ireland is a divided society. Perhaps the most fundamental structural problem in Northern Ireland is how to create the conditions where all sections of the community can live together in harmony. If that fundamental issue can be addressed successfully, it would lay a firm foundation for lasting peace in the Province. Much has been achieved in recent years to reduce historical suspicions and to address the sources of tension between the two main parts of the community. All of us who are familiar with Northern Ireland know that, in many of their daily activities, people from different parts of the community live, work and play happily side by side. I agree with those who say that, in Northern Ireland, diversity can and should be a source of strength and not weakness.
In this context, I should like to pay a warm and unreserved tribute to the people of Northern Ireland from this Dispatch Box. They have, for the past 20 years, had to withstand the most vicious terrorist campaigns waged by extremists on both sides of the community. Throughout that time, they have remained firm and resolute in their determination that those who use violence shall not have their way; their courage is a signal to us all. It is, moreover, a direct message to the terrorists themselves: the community has rejected and stood firm against them. After more than 20 years, the terrorists are absolutely no nearer to achieving their objectives.
There can be no doubt that, for their part, the Government will continue to resist the actions of the terrorists. Those who perpetrate the sort of attacks which occured in Belfast and Lurgan last night, and in County Armagh yesterday have nothing to offer. Their aim is to get us to set aside our democratic principles and for themselves to dictate the future of the Northern Ireland people. Quite simply, that is not going to happen. It is a fundamental duty of Government to ensure that their citizens' lives are protected, and that their rights to liberty and security are safeguarded.
To this end, we pursue a security policy which is robust, flexible, and based firmly on the fundamental principles which underlie any civilised society—respect for the rule of law and for the rights of individuals. Our policy is intended to bring a permanent end to terrorism. That is our first priority: to end violence and create the conditions in which a just, peaceful and prosperous society can develop.
In keeping with that policy, the Government have not hesitated to ask Parliament to enact, and renew, legislation which is essential if the security forces are to have the powers they need to deal firmly and effectively with the threats posed by organised terrorism and to tackle the menace and the weapon of terrorist racketeering. Nor have the Government hesitated to provide material support to the security forces. Recent additions to the strength of the 498 Royal Ulster Constabulary and the deployment of many additional soldiers are tangible examples of the Government's commitment.
The security forces, in turn, work with unparalleled determination, bravery and professionalism to apprehend terrorists, to deter their attacks, and to bring criminals to justice, before the courts. I pay tribute today to the men and women of the police service and the armed forces, and to the important role played by the judiciary, courts and prison staff. The security forces have considerable successes—which are all too easily forgotten, or never even noticed.
For example, who remarks on the vigilance which led to the discovery of a bomb, similar to that which caused the tragedy at Teebane, behind a hedge near Strabane a few days later? What lives and livelihoods have been saved by the large finds of terrorist munitions in Belfast in January and by the discovery of a 300 lb bomb at Forkhill in February?
All this is evidence of the relentless pursuit of terrorists, cross the whole of Northern Ireland. That work goes on, tirelessly and unceasingly. It must and will be conducted impartially, professionally and with respect for the important safeguards which exist in the legislation for the rights of individuals. The Chief Constable and the General Officer Commanding are determined to achieve the highest standards and to encourage the confidence of the entire community in their respective forces; and to stand between the community and the gunmen until terrorism has been finally ended.
I referred in my earlier remarks to the fact that Northern Ireland is a divided society. I said that the most fundamental structural issue facing any Government was how to close the community divisions. Those divisions have, to an extent, been reflected in economic and social disparities. Members from both sides of the community have felt that their political interests have been overridden in the past. The nature of the divisions raises the issues of constitutional status and personal and national identity.
§ Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)
Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that, at Question Time last Thursday, a former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), said that the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic had sought to bring on to the agenda the Government of Ireland Act 1920, which goes to the heart of the status of Northern Ireland, about which the right hon. Gentleman is speaking? I do not know whether today the Secretary of State wishes to deal with the issue, perhaps fleetingly, but his remarks were considered by many in Northern Ireland of the Unionist tradition to have been almost deliberately obtuse. Will he take this opportunity to make it clear that the agenda will not be changing, that the backcloth that he painted for talks on the Northern Ireland situation still have Northern Ireland fully within the United Kingdom and that its place in the Union is not to be jeopardised?
§ Mr. Brooke
I made it clear in my answer to the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) that my statement to the House on 26 March 1991 was the basis for the talks, and the hon. Gentleman will recall the reference to the place of the United Kingdom which I made not only on that occasion but on the previous occasion on 5 July 1990. I confirm that.
499 References to the Government of Ireland Act have been made in connection with articles 2 and 3. The two measures are of a different order, in the sense that the Government of Ireland Act reflects the legal reality that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, whereas articles 2 and 3 are in the nature of a territorial claim. The present status of Northern Ireland is underpinned by article 1 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. As on previous occasions, I welcomed the Taoiseach's confirmation that articles 2 and 3 would be on the table.
As I was saying, I referred in my earlier remarks to the fact that Northern Ireland was a divided society. The nature of the divisions raises the issues of constitutional status, to which the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) referred, and personal and national identity, giving the problem an international as well as a domestic character. The communal divisions on those fundamental issues have, tragically, found some expression in terrorism.
At the heart of all those issues lies the need to tackle Northern Ireland's political problems. The requirement is to address the constitutional, economic and social grievances which perpetuate divisions and allow room for terrorism. At present, locally accountable and democratic institutions of government are almost entirely absent. As the House will know, the Government's objective is to seek to transfer greater political power and responsibility to locally elected representatives in Northern Ireland on a widely acceptable basis. If there is to be genuine reconciliation, different shades of constitutional political opinion must be accommodated in the political process.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)
I do not think that any of my hon. Friends would disagree with anything that my right hon. Friend has said. Even so, does he constantly bear in mind the fact that there are constitutional issues and problems north of the border, in Scotland, which are as deep-rooted and long-lasting and which could become as nasty if the Government did not bear that in mind when contemplating changes to the constitution for any part of the United Kingdom? All parts must be taken into account.
§ Mr. Brooke
I am glad, in response to my hon. Friend, to say that the Government are aware of the issues he raises, and they have recently been addressed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I shall draw the attention of the Secretary of State for Scotland to what my hon. Friend has said.
The Government have also taken the view that no political accommodation in relation to Northern Ireland could be stable and durable if it addressed only internal arrangements for the government of Northern Ireland. That is why, with the support of our partners in dialogue, including the Irish Government, we have sought to construct a basis for political talks which could address, as part of the same process, relationships within Northern Ireland, including the relationship between any new institutions there and the Westminster Parliament; relationships among the people of the island of Ireland; and relationships between the two Governments.
Any such process was always bound to be difficult to establish. However, it has the enormous advantage that it 500 can address all the relevant dimensions of the political problems of Northern Ireland, and I believe the various advantages of that have been widely recognised.
§ Sir Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)
Is there any reason why the Government should not set up an inquiry into the structure of local government in the Province without recourse to the Anglo-Irish Agreement or to consultation with Dublin? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the local government structure is at present very deficient and has been deficient for many years? Does he agree that that would be at least one political step forward that we could take in the meantime, while we are awaiting a general election or the start of the talks?
§ Mr. Brooke
I shall come to the possibilities of talks starting afresh in the near future. I have, in previous exchanges with my hon. Friend, said that I thought that the issue of local government was likely to come up in the context of such talks.
In short, as the party leaders acknowledged when I met them on 27 January, the talks process launched last March has considerable potential. It provides a realistic route towards a comprehensive political accommodation which could be of benefit to everyone, except the gunmen. All the constitutional political parties involved have something to gain from the talks process and the people of Northern Ireland have the most to gain.
I will not rehearse the history of the political talks. I should however, like to pay tribute to the Northern Ireland parties for their willingness to develop the political dialogue, not just over the past two years, but in the period immediately preceding my tenure of office, when my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Defence was Secretary of State. My hon. Friend the Minister of State has facilitated the process throughout.
When the talks ended last July, I said that, in my view, they had laid a firm foundation for the future. Since then, I have had further discussions with the party leaders and the Irish Government to see whether we could agree a return to the negotiating table. When it appeared, a few weeks ago, that that was unlikely, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister invited the party leaders to discuss the issues with him. As a result of that meeting, they agreed to see whether a way round the obstacles could be found.
I am sure that the whole House will have been heartened by their statement last Friday that, subject to receiving written confirmation of the positions of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, they could see no obstacle to the resumption of talks as soon as possible. I understand that the necessary assurances have now been given. I shall be discussing this with the Irish Foreign Minister, Mr. Andrews, tomorrow, in the expectation that substantive talks will begin very soon.
It is not always recognised that elected representatives of the two parts of the community in Northern Ireland work together and amicably, both in this House and in the European Parliament, on a wide range of issues affecting all the people of the Province. My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence and I have recently benefited from a discussion of security issues with the four party leaders, and I have this week had a further productive meeting with them to discuss employment creation.
I believe that the formula that we have agreed between us provides a sound basis for tackling the issues. It ensures 501 that all the relevant relationships are taken into account; that any party can raise any matter which it considers relevant. including constitutional issues; that nothing can be agreed in any one strand until there is agreement on all three strands as a whole; that there can be no change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland as a part of the United Kingdom without the consent of a majority of its people; and that a new and more broadly based agreement or structure could emerge from the negotiations.
§ Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford)
Many hon. Members welcomed the statement made in Scotland last week by the Prime Minister in which he said that he would defend and support the Union between Scotland and England. On the subject of the Union, may I ask the Secretary of State to say that he will defend and support the Union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Brooke
My position in the context of the Union is well known to the House. I think that the Prime Minister made it clear when speaking in Scotland that it was in the context of Scotland that he was making his remarks.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
The right hon. Gentleman should be correct. I listened to the Prime Minister and he mentioned the Union between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. That needs to be emphasised tonight.
§ Mr. Brooke
I always agree with my right hon. Friend. In terms of the substance of the speech and the issues he was addressing, he was essentially addressing the Scottish issue in what he said.
§ Mr. Brooke
Because this is a short debate, I must make progress. I will give way to my hon. Friend, but I must be careful of the interests of other hon. Members.
§ Sir John Farr
As our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave a forthright message the other day in Scotland about the Union and the importance of voting for Conservative Members of Parliament in Scotland, will my right hon. Friend say something to the 11 or 12 Conservative candidates who will stand in Northern Ireland at the next election?
§ Mr. Brooke
This debate is ranging more widely than I had expected when I described it, at the beginning of the debate, as "wide-ranging". I assure my hon. Friend that we all look forward to the first running of Conservative candidates in the Province for many years. They will give all their opponents a good run for their money. Many of us look forward to meeting hon. Members who are present in the House tonight in the context of the hustings that may be with us shortly.
§ Mr. Brooke
It would be churlish not to give way to the hon. Gentleman, but, after that, I must get on with my speech.
§ Mr. Mallon
Is there some reason why a Conservative candidate is not running in the constituency that includes South Armagh? We feel utterly deprived of such influence.
§ Mr. Brooke
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) knows that my ancestor represented Armagh and that the ancestor of the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham), represented Newry. During our time in the Northern Ireland Office, our interest in the seat has been for the welfare of their spiritual descendant, with whom we would not personally wish to interfere.
The past few years have seen the development of a close relationship between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. That has centred around our joint experience of operating the Anglo-Irish Agreement, to which the Government remain fully committed. The relationship has brought benefits to both countries in terms of economic and social development, co-operation in the fight against terrorism, and commitment to political progress in Northern Ireland. I am confident that the constructive relationship can be further strengthened in the months ahead.
I shall not seek to predict the nature of any new agreement that might evolve from future talks, but I believe that the pursuit of that agreement will be substantially assisted by our close relationship with the Republic of Ireland. I commend the Irish Government's constructive interest in the talks process and regard as helpful the Taoiseach's recent confirmation that, so far as their own involvement in new talks is concerned, everything will be on the table for discussion, including articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution.
Security co-operation is a vital component in the Anglo-Irish relationship. The threat posed by terrorism is never predictable and we must continuously review and refine cross-border co-operation to keep on top of that threat. But terrorism must never be allowed to dictate the agenda. There is important work to be done in developing the social and economic structure of Northern Ireland. Here too, close relations with the Republic of Ireland are valuable. That is not something Governments can achieve alone. It is also for individual companies and private organisations to recognise the benefits that can be brought about by closer co-operation and to take the necessary steps to bring that about.
For their part, the Government are determined to continue strengthening the economy of Northern Ireland, tackling unemployment, targeting areas of social need and rooting out discrimination wherever it may occur. Such measures are doubly important. They help to redress greivances which, in the past, have helped to sustain terrorism in Northern Ireland; they also provide the basis for the prosperous and balanced society to which we all aspire.
This Conservative Government have a proud record of economic achievement in Northern Ireland. Few people who last went to the Province in 1979 would go back now and say that it has not been transformed for the better. Of course, Northern Ireland has not been immune from the worldwide recession, but it is a sign of economic confidence in Northern Ireland that—unlike the old pattern when recession always hit Northern Ireland hardest—Northern Ireland has weathered this one better than almost any other region of the United Kingdom.
503 Unemployment has risen by proportionately much less than the United Kingdom average and is still much lower than in the Republic of Ireland. Our economic development strategy is leading to the regeneration of many of Ulster's towns and cities. One only has to look at Belfast and the large amount of private investment that it has attracted to recognise that. The newly privatised Shorts, and Harland and Wolff, are being turned around from loss-making burdens on the taxpayer to thriving private enterprises trading successfully home and abroad.
They are in the process of being joined in the private sector by Northern Ireland Electricity, giving the people of Northern Ireland their first chance to have a real stake in that industry. Earlier today, I announced the sale of the four power stations. Not only does that represent the successful achievement of a major part of the Government's privatisation plans, but it is yet another significant vote of confidence in Northern Ireland and its economy.
Three leading international energy companies have made major investments in purchasing those stations. Each has wide experience in the energy industry and can be expected to introduce new technologies and make the electricity industry much more efficient and competitive.
It is particularly exciting for the people of Northern Ireland at long last to have the prospect of natural gas being brought to the Province. We have been seeking ways of diversifying our heavy dependence on oil, and the sale of Ballylumford has provided the opportunity to achieve that. In addition, it will lead to much cleaner emissions and open up the opportunity for more consumer choice. It would not have happened without privatisation.
The investment being made by employees and managers in Coolkeeragh is also an indication of the confidence being placed by local people in the local economy. I believe that they have made a good decision and I wish them well.
A major part of our industrial strategy is to invest in the Northern Ireland work force. In that context, equality of opportunity and equity of treatment are, of course, priorities for the Government. One of our major policy priorities in terms of public expenditure is our initiative for targeting social need.
I have set out the Government's approach across the whole range of challenges facing Northern Ireland—political, social and economic development, as well as security. For it is only in tackling all those issues that there is hope of bringing to that troubled part of our country lasting peace and prosperity. There are, I know, those who say that there can be no hope—that the problems are so intractable that no end to the conflict is possible. I continue to be sustained by the sure conviction that one day the violence will cease. That is, I know, the heartfelt wish of the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland. It will remain among the highest priorities of this Government.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)
We are now moving into what appear to be the final days of this Parliament. We are all disappointed that the problems of division, campaigns of murder and destruction continue to afflict Northern Ireland and spill 504 over into the rest of the United Kingdom. We all hope that the next Parliament will see greater progress towards the peace that everyone yearns for.
This debate is therefore timely. It is an opportunity to take stock of the lessons of the past and to look towards the future.
I join the Secretary of State in saluting the people of Northern Ireland, and those concerned in the administration there, for their steadfastness in past years. All sections of the community are to be admired for their determination, so far as possible, to maintain the natural pattern of their lives. Perhaps the main lesson to be learned from the past 22 years comes from that determination—the futililty of violence.
It is clear that no paramilitary organisation will attain its objectives through violence. The IRA has only succeeded in increasing the determination of the people of Northern Ireland, this country and our neighbours in the Republic to work together for a peaceful settlement. It is isolated in a cul-de-sac of its own making. Similarly, loyalist paramilitaries have only succeeded in discrediting their own cause and revolting the communities that they claim to protect.
The lesson is clear and must be understood: no one can shoot or bomb his way to the conference table. No democratic state can allow terrorism to succeed. The only way to attain political objectives is through political means—argument and persuasion, not violence or coercion. Only when the gunmen of both communities come to understand those fundamental realities will they be in a position to offer anything constructive to the people whom they claim to defend.
The Opposition are firmly committed to an intelligent and accurately directed anti-terrorist policy. Anyone who believes otherwise, whether a Tory Prime Minister or a terrorist, is deluding himself. Whatever arguments may exist over the specific policies designed to defeat terrorism, there can be no division over the common objective. I am glad that the Prime Minister is present to hear that.
I do not intend to apologise about the existence of such policy disagreements; they are quite normal and legitimate in any democratic society. If terrorism ever caused us to lose our critical faculties, that would be a sad and bad day for democracy.
We believe in a security policy focused on the paramilitaries rather than one that treats entire communities as if they were guilty. The prime victims of the paramilitaries are the communities on which they inflict themselves. They inflict terrible cost on the people whom they claim to protect. It is not sensible to categorise such communities as hostile and drive them into the arms of their self-proclaimed defenders.
The paramilitaries must be actively pursued, charged, tried and put behind bars. The rights of the citizens must be protected, in particular, the right to freedom from the fear of death and mutilation, and the right to be protected from arbitrary encroachments by the servants of the state.
There is sometimes a tendency to set freedom and order in conflict with each other. That is a mistake; the two are inseparable. While we must take every reasonable measure to overcome terrorism, we must also keep clearly in our minds the need to preserve civil liberties. Violations of civil liberties provoke grievances and enhance the credibility of the paramilitaries, thus bringing about precisely the sort of situation that must be avoided. Nothing is more damaging to the terrorist cause than the state demonstrating itself to 505 be the real defender of human rights. Ultimately, of course, however successful the operations of the various police, Army and intelligence agencies may be, on both sides of the border and on the island of Britain, terrorism will be eliminated only when its underlying causes are addressed.
The need to put in place political arrangements that can command the consent and respect of the vast majority of citizens in Northern Ireland is urgent and pressing. Only then can Northern Ireland hope to approximate to a normal western European society.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
I endorse all that my hon. Friend says about combating terrorism. Although the Provisional IRA—one set of terrorists who have operated for the past 20 years—claim to speak on behalf of the Irish people, when they stood in elections in the Irish Republic they received less than 2 per cent. of the vote. That is hardly a mandate and, even in Northern Ireland, their supporters remain a minority within the nationalist community.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, not only is it necessary to preserve civil liberties in combating terrorism—which we must certainly do to protect people's lives—but it is important to retain international support in Europe, the United States and the Republic of Ireland? What the terrorists want, above all else, is for us to act in such a way that they gain political ammunition and support in order to further their evil cause.
§ Mr. McNamara
My hon. Friend's comments are wise. The argument that he advances is one of the primary reasons for not, as has been suggested, introducing internment without trial.
I was talking of the need for political arrangements that command the consent and respect of the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland. That is the task in which successive British and Irish Governments, and the political parties in Northern Ireland, have so signally failed—although, God knows, they have tried frequently enough. However, that is not an excuse to give up trying or to adopt a policy of mere containment; it must be for us, as democratic representatives, an incentive to redouble our efforts to negotiate.
The Secretary of State has, with the support of the Opposition, been working towards that goal. I am sure that he is disappointed that he has not made more progress, but I think that he can take some comfort from the fact that the two Governments and the Northern Ireland parties appear to be closer to the conference table than at any time since the mid-1970s.
The Opposition welcome the forthcoming meeting between the party leaders and the Secretary of State. We hope very much that it will lead to further substantive talks, and that strands two and three will be opened at the earliest possible date.
It would be unforgivable if the limited agreements which have been made so far were thrown away. The people of Northern Ireland, of the Republic and of Britain expect their Governments and their political representatives to make determined efforts to negotiate a settlement acceptable to all. The present opportunity should not be lightly cast aside.
Strictly speaking, the Opposition are not a party to the talks. Nevertheless, the political situation and the latest opinion polls mean that there is a legitimate expectation 506 that the Opposition should make clear what their intentions would be in the event of their forming a Government.
For the Opposition, the Secretary of State's statement of 26 March 1991 provides the essential framework for talks in which all aspects of the relationship between the two major communities in Northern Ireland, between Northern Ireland and the Republic and between Britain and Ireland can be discussed.
The Leader of the Opposition has made it clear that, if talks are still continuing when the election is called, a Labour Government will reconvene the talks on exactly the same basis as they had been taking place before the election. We will honour any agreements on the talks made before the election between the parties and the existing Governments, and will expect the other participants to do the same.
§ Mr. John D. Taylor
I think that the issue of which the hon. Gentleman is talking is important in the context of Northern Ireland discussions. To clear up any misunderstanding, can he confirm that he fully supports the leader of the Labour party, who said, as quoted in The Irish Times last week, that, if the talks were reconvened, Irish unity would not be the objective of the Labour party at those talks?
§ Mr. McNamara
I have said that our aim will be on precisely the same basis as the talks being undertaken at present—on precisely the same three strands. The hon. Gentleman will have to wait until later in my speech, when he might receive further information on that issue.
It would be an insult to the intelligence of the participants in the talks if we were to pretend not to have our own views on the future of Northern Ireland. Those views are a matter of record, as are those of both Unionist parties, the Alliance party, the SDLP and Her Majesty's Government.
We believe that the long-term future of Northern Ireland lies in unity with the rest of the island. At the same time, we recognise that change in the constitutional position of Northern Ireland would, and could, occur only with the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland. That is why we support the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and article 1 of it.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made clear last week the role that a Labour Government would play in the conduct of negotiations. A Labour Secretary of State would not be there to impose his own agenda upon the talks; he would be there to play a positive role in facilitating and promoting agreement between the participants. Since a Labour Secretary of State would be looking for agreement, by definition there would be no question of imposition of any kind, and, in the words of the Secretary of State in his statement to the House of 26 March 1991, which he repeated today:It is accepted by all the parties that nothing will be finally agreed in any strand until everything is agreed in the talks as a whole".—[Official Report, 26 March 1991; Vol. 188, c. 766.]The Labour party's concern is to establish effective political arrangements which place the three relationships to be dealt with in the three strands of the talks on a new, forward-looking and successful footing. We will use our best endeavours to bring the talks to a successful conclusion, for we shall not be found wanting in our determination to overcome obstacles.
507 While talks are continuing, the responsibilities of government will not go away. In particular, the economic and social deprivation of the Province must be tackled. Progress towards the single market also makes urgent the need to prepare the economy of Northern Ireland for the new environment. There is no time to spare. Northern Ireland is already on the geographical margin of the European Community; we must ensure that it is not relegated to the economic margins.
The hon. Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham) deserves some credit for his efforts to carry on a more realistic industrial strategy than that carried out by his colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry. I trust that he did that without their knowing what he was up to. I hope that he will not take this personally, but he has been restricted by the requirements to conduct his economic policy on a sort of need-to-know basis—for Northern Ireland eyes only. It is an industrial policy that dare not speak its name. I will say no more, as I do not want to embarrass him while he is sitting so close to the Prime Minister.
I have one outstanding objection to what the Secretary of State said this evening. He claimed certain benefits from selling off Northern Ireland Electricity to various private interests. I cannot but think that he is pillaging Northern Ireland electricity consumers to cut income tax in Britain before the election. Given how lacking in investment Northern Ireland's economy is, selling off one of its prize assets to try to bribe the Government's way back into government presents a most unhappy epitaph for what has been a rather distinguished career in Northern Ireland industry for the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North.
§ Mr. Brooke
I recall that the Labour party opposed the privatisations that we effected both at Shorts and at Harland and Wolff. No observer in Northern Ireland would deny that both companies are significantly stronger and that one of them has much higher employment as a result of privatisation.
§ Mr. McNamara
I hope that, at the end of next year, we will be able to say that all the Northern Ireland electricity companies are employing exactly the same number of people—or, indeed, that they will be employing more of them. If that happens, it will contradict experience in this country, where, under the privatised electricity companies, prices have risen enormously. Only today I had a letter from an industrialist in my constituency telling me that electricity prices for his factory are to rise by 16 per cent.—under Yorkshire Electricity. If that happens in Northern Ireland, the fruits of privatisation will prove to have gone bad.
The Labour party, on the other hand, is prepared to proclaim its policies from the roof tops. We will invest, modernise and train, and insist that goods are exported in the knowledge that there will be whole-hearted commitment on the part of the Government to furthering the interests of industry in Northern Ireland. Industry is not a dirty word to us: it is a basis for a sound economy—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Wiltshire, North should not sit there chittering away. I have paid him a compliment this evening—although it may cost him his job. It would be churlish not to acknowledge how much industry the hon. Gentleman has brought to Northern 508 Ireland, but the tragedy is that so much of it is service industry. What we really need are productive industries for the service industries to service.
We are also convinced that it is now time to act on the wasted oportunities for cross-border trade and cooperation—
§ Mr. McNamara
The hon. Gentleman, who represents a constituency in the south-east of England, should tell that to all the service industry employees in his constituency who are losing their jobs, which in turn will result in his losing his seat.
§ Mr. Mallon
Before we all become too bland in the interests of harmony, is it not a fact that, if we are to find a solution to this problem, there are hard decisions to be made which can be made only by the British and Irish Governments? There is no way around that. It is nice to know that we are good at indoor sport and that everything will improve on the socioeconomic front, but it would be a shame if we left this debate without the people listening to it here and at home hearing some response from both sides to how the Governments will deal with those fundamental problems. It is not enough to get the Northern Irish parties to participate in consultations; they can go only so far. It is only the Irish and British Governments who have the power and authority to make the fundamental decisions, and we should like to hear a little more about that.
§ Mr. McNamara
I am not quite sure whether my hon. Friend means the political sphere or the trade and industry sphere. If the former, I thought that it was covered in the agreement made in March. That is the third strand of the talks—and the second, under which the Government of the Republic will sit down with the parties from Northern Ireland. If my hon. Friend is talking about questions of trade between the two parts of Ireland, and the roles of the parties in that, he anticipates my next paragraph.
The Labour party is convinced that it is time to act on the wasted opportunities for cross-border trade and co-operation. It is increasingly recognised that levels of trade between the north and the Republic are scandalously low. It is not just a question of wasted opportunities: this failure means a real loss of jobs and prosperity throughout the island of Ireland.
If the two parts of Ireland do not take the opportunities, other EC states will. If the Republic does not exploit markets in Northern Ireland, the Germans or the Dutch will. If Northern Ireland does not exploit the market on its southern doorstep, the French and Italians will; if we have a Labour Government and more efficient industry, even Britain will. We live in a much more open and competitive world than before, and we can no longer barricade ourselves behind our prejudices and our fears.
We also believe that it is time for an end to the Euro-begrudgery that has hindered Northern Ireland's prospects in the European Community. The Government must take the lead in exploiting the potential of the Community. An active approach is necessary to ensure that Northern Ireland gets its fair share of EC expenditure.
We must encourage the public and private sectors to look outwards and to get to grips with the reality of life in the Community. The Northern Ireland centre in Brussels 509 is badly needed; it is a highly welcome initiative which deserves the full backing of all parties in Northern Ireland and in this House.
This debate takes place at crucial moment for the future of Northern Ireland. There is now a chance of escaping from the fratricidal conflict of the past quarter of a century. There have been too many disappointments for us to be entirely confident about the future or about the developments that we want. Nevertheless, whatever pessimism of our intelligence exists, all democrats must reaffirm the optimism of the will to succeed. As democratic politicians, we must be optimistic.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) referred to the fratricidal conflict of the past 25 years. It is not new in the history of Ireland, however. That history presents a sickening catalogue of horrific atrocities. Long before Northern Ireland was created, long before the Dublin Parliament was dissolved and we had a united Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, long before the Tudors ever came to Ireland, and long before the Normans, century after century witnessed innocent blood shed and anguished tears. All this can be seen on every page of the history of Ireland: it is not new.
Sad to say, evil men can look back at history and justify their evil deeds by what their forebears did. Every country in the world has had dark deeds of which it is rightly ashamed, but there is something particularly gruesome about the furtive assassins who have stalked—usually in the dark—the towns and fields of Ireland; and they usually shoot in the back or plant a bomb and detonate it from a safe distance. Their accursed successors carry on this trade of death, mutilation and destruction. My cousin, an innocent woman and devoted wife and mother, was murdered by the Provisional IRA because she shared my name.
Like all my Unionist colleagues from Northern Ireland, I have received death threats from the IRA. The accusation against us is that we are Brits and should be put out of Ireland. My forebears tilled the land in Ireland from the mists of time, but no doubt Mr. Gerry Adams is a newcomer, a descendant of some English settler or perhaps a British soldier who came to Dublin. Republican terrorists bring shame to the cause they espouse, and they will be condemned in the years to come.
I was deeply emotionally touched when I heard a message sent by the widow of one of the Protestant workmen killed with seven of his Protestant colleagues outside Cookstown on 17 January in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea). Within days, in an act of so-called retaliation, Roman Catholics were slaughtered in Belfast. The Protestant widow, in the midst of her own overwhelming grief, sent a message of sympathy to a newly widowed Catholic. The terrible atrocities catch the headlines throughout the world, to the great delight of the IRA because, of course, all terrorists live on publicity. I hold deep in my heart and mind that simple poignant message of Christian kindness from that Protestant woman to a Catholic woman. We have seen many similar acts, and they certainly stand out against the darkness of the campaign of terror.
510 It is time for the people of Ulster to realise what they are facing and to release themselves from the bondage that terrorism has created. People should not be duped into hating each other for the love of God. From the bottom of my heart, I appeal to those who are governed by prejudice and hatred to open their minds to truth and love. For 20 years, I have been arguing in the House against religious apartheid in education, because I believe that, if people in Northern Ireland communicated more, Protestants and Catholics would see that the others are not the ogres that they are made out to be by the terrorists who pretend to represent them.
The good people whom I have the honour to represent in the House—men and women, mothers and fathers, business men and workers on the factory floor—all believe, as I fervently believe, that there is richness in diversity. Therefore, let us all shun the terrorists and actively support the forces of law and order so that peace triumphs at last.
One may say, as I have said and as I have heard said at the Dispatch Box, that good will one day triumph over evil, but it needs a helping hand. The only way to defeat terrorism in Northern Ireland is to ensure that the security forces have the full and unequivocal support of every law-abiding person in Northern Ireland.
I ask the Dublin Government to abandon their claim to the territory of Northern Ireland, a claim which legitimises the Provisional IRA campaign of terror. The constitutional politicians ought to work in partnership to resolve the problems that trouble the Province. For instance, there is a need for jobs for the unemployed and especially for school leavers and university students. There is a need to protect and provide for the elderly, who form the most vulnerable section of our community. We need to ensure better hospital and social services, to provide more homes, improve existing homes and protect Northern Ireland's environment. Above all, there is a need to improve the quality of life for all, regardless of religion or politics.
§ Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)
I challenge the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that articles 2 and 3 of the Republic's constitution legitimise terrorism. On the contrary, a republican tradition that is entirely constitutional and opposes terrorism defies terrorists. No means of arguing that the partition of Ireland is unfortunate and that a united Ireland might be better for all its people other than by espousing terrorist organisations would strengthen such organisations. The hon. Gentleman's argument is quite wrong.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
The hon. Lady says that I am wrong and I say that I am right. I shall leave it at that. I direct the hon. Lady to what has happened in Europe, where some countries claim the territory of another and where there are religious and racial disputes. If the Dublin Government abandoned their claim, it would cut the ground from under the feet of the Provisional IRA and would help to unite the people of Northern Ireland, which is what we need.
As the Speaker of the last Northern Ireland Assembly, I sought, as did most of those who participated in its proceedings, to make it a success. I sincerely desired to make the Stormont Parliament building a symbol of a new, forward-looking, progressive Ulster, and I think that my hon. Friends who were in the Assembly will confirm that there was a good and friendly atmosphere. I pay 511 tribute to all those who worked in the Assembly. It showed that co-operation is possible and can be productive; we had some excellent reports from the scrutiny committees. If the Assembly had not been scuttled, it would have progressed to create political stability in the Province.
§ Mr. Mallon
This is an important debate, and people in the north of Ireland are looking crucially at it. What is the basis of the hon. Gentleman's party's policy that he would recommend to the House as a means of solving the problems that face us?
§ Mr. Kilfedder
I have been excluded from the talks. If the hon. Gentleman wants to hear my contribution, he should ensure that I participate in them. For years I have urged talks and I believe that if the SDLP had gone into the Assembly we would have made political progress. But it is no use looking to the past. I do not want to rake over the past, because we could spend hours, days, weeks or months arguing about it and accusing each other. We have to look to the future, and I think that the people of Northern Ireland, expect us to do that.
I pray that the talks will lead to political progress in Northern Ireland, and I pay tribute to the Prime Minister for his initiative. He attended at the beginning of this debate and people in Northern Ireland will realise that he made a point of being here for the opening speeches. He is certainly a caring person who is acutely and extremely compassionate.
The fact that there is a Conservative candidate in North Down does not alter my views about the Prime Minister. To be frank, the Conservative candidate does not espouse Conservative policies. He attacks the talks and accuses the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland of encouraging the IRA to kill people in Northern Ireland by holding the talks. I think that only one other organisation supports the Conservative candidate on that line, and that is the Provisional IRA.
I do not mind what political arrangement is arrived at as a result of the talks, whether it is devolution or executive, administrative or total integration, as long as we have political stability, which will provide a happy and prosperous future for the next generation and for generations yet unborn.
§ 8 pm
§ Mr. John Hume (Foyle)
Like everyone else, I welcome the debate. It gives us the opportunity to discuss in depth the serious problems that we face. It is the first time in the life of this Parliament that we have had such a debate.
In this context, over 3,000 people have lost their lives in Northern Ireland, and the population is 1.5 million. Three thousand is the equivalent of 100,000 on this island. I do not think that I exaggerate if I say that, if 100,000 had lost their lives in Scotland, England and Wales in community violence, the subject would have been debated every day by a packed House. I could draw my own conclusions from the fact that the situation in Northern Ireland has not been debated in the House in that way, and the fact that, when it is, only a few are in the Chamber to talk about it. I shall not draw those conclusions, because they are extremely political and some people might not want to agree with them, even though they should think about them.
512 As I have said, 3,000 have lost their lives and about 20,000 have been maimed. One of the worst things that has happened—it is one of the greatest indictments of us all, and I include everyone who is involved in the problem—is that in Belfast, which is the most churchgoing city in western Europe—that includes those on both sides of the religious divide—it has been necessary to build not one wall but 13 to protect one section of a Christian people from another and to separate them from one another. That is where I want to begin.
The reason for indictment is simple: our attitudes, and especially our past attitudes, have built them. If we are serious about trying to solve the problem, as opposed to playing party politics, and throwing out the outdated slogans of the past—those slogans formed part of the attitudes that built our walls—we must all commit ourselves in this debate to speaking for the people of Northern Ireland when we get to the negotiating table. We must be prepared at the talks to re-examine our basic attitudes to the problems. It is those attitudes that have brought us to where we are. That is the challenge that we face in the talks.
As I have said, I welcome the talks. I welcome the fact that, for the first time during the existence of the problem, all aspects of it will be on the table for discussion, with all the relationships that are involved. We shall be talking about our relationships within Northern Ireland and relationships between North and South and Britain and Ireland.
I recognise that, in agreeing with strand 2, the Unionist political leadership is saying that it is willing to take seriously the arguments that is advanced by some of us that that it is a central factor in dealing with a solution to the problem. I do not underestimate the fact that that shows political leadership. The Unionist leadership is willing to discuss north-south relationships with the Dublin Government. That is, in a sense, in keeping with its tradition. Craigavon talked regularly to the people in Dublin in attempts to reach agreements with them. In 1938, shortly after the 1937 constitution was passed, one of Craigavon's great quotes was:We cannot forever live apart.In today's world, no group of people can live apart.
It is obvious that the relationship between Unionist people and the rest of the island is central to the problem we face. I say that because, in 1912, when the House voted democratically for home rule for Ireland, the Unionist people felt that they could not live with it. That reflected their relationship with the rest of the island. When the Stormont Parliament was set up, the Unionist Government excluded the nationalist population, by and large, from any say in how the place was run. They did so for the same reason: fear of links with the rest of the island. They opposed the Sunningdale agreement for the same reason: they feared assimilation with the rest of the island. That is why they have opposed the Anglo-Irish Agreement. I may be reading the Unionists incorrectly, but that is my perception of Unionism. I would welcome being told where I am wrong when we get round the table. I hope and believe that our dialogue will be deadly serious.
Until that relationship is sorted out, nothing will work. When I say "sorted out", I mean to the satisfaction of Unionist people as well as to the satisfaction of the rest of the people of the island. That is why we propose that, before there are talks with the Dublin Government on how we shall live together on the island, an agreement should 513 be reached that any agreement should be endorsed on the one day by means of a referendum within each part of the island.
That reassures the Unionist people that, when we say "agreement", we mean it. That undermines the extremists who use guns, because, for the first time ever, the people of Ireland as a whole will have spoken. That will be the basis for lasting peace.
The walls that I mentioned are a challenge to us to rethink past attitudes, and I shall address Unionist Members on what I regard as theirs. I shall refer also to what I regard as our past attitudes. Unionist people have always stated that their objectives in Ireland are to protect, maintain and develop their own identity and their differences, and I do not quarrel with that. I would strongly support their aim to protect differences, because every society is richer for that. I quarrel not with their political objectives but with their traditional methods of protecting their identity. As we see it from our side of the community, the Unionist people have always decided to protect their own identity by holding all power in their own hands and excluding other people. They can trust only themselves.
If we analyse areas of conflict in other parts of the world—not only in Northern Ireland but in the middle east and South Africa, for example—we find that mentality. In effect, it is we, ourselves, alone. That approach obviously excludes others. In the end such a mentality is bound to lead to conflict.
There is another way. Again, it is simple and straightforward. Our experience of history—and the Unionist people's experience—should teach Unionists that their real strength and, at the end of the day, their only strength lies in their own numbers and their own people. They must stand on their own feet, and negotiate their own relationships and agreements with those with whom they share a piece of earth.
I believe that the Unionist mentality—the belief that they can trust only themselves—reflects their fear that the rest of the island wishes to subsume them, or indeed to wipe them out: that feeling is, of course, reinforced by the IRA campaign. Let me quote what should be a Unionist slogan from John Hewitt, the well-known Northern Irish poet, which expresses the deep anxiety felt by the Unionist people. He said:This is our country also—nowhere else—and we shall not be outcasts in the world.I agree with that. I think that the objective of my side of the community should be to reassure the Unionist people that, whatever approach is adopted to a solution of the problems, we have not the slightest interest in making them outcasts.
The Unionists should think about that as well, however. In many parts of the world, their image has become very negative: most people know what they are against, but not too many know what they are for. That is not in keeping with the strength of the Unionist tradition. The development of a siege mentality tends to dry up the creative roots.
Let us consider the history of the Protestant tradition in Ireland. The Protestants contributed 11 presidents to the United States of America, which surely demonstrates the creativity of their tradition. The United States constitution was drafted by Irish presbyterians who had been driven out of Ireland by intolerance.
§ Mr. Hume
Ulster presbyterians, yes. They had been driven out of Ireland by an intolerance that their Catholic neighbours also faced at the time: it was the establishment—the ascendancy—that was intolerant. When they went to their new land, they decided that they would not repeat the experience that they had left behind.
The American declaration of independence was printed by John Dunlop, a presbyterian from Strabane; the first Secretary of the American Congress was a presbyterian from Maghera. Those people recognised that the answer to the problem of difference was not to wipe it out: they knew that difference was not a threat, but an enriching thing, and that the essence of unity and stability for any society, anywhere in the world, was the acceptance of diversity. They knew that it was wrong to treat those with whom we differ as a threat.
On the cheapest coin in America—the cent—can be found the message of the people's wisdom, written by Ulster presbyterians—"E pluribus unum". I invite their present-day successors, and members of the same tradition, to take a good hard look at their philosophy, and to apply it to the problem that we face in today's Ireland. "E pluribus unum"—from many we are one. The essence of our unity as a people depends on acceptance of, and respect for, our diversity.
The nationalist tradition must also do some rethinking. We have had handed down to us the traditional view that Irish unity is ours of right, because the majority of people on the island want it. That position is based on a territorial view of nationalism; but I believe that a piece of earth without people, in Ireland or anywhere else, is no more than a jungle. It is people who matter. My party has said consistently that, when we talk of unity, we are talking about people. On the island of Ireland, we have a divided people. We shall not unite those people by force or by violence; we can unite them only by agreement.
The territorial view of unity is based on the notion of assimilation or coercion rather than agreement. That traditional view of unity has been reinforced by the IRA campaign. This week, I issued a challenge to the IRA in the form of a public statement. I said, "Let us leave aside the moral aspect of what you are doing—killing human beings for political purposes—because those are clear. Let us consider your campaign from a purely military point of view. Three thousand people have died. Of those 3,000, 435 were British soldiers; the rest were the people of Northern Ireland—civilians, and members of the RUC and the UDR. Seventeen hundred were innocent civilians." Of those 3,000, 239 were IRA members, and 144 were killed by the IRA—in accidents or executions.
My question to the IRA is very straightforward. Leaving morals aside, how does it justify a military campaign whose victims are its own people? Ninety per cent. of the victims of the loyalist and Provo campaigns in Northern Ireland are the people of Northern Ireland.
I do not refer only to those that have been sent to their graves—another innocent man was sent to his grave yesterday. The current campaign has put on to our streets armed troops composed mostly of working-class people from British cities who do not understand our problem. They are searching young people on a regular basis, and that causes community tensions. The troops would not be there if it were not for the IRA campaign. If the IRA wants them off our streets, the simple answer is to stop the 515 campaign. Moreover, the image that has been created is preventing inward investment, which means that we cannot employ our young people.
Surely there is no military justification—as I have said, I am leaving aside the moral aspect—for a campaign whose victims are our own people, on every front. As I did earlier this week, I invite the IRA to look at its founding fathers. In the GPO in 1916, Pearse and Connolly sent a message to their followers: "Lay down your arms, lest you bring too much suffering on your own people." In asking IRA members to lay down their arms, I am asking them to follow the lead of some respected members of the republican tradition.
As for the loyalist paramilitaries—85 of whom have died—they tell us that their reason is revenge. Revenge is not the solution; in a divided society, the doctrine of "an eye for an eye" leaves everyone blind.
As I have said, we must re-examine our past attitudes, but where do we go from there? Our problems in Northern Ireland are not unique in European or world history. Most countries have backgrounds of historic national conflict, tension with neighbouring states, or internal differences of language, religion or national identity. The lesson learned by such countries has been that difference itself need not be a problem. The issue for those seeking stability and harmony in those countries was not the elimination of difference and diversity, but their accommodation. They learned that there was no peace, no stability and no security in seeking political arrangements which reflected and respected only one tradition and one set of values. Instead, stability, and the best protection for any tradition, lay in creating political consensus, with structures which neither privileged nor prejudiced the position of any tradition. That is the message for all of us in Northern Ireland.
That message is strengthened by the fact that today the people of Northern Ireland are part of a European Community that has agreed to move towards closer union. Most of the debates about the Community—we heard some today, in parliamentary questions to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—are about money, economics and so forth. Little is said about the real reason why the united Europe was built, and the idealism that built it. However, Northern Ireland is not the only area of conflict that should study how that happened; every area of conflict in the world should study it.
Fifty years ago—or 47 years ago, to be correct—the nightmare that was intended to last a thousand years ended. The second world war ended. For the second time this century, millions of people had been slaughtered. People had been slaughtered throughout the previous centuries, too. At that time, if someone had got up and said, "In 50 years' time we shall have a united Europe—yet the Germans will still be German and the French will still be French," that person might have been locked up. But that goal was achieved. How? The answer is simple but profound. People said, "Difference is not a threat. The answer to difference is the accommodation of difference." They agreed to create institutions which respected diversity yet which allowed them to work their common ground, which was economic. In short, they agreed to spill their sweat together and not their blood.
516 By creating institutions that respected their diversity, and working their common ground, which was economic, they created circumstances in which by working together, they eroded their prejudices and differences and grew together at their own speed towards a new Europe, which will continue to evolve even after what was decided at Maastricht is put into practice.
The lesson for us in Ireland is the same. Let us build institutions in the north of Ireland which respect our differences, but which allow us to work our common ground, which is considerable. Let us, too, build institutions by agreement between both parts of our island—institutions which allow us to work our common ground and, by doing so, to break down the barriers of prejudice and distrust, the fruits of which—results, rather; I should not call them fruits—have been such tragedy in the past.
I have no doubt that, if we reach such agreements and vote for them, as I suggested earlier, by working together over the years, we shall erode our prejudices and grow together at our own speed, in two or three generations, into a new Ireland built on respect for diversity—an Ireland built by its people working together.
I do not think that it will be easy for us to reach such agreements in the current talks, but in the meantime, while we are doing so, let us get working on the common ground anyway, in order to break down the barriers of distrust between us. The common ground is obvious. We are one of the areas with the highest unemployment in the whole of the new European Community. Why do we not work together to tackle that, and, in doing so, turn our disadvantages into advantages?
All over the world, there are people who tell us that they are proud of their Irish heritage. The Irish, both of the north and of the south, are the biggest wandering people in the world—we are a bigger wandering people than the Jews. The most recent census in the United States showed that 42 million people declared themselves to be Irish. The same is true in Australia and Canada—and many of those people have made it in business, politics or whatever.
Why do we not use that card, as some of us have already done, making contacts with people in senior positions in the United States, and asking them to use their influence? We say, "Okay, so you want to help Ireland. A pint of Guinness on St. Patrick's day is all very well, but how about some real help, such as considering some investment?"
As we play the green card in such places as Boston, I believe that our Unionist friends could play the orange card in places such as Toronto. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) could use the links which his political and religious tradition has with the southern states of America. Let us get together and harness those energies in a positive rather than a negative sense, to bring development to our people. We are not asking people for charity, because we have something to offer. We are offering them a foothold in the biggest single market in the world, and we speak the same language.
While we are talking, and trying to build confidence and trust in our people, let us work the common ground together. Let us spill our sweat and not our blood. Let us at last give hope to our people. All of us who know the problem know that we will not solve it in a week or in a fortnight, but if the people see us engaged in strategies that lead in the right direction, they will stand behind us.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)
Out of courtesy to the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), I shall respond to some of the points that he not unreasonably made in his speech. However, I should like first to take a few minutes at the beginning of my speech to educate those who are in some danger of destroying their credibility by parroting cliches and buzz words which are so obviously inaccurate.
We have a mission in life to rescue those in what are commonly called the chattering classes, and some people in the news industry who seem to have lost the power to do their own thinking. Due to low intelligence or bone idleness, they have somehow or other become programmed, and they absorb the superficial ideas of others as shallow as themselves, so it is hardly surprising that the same catch phrases pour out, as if from a word-processor gone mad—catch phrases such as, "find a solution", "get into dialogue", and "sit round the table."
The hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), who was here earlier, reminded us this week that the Northern Ireland party leaders, with all the many admitted faults, are rather better at such things than the party leaders in Great Britain. We heard confirmation of that at Prime Minister's Question Time today.
The chattering classes try to mislead honest folk by deliberate distortion of facts, not realising that they are engaged in an orgy of self-contradiction. Last autumn they asserted that the Secretary of State was wasting his time, because no progress could be made this side of a general election. That was five months ago, and the right hon. Gentleman will remember the identities of those who said such things. Being a charitable sort of character, I did my best to save them from their folly. At my party conference on 28 October 1991, I said:I get impatient with soothsayers who predict that nothing will happen this side of the general election. I reject utterly such pessimistic chatter.Now, five months later, those same people are blaming the three Northern Ireland parties in this House, and perhaps a fourth which, we hope, will survive the general election.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
They blame those parties for proving them wrong and, like the distinguished 19th-century figure who, on learning of the death of a rival, asked, "I wonder what he meant by that," modern opinion formers also have to grub around for motives for actions that have proved them wrong. It does not seem to occur to them that it might be possible that the three of us—or the three and a half of us—who lead the parties in this House have a degree of integrity which our critics lack. Truly, a sense of inferiority must be a terrible affliction.
Our motive is not a hidden agenda but one which, I know the Secretary of State will agree, was the encouragement given first by the Prime Minister, especially at the meeting in Downing street, and subsequently in other forms. We voluntarily undertook to engage in quiet, calm deliberations, and the result was agreement last Friday, achieved—as the hon. Members for Foyle and for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) will agree —in exactly 50 minutes. The second significant contribution came from the Leader of the Opposition, who, like the Prime Minister, underwrote the process and 518 readily gave an assurance that a Labour Government would honour any agreement for a framework designed before the general election.
The House will realise that our motive was simplicity and honesty itself. It was to improve co-operation and to seek and to strive, secure in the knowledge that the Prime Minister and the alternative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom would be joint guarantors of any practical agreement resulting from our deliberations.
I am by no means discounting the contribution of the Secretary of State or of the Minister of State during those patient endeavours. I know that they accept—as we do—that certain endeavours can be underpinned only by those who bear the ultimate responsibility in our nation. We intend that the meetings planned for next week will be real and businesslike. Responsible elements in the news industry—fortunately, they are in the majority—have a vested interest in our success. Their contribution will mean forgoing photo calls, chat shows and phone-ins of the type which provide opportunities for trading insults which can sometimes be as lethal as the armalite.
A further incentive to make full use of the time that remains is the fact that the constitutional affairs of the United Kingdom are in a state of flux, and that subject will not go away. In the new Parliament, decentralisation of powers will be the main debating point. The Northern Ireland parties in the House have considerable experience, and we believe that it would be very useful for the rest of the United Kingdom to have the benefit of our up-to-date thinking on that subject, perhaps in the form of an agreed blueprint or at least a paper setting out the pluses and minuses of given models. For that reason, we are keen to make all possible progress before the general election is called, when, as agreed, the inter-party talks will cease. However, that should not mean a halt to drafting activities by the participating party teams, some of whom will be thankful that they are not going to be front-liners in the election campaign.
We have a duty to warn against efforts designed to mislead the general public in Northern Ireland and in the rest of the United Kingdom into believing that we are engaging in peace talks. I know that the Secretary of State and the Minister of State fully understand—and, I think, support—what I am saying. Today, inter-party tensions are lower and cross-party co-operation is better than at any time in the past 20 years, but yesterday, a lorry driver was murdered in County Armagh and today—as we have heard—the centre was torn out of the town of Lurgan in the same county which has suffered so much so often.
The brutal reality—we would be deceiving people and failing in our duty not to say this—is that, even if we prove to be 100 per cent. successful in our talks, the violence will remain undiminished. It would be equally dishonest to raise expectations too high, as I am afraid was the case last spring. The fact that we can engage in civilised dialogue does not mean that fundamental differences can be made to disappear overnight.
Sometimes talk of solutions can be divisive and usually irresponsible. I am not attributing those qualities to the contribution of the hon. Member for Foyle. He has—not unreasonably—sought confirmation of our attitudes. If I may say so, he is in some danger of thinking of Unionism in the narrow sense when he talked about our Unionist or Protestant identity which, he said, excludes all others.
The hon. Gentleman may not have noticed, because his responsibility is to run his party, that when I became leader 519 of my party in 1979, I was determined to aim for the broad church concept. When he and I shared a platform almost a year ago addressing the 28 primates of the Anglican communion in the constituency of the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady), I explained my attitude. I said that I regarded it as my duty to provide positive leadership for what I called the greater number of Ulster people—Protestant and Roman Catholic alike—who wish to remain part of the United Kingdom.
The hon. Member for Foyle will remember that on that occasion, when I was asked why I used the term "the greater number" I explained that it was to avoid using the word "majority", which could be interpreted as the Unionist majority or the Protestant majority. In other words, I was going for the greater number of citizens who regard themselves and want to go on regarding themselves as citizens of the United Kingdom, who include what Father Faul called the 80 per cent. of Roman Catholics who would not vote for a united Ireland.
On another occasion, the hon. Member for Foyle may have thought that Father Faul's concept was perhaps a bit narrow. I think that possibly 25 per cent. of his fraternity might support a united Ireland by vote, but I hope that the hon. Member for Foyle can take some comfort from the fact that my party has grown in strength despite making it clear that we stood for Unionism in the broadest possible sense—membership of this bigger unit of the United Kingdom—and that we were a party open to all people regardless of their religious affiliations.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is comforted—I hope he is—by the fact that, for 12 years, I have been elected annually by the 800-strong Ulster Unionist council which was fully aware of the views that I have just expressed. With all our faults, we have not turned inward as ethnic groups in eastern Europe and even in mother Russia tend to be doing at the present time—a development which all hon. Members will deeply regret.
I inserted that section in my speech because I desperately wanted to avoid the failure that would result if we attempted to fight old battles or even entered into the real discussions with any misunderstanding between us.
We may patiently work out an accommodation which will enable us to live and work together within Northern Ireland and, we hope, find another accommodation providing for peaceful co-existence with our neighbouring nation south of the frontier. Both those accommodations would fit into what Mr. Haughey perceived to bethe totality of the relationships within these islands".That phrase is endorsed by the then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
The pity of it is that that broad noble concept was torpedoed and recklessly damaged by the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, because it focused the entire energies of the two sovereign nations on six small counties in the entire British Isles. In the not too distant future, we must choose a much wider and more generous structure.
I end with a suggestion which may startle some people. I suggest with very great respect that the British and Irish Governments should commence preparatory work as soon as possible after the election on a new British-Irish agreement to replace and transcend the one which has failed and which, worse still, continues not only to keep the 520 children's teeth on edge, but to maintain tension where tension should not exist: between the citizens of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)
I shall be brief because this is an Irish debate and I do not want to stop any hon. Members from the Province from speaking. However, as a Scot, I have a great interest at this time in the constitutional situation which affects the whole of the United Kingdom. I believe that opportunity often arises out of adversity.
We face difficulties in Northern Ireland. No one who has watched the past 20 years evolve or who has been a Member of this place over the past few years can fail to realise the enormous problems facing my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Northern Ireland Office who, over the years, have tried to find solutions to intractable problems. I would never criticise what Conservative Ministers have done over the past 13 years.
One of the problems in Scotland is that, if one tries to find solutions in isolation from United Kingdom constitutional problems, one often creates bigger problems than one set out to solve. The time has come to consider the whole of the United Kingdom and find constitutional answers suitable to all the United Kingdom.
We should not forget that 83 per cent. of the population of these islands lives in England. You will notice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I did not say that they are English. Like everyone else, we recognise that many people from Scotland, Ireland and from parts of the former empire and the Commonwealth live in England. People living in England have a deep interest in the well-being and continuance of our United Kingdom. They want to see it functioning adequately and properly and to see removed from it the tensions that exist in Northern Ireland and, sadly, also in Scotland.
We can find answers to those problems only with the kind of good will demonstrated by the coming together of the Northern Ireland parties. I hope that we can find good will like that in Scotland. Anyone who imagines that we can find a solution that is acceptable to everyone has not lived with the Scottish or Northern Ireland dimensions. If he had, he would not talk such absolute rot.
There is no way in the west central belt of Scotland that the Conservative party can expect to form an administration at local government level. However, we do not suggest that there is something wrong with the structures or that we should have a say in the running of administrations there because we are a minority. Similarly, there are parts of the United Kingdom where the Labour party is not represented at local level or even at parliamentary level. We do not suggest in those circumstances that Labour should control such administrations.
We should consider this as a unique opportunity which should be grasped, after the general election, to consider the constitutional arrangements within the United Kingdom and find answers that can be made to work throughout the United Kingdom. As a Scot, I am aware of the difficulties and real demands for separation. Those demands are not imagined, and we must address them. We can address them adequately and properly only by considering the constitution of the United Kingdom and by maintaining the Union. I yield to no one in my defence 521 of the Union, because the benefits to all parts of the Union have been far greater than the sum of its different parts. It would be foolish for anyone to pretend otherwise.
The United Kingdom will be worth anything as an entity only while it is united. Divided we are nothing. Even in this great new modern Europe about which we have been talking, let us not be unrealistic: it is only because the United Kingdom speaks with the voice of the United Kingdom within Europe that we mean anything. Divided we would mean little.
That is why, within the context of Europe and in the context of the problems that we face in the constitutional parts of the United Kingdom, we should consider this to be a unique opportunity. That is why I wanted to participate in the debate. I speak as a Unionist to fellow Unionists. I speak unashamedly on behalf of the United Kingdom. As everyone knows, I regularly appear here in my native dress because I am unashamedly a Scot as well. That is why we must find the answers that suit all of us.
§ Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)
I will shortly be taking part in my fifth general election. In the previous four I was regularly, and without fail, asked by the public about my view and my party's view of the affairs of Northern Ireland. One of the depressing aspects for me of those past four elections is that, frankly, I was not able to offer a solution to those questioners. At the time, no one else could offer such solutions. Even more depressingly, the public in Great Britain have tended to accept that there was no solution and that we could only carry on muddling along as best we could and as we have.
It is a shame that there are not more hon. Members in the House for such an important debate on Northern Ireland. However, no one can have failed to be impressed by the two speeches from the two party leaders in Northern Ireland who come from very different historical traditions.
§ Mr. Carlile
I do apologise. There were three speeches from party leaders from Northern Ireland. We heard three speeches from the leaders of parties in Northern Ireland from very different historical perspectives. We have heard comments from those different perspectives from which we can draw encouragement. I feel great respect for what was said by those leaders tonight.
It may just be that the British public will have greater expectations in the forthcoming general election when they ask questions about Northern Ireland. It will be difficult, because it is always difficult in such discussions, not to answer in platitudes and not to use cliches about conciliation. However, although it is a word that has been rejected from time to time in the House, conciliation is now possible in Northern Ireland. Indeed, I should like to add my great regard for the Secretary of State, who has played a considerable part in the effort that has been made in recent years. He cannot get everything right—he is not perfect. He was once the chairman of the Conservative party, and that is clear evidence of his imperfections. However, in Northern Ireland, he has achieved a good deal in moving towards that conciliation which the British public are now beginning to expect.
I should like to say a brief word about the position of the Churches and religious leaders from the perspective of 522 somebody who represents a seat in Great Britain but who takes an interest in Northern Ireland. Church leaders have, of course, a very important moral role, although I believe not a political role, in the affairs of all countries, whatever the religion, creed, sect, or part of a religion. The responsibility of leading the polity is the responsibility of politicians. Politicians can cross religious divisions. I particularly congratulate politicians in Northern Ireland, sometimes representing small parties in difficult circumstances, who make it their business and their determination to cross those religious divides.
Many of us feel concerned from time to time by the effect of religious fervour on objective political judgment. That is why politicians have a far greater role to play than religious leaders.
We must also recognise that terrorists are criminals. An insight into the criminal mind is not easy to gain, because criminals come in so many different guises. There is no more sinister criminal guise than that of the terrorist. We must recognise that it is a vain hope that, even if politicians manage to reach a settlement of those extremely difficult issues which nobody should underestimate, there will be no more terrorists. There will still be some terrorists. Unfortunately, we must accept that there will be madmen who will regard it their business and their mission to continue terrorist activities. That will not mean that political discussions have necessarily failed. We will simply have to continue to try to isolate the terrorists, to reduce their effectiveness, to ensure that they are the most unpopular people in the community and, above all, to ensure that they are effectively policed, hunted down and brought to justice.
The irony which the terrorists never seem to realise is that, far from driving the British Government and the British security forces out of Northern Ireland, they have actually increased with every outrage the participation of the United Kingdom Government in Northern Ireland.
There must be a next stage after the Anglo-Irish Agreement. That stage must include investment and steps dramatically to reduce unemployment. It depends upon there being an agreement which, while fully recognising the constitutional facts, builds upon opportunities not differences. Some hon. Members believe that the next stage after the Anglo-Irish Agreement necessarily involves strengthening Dublin's role. That is not necessarily so. Hon. Members who signed an early-day motion two days ago, attacking the leader of my party, show a miserable misunderstanding of what is meant by a next stage. They now bear a great responsibility to demonstrate to the House that they, too, believe in conciliation and do not intend to obstruct that process. We look forward to hearing that message from them tonight.
Other measures can be taken for Northern Ireland. The improvement of the legislative process is needed. For example, the electricity privatisation legislation, which was of considerable importance to the people of Northern Ireland, was passed with minimum debate and with no opportunity to vote or to amend it. Of course there is a need—it goes almost without saying—to give the people of Northern Ireland an opportunity for legislation affecting them to be properly debated.
I return to the point at which I started. Many hon. Members who do not represent Northern Ireland constituencies yet who are in daily contact with members of the public in the Great Britain part of the United Kingdom have great expectations—possibly unrealistic 523 expectations—of the talks which are currently starting. We wish them well. We hope that the public will begin to discuss those issues as if the outrages which have taken place occurred not in some distant part but in a part of our own country, as much a part of our own country as Wolverhampton or Welshpool. It is only when the public examine the issues on that basis that they will give the message to all politicians from all parties in Northern Ireland that they want them to succeed and that they expect them to succeed.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
Because I represent all of Northern Ireland in another place, I stood today in the heart of Lurgan and I saw the damage that was done —an estimated £5 million—worth. The heart of Lurgan is destroyed. It came home to me particularly because the church in which my parents were married was also damaged today. As I stood in that special place for me, I wondered what the end would be. I also stood in Adelaide street today, in the city of Belfast, where £1.5 million of damage was done.
The House likes to hear things that please. I have been here for 22 years. It has never been my policy to say in the House anything different from what I say at home. I do not come here with a different face. I do not come here to say something that will please people. I come here to tell what my constituents demand that an honest representative says. I must say it tonight.
There is a perception in Northern Ireland—I know that my colleague the leader of the Ulster Unionists shares this view—that the Government, indeed, successive British Governments, have not the will to win the battle against the IRA. As a result, there is a feeling that one day the "Brits" as my constituents call them, will leave. Until that fear is laid to rest, the people of Northern Ireland cannot have confidence that the terrorists will be done with and that this Government or any Government who follow them have the will to defeat terrorism. Until that perception comes through, there will not be confidence in Northern Ireland.
I was recently reading what I said to the opening conference of the last talks, which are now dead. We are to have new talks. I said to the Secretary of State:It is a fact that needs to be put clearly on record that the majority of the Unionist population in this Province is not really convinced that Her Majesty's Government has the will to win the battle against terrorism. Until that will is demonstrated, not just in condemnatory and graphic descriptions of the IRA's atrocities but by definite action which will strike at the very heart of terrorism, the majority of the population will not be prepared to put faith in the Government or grant to it trust and confidence. In short, "Actions speak louder than words." Why is it, people ask, that so soon after an atrocity like Glenanne—the blowing up of a UDR centre—the security forces can have a successful strike?That was in the village of Coagh, where IRA men on a murder mission were brought to justice and there were killings.
When the people see an effective security policy being pursued by the Government then and only then will the Government have the response of confidence from the people.524 We have the same thing now. We can simply change Glenanne to Teebane and Coagh to Coalisland. The same thing is repeated.
I am sorry that we do not have time to go over what we put to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister said, "I will not go into a hidey-hole. You can come back and I will give you a reasoned response to the proposals that you have put to me on the security front." We will welcome the opportunity to go back and talk as soon as possible about the proposals that we put to him.
The Government and the House must realise that the people who are doing the killing, bombing and murdering, those people who yesterday shot a man and killed him when he was driving a lorry, do not care about political talks. Does anyone in the House think that because John Hume, James Molyneaux, Ian Paisley and John Alderdice sit at a table, the terrorists will stop their killing? Let us disillusion ourselves. Let us come down to hard facts. Those people are not interested in politics, democracy or life. They are interested in carrying on criminal activities of the vilest sort.
Every time that it seems that something will stop the terrorists in their tracks, someone comes up with a proposal to give them oxygen. Reference has been made to clergy in the debate. Clergymen recently said that they would talk to the IRA. We will soon have a proposal: "Why not have them at the table? They are better at the table than away from it." We shall have a galaxy of people coming forward on a great rescue mission. By so doing, instead of discrediting the terrrorists, such people give them credibility. They will bring them to some conference table, if not the conference that the Secretary of State is convening.
As I said in the talks, no amount of political talking will deal with terrorism or the terrorists of Northern Ireland. Anyone who understands anything about republican terrorism knows what happened in the Irish Republic. After the treaty, the Republic faced the same situation. There was civil war. It was bloody: father fought son, and son fought brother. There came one man, called Kevin O'Higgins. He had the task of getting cosmos out of chaos. He did it, but he was butchered. He did it because he knew how republican terrorism operated. If the terrorists had thought that they could gain by the gun, they would have kept to the gun.
De Valera led the irregulars. He had one of his colleagues, Michael Collins, massacred. Close comrades, who had fought the British, fought one another. That terrorism was put down because there was a resolution, a determination and a will to do it. After that, peace came to the south of Ireland. There was a resurgence of IRA violence, but de Valera put it down in the same way.
Someone will have to grasp the problem of terrorism. Someone at the Dispatch Box—it does not matter which party they belong to—will have to show that there are enough guts, determination and resolution to deal with terrorism and to show terrorists, once and for all, that they cannot succeed. Terrorists do not believe that at present. They think that they will succeed and they are receiving encouragement from certain parts of the community.
§ Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster)
In his opening speech, the Secretary of State said:Terrorists are no nearer achieving their aims.525 Does my hon. Friend agree that that is not because successive Governments have taken action? The Anglo-Irish Agreement helped the aims of the IRA. It is because of the fortitude of the good people of Ulster in their stand and their resolution against the IRA. That is why we are not on the Dublin road tonight.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
The determination of the Ulster people is certainly the main factor in this business. The people on the streets of Lurgan and on Adelaide street today—sweeping up the glass, boarding up their windows and putting up signs saying "business as usual"—are the people who are keeping Ulster going. That is because they are fighting for the hearths, their homes, their families and their future, and I must emphasise that.
There seems to be a desire in some parts not to face up to the issues that we must face up to. When the leader of the party of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) visited Northern Ireland the other day, he castigated the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) and myself but not in the language that the hon. and learned Member used in the House tonight, where it can be answered. The leader of the Alliance party called us all sorts of names at his conference, and included the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) in his comments. If the Unionist leaders wanted to do anything else, the Unionist people would remove them. They would not be here. There have been many Unionist chiefs without indians in Northern Ireland.
I am only here because the people put me here. In a few days' time, they will have the opportunity to say, "You don't come back." I represent the genuine views of those people.
The talks took place because, immediately after the previous general election, the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley and I went to see the Secretary of State for Energy, who was then Chief Whip, to discuss the possibility of having talks. We went on month after month. The talks started here and went on to Stormont. We met the heads of the civil service and the previous Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and we went on and on. We were told by our people that we were fools, and they said, "Give up and forget about the talks." The leader of the Alliance party poured cold water on those talks and told us to forget them.
The present Secretary of State started to say things. We have recorded everything that he said. The right hon. Gentleman said that we would have talks and that there would be no dilution of United Kingdom sovereignty or damage to the status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. He said that to Bangor chamber of commerce, in the constituency of the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder). The Secretary of State added:Northern Ireland will not cease to be part of the United Kingdom without the consent of a majority of the people who live here. That has been the position in British law for forty years and it is reinforced by Article One of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.That is very interesting. I see that the people who support the agreement wanted to undercut even what they tried to sell. It was a bogus sale. He also said:Majority desire for change in the status clearly does not exist at present and seems unlikely in the foreseeable future. That is the reality which I believe all constitutional politicians in Northern Ireland in practice accept.That is the reality that the Taoiseach of the Irish Republic will have to accept. There can be no going back on that.
526 In his pilgrim's progress through Ulster, the Secretary of State went to the Methodist college on 6 December 1989. He said:We have all to face the facts as they are now. The central political fact is that a clear majority of the people of Northern Ireland wants to remain part of the United Kingdom. But it is also a fact that a minority would like to see Ireland united and the border removed. How do we resolve this fundamental difference? I accept that it is fundamental. The only way the matter can be decided in a democracy is to respect the wishes of the people. Their decision by a majority, to retain the Union, is entirely clear. Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK, unless and until there is a change of mind—and I see no sign or prospect of that in the foreseeable future. I believe passionately that the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland must be upheld.The Secretary of State was spelling out what the facts meant. I believe that that is illuminating to a person who believes in the constitution of my Province and its legitimate right to exist. Ministers and the Leader of the Opposition point to the Anglo-Irish Agreement as if it were Ulster's constitution. The Ulster constitution does not rest on the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which never became an Act of Parliament.
§ Mr. Brooke
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, on a number of occasions, we have had exchanges along the lines to which he has referred. They were in the context of remarks which were made by the Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland. In alluding to the Anglo-Irish Agreement, I was binding in the de facto recognition of the Government of the Republic of Ireland of the constitutional position in Northern Ireland.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says, but the House should not rest our constitutional position on anything in the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
The Secretary of State also said in the House:Although the constitutional question has often seemed: central to matters in Northern Ireland, I turn to it now in the hope of putting it to one side. We regard the position as clear. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom in national and international law. It is part of the United Kingdom because that is the clear wish of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland. There will be no change in the status of Northern Ireland unless and until a majority of the people there want it. That seems unlikely for the foreseeable future. I believe that most in this House, and I number myself among them, would wish to see the Union continue, but the principles of democracy and self-determination mean that the people of Northern Ireland must themselves be the final arbiters. By virtue of its constitution, the Republic of Ireland has since 1937 also claimed sovereignty over Northern Ireland. We do not accept or recognise that claim, which has no basis in our law or, equally important, in international law. That claim is, I know, seen by some in Northern Ireland, and in other parts of this country, as a major stumbling block to the development of constructive relationships. I do not regard it as helpful. Nor, however, do I believe that it should be a major preoccupation—for this reason: the Republic of Ireland has accepted, through the Anglo-Irish Agreement, that the status of Northern Ireland could be changed only with the consent of a majority of its people. In short, through that binding international treaty it has shown that it, too, supports the right of the people of Northern Ireland to self-determination."—[Official Report, 5 July 1990; Vol. 175, c. 1140.]That was the right hon. Gentleman's interpretation of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Meanwhile, the hon. Member for Foyle has said:the harsh reality is that whether or not…Unionists…have the academic right to a veto on Irish unity, they have it as a matter of fact based on numbers.527 So we can conclude tonight that the talks are not about the destruction of the Union but about getting a settlement in Northern Ireland, and, when that settlement has been achieved, about getting the relationship between new structures in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. They are now based on the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and I am sure that the Secretary of State is sick and tired listening to Unionists say, "We want an alternative to, and a replacement of, the agreement." We have never said anything else and that is why we are at the talks. Let that be clear to hon. Members in all parts of the House. We are at the talks because the Government said, "We shall consider an alternative to, and a replacement of, the Anglo-Irish Agreement."
I appreciate that, when Governments sign treaties, they continually say, "We shall hold to them." But I remember a Minister stating in the House, "We shall never change the poll tax," and a short while later it was changed. The ordinary people feel that there should be a higher degree of honesty. They believe that, when somebody says that he will not change something, he will stand by that decision. Unfortunately, politicians do not do that. I have not met many politicians in my 22 years who have not made changes.
My hon. Friends and I have laboured the point, but I do not want anyone to be under any illusion about why we arc there. We must deal with the entanglement of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. We cannot escape from that, and I am prepared to face it head on.
How can one have a neighbourly relationship if a neighbour claims one's property? Living next door to me is a neighbour who used to be a prominent member of the Alliance party. I do not know whether he went down the Damascus or some other road, but evidently he has fallen out with that party. He used to say, "Ian, you have a very fine lawn mower. Will you lend it to me?" I said I would lend it to him with pleasure. On another occasion he remarked, "I notice that you have an electric hedge cutter. I would like to cut my hedge, if you would lend it to me," —and I was willing to lend it to him.
If he looked over my hedge and said, "I own your house. I am going to put you, your wife and family out of your home," he would not borrow my lawn mower or hedgecutter again. There is no need for hon. Members to take a pious view about that. My reaction to such a state of affairs would represent a fact of life. The fact of life is that we have a Berlin wall, and it was not built by Ulster Unionists.
Let us get the matter straight. I have heard a strange history of Northern Ireland and what the people of Northern Ireland did to the nationalists when Stormont was founded. I was never a part of a Government in Stormont so I cannot be blamed for what the Government did there. I was leader of the opposition when Stormont finished, so I was on the opposition benches.
The Unionists appointed their members to a Council of All Ireland. The south refused to appoint anyone to that Council of All Ireland. If the nationalists had come to Stormont at the beginning, they would have had just the same privileges as anyone else elected to that House, but they chose not to come to the old Assembly.
528 Hon. Members need not hold this House up as a paragon of virtue, because we took a stand on the Anglo-Irish Agreement and this House voted for us to be thrown off every Committee of the House.
§ Mr. Hume
Does the hon. Gentleman know which is the second city of Northern Ireland? He may call it a different name from me, but he knows where it is. Will he explain how, for 70 years, a third of the population ran that city, despite the fact that they had only a third of the vote? How could that have been done fairly?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I had nothing whatsoever to do with that, as the hon. Gentleman knows. I was not even living at the time—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman wants to talk about discrimination, I shall talk about it. Let us look at the facts. We have heard a lot tonight about history and hon. Members have said that nothing should be imposed. Was not the Anglo-Irish agreement imposed on us? The hon. Member for Foyle need not point his finger at the Front Bench, because he encouraged the Irish Government.
Some Northern Ireland voters have told me that there was a time when they did not need the Unionists. But now that they are in trouble, they come back and say that they want us. I was surprised that the spokesman for the Liberal Democratic party, the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery, said that he did not know what to say at the election, because at the last election we had that glorious Anglo-Irish Agreement that was meant to settle everything and give us peace, stability and reconciliation.
There has been a rising tide of slaughter, with 33 deaths this year alone, since the agreement came into force. What has the agreement brought? The fact that we are debating this matter tonight proves that the Anglo-Irish Agreement is a failure. Many hon. Members have told me that, if they had to vote for the agreement again, they would not do, so because it did not do what was promised.
§ Mr. Peter Robinson
Does my hon. Friend recall that, during the visit of the leader of the Liberal Democrats to Northern Ireland, he chose to create an atmosphere that would not be conducive to talks by bad-mouthing every Unionist Member he could find? He said that he wanted to sustain the life of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, failed though it has, and—more than that—that he wanted to build on it. Does my hon. Friend agree that to build on foundations that have been proved to be unsteady would not be a wise course for anyone to take?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
It is even more unwise to build on foundations that are rejected by the electorate.
The Unionists played the democratic card. They resigned their seats and fought an election. They brought 250,000 people on to the streets and kept them in order. What did the House do? Hon. Members snubbed their nose at them and said, "We do not care, we do not need you." They will find that they will need the Protestant people and every law-abiding Roman Catholic and Protestant if they are to deal with the trouble. The Secretary of State knows that the trouble could get seriously out of hand and, instead of talking to elected representatives, he might find that gunmen had replaced them. He had better make up his mind whether he wants democracy or the rule of the gun to stand in Northern 529 Ireland. It is a serious matter, as anyone from Northern Ireland knows. That is why we asked for the debate, and joined others in doing so.
We are told about the wonderful united Ireland that we are asked to consider—
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
No, I shall not give way as I want to make this point.
When Ireland was divided, what was the proportion of Protestants in the Irish Republic? Some 10.4 per cent. of the total population were Protestants. In 1926, the proportion fell to 7.4 per cent.; in 1936 it was 6.6 per cent.; in 1941 it was 5.7 per cent. Between 1911 and 1926, the numbers of the Protestant faith fell by 106,000. From 1926 to 1936, that figure dropped by a further 26,233. However, the number of Roman Catholics rose by 22,651. In 1961, Protestants represented 3.7 per cent. of the population. That figure has decreased and is now less than 3 per cent. What does that mean? It means that the Protestant population in the south of Ireland has decreased by more than 70 per cent. It is no wonder that Protestants in Northern Ireland are fearful when they discover that fact, which has to be faced.
The Roman Catholic population in Northern Ireland is increasing. When I entered the House, a Tory Minister said to me, "It is all right—the birth rate will take you all into a united Ireland." He said it as though Protestants did not also breed. We will not remove the problem simply by talking about the birth rate or by changing the electoral system of voting.
The electoral system of voting was changed and our councils were done away with, as was Stormont. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said that it would be the end of the Irish problem when Stormont was dissolved, but it was only the beginning. On that day, I said that what we had experienced was a mere Sunday school picnic and now we would see the real release of evil.
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery sent his friend over to Northern Ireland. I was interested to see what he said. The spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, Lord Holme, said:It is very welcome that the Dublin Government seems to be prepared to contemplate amendment of Articles 2 and 32 of the Irish constitution.The challenge to Unionist leaders is to work out what they are prepared, amongst their equally cherished beliefs, to surrender in return".That is an immoral, criminal and illegal claim.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
No, I shall not give way as I want to put it clearly on the record tonight that the spokesman told me that was to surrender the Union because the immoral—
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I will not give way.
My Unionist friends and I have to give up our cherished inheritance. Those were the sort of men that were sent over to Northern Ireland by the Liberal Democrats to tell us to surrender that.
§ Rev. William McCrea
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way to one who has not had the opportunity of 530 speaking in the debate. Instead, I have had to listen to interference from those who had the chance to speak and should have used it to speak sense.
Does my hon. Friend understand the fears of the Protestant community? In recent days, a part-time member of the UDR was the subject of an attempted murder by four IRA personnel in the county of Fermanagh. One of them was shot by the UDR man and three were arrested in the Irish Republic. I have been told that one of the three—up on an attempted murder charge —has been released by the Irish Republican authorities on £20,000 bail, yet that same person is being sought for the murder of Gillian Johnson and the attempted murder of one of my constituents. That is the kind of justice that we can expect fom Dublin.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
All we have to do is look at the sad saga of extradition. I have with me a list of all the extradition cases that have been refused. We were promised great co-operation, but I can give my list of refusals to the House. We are dealing with hard realities. I have put proposals, and I will put more proposals to the conference when it meets. I believe that it should meet. We must face up to these issues, but we will get nowhere if we sweep things under the carpet.
I will not ask a foreign state in any plebiscite to decide how I live as a citizen of this United Kingdom. I say that my country has a right to say how I live. No foreign country will tell the majority of people in Northern Ireland how they should live. The Anglo-Irish Agreement which was imposed on us has failed.
If we have the will, we can get an agreement. The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley has talked about a larger agreement that takes in the whole of the United Kingdom. Hon. Members must realise what we have gone through in Northern Ireland. We have already shown the former Prime Minister our list of matters to discuss: she admitted that it was a good one. We are anxious to have them discussed.
The House should remember that it was the Dublin Government who brought our deliberations to an end by holding a meeting on 16 July. That got us nowhere. Perhaps this time common sense will prevail, perhaps wisdom will prevail, and perhaps we will get a settlement.
§ Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)
I apologise to those who have been here since 7 o'clock but who have failed to get a chance to participate, especially the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), who has tried vainly to catch the Chair's eye and who has sought to play both ends against the middle by wearing green and orange.
I apologise too to the hon. Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr), who is an old friend of mine. He was my opponent the first time I fought a parliamentary election, in 1970. He holds one record that is to his credit: I polled more votes in 1970 than I have polled in the three elections since then, all of which I won, but he beat me in 1970 by 30,000. I wish him a happy retirement, and I am sorry that he has failed to catch the Chair's eye on what is possibly his last opportunity to speak in such a debate.
I also apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes), who did not manage to speak in the debate. I am sure that the House, like me, looks forward to his future contributions on Northern Ireland affairs.
531 I pay my respects to the Secretary of State, and I am sorry that he missed our debate on Tuesday. The right hon. Gentleman may have read my valedictory tribute to him on Tuesday.
§ Mr. Brooke
I read the hon. Gentleman's account. During that summer I saw 10 hon. Members at cricket grounds around the country. He was the only Labour Member I saw, and I shall always remember him for it.
§ Mr. Marshall
I am pleased to hear that. I was about to say as a final valedictory that, if he wants to attend Grace road during the coming cricket season, I shall be prepared to pay his entrance fee and that of his son if his son still entertains an interest in cricket.
I thank the Secretary of State for opening the debate in the thoughtful and sincere way that has characterised his stewardship of the Northern Ireland Office. He said that the debate would be wide-ranging and reflective. That is an apt description of the speeches by my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux).
I am a little sad that the concluding speech by a Member from the Province showed the problems and difficulties that any British politician will face in seeking to reconcile the differences between the two communities in the Province. It also showed the great hurdles that we shall all have to jump if we are to bring lasting peace to that unhappy part of the United Kingdom. I hope that, at some time in the future, we shall hear a spokesperson for the DUP who offers hope rather than despair, who looks to the future rather than to the past and to the time when both communities will be reconciled and working together rather than living in the divisions of the past and seeking to perpetuate them into the future.
I agree with the Secretary of State about the achievements of the people of the Province. He mentioned science and education and I thought that he was about to mention rocketry and the first Irishman on the moon. The list of achievements that he brought to the attention of the House shows the great contribution that people in the Province have made not just to the United Kingdom but to the welfare of the world. I echo the Secretary of State's tributes to the security forces. On these occasions, we have always given our support and praise to the security services, and we shall continue to do so in the remaining weeks of opposition. When we form the Government after the next election, we shall be in a better and more positive position to give the security forces real assistance and help.
I also agree with the Secretary of State about the divisions in the community. He spoke about the difference of views on constitutional issues and about different national aspirations. He said that those differences introduced an international context to Northern Ireland. He was wise to make that point and, although he went over it quickly, its significance was not lost on me. Later in his speech, he linked it to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. His analysis that the differences introduce an international context is correct. When Labour forms the Government, we shall continue to see the problem in those terms and to seek to introduce a solution which takes that context into account.
The hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) gave a pessimistic view of Irish history. I do not share his 532 general pessimism, although I fear that he may be right in one specific area—that he will not get a chair at the talks, although I am sure that he was not expressing pessimism in that narrow personal context. I reinforce the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) that the hon. Member for North Down is not correct when he says that articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution legitimise the IRA. Nothing legitimises the IRA, and we have to make that clear beyond peradventure.
In a thought-provoking speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle was surely right to emphasise that diversity can be enriching rather than divisive.
The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley—I am feeling faint, Mr. Speaker.
§ Sitting suspended.9.45 pm
§ On resuming—
§ Mr. Marshall
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, that that was the only way in which I could attract a full House!
I was about to comment on the contributions of other hon. Members, but, in view of the lateness of the hour, I fear that I cannot do so. Let me simply put on record Labour's position, which will mean reiterating many of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara).
In opposition, we have continued to support policies that seek to achieve peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland, and we shall pursue the same objectives when we are in government. Like other right hon. and hon. Members, we share the anger and the anguish that arise after each terrorist outrage, and we pay tribute to all those in the Province who seek, in the face of all the difficulties, to lead normal lives.
I say to all the people of Northern Ireland that terrorism will not succeed. No terrorist group can bomb, kill or maim its way to the conference table. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North has made it clear that we support the Secretary of State's three-strand approach to the talks. We look forward to reactivating those talks after the election, and to using all our best endeavours to reach a successful conclusion.
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Dr. Brian Mawhinney)
I am grateful to the hon. Members for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) and for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) for their kind remarks about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I have worked with my right hon. Friend throughout his time in his present post, and I look forward to working with him in government in the future; I found their remarks gracious and appropriate.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North began by making it clear that violence was futile. This morning, I—like the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. I. Paisley)—stood in the middle of the high street in Lurgan. The hon. Member for Antrim, North said that the heart of Lurgan was damaged. In one sense, it was appallingly damaged: 150 yards of shops on both sides of the main street will probably have to come down. Yet, in 533 another sense, the heart of Lurgan was not damaged. The people were in their shops, the fishmonger had set up a stall and the pub bore an "open for business" sign. People were going about their business.
Violence is futile. I could not help making a contrast between two events. I had been chairing discussions in Parliament buildings between representatives of the four constitutional parties about briefings that we all agreed should take place. I went from that constitutional political activity to the high street in Lurgan, and the contrast was extreme—the one giving hope, and building a better future for the Province; the other bringing despair, destruction and desperation, going nowhere. In Lurgan I said, as others said before me—both Opposition spokesmen have said it today—that no one shall bomb his way to the conference table. I repeat that in the House tonight.
The security policy that we pursue has to be a security policy within the rule of law. The hon. Member for Antrim, North said that there is a perception that the security policy is not effective. I totally absolve him of the charge, but he knows that sometimes that phrase is used as a euphemism, meaning that we should let the security forces go out and kill whomever they fancy killing—anyone against whom they have suspicion. That would reduce the security forces to the level of the terrorist, and we shall not permit that to happen, because we are a Government, a Parliament and a country of the rule of law.
We shall not allow that to happen for a second reason, too. To allow it to happen would be to destroy the confidence of the community in the security forces. Confidence in the way in which the security forces do their job is not an optional extra, or a veneer that one adds to try to get through difficult situations from time to time. If the community cannot have confidence in the way in which the security forces act within the law, the community will not be prepared to offer the security forces its support, and thus the security policy itself will be undermined.
I am happy to reaffirm to the House our commitment to the security forces. I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Antrim, North —that some people have a perception that we are not committed, and that we do not have the will to win. I look him in the eye from this Dispatch Box and tell him that I have the will to win. We have the will to win, no matter how long it takes. This House has the will to win.
The hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) said, "I am a Brit,"—and he is. But he was saying something more profound when he used those words. We hear spokesmen for Sinn Fein saying, "We want the Brits out," and that phrase gets applied to the security forces and to British Ministers—even to me, although I was born in the Belmont road. But the phrase misses the point, which is that it is not we who constitute the British presence in Northern Ireland. It is the people who constitute that presence, and will continue to constitute it until such time as they democratically choose to change their minds—if ever that day should come.
The hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) talked about peace walls, and pointed out that there were 13 of them in Belfast. I am now in my seventh year as a Minister in the Northern Ireland Office, and one of the things that has struck me over that time is how easy it is to erect peace walls and how difficult it is to get rid of them. There is no mechanism in Northern Ireland to review peace walls and to decide that their time has gone. They tell us something 534 about the insecurity of the Province. Walls exist not only in bricks and mortar but in hearts and minds. They offer security—there is no doubt about that—but eventually they imprison. They prevent new ideas, new thoughts and new relationships, and they prevent people from observing the changes taking place around them. I make no partisan point, because everyone can be imprisoned behind walls.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
The Minister will recall that I referred to the fact that for 20 years I have led the opposition to religious apartheid in education, and I should like to take this opportunity to congratulate him on the support that he has given to the cause of integration.
§ Dr. Mawhinney
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. If we can persuade without threat our young people to grow up unburdened by some of the mythology that affected us as we were growing up, the prospects for the Province will be brighter.
The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) stressed two points. He said that he thought that the Secretary of State and I agreed with him, and I confirm that we do. The talks are not peace talks, and he was right to stress that. He was right to stress it because it is true and also because otherwise, they would lead to expectations in the community and in the nation which cannot be fulfilled and which may potentially be counter-productive as a consequence.
The right hon. Gentleman was also right to say that the inter-party tension among politicians in Northern Ireland is lower now than possibly at any time in the past 20 years. That is a tribute to him and his colleagues, to the hon. Member for Foyle and his colleagues, to the hon. Member for North Down and to the hon. Member for Antrim, North and his colleagues.
It is a pity that more people do not visit Northern Ireland. It is also a pity that more hon. Members do not visit Northern Ireland and do not attend these debates because if they did, they would learn the truth of what I am saying, but they would also learn to salute the courage of the Members of Parliament for Northern Ireland who in their daily lives face threats and pressures which the rest of us, thank God, do not have to face.
Violence in Northern Ireland can stop tomorrow. It will stop the day the terrorists realise that they cannot win, that they will not win and that they will not be permitted to win. They cannot be permitted to win, because, if they were, the nature of our democracy would be fundamentally changed in the process.
Security policy alone will not be enough. It is the combination of security policy and political, economic and social policy, together with the resilience of the people of Northern Ireland, which will make the difference.
We look forward to more talking, to talking before a general election and to talking after a general election. I am hopeful about the talks but they must be characterised by a willingness on the part of everyone involved to explain what they mean, what they stand for and what they aspire to, and by a willingness to listen to what others mean, aspire to and want to see achieved. There should also be a willingness to accommodate the views of others, to make hard choices and to balance the short term against the long term and against the ultimate safeguard that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
I have confidence in this Government's contribution and that of the Irish Government, to that process. The 535 events of the past 12 months have massively increased and concentrated my confidence in the leaders of the political parties in Northern Ireland to contribute constructively to that process.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ MR. SPEAKER then proceeded, pursuant to paragraph ( 5 ) of Standing Order No. 52 (Consideration of estimates), to put the deferred Question on supplementary estimates, 1991–92 (Class II Vote 2).
That a further sum not exceeding £27,939,000 be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund to defray the charges that will come in course of payment during the year ending on 31st March 1992 for expenditure by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on grants and subscriptions etc. to certain international organisations, special payments and assistance, scholarships, military aid and sundry other grants and services.
§ MR. SPEAKER then proceeded to put the Questions which he was directed to put at that hour, pursuant to paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 53 (Questions on voting of estimates, &c.) and the Order [28 February].