§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Robert G. Hughes.]
§ Madam Speaker
I inform the House that many right hon. and hon. Members wish to take part in the debate today, which is a good sign. That being so, may I make a plea for fairly short speeches, so that I might call all those who are seeking to speak?
§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Sir Patrick Mayhew)
We are all extremely glad of this rare opportunity for a full day's debate on the affairs of Northern Ireland. I should like to range widely over the affairs of the Province, while heeding your injunction, Madam Speaker, and remembering that, before the recess, the debate on the appropriation order was curtailed.
Northern Ireland is changing. For the House, but also for people much wider afield and not only within the United Kingdom, the message that I have today is that a far better future is not simply what the people of Northern Ireland deserve: it is something which they sensibly and rationally expect. Already, it is gathering shape.
There seem to be two Provinces called Northern Ireland: the one that many of us know well, and that which is publicly portrayed. To those who see Northern Ireland only at one remove, it must seem quite extraordinary that anybody should be confident that it has a better future. But those of us who know the real Northern Ireland know the extraordinary progress that has been made, and the rising confidence of people who work and live there.
Listen to what the CBI said in its September survey of business confidence in Northern Ireland:Confidence in the Northern Ireland economy exhibits the largest positive balance since the question was first asked in 1987.If one goes to Derry, pride in what the city has achieved and faith in what the future holds are at once apparent. "Don't talk about the two cathedrals festival being cross-community," said Mr. Donal Doherty to us all after a brilliant musical occasion last Saturday night. "This is the community." He was right.
Hon. Members should go east to Belfast, and talk to privatised Shorts and its workpeople, or northwards to Ballymena and hear the plans that the council and business people now have for its future. They should talk to the managers of business across the Province representing inward investment attracted from overseas. They should talk to the people newly in work and read of tourism's repeated record as more and more people come and find out what Northern Ireland is really like. They will sense that rising confidence.
It is with the economy that I want to start, before turning to social advances within the community, and from there to security matters, before coming lastly to political developments within the complex scene.
Unemployment is still quite deplorably high. It is no comfort that, in the Republic, it is notably higher. North and south, Ireland has always had higher proportions of its people unemployed than has Great Britain. My predecessor of 80 years ago, Chief Secretary Augustine Birrell, once wistfully reflected that, if he could only get the jobs, most of his other Irish problems would subside.
There are real grounds now for confidence in the resilient performance of the Northern Ireland economy 484 over the past four or five years. The main indicators show that the economy has performed well. Indeed, in many ways it has fared better than the rest of the United Kingdom. Over the past five years, the seasonally adjusted numbers of the unemployed in Great Britain went up by 35 per cent. Over the same period, unemployment in Northern Ireland fell by 6 per cent. The numbers in work in Great Britain fell by 4 per cent., whereas in Northern Ireland the numbers rose by 5 per cent.
Manufacturing performance has been even more impressive. In the United Kingdom as a whole, in the five years to 1993, production went up by only 3 per cent. Northern Ireland manufacturing escaped the worst of the recession and, over the same period, the increase in output was 19 per cent.
The prospects, too, are good. Industry's confidence and its investment intentions are at their highest for many years. Those facts give grounds for reasoned hope. I am not talking about optimism. I deny optimism, which has nothing to do with one's reasoning power, and a lot to do with one's insides. Rational hope is what matters. Rational hope depends on the evidence and one's assessment of it.
On top of those facts, we had excellent news from the industrial development agencies. During the past year, 10 inward investment projects were secured by the Industrial Development Board, which involved the investment of £1.6 million and almost 2,000 new jobs. This year, two major projects have already been announced: Carmen Electronics, from Korea, is creating 257 jobs making car stereos in Dungannon; and Valence Technology from the United States of America expects to create 660 jobs producing rechargeable batteries at Mallusk, north of Belfast.
It is particularly welcome—I think that the House will agree—that the Carmen project is located in Dungannon. It will give a major boost to the economy of that town. I understand that the sharing of responsibility within the Dungannon council influenced the company to locate there.
On the home industry side, last year the IDB helped local firms with 59 projects to improve their competitiveness. Its marketing assistance helped companies get orders worth more than £100 million. It arranged overseas trade missions, which have already resulted in firm orders worth more than £11 million, with a further £72 million anticipated. Only this week, we heard of yet another major export success with Mivan of Antrim winning a £21.5 million contract from the Royal Thai Air Force for the construction of acccommodation.
At the lower end of the scale, the record of the Local Enterprise Development Unit is also one of impressive results. Last year, it assisted a record number of new business start-ups, and achieved a 4 per cent. net rise in employment among its client companies. Such work by Government agencies surely is important, and deserves the recognition and support of all of us who have at heart the economic well-being of Northern Ireland.
Equally deserving of credit is the work of the local councils and the community groups for economic development. Over the past few years, they have complemented the work of the agencies and shown that they, too, have a real and valuable contribution to make. Initiatives such as North West International—formerly Derry Boston Ventures—the Tyrone Economic 485 Development Initiative, Down Chicago, and others have led the way by promoting their areas and developing trade links abroad.
I am pleased to see that other groups—for example, in Coleraine, Ballymena, Craigavon, Belfast, Lisburn and County Fermanagh—have also been quick to learn the lesson and develop their own initiatives. I want to congratulate and encourage them on their admirable drive.
I congratulate also all hon. Members representing constituencies in Northern Ireland who have been associated with such initiatives. It would be invidious of me to single out anyone. No one is better placed to advance his constituency's claim, or its suitability for investment, than its Member of Parliament. Many are the instances in which that has been demonstrated.
Nothing is more impressive overseas than when political opponents from Northern Ireland make common cause, as shown by the hon. Members for Belfast, West (Dr. Hendron) and for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) on their visit to the United States earlier this year.
I believe that all of them regard it as a major strength that we have a highly developed infrastructure. Of course that infrastructure could be better—we look forward to making it better—but it already comprises good roads, efficient modern seaports and airports, and one of the most advanced telecommunications networks in western Europe. All that comes as a very pleasant surprise to those overseas who are contemplating investment in Northern Ireland, as I know from my conversations with them.
In that context, let me mention two recent major developments: first, the opening last month of the new £20 million port at Londonderry, which will enable the north-west to take full advantage of the opportunities that the single European market affords; secondly, the completion this week of the keystone section of the new railway bridge over the Lagan in Belfast—an innovation which, together with the new road bridge, will revitalise Belfast's transport system. Those are most heartening developments, full of promise for a more prosperous future.
Other advantages, too, are appreciated by those contemplating investing in Northern Ireland: the commitment and motivation of our work force; the high educational levels in the Province, which are, by most standards, the best in the United Kingdom; and—very important—the benefits of the opt-out from the social chapter, which the Prime Minister secured and which Labour would cast away.
The underlying theme of our economic development strategy in Northern Ireland is the virtue of competition. The turn-round at Shorts has been remarkable, in spite of the worst downturn in the history of the aerospace industry. Against a background of falling employment in the United Kingdom aerospace industry, Shorts employs more people today that it did when it was privatised in 1989.
Prime contractors, such as Boeing, Fokker and Rolls-Royce, have had to cut back on orders because of the recession, yet Shorts continues to secure important contracts. Only last week, it secured an order, worth almost £70 million, to modify aircraft for the United States army. The company also disclosed plans to take a leading role in the design and development of a new business jet. That project alone should provide more than 700 jobs when the aircraft is in full production.
Harland and Wolff also continue to provide employment for some 2,000 people, and currently has orders 486 extending to late 1994. The group is now nosing into profit —a very great achievement, in a short space of time, in an industry which is among those most beset by difficulties in the world.
The most recent privatisation in Northern Ireland, of course, has been the flotation of Northern Ireland Electricity, completed earlier this year. Some 50 per cent. of the total share allocation went to people in Northern Ireland—the employees, pensioners and customers of Northern Ireland Electricity. That demonstrates the confidence of the people of Northern Ireland in the company's future in the private sector. Just as the price of gas in Great Britain has fallen by 20 per cent. in real terms since privatisation, so competition, as it develops, will bring down the price of electricity.
When Shorts was privatised in 1989, the company was using production machinery which now, four years later, is in a museum. The Labour party's policy of opposing privatisation ought to be there too.
Privatisation is about choice, competition and enterprise, service and proper jobs. Everywhere in the world, Governments are following our lead and privatising. Last month, the Labour party in Brighton voted to keep clause 4 of its constitution, committing it to wholesale renationalisation. The Opposition Front-Bench spokesman—the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara)—can tell us today whether Labour will duly renationalise Shorts, Harland and Wolff and Northern Ireland Electricity. The workers, among others, have the right to know
Of course we continue to need more jobs. Meanwhile, those that we have must be fairly shared. We have the strongest anti-discrimination laws in Europe. There is comprehensive monitoring of work forces. The Fair Employment Commission is securing agreements with employers to undertake affirmative action. Substantial compensation can be awarded to victims of discrimination —and it is. There are strong legal and economic sanctions against defaulting employers.
Those facts show that we are treating the fair employment problem—and there is one—with the utmost seriousness, as we should, and that we are making progress.
We have a better story to tell—
§ Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)
We can all concur with the aims and objectives of fair employment, but will the Secretary of State undertake to look at the unreasonable costs—legal costs and the waste of very senior management time—in defending cases that are sometimes not proven? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman seek to ensure that when a company has been taken to court on a case of discrimination that is not proven, compensation is given from Fair Employment Commission funds to compensate for the loss to the company?
§ Sir Patrick Mayhew
I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman's earlier remarks. There is a heavy downside to the legislation in terms of costs to employers, but it is one which the House has felt it proper to impose, given the very grave background of discrimination in Northern Ireland in the past.
Such provisions have to be operated reasonably. It is absolutely essential that the commission and the tribunal should be independent of the Executive. I think, however, 487 that a careful eye needs to be kept on the incidence of cases in which employers are brought virtually to the door of the court, only for the case to be dropped. We must look closely at the extent to which that is happening. I hear complaints about it, but I do not have the full facts and figures at the moment. We must strike a fair balance, always remembering the need for independence on the part of those who administer the jurisdiction.
§ Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)
This is a general problem, which exists not only in connection with fair employment legislation but in connection with equal opportunities legislation. Costs are imposed not only on private employers but on public bodies.
In the case of one school in my constituency, the education authority was left with legal costs of about £40,000 in connection with the defence of a wholly unmeritorious claim that had been supported by the Equal Opportunities Commission. There is surely a case for the commission or the public purse to award costs—not, perhaps, in every case, but in cases of unmeritorious claims. The Secretary of State will appreciate that, with regard to equal opportunities legislation, the special factor that he prayed in aid in his response to my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) does not apply.
§ Sir Patrick Mayhew
I understand the strength of feeling on this point. It is notable that such a provision did not commend itself to the House when the legislation was strengthened a few years ago, but it is a point which bears scrutiny.
We have a better story to tell than was the case even a few years ago, and in America, in particular, we are telling it with advantage, especially through our excellent diplomatic posts, to which I pay tribute. Perhaps more valuable than anything, many more people are visiting Northern Ireland and seeing it for themselves.
What of the social scene? In June this year, I was able to announce a £24 million extension of the Making Belfast Work programme; this takes the total allocation of public funds to £124 million since 1988—on top of normal departmental spending—and is intended to help the most vulnerable groups in the most disadvantaged areas of Belfast. Those areas are both Catholic and Protestant.
Making Belfast Work meets needs wherever they arise. Our targeting social need programme is the central plank of Government strategy for promoting equality of opportunity and of treatment. It remains our third biggest public expenditure item. We will continue to attack the most deep-rooted problems in the most disadvantaged areas of the Province, by ensuring that assistance is focused where it is most needed.
We cannot hope to be spared all the effects of the worldwide recession, but accurate analysis of needs and the careful alignment of our resulting interventions can relieve the people of Northern Ireland from many adverse legacies and lead them to the enjoyment of more jobs, fairly shared, and a way of life far more worthy of their great qualities. Our economic and our social policies are harnessed in tandem to achieving those very objectives.
Yet there is one influence that pulls with cruel and savage force' in the opposite direction. I restate the Government's attitude to terrorism. It will always be met with stern and unyielding resolution, by the Government 488 and by the security forces alike. Its total elimination is an overriding objective. The Royal Ulster Constabulary and all the security forces will continue to have all the support they need. I know that their courage and professionalism command the admiration of us all.
This morning, I want to add my tribute to all the civilians who serve the security forces in any capacity. Today I note with especial disgust, as we all must, the brutal, loathsome murder of Mr. John Gibson of Glengormley, whose only crime was to work for a construction company that assists the police and the Army, among other things, to protect themselves against mortars thrown into bases. All our hearts go out to the family of that brave man.
Let there be no mistake: the security forces are hitting the terrorists hard. That is evidenced by the charging of 178 so-called loyalists and 105 republican paramilitaries with terrorist offences so far this year. The resolution and commitment of the police and the Army has been translated again and again into successes.
§ Mr. Clifford Forsythe (Antrim, South)
I join the Secretary of State and the whole House in condemning the murder of Mr. Gibson, who lived in my constituency. We all pass on our sympathy to the whole family circle. This foul murder was carried out by members of the Provisional IRA, who have once again stained their hands with fresh blood as they seek to impose their version of the democratic process on the long-suffering people of Northern Ireland.
Another construction worker has been selected for ritual slaughter as part of the IRA's democratic process—a process which decrees, "If you can't convince or intimidate, you kill". We say to all terrorists that the people of Northern Ireland will not be intimidated, and will fight against terrorism until we have peace and stability there.
§ Sir Patrick Mayhew
The hon. Gentleman speaks with heartfelt eloquence, and no further words of mine are necessary, save to say how warmly that I endorse them.
I was mentioning the record of the security forces this year in bringing to justice terrorists from either side of the community. Examples of their successes in other fields include the interception of 3,000 lb of explosives—
§ Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)
Is it not also important that we bring to justice those people who have escaped to a foreign country? Does my right hon. and learned Friend share my disgust that an hon. Member is prepared to go to a foreign country to help a convicted terrorist to escape from British justice? Does not he agree that the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) will have provided comfort and succour to Noraid, the IRA's paymasters in America, on his recent visit there—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)
Order. Hon. Members will recall that, only a short while ago, Madam Speaker asked for speeches to be kept short because many hon. Members wished to speak. If we are to continue with long interventions, some hon. Members will miss out.
§ Mr. Riddick
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the Leader of the Opposition should withdraw the Labour Whip from the hon. Member for Brent, East?
§ Sir Patrick Mayhew
I have noticed with dismay some of the representations that have been attributed to the hon. 489 Gentleman. I do not wish to say more about the necessary proceedings which are under way for the extradition of somebody who is serving a life sentence in the United States for a vile offence.
§ Mr. Ken Livingstone (Brent, East)
Would the Secretary of State tell us which Minister authorised and instructed Government officials—civil servants—appearing on behalf of the Government in a court in America to refuse to answer questions under oath on 31 occasions?
§ Sir Patrick Mayhew
I am not commenting further on the extradition proceedings. I have described the type of offence of which Mr. Smyth has been convicted and for which he is serving a life sentence, and I wish to say nothing about those proceedings.
Examples of the successes of the security forces include the interception of 3,000 lb of explosives near Portadown in August, the recovery of large quantities of arms explosives and ammunition in north Belfast in September, and the recovery of 70 lb of home-made explosives, firearms, mini-pipe bombs and a dozen arrests, all on the same day in October. In the past few days, the police and the Army have made important arrests and have recovered arms and explosives. There are many other examples.
Some such successes cannot, by their nature, be publicly acknowledged, but they play a vital role in deterring and defeating paramilitary gangsterism. The Chief Constable was right to remind the public in the past month that mass murder and massive destruction have been avoided by the cumulative seizure this year of 32,500 lb of bomb-making material, 130 weapons and 10,000 rounds of ammunition.
In addition, the Gardai have made a number of recent significant finds of arms, explosives and ammunition on its side of the Border. We have close collaboration with the Gardai, for which I am most grateful. Its finds include a large quantity of home-made explosives, with weapons and a rocket launcher in County Donegal in August, a substantial quantity of weapons in a training camp for terrorists in County Louth in September, and four separate finds of weapons, explosives and ammunition in as many days, also in County Louth in October.
But the police need help. It is the responsibility of every one of us, at every post and in every home in Northern Ireland, to contribute to the defeat of terrorism. The security forces stand between—
§ Sir Patrick Mayhew
In a second.
The security forces stand between decent, law-abiding people in the province and the ghastly alternative offered by the killers and bombers. I know the fear of intimidation and I know the strength of traditional attitudes, but let the true nature of terrorists never be forgotten.
§ Mr. Maginnis
Why refer only to the work of the RUC and the Garda Siochana? None of us questions the integrity of those two constabularies, and we are grateful for the work they do. Is it not rather the ambivalence and flirtation —at one remove, we are told—with Gerry Adams and hence with the IRA, the irridentist territorial claim, the lack of sincerity over extradition, pompous platitudes and generalisations, and the double-speak of the Irish Republic 490 Government, which hinder normal relationships between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, and a more speedy resolution to the terrorism that besets us?
§ Sir Patrick Mayhew
I cannot endorse that condemnation. From my experience over some 18 months, I believe that there is no daylight whatever between the two Governments in their commitment to the defeat and elimination of terrorism.
§ Sir Patrick Mayhew
I understand that, in a short space of time, the necessary Bill will come forward. [Laughter.] I know that the hon. Gentleman's impatience over the question of extradition is one which I have shared. I have been able to speak with the Attorney-General in the south, and I know the nature of the problem that has confronted him. It is a technical one, and I confidently expect the Bill to come forward in the near future.
I was suggesting to the House that the true nature of terrorists should never be forgotten. There is no disguising their heartless brutality, and no justifying it by referring to their purpose. Those people, for example, lure a man out of his home by driving a familiar truck belonging to his friend into his driveway, shoot him dead, leave his children to discover their father and his seven-year-old son to telephone the police, while the children wait beside their father for the police to arrive. These are the people who bring a mother to the doorstep of her home, shoot her and leave her to die in front of her screaming children. These are the people who bomb town centres, homes, shops, schools, churches and hospitals, and call them economic targets. These are the people who gun down men with families while they are on their way to work, or while they are playing pool or walking with their friends. These people care nothing for the 100 children playing in an adventure park who were trapped during a bomb attack and who were left hysterical after the explosion. I take each of those examples from the crimes of these monsters only this year.
Bishop Edward Daly of Derry has tellingly said of the terrorists that by their deeds shall we know them. I believe that to these people—each of them—the whole House says, "You will make by these means not one inch of progress towards your political objectives in this democracy."
In this country, we are used to defending democracy and the rule of law. The price is always high, and always worth paying. We shall defend them in Northern Ireland, if necessary at infinite length. We shall, if necessary, go on and on. We say to the terrorists, "The choice for the future, for yourselves and for your suffering families, is yours and yours alone."
At the heart of our policy is our fundamental commitment to defending the democratic rights of the people of Northern Ireland in regard to their future in the Union. We shall always stand behind their democratic wishes.
Here, we must note the latest Labour think piece. It builds on the earlier options for a Labour Government. On page 111, we read:We reply first of all"—to criticisms—that Northern Ireland, at present, is not a legitimate unit of democratic decision-making and rests on coercion.491 Is that an opinion which is held officially by the Labour party? I hope that we shall hear.
It is only fair to say that there is a rather engaging passage on page 3:Those familiar with Northern Ireland need not read chapter 2.If the principal recommendation is based on the assertion that I have just read, readers familiar with Northern Ireland need read neither chapter 1 nor chapter 3 through to the end.
However, there is an undeniable need for political institutions in Northern Ireland that all parts of the community could support and in which they could all have greater confidence. With that in mind, the Government have set themselves to help the people of Northern Ireland to secure a comprehensive political accommodation, if possible extending to all the political relationships within Northern Ireland, to the North and the South, and between the peoples of these islands. We are determined to persevere with that. I am grateful for the strong support of the Irish Government in that endeavour.
Many people have been quick to write off the process. I do not agree with them. No responsible person could be happy with the status quo. The overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland want to see the problems resolved, want the uncertainties put behind them and want to see the politicians talk. I hear that constantly in my contacts throughout Northern Ireland, from people in the street, in the churches, from the business community and in people's homes.
After I visited Ballymena a fortnight or so ago—I am sorry that the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), in whose constituency Ballymena is situated, is not present—the headline in the Ballymena Times, reporting on my visit, was:
Ballymena tells Mayhew—start the talks again.The Opsahl commission was established to encourage a public debate. It undertook the unique and valuable task of canvassing the views of a wide range of people and organisations in Northern Ireland. It suggests in its report that if the talks fail, the Government, in consultation with the Irish Government, should establish a commission to study the situation and to make recommendations for further consultation with the political parties and, if necessary, directly with the people of Northern Ireland.
But the talks have not failed. The process of dialogue is very much alive, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is continuing his exploratory discussions with the parties. They have to be discreet and private; they cannot be out in the open if they are to have a chance of success. The opinion poll on the commission's report showed that a majority questioned in Northern Ireland believed in the importance of the talks, and we shall continue to promote them in every practical way.
For our part, we certainly share the desire to see greater responsibility returned to Northern Ireland's own locally elected representatives. Incidentally, that desire is enshrined in the Anglo-Irish Agreement. However, as the report recognises, for any new structures to be both fair and workable, they must command the widest possible support and allegiance in Northern Ireland. That means that other relationships must also be addressed. The best forum for that is one that involves the main constitutional parties and the two Governments.
492 Alas, the commission also suggested that the Government should open informal channels of communtion with Sinn Fein to test its commitment to the constitutional process without resort to the justification of violence, and that they should persuade the IRA to move towards the de-escalation of violence and, eventually, a ceasefire. We want an end to violence as much as anyone does, and perhaps more than some do.
The Government's position on the matter is quite clear, Sinn Fein must end the violence and demonstrate its commitment to democratic constitutional politics. As I have said before, and as the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) and the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) said only last week, it could then begin to earn a place at any future talks about the future of Northern Ireland.
Until then, there should be no doubt that the Government will not conduct talks or negotiations with anyone who perpetrates, threatens or supports the use of violence for political ends. Let there be just one message from these people: perpetrating and justifying violence are over for ever. Then, after due verification, a new chapter could unfold.
§ Sir Patrick Mayhew
The hon. Gentleman takes such an interest in Northern Ireland that I shall give way.
§ Mr. Winnick
Although I recognise what the Secretary of State rightly says about combating terrorism and about not giving in to it, does he agree that it is important to explore the latest thinking, albeit of Sinn Fein or the Provisional IRA, when we recognise that after 24 years of murders, they have not achieved by any means what they set out to achieve—a united Ireland, which they will never achieve through terrorism?
Therefore, was not the initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) right in at least exploring what is going on in the ranks of the leadership of Sinn Fein? As has been stated, if terrorism comes to an end—not a ceasefire, but a permanent end to the bombing and terrorising which have gone on for 24 years—Sinn Fein, on the basis of its elected representatives in Northern Ireland, would clearly have a place at the negotiating table.
§ Sir Patrick Mayhew
I have always believed that the hon. Member for Foyle, who has a long and distinguished record of constitutional politics, is the best judge of whom he speaks to.
I have read the newspapers, as we all have, of those within the Provisional organisation who are sick of it all. I wish to do everything possible to endorse that very realistic reaction. I believe that, in time—I believe that it will be a shorter rather than a longer time—more and more of them will come to realise that the British Government, the Government of this democracy, will not give in. It is not a question of their being slow learners; we are not going to give in, and the British people would never permit us to do so.
There are a great many positive things to report about Northern Ireland. It is a sad side of life in Northern Ireland that many good things go unreported. One of the best of them is the calibre of the Northern Ireland civil service, by whom the public of Northern Ireland, I and my right hon. and hon. Friends are so staunchly served. With more than 493 14 years in the Government, I can say that I have never met higher general standards of ability, and nowhere have I met greater dedication.
Life for public servants in the small society of the Province can never be easy. For many, it can additionally be dangerous. I pay grateful tribute to them all. For us, their Ministers, it is a privilege to serve with their professional support the people—all the people—of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)
Today is the first opportunity that the House has had properly to consider the momentous events that have taken place in Northern Ireland since the summer. The current political situation is confused, with statements issued daily by various protagonists. Some of the statements have been wholly reported, some partially reported and some totally misreported.
It would be helpful to the House if I were first to set out the principles of the Labour party's Irish policy, as espoused in resolutions that have been passed by the Labour party conference, national executive statements which have been approved by party conference, and statements that have been issued in party programmes and election manifestos. In doing so, I will be responding to invitations from various hon. Members from Northern Ireland in an early-day motion tabled yesterday.
All Labour party conferences have consistently condemned terrorist violence, without equivocation, from whatever quarter it has come. Whatever the alleged provocation, whatever the discrimination, whatever the fear, there is no justification for terrorist violence and killing. Violence will not cement the Union. It will not result in a united Ireland. It just produces stalemate, antagonism and more violence.
Equally, the Labour party expresses its unqualified support for the security forces in the impartial upholding of the rule of law. They have a difficult task, and they put their lives at risk to protect the community against the actions of a small minority of extremists. I wish to associate the Opposition with the comments of the Secretary of State about the recent and gruesome killing in Glengormley, and we send our condolences to the family of Mr. Gibson.
In 1981, the Labour party adopted the following policy statement by the NEC:At the heart of our programme is a long and deeply held belief in the Labour party that Ireland should, by peaceful means and on the basis of consent, be united.That aspiration is shared by the vast majority of Irish people. It is both a feasible and a proper stance for a democratic socialist party.
In 1987, a key policy statement by the NEC of the Labour party reiterated the commitment by consent, and asserted:no group or party should or will be allowed to exercise a veto on political development or on policies designed to win consent. Labour's objective is to help unite a divided island so it can achieve and sustain economic prosperity and lasting peace.In 1989, the NEC and the leader of the Labour party issued the final report of the party's policy review. In the report, we again reiterated our commitment to Irish unity by consent. To build the consent that is necessary for unity, the Labour party committed itself towork with the political parties in Northern Ireland to establish a devolved power-sharing administration in Belfast.494 We positively endorse proposals to establish an agreed system of devolved government, as specified in article 4 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
The Labour party supported the Government in the House in the debate on the Anglo-Irish Agreement. A motion supporting the agreement was passed with one of largest votes ever recorded in the House, of 473 to 47. The preamble to the treaty states that both Governmentsrecognise the need for continuing efforts to reconcile and acknowledge the rights of the two major traditions that exist in Ireland, represented by on the one hand those who wish for no change in the present status of Northern Ireland and on the other hand by those who aspire to a sovereign united Ireland achieved by peaceful means and through agreement.In article 1 of the agreement, both Governmentsaffirm that any change in the status of Northern Ireland would only come about with the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland…recognise that the present wish of the majority of Northern Ireland is for no change in the status of Northern Ireland…declare that if, in future, a majority of the people in Northern Ireland clearly wish for and formally consent to the establishment of a united Ireland, they will introduce and support in the respective Parliaments legislation to give effect to that wish.Article 1 represents a binding international commitment on the British Government to legislate for a united Ireland if a majority in Northern Ireland so wish. The Labour party fully supports that commitment and will continue to do so, although we anticipate difficulties for its50 per cent. plus 1formula, a matter to which I shall return to later.
Article 1 does not define the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. In drafting the article, both Governments were anxious to avoid a dispute on definition of Northern Ireland's status. They came to the negotiations with different title deeds. Britain and the Republic both lay claim to sovereignty over Northern Ireland, Britain under section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act 1920 and subsequent legislation, Ireland under articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution.
The competing sovereignty claims and the divided allegiances within Northern Ireland which they represent still have not been resolved, yet they must be mutually and satisfactory resolved if we are to achieve a lasting peace. It is for that reason that the Labour party is opposed to the unilateral abandonment of either of the competing sovereignty claims. The unilateral repeal of section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act, as amended, or the unilateral abandonment of articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution would not address the underlying causes of the present conflict.
§ Mr. Trimble
I am curious about the reference that the hon. Gentleman makes to section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act 1920. Does he not appreciate that the repeal of section 75 would have no effect whatsoever?
§ Mr. McNamara
That is exactly why I say that neither of the competing sovereignty claims should be unilaterally abandoned. Both sovereignty claims should be on the negotiating table. Both Governments should be prepared to consider amending their respective sovereignty claims in the context of a wider agreement, which would secure widespread support throughout the island of Ireland and would help to resolve the conflicting national allegiances which exist in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his explanation of what I believe to be the rather confusing policy of the Labour party on Northern Ireland. Is he aware that the leader of the democratic left in 495 the Dail has said that it is frightening that the spokesman for the major opposition party in Britain should be so ill-informed on the subject of Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. McNamara
If I had the political history of the leader of the democratic left of the Republic of Ireland, I would keep my mouth shut.
The starting point for the Labour party policy on Northern Ireland, and its ultimate objective, is reconciliation between the two communities which exist on the island of Ireland. It is only through reconciliation that we can ever hope for enduring peace. The Labour party recognises that the national question, and hence the border, is central to the conflict, and that only a resolution of that question can bring peace. It is from that belief that our commitment to a united Ireland follows.
The Labour party recognises that, historically, economically and politically, the people of both parts of Ireland were and are bound together, and that, despite their differences, they have more in common with each other than with other communities. It is out of a recognition by the Irish people of both traditions of their common history and interests that consent for a united Ireland must grow.
What do we mean by consent? No democratic Government can yield to a minority of its citizens a veto over relations with other sovereign states or over negotiations of co-operative agreements with such states. No Government can allow vociferous minorities to veto policies which it believes to be in the general interest and which are compatible with the rule of law and the civil rights of its citizens.
Hence the firmness with which the Government, supported by the Opposition, upheld the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which was imposed against the wishes of the majority in Northern Ireland, but with the support of the overwhelming majority in the United Kingdom as a whole.
Any democratic Government must accept that where a transfer of sovereignty is proposed which would directly affect the citizenship of a section of the population, those thus affected should have the determining say. Those are the tenets central to the concept of consent. Its application turns on the distinction between the exceptional circumstances of a prospective constitutional change involving a transfer of sovereignty, when it will apply, and the normal operation of the processes of government, when it may not.
No Labour Administration will allow its commitment to consent to be transformed into a veto on political progress towards seeking unification by consent. But the party's policy is unequivocal on the need for consent before a transfer of sovereignty to the Republic is made.
Those who argue that the requirement of consent should be abandoned conveniently ignore the problems that an Irish Government would face in implementing Irish unification in the absence of consent. Forced unification of the two parts of Ireland would defeat the primary objective of Labour's policy—the achievement of unity by consent.
Those, then, are the basic tenets by which the Labour party examines and states its policy objectives and examines the day-to-day events and changes in the political scene which take place in Northern Ireland and within these islands. It is on that basis that we shall judge any measures that the Government may introduce. Thus, if we believe that proposals introduced in the House are 496 integrationist and seek to tighten the bond between Northern Ireland and Britain administratively, legislatively or in the procedures of the House, or if the Government seek to pretend that Northern Ireland is purely and exclusively British, such proposals will be firmly and vigorously opposed.
However, while the policy of the British Labour party is to support the advance of Irish unity by consent, we are not paternalists. The Labour party, in opposition and in government, would happily accept any agreement freely reached by the parties in Ireland, north and south, which would gain widespread acceptance throughout the island of Ireland.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)
Will the hon. Gentleman anticipate, or say that he does not want to anticipate, what would be the reaction of the Labour party if the House considered establishing a Select Committee on Northern Ireland? Would he regard that as something to be welcomed, something to be opposed, or something that he would like to consider when it comes up?
§ Mr. McNamara
The hon. Gentleman is anticipating me.
It is for the reason I have given that we supported the Brooke initiative. We welcome the statement in November 1990 by the then Secretary of State thatthe British Government has no selfish strategic or economic interest in Northen Ireland.We did so because that statement seemed to establish a neutral stance on the part of the British Government in the discussions that were taking place.
As late as November 1992, the present Secretary of State went still further, when he asserted:
The British Government is not guided by any blueprint or masterplan leading to some pre-selected outcome of our choice.We supported the three-strand structure of talks, which recognised the three central relationships that had to be addressed—the relationship between Britain and Ireland, that between the Republic and Northern Ireland and that within Northern Ireland. We also supported the negotiating principle that nothing was agreed until everything was agreed. The answer that the Secretary of State gave yesterday when I asked whether that principle still stood was at best equivocal.
The Government have abandoned that three-strand structure in favour of bilateral talks between the Government and the Republic, and on an individual basis with the various Northern Ireland parties. The North-South discussions seem to have been suspended, but we welcome the reports, accurate or otherwise—we hope that they are accurate—that representatives of the Ulster Unionist party are to go and state their position to the Government of the Republic. However, as I understand it, they will not discuss or negotiate any formal North-South-relationship at this stage.
Sadly, the prospect that the British Government will have a constructive role to play in the resumption of talks has been dramatically transformed by the decision of the Ulster Unionist party to support the Prime Minister, and the decision of the Prime Minister to seek the support of the UUP, for the course of this Parliament.
§ Mr. Maginnis
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, despite his reluctance to do so.
497 Is it not the case that, if one argues from the wrong premise, the logic of one's conclusions will be called into question? Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that, during the 1992 talks process, the Ulster Unionist party put constructive, conciliatory and workable proposals on the table, while the Social Democratic and Labour party and the Irish Government sought to escape from the talks process without making any such contribution?
§ Mr. McNamara
We can form a judgment and answer the hon. Gentleman's question when the Secretary of State publishes the documents which form the basis of the hon. Gentleman's statement. Only then can we reach that conclusion. [Interruption.] I said that I would give way the same number of times as the Secretary of State. He gave way four times, and I have done precisely the same.
§ Mr. McNamara
That is the sort of fellow I am—a very decent sort of fellow.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer said:Whoever is an enemy of John Major is an enemy of urine"—thereby throwing his cloak of security over the head of the First Lord of the Treasury. At the same time, the Leader of the Ulster Unionists warned all other contenders to the throne:it would be unwise to assume that our support for John Major would automatically transfer to a replacement.That must have struck terror into the hearts of the Prime Minister's opponents within his party. With supporters such as these, the Prime Minister should remember what Lenin said of the Kerensky Government:I support it, like a rope supports a hanging man.That, of course, is precisely what the Ulster Unionists did to the last Labour Government.
The Government have put themselves in hock to the Ulster Unionists. That was an opportunistic but myopic move by the leader of the Ulster Unionists. It has forced the Government to revise their neutral stance and to speak again with a forked tongue on Ireland—the habit of the Conservative and Unionist party for more than a century. Gone are the days when the former Secretary of State could say that the British Government had no selfish, strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland . The Government have a basic selfish interest—that of preserving their majority.
The Government party has resurrected its former name —the Conservative and Unionist party. That is a dramatic alteration in the Government's stance. The Government have lost all credibility for their claim to even-handedness in Ireland, Britain, Europe and the United States of America. Their neutrality has been blown. They now stand four square behind the Union.
The Government have said that there is no deal, not even a relationship with the Ulster Unionists. The Prime Minister has declared:Nothing was asked for, nothing was offered and nothing was given."—[Official Report, 23 July 1993; vol. 229, c. 631.]If that is so, it is curious that the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) made it so plain that only the Prime Minister would do as leader of the Conservative party, and that other contenders should not automatically expect support. The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley must be the first person to have threatened to withdraw support from a deal that does not exist.
498 During the next Session, we shall see the price that is being paid for Unionist support. Have the Government changed their position on the establishment of a Northern Ireland Select Committee? In the Government's submission to the Select Committee on Procedure in 1990, the then Secretary of State argued that a Committee should be established with thesupport from elected representatives on both sides of the community.In Febreary this year, the Secretary of State affirmed that it should be only part of a wider political statement. Yet, by 26 July—by strange coincidence shortly after the Maastricht vote—the Leader of the House declared that the possibility of a Northern Ireland Select Committee was under review. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether the Government believe that a Northern Ireland Committee should be established without without the support of the Labour party or of the SDLP—yes or no?
The most imporant concern of all, however, following the Government's about-turn, is the future of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. There are two key issues. The first is the possibility of an amendment to article 1.
The Secretary of State, in reply to the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), asserted that he was seeking the amendment of article 1 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement so that it would state specifically and categorically that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. The Government have refused to state publicly the alternative wording, but any such alteration would need the consent of the Irish Government.
It is significant that article 1 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement is the only article of the agreement that does not come under the review provisions of the treaty. Is that the subject of a current round of talks with the Republic? As the Secretary of State, in his interview in the Belfast Telegraph, did not rule out a possible round of talks about the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, he must say whether that is what he seeks. If so, will the Secretary of State tell us what wording he proposes?
The second issue is whether the British Government will allow the Anglo-Irish Agreement to wither on the vine. The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley, in an interview following his accommodation with the Prime Minister—that deal that dare not speak its name—claimed that the Anglo-Irish Agreement would become just as meaningless as the Sunningdale agreement, which was still around somewhere in the United Nations with a thin layer of dust on it.
Is that the attitude of Her Majesty's Government? Will the Secretary of State give a clear and unequivocal statement that the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the intergovernmental conference will proceed with frequent and regular meetings? Will the Secretary of State repudiate any suggestion that the Government will downgrade the Anglo-Irish Agreement? Will the Government confirm their continued and unequivocal support for that agreement?
Those are important questions, not only because of our relationship with the Republic but because it would be wrong if the Ulster Unionists had been given a false prospectus by the British Government about the support they could get.
Instead of concocting secret deals with the UUP, the Government should be tackling the realities in Northern Ireland. We must confront the fact that within Ireland there are two communities, with allegiances to two different 499 nation states. In Northern Ireland, 43 per cent. of the population are cultural Catholics and 57 per cent. of the population are cultural Protestants.
The divisions between the two communities are becoming more stark. In Northern Ireland, half the population now lives in wards that are either 90 per cent. Catholic or 90 per cent. Protestant. Often, in apparently mixed wards the two communities are divided by so-called "peace lines". The Protestant community is retreating east of the Bann and out of urban areas. That regrettable segregation can only heighten sectarian antagonisms and prejudices.
We must also recognise that, in Northern Ireland, the security forces are overwhelmingly dominated by one section of the community. I am not attempting to deny the intimidation which Catholics who seek to join the security forces encounter, but, no matter how professional security forces are—the majority are professional and impartial, and we pay tribute to their work—the current imbalance breeds suspicion and alienation. In the eyes of many of the present minority, they are policed by another nation.
Those are the harsh realities which have to be confronted—the conflicting allegiances, the divisions within the community and the problems associated with the enforcement of the rule of law. Until they are properly tackled, there will be no lasting and peaceful settlement of the conflict.
I shall now discuss a subject which cannot have escaped anyone's attention during the past few weeks—the report which my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) made to the Taoiseach and Tanaiste of the Republic of Ireland about his talks with the President of Sinn Fein and their statement of September 1993, which stated:We are convinced from our discussions that a process can be designed to lead to agreement among the divided people of this island, which will provide a solid basis for peace. Such a process would obviously be designed to ensure that any new agreement that might emerge respects the diversity of our different traditions and earns their allegiance and agreement.That report is now with the Irish Government. We understand that their conclusions on the report will be discussed at the European summit, and that it might be referred to at the next Anglo-Irish conference. Like everyone else, we shall wait to hear the outcome of those talks and the details before making a judgment, just as we wait to pass judgment on the UUP's "Blueprint for Stability", which the leader of the party, the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley, informed us he has been discussing with the Prime Minister in secret since April; and just as we await with interest the details of the DUP's secret document, "Breaking the Log-jam".
However, I hope that, from all those documents, and especially from the document of my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle, a process can be designed to lead to an agreement for the divided people of Ireland that will provide a solid basis for peace. Such an opportunity, if it exists, should not be lightly cast aside. The proposals should be considered on their merits when they are made public. Comments should not be made on the basis of alleged leaks to newspapers, but only when we see the precise text. For the prize that is being offered is peace.
It would be regrettable if anyone's preconceptions and prejudices were so great that they were not prepared at least to examine with care whatever proposals are made. At the 500 end of the day, it might be decided that they are impracticable and unacceptable, or alternatively they may present real opportunities for peace and reconciliation. I hope that they do, but that is a judgment which we should withhold until we see what has been proposed.
§ Mr. McNamara
Because I do not want to.
As I have said, the Labour party would prefer the parties to come to an agreement that would attract widespread support throughout the island of Ireland. However, given the current political situation, regrettably such a major breakthrough appears to be a remote possibility.
In those circumstances, it is for the two Governments to recognise the responsibilities that they share. The two Governments must make proposals to break the impasse which exists if they can make no progress in the talks, while constantly bearing in mind the fact that any transfer of sovereignty must have the consent of the peoples of Northern Ireland, as agreed under article 1 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
We believe, however, that they should go into negotiations, not in the spirit of exclusivity and not by setting down preconditions, but as friendly neighbours, sharing these islands and accepting that we share a common problem in the island of Ireland, which spills over into Britain. Both Governments must acknowledge their common duty to the people of these islands to search for a lasting peace settlement.
The Governments have a responsibility to break down the barriers between the peoples of Ireland. They must work towards mutual recognition of each community's rights, traditions and differing allegiances. A framework for peace must accord both traditions equal respect and integrity.
If the parties fail to reach an agreement, the two Governments must work within, or without, the framework of the Anglo-Irish Agreement to forge institutions that will ultimately secure the allegiance and participation of both communities, and which will respect the integrity of both the traditions and the aspirations of the people of Northern Ireland.
It is vital that such structures are established to encourage greater co-operation and understanding between the two communities. Those institutions must be just and durable now, and they have to be equally just and durable if there is to be any change of sovereignty under article 1 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Those institutions must be in place to avoid a situation in which we merely replace one discontented and alienated nationalist minority in Northern Ireland with another discontented and alienated Unionist minority in the island of Ireland. Such a scenario would simply alter the site of the conflict; it would not solve it.
I think that all hon. Members would accept that the status quo is unacceptable. That is all the more reason for the parties to return to the talks process without preconditions, but if that proves impossible, the two Governments must not give up the search for a solution. It would be an abdication of their duty to do so. The British 501 and Irish Governments must be creative. They must accept their shared responsibilities, and construct a framework for peace within these islands.
§ Sir James Kilfedder (North Down)
I must commend the Secretary of State for what he has done up to the present time. I thought that he spoke with optimism, but he does not accept that term. I think that he said that he speaks from hope based on reason, or reasoned hope. I have no doubt whatsoever that the words that he expressed in the House today will find a response in the hearts and minds of the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland, who will never capitulate to terrorism. The Government—through the right hon. and learned Gentleman—have made it clear that they never intend to capitulate to the IRA or to any so-called loyalist paramilitary organisation. The people of Northern Ireland have every right to take hope from what has been said in this debate. I adopt the words of the Secretary of State—I "encourage" the politicians and people of Northern Ireland to think and talk about, and seek, reconciliation.
I do not accept that there are two communities in Northern Ireland. As far as I am concerned, there is only one. Perhaps it is divided, on the basis of religion, culture or history, but there is only one community and we must do everything to keep it together. That is why I have always objected to the proposition that parts of Northern Ireland should be pushed into the Irish Republic because they are republican or nationalist. I want to keep Northern Ireland intact and to see its people, with their great talent, coming together and in a time of peace, to give a future to the young people and generations not yet born.
I am sure that other hon. Members feel as I do. It hurts me deeply to hear on the radio, or see on television or in the press, that another bloody murder has been committed by the evil terrorists in Northern Ireland. Last night, another innocent victim was slaughtered and the IRA took pride in claiming responsibility for his death. Only last week I was distressed to listen to a Roman Catholic mother bewailing the killing of her son. She was in great anguish. For her and for all the other bereaved mothers and fathers, whether Protestant or Catholic, the decent people in the Province of Ulster express their heartfelt sympathy.
I appeal to the terrorists, whether Protestant or republican: if they have any heart, they should desist. They should cease their violence to allow the people of Northern Ireland, the remainder of the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic to live in peace and to provide a way forward. I am appealing to those men of violence from this House, but I do not suppose that they will listen to reason, as they have already rejected appeals from the clergy—I suppose that they are not open to reason. They live on extortion, and their power and wealth will come to an end when peace comes to Northern Ireland. There must be some men and women, however, who are connected with the various terrorist organisations and who can give information which could bring peace and could certainly send many of the terrorists to prison.
I have the utmost praise for the police and the Army. In difficult circumstances they have displayed remarkable dedication and courage. The terrorists wish to make them appear biased or partisan to divide our community in Northern Ireland into two bitter camps because they thrive on hatred. The more poison that is spread in our 502 community, the longer the terrorists will survive. However, the security forces, the police and the Irish Regiment—formerly the Ulster Defence Regiment—continue to do their job, for the benefit of the entire community. Everyone in Northern Ireland must understand this message—the security forces are there to protect them from the men of violence.
I am convinced that constitutional politicians must continue to talk together, in the hope that political progress can be made. I hope that the Unionists' elected representatives will not sit back purely on the basis of a slender Government majority and do nothing, as that would be a waste of a couple of precious years. As the Secretary of State has said, the time has come for people to talk informally and to hold discussions to find out whether we can achieve some rapprochement which would enable progress to be made and, eventually, peace to come to Northern Ireland, and with it the jobs that we all seek.
The latest unemployment figures show a slight reduction. None the less, the number of jobless people remains a matter of deep concern to me, especially the number of people out of work in my constituency of North Down, where many school leavers and graduates are unable to find jobs. I therefore urge the Government to make even greater efforts to induce investors to come to North Down. Officials, and perhaps even Ministers, seem to look upon my area as a place of great prosperity. They should visit people's homes, from Bangor to Dundonald —as I do—where they will meet young people and adults who are desperate for work but can find no work at all. We need high-tech industries in North Down and I hope that the Minister will heed my plea.
I have the utmost sympathy for young people who are unable to find work, but I have no sympathy for youngsters who terrorise senior citizens in their homes at night. I have heard many reports from elderly people and from others whose lives have been made a misery by a hooligan element. In one recent case, graffiti were written across an elderly lady's house, her window was smashed, rubbish was thrown into her front garden and youngsters urinated at her front door. That happened while she was mourning the loss of her dear husband.
I do not know what can be done, but we certainly need more police in North Down. There is far too much drunkenness, hooliganism and crime in Bangor and elsewhere in North Down. I have no doubt that that also applies to other parts of the Province. My area needs more police to deal with the criminals and vandals and I look to the Home Secretary to make it easier for them to pursue and convict wrongdoers.
At the beginning of today's business I presented a petition, signed by almost 5,000 people from the Bangor area who are protesting most vigorously, as I do, at the intended closure of the Banks residential home in Bangor. The Eastern health and social services board has promised a period of consultation, but it is a bogus exercise because the bureaucracy has already decided to close the home. I repeat my plea to the Secretary of State to intervene to prevent this purpose-built home being closed and the residents being dispersed. It is a beautiful home for senior citizens and the staff are wholly dedicated. I make the same plea for another state residential home for the elderly, Enler house in Dundonald, which has not been in existence very long. I recently spoke to the residents who are, rightly, angry at the callousness of the Eastern health and social services board.
503 I urge the Secretary of State to bring pressure to bear on the board. Its headquarters need to be carefully examined. In a statement to the House yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health said that we could make substantial savings in administrative costs by streamlining management in the health service. I hope that the Government will examine the overweight bureaucracy of the Eastern health board. Its costs could be slashed and the savings used for the benefit of the people of North Down. Is it not a disgrace that five wards in the Ulster hospital in Dundonald have been closed by the Eastern health board while patients are being diverted to hospitals in central Belfast where the population has fallen? The population of North Down constitutes about 47 per cent. of the entire Eastern health board area. It is time for greater democracy in the running of the health service.
Many other hon. Members wish to participate in this important debate so I conclude by repeating my plea that everyone in Northern Ireland should get involved in trying to find a solution to our problems in the Province.
§ 11.1 am
§ Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford)
It is good that we have this all-day debate on Northern Ireland, but unfortunately it takes place against a background of continuing violence across Northern Ireland, loyalist and republican. That is not conducive to a good debating atmosphere, but it is important to place on record our continuing sympathy with the people in both communities who have suffered grievously at the hands of terrorists and our rejection of paramilitary activity by republican and loyalist groups.
Violence will change nothing in Northern Ireland. If one Catholic is killed today or one Protestant is killed tomorrow, there will still remain 1 million Protestants and 600,000 Catholics who will nevertheless have to learn to live and work together some day for the good of Northern Ireland.
I welcome the Secretary of State's positive speech. It outlined the great advances being made and the benefits being enjoyed in Northern Ireland. Again, it is important to place on record the fact that Protestants and Roman Catholics are enjoying those benefits. We all rejoice in Northern Ireland's economy.
Of course, Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom because of international agreements and because that is the will of the people of Northern Ireland and Great Britain. In Northern Ireland, some 30 per cent. of the people vote nationalist—much the same percentage as in Scotland. Of those 30 per cent., 20 per cent. vote for the Social Democratic and Labour party and 10 per cent. vote for Sinn Fein. Thirty per cent. vote nationalist but 70 per cent. do not.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) mentioned religion and cited various figures. Incidentally, as he was only 26th in the recent shadow Cabinet elections, may I commend him on the way in which he held his seat as Labour's Front-Bench spokesman on Northern Ireland, which teaches us in the Ulster Unionist party something about the views of the leader of the British parliamentary Labour party. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman's reappointment has been received with delight and glee by the Tories.
504 Only 30 per cent. of the people of Northern Ireland are nationalists. We must compare that with the fact that 40 per cent. of the people of Northern Ireland are Catholic. A recent census revealed that just under 40 per cent.—approximately 39.8 per cent.—declared themselves to be Roman Catholic. If 40 per cent. are Catholic but only 30 per cent. vote for the nationalist parties, one in four of the Roman Catholic community is not voting for the two main united Ireland parties. Catholic opposition to the SDLP —to judge from recent comments, the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) is especially worried about that—is likely to increase if the SDLP emerges as being more closely linked with the pan-nationalist front, with the IRA and Sinn Fein, committed to achieving a united Ireland or nothing. That, of course, is the message which has emerged in recent weeks.
Statistics on religion are regularly reported in the English press. Following publication of the 1991 census, the Financial Times announced that Protestants made up only 53 per cent. of the population of Northern Ireland although only 39 per cent. had stated that they were Roman Catholic. What about the remaining percentage? Thirty nine per cent. declared themselves to be Roman Catholic and 61 per cent. did not describe themselves as such.
When we investigated that peculiar report in the Financial Times, we discovered that the report had merely added the Presbyterians, the Anglicans and the Methodists but wholly ignored the 120,000 people who comprise about 7 per cent. of the population and who are mainly evangelical Protestants or fundamentalists, such as members of the Brethren, Baptist, Pentecostal or Free Presbyterian churches. In other words, in order to state that the population of Northern Ireland was now only 53 per cent. Protestant, the Financial Times had decided that even the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) was no longer a Protestant. That proves how foolish some of the articles on religion in the English newspapers are.
More recently, an article by Walter Ellis in The Times stated that Belfast had a population of 400,000 which was now 50 per cent. Catholic. In fact, the recent census revealed that the population of Belfast, far from being 400,000, is now only 280,000, of which only 40 per cent. declared themselves to be Catholic. Likewise, Mr. Ellis stated that the Malone road area now had a majority of Catholics, whereas statistics clearly show that the Malone road area is 25 per cent. Catholic.
Such poorly researched articles do little credit to The Times or the Financial Times, and one wonders why they delight in publishing such incorrect figures. Sometimes I think that there is a sectarian background to such articles. We certainly found that in the speech of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North. The articles imply that if one is a Catholic, one must be a united Irelander. I am trying to convey to the House the fact that Northern Ireland is 40 per cent. Catholic but that only 30 per cent. vote for the nationalist parties. That means that one in four Catholics is not voting for the SDLP or Sinn Fein.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)
The right hon. Gentleman is talking about the number of Catholics who are liable to vote for the Union, but has he any information on how many Catholics are actively involved in the affairs of the Ulster Unionist parties?
§ Mr. John D. Taylor
The Catholics who do not vote for the nationalist parties vote for a range of parties such as the 505 Alliance party, the Ulster Unionist party in parts of Northern Ireland and the Democratic Unionist party. I have heard the hon. Member for Antrim, North claim that he receives support from Catholic voters in north Antrina—
§ Mr. John D. Taylor
And also in Mid-Ulster.
One cannot give figures to show how many Catholics vote for those parties in each constituency, but the overall figures are important. One in four Catholics in Northern Ireland today are not voting for united Ireland parties. That figure is likely to increase the more the SDLP ceases to be seen as a social democratic party and aligns itself more closely with its friends in the IRA. Many moderate Catholics do not like that tendency in politics in Northern Ireland.
§ Dr. Joe Hendron (Belfast, West)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On behalf of the people I represent and the people of Northern Ireland, I deeply resent the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) about the SDLP and our friends in the IRA. That is not only inflammatory; it is an absolutely disgraceful remark. I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to ask him to withdraw those remarks.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The right hon. Member for Strangford(Mr. Taylor) is responsible for his own speech.
Mr. John D. Tayor
Of course what I meant was the SDLP and its friends in the political wing of the IRA—Sinn Fein—Mr. Gerry Adams and his friends in the SDLP. That is part of the pan-nationalist front.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Although you have reminded the House that we are responsible for the content of our own speeches with regard to the situation in Northern Ireland, for anyone to describe anyone in this House as a friend of the IRA or of Provisional Sinn Fein would be a grave error and it should be on the record that that is not acceptable to this House.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
It is still a matter for the right hon. Member for Strangford. On reflection he may wish to withdraw his comment.
§ Mr. John D. Taylor
I will certainly not do that, because there is a pan-nationalist front and the SDLP is working closely with Sinn Fein, which is the political wing of the IRA. We must not run away from those realities.
§ Dr. Hendron
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Mr. Adams lives in my territory of Belfast, West. On the only occasion I can remember the right hon. Member for Strangford entering west Belfast, he had about 200 members of the British Army with him. I should like the right hon. Gentleman or anyone else to show me the evidence of a pan-nationalist movement in west Belfast or north Belfast.
My leader is speaking to the leader of Sinn Fein for the purpose of achieving peace. That is the reason. When we use words like pan-nationalist, we are going down the road of supporting loyalist paramilitary action and that leads to murder and death on our streets. In the past seven or eight weeks, 30 children have been left without a parent. On a number of occasions, the right hon. Member for Strangford has used such language.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman has made his point. No doubt the right hon. Member for Strangford is listening to the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Dr. Hendron). As I have already said, the right hon. Member for Strangford makes his own speech. I have already said that he may consider, on reflection, withdrawing his comment. However, he has said that he will not do that. It is a matter for him to decide.
§ Mr. John D. Taylor
I have made the point quite clearly. I am trying to develop the point about the increasing number of Catholics who reject the kind of politics represented by those from the SDLP who have recently spoken and by those who vote for Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland.
That is good news for Northern Ireland because we want a greater agreement between the Protestant and Roman Catholic communities in Northern Ireland about our future within the United Kingdom. We want fair play, equal opportunity and the sharing of responsibility in the administration of all aspects of the machinery of the state in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. John D. Taylor
As we look ahead, we cannot wait two, three, four, or five more years for political progress in Northern Ireland. Violence is around us and it raises the political temperature as we have just seen from the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Dr. Hendron). We must create institutions in which people from all traditions can play their part in the administration of Northern Ireland.
We have had round table talks for nearly two years. They have involved the various political parties in Northern Ireland and the sovereign Governments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. The British Conservative party supported those round table talks even though it was, at the same time, totally opposed to round table talks in Scotland about the future of Scotland.
Thirty per cent. of the people vote nationalist in Scotland, but when it was suggested that the various political parties, including the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats—it is noticeable that not one Liberal Democrat Member is attending this Northern Ireland debate today; even though the Liberal Democrats claim to be great supporters of the alliance party in Northern Ireland, they have shown no interest in this debate—should be involved in round table talks in Scotland, the Conservative party rejected that, claiming that such talks would never achieve anything and that it could never reach agreement with the nationalists and Liberal Democrats. If round table talks cannot succeed in Scotland, they are even less likely, with the background of terrorist violence, to reach a successful conclusion in Northern Ireland.
Most parties—the SDLP, the DUP and even apparently now Sinn Fein, the Ulster Unionists and the Alliance party —have produced proposals for the future of Northern Ireland and its administration. The one institution which, after two years of talking, has failed to reach any conclusions is the Northern Ireland Office and Her Majesty's Government. One would have thought that, after two years of listening to the views of all the political parties of Northern Ireland, the Government would have recognised their responsibility to govern and reach their decisions. However, we still wait in a vacuum for the Government's proposals on the future of Northern Ireland.
507 I return to my theme that more and more Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland are thinking alike. Day after day in my constituency, I hear the same criticisms from Catholics that I hear from Protestants. The hon. Member for North Down (Sir J. Kilfedder) referred to a residential home which is about to be closed in Bangor. We have problems with regard to hospital provision in Strangford and North Down. The Eastern health board will not comment about that. That is the level of democracy that we have in Northern Ireland. The people of Northern Ireland and their elected politicians have no come-back because quangos can simply state that they will say nothing.
We have no say in our affairs. The people on the ground —Catholics and Protestants—resent that in equal terms. Whether they be Catholics or Protestants, they want a say in the decision-making process in Northern Ireland. We must move quickly and not wait another two or five years. We must challenge the Government to produce their proposals.
I appeal to the SDLP in particular, as the main political force for nationalism in Northern Ireland, to recognise that Northern Ireland is in the United Kingdom not just because of international agreements, but because most people want it to be within the United Kingdom. It is the SDLP's responsibility to work with the majority community to bring forward the best possible structures of government and administration for Northern Ireland within the framework of the United Kingdom. I hope that the SDLP will stop looking towards the political wing of the IRA and will look towards its Unionist neighbours in Northern Ireland.
What do we need? First, we need a Select Committee in this House for Northern Ireland. Most commentators, even those in the Republic of Ireland, say that the case for such a Committee is irrefutable. Leading articles and comments in the press and media in Dublin state that the case for a Select Committee for Northern Ireland has been won. We appeal to hon. Members to follow through the logic of the debate that has taken place over the past two years about the need for a Select Committee and try to have one approved and introduced at the earliest possible moment.
Such a Select Committee would be the first step towards giving the people of Northern Ireland, through their elected representatives—be they DUP, SDLP or Ulster Unionists —the right to ask questions, through a Select Committee structure, of Ministers from the Northern Ireland Office who perhaps do not want the experience of a Select Committee before which they would for the first time be forced to answer for their decisions. Of course, senior civil servants are probably even less enthusiastic about having a Select Committee because, for the past 20 years, they have been able to administer Northern Ireland without being answerable to anyone for their decisions. That would be the first step towards creating a democracy for Northern Ireland—the formation of a Select Committee on Northern Ireland.
Secondly, we require the abolition of the Order in Council system of creating legislation for the Province of Northern Ireland. Under that system, major items of legislation are introduced in the House and debated for only 90 minutes, 89 minutes being taken up by the Secretary of State and the Labour party spokesman, with 508 one minute usually left for the SDLP, the DUP and the Ulster Unionists to share among themselves. That is criminal. That never happened even in the worst days of Stalinism in the Soviet Union. It is not democracy. We are not allowed to change one word in those laws. We are not allowed to amend them or to table amendments; they are passed in 90 minutes flat.
One major item of legislation—the privatisation of Northern Ireland Electricity, which was opposed by many parties in Northern Ireland—went through. In 1986, we had a major item of legislation, the education order, which will affect the education of our children for generations to come. There were about 300 clauses in that order and we were not entitled to table one amendment. That is an iniquitous system of parliamentary procedure. We appeal to the Government and to the Labour party spokesman to try to improve the democratic and parliamentary mechanisms to assist the people of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Maginnis
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) does not want to do that.
§ Mr. Taylor
That does not matter. We still appeal to him because there must be some democracy in the heart of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North. I know that he has some shady friends.
§ Mr. McNamara
Of course we want to see that system altered. That is why we urge the right hon. Gentleman to come to an agreement so that he can have a devolved Government of power sharing in Northern Ireland, where he can discuss each and every one of those measures to his heart's content and every amendment that he wants within his own devolved Assembly.
§ Mr. Taylor
Of course, Members of Parliament for the United Kingdom, be they from Scotland, Wales, England or Northern Ireland, be there devolution or not, would still be here in their national Parliament in the House of Commons, and Northern Ireland Members will continue to be here in the House of Commons, be there devolution or not. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his response. Although it did not go the whole way, he has none the less been more helpful than he has been throughout the debate, so that is progress. We will appeal to his heart even further, perhaps, as we proceed. [Interruption.] Did hon. Members prompt the hon. Gentleman? I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but someone else is taking credit for the shift in the hon. Gentleman's position.
That brings me to devolution. Of course we want some form of devolution in Northern Ireland—at least I do. We want to see the Northern Ireland people—Catholic and Protestant, nationalist and Unionist, SDLP, DUP and whatever other parties are elected to a devolved institution in Northern Ireland—playing their full part in the administration of the state.
§ Mr. Winnick
I was asking from a seated position—I apologise and now do so from a standing position—whether the Unionists have changed their view about power sharing over the past 20 years. Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that, whatever he might have said earlier about the way in which people vote or do not vote according to religion, there are two separate communities 509 in Northern Ireland? It is a fact of life. Therefore, is there not a responsibility on the majority community to share power with the minority community, and likewise for the minority community to co-operate with the majority community?
§ Mr. Taylor
Of course. I thought that that was generally understood. There has been a change in our position on that matter for many years. Before 1972, we certainly had a majority form of government. I served as a Home Affairs Minister in that Government. It was a majority form of government. That system was removed. There has been a movement in the thinking of the majority party of Northern Ireland, which is that we need some kind of devolved Assembly, perhaps based on a committee structure similar to what we have in the European Parliament, in which Catholics, Protestants, Unionist; and nationalists would play their part in departmental committees administering the various departments of government.
That is what we call responsibility sharing, not power sharing. Power sharing was in the failed Sunningdale agreement whereby people were appointed to the Executive or, in other words, to the Cabinet by a Secretary of State and not by the elected representatives of the people of Norther Ireland. That is undemocratic in essence and we do not approve it. However, we certainly approve Catholics and Protestants, and Unionists and nationalists working together in a responsibility-sharing mechanism in each department of government. That is the way forward.
The more we can involve what the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) refers to as the two communities—I would not go so far as to say that there are two communities—and the more that we involve people of the different religions and the different political aspirations in the administration of their state for the good of their community and for the good of their people, the more we can isolate the terrorists who currently receive some support from those communities.
We want more responsibility sharing in Northern Ireland, with all religions playing their full part in the administration of the state. With that, we want—unfortunately, for practical reasons it must be unparalleled —more power back to local government in Northern Ireland. One cannot go ahead immediately with more powers for local government until one knows what powers and responsibilities any Stormont Assembly would have. There might be some local government measures that one would wish to concentrate on a regional basis with the Stormont devolved Assembly, and there might be many others that one would want to devolve further to the smaller 26 district councils in the Province.
Again, that requires urgent attention because the people in each district council and borough in Northern Ireland are totally fed up with their lack of ability to influence local authority matters in their towns and villages. They have no power whatsoever and they strongly resent that. 'That resentment is shared equally by Catholics and Protestants alike. If more power were given to local government institutions, there would be rejoicing throughout most of the Roman Catholic and Protestant communities.
The final item is relationships with the Republic of Ireland. Of course there must be continuing improvement in relations between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. That is even more necessary in the context of the European Community in which we now find ourselves. 510 There is much greater scope today for co-operation between Dublin and Belfast than there has been so far this century.
Sometimes people refer to recent events in the middle east, particularly the Israeli-PLO agreement. But the parallel is not exact because, in that instance, to trigger the new agreement between Israel and the PLO both participants agreed to recognise the existence of the other —recognition of the right of the state of Israel to exist and recognition of the Palestine Liberation Organisation as the political representative of the Palestinian people. Regrettably, recognition and the lack of it is the problem in the island of Ireland, because the Dublin Government refuse to extend to Northern Ireland what the Israelis agreed to extend to the PLO. The Dublin Government, through their constitution and articles 2 and 3, still withhold recognition of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. That is why articles 2 and 3 are among the fundamental obstacles to future co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. That is why we want articles 2 and 3 changed, and why every opposition political party in the Republic of Ireland and, once again, much of the media, say that articles 2 and 3 must be changed. Sinn Fein says that they must not be changed. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North says that articles 2 and 3 must not be changed, and one or two other people say that they must not be changed. However, most people in the Republic of Ireland want to co-operate with Northern Ireland—as we do with them —but recognise that articles 2 and 3 are still an obstacle.
§ Mr. Maginnis
Does my right hon. Friend agree that articles 2 and 3, and the changing thereof, are a matter of accommodation for a relationship and that they should not be paraded constantly as a trading issue? Rather, the changing of them is an accommodation to enable the two political entities on the island of Ireland to work together.
§ Mr. John D. Taylor
I entirely agree that the changing of articles 2 and 3 is an accommodation and we require a gesture from Dublin. Dublin could give a gesture with ease to break the deadlock that exists in relationships within the island of Ireland. There is a lot of thinking—a conclusion has been reached—that articles 2 and 3 must be changed. We appeal to the major obstacle, which is the Fianna Fail party in the Republic of Ireland, to reconsider its stance on articles 2 and 3 so that real progress can be made.
If that happens, I guarantee that the Unionist community in Northern Ireland will be enthusiastic to bring about co-operation within the island of Ireland. We already co-operate in matters of trade and farming. Our farmers go to the cattle sales yards in the Republic every week. There is a lot of co-operation in practical terms. It can also happen in political terms. We could create some form of institution within the island which would facilitate co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
§ Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)
There is already a body where there can be political co-operation—the British-Irish parliamentary body. As hon. Members know, two seats on that body are available to Unionist Members. It is about time that that position was reconsidered by the Unionist party. It cannot and will not compromise the right hon. Member's Unionism. It has not touched mine.
§ Mr. John D. Taylor
The hon. Gentleman has not followed what I am talking about, which is co-operation 511 between Northern Ireland and the Republic. The British-Irish parliamentary group deals with co-operation between the Republic and the United Kingdom. That is a distinctly different matter. What is more important is practical co-operation within the island of Ireland between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
If the little problems that are dealt with by the British-Irish parliamentary body when it meets once or twice a year to coincide with every international rugby match between England and Ireland are resolved, we shall be able to take our three seats. However, that institution is not important. What is more important is the real co-operation within the island of Ireland. It is much better to get the Northern Irish and the Republican Irish to co-operate than to concentrate on the other issues to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
I appeal to those who want co-operation to recognise that articles 2 and 3 are a real obstacle. The ruling by the Supreme Court that every time Dublin meets Northern Ireland it is under an imperative to work to bring about a united Ireland is an obstacle to real respect and accommodation within the island of Ireland.
Finally, I appeal to the Government to have the ability to reach decisions about what they will propose. They have listened to, and consulted, all the political parties in the past two years. If the Government take on board and try to accommodate the thinking of all the main parties that contributed to the discussions, they can provide a formula that will improve the democratic rights of the people of Northern Ireland in this House and give the people of Northern Ireland powers to administer their own state and local district councils. If they put those issues to an election in Northern Ireland, they will find that the vast majority of Protestants and Catholics will back them all the way.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I remind hon. Members that at the beginning of this debate the Speaker informed the House that many hon. Members wanted to speak, and requested short speeches. Considering that we have completed only two Back-Bench speeches in the two hours since the debate started, many hon. Members will be disappointed and fail to catch my eye if others continue to make long speeches.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. During the debate the House will have heard the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) condemn violence on both sides and refer to the need to isolate terrorism. If anyone had then chosen to describe him as being part of the pan-Unionist front with the UVF, I hope that the Chair would have intervened and said that that was unacceptable language. Given the attacks on Social Democratic politicians by the UVF and, previously, by Sinn Fein and the IRA, I hope that on reflection and consideration of Hansard, if any hon. Member later in this parliamentary Session uses the kind of language to which objection was taken, the Chair will support those objections.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I made my point earlier. Bearing that in mind, I have not heard any unparliamentary language
§ Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke)
I greatly welcome the opportunity provided by this wider debate. I shall be brief because I know that many other hon. Members wish to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In passing, may I say that I identify myself with the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Down (Sir J. Kilfedder), who once again spoke compellingly and with conviction.
I closely followed the speech of the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor). In passing, I shall pick on one of the many points that he made. I believe that the argument for there being a Select Committee on Northern Ireland has been won. I have argued that way for some months. I hope that there will be a groundswell movement in the House for the creation of such a Select Committee, which is long overdue.
I listened carefully to the opening words of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State. I especially welcomed the paragraphs in his speech in which he referred to the good news that was emerging from Northern Ireland. Such good news often tends to be overlooked—it receives too little attention. Here is something that can unite all politicians of all parties. We can unite in acknowledging that there are some good developments.
If I were to comment briefly on only three developments, the first that I would pick is housing. I first visited Northern Ireland 30 years ago. When I consider the whole state of housing now and what it was then, the situation is beyond comparison. The Housing Corporation is a success story—its achievements should be acknowledged. The increase in home ownership is another feature which deserves mention. The number of houses that are officially unfit has fallen from 14 per cent. in 1979 to some 8 per cent. That is one area of good news.
One can also look with some satisfaction at the growth of the private sector. The Industrial Development Board has played a vital pump-priming role in attracting inward investment and promoting economic activity. Harland and Wolff and Shorts returned to the private sector in 1989 and have gone from strength to strength. They have met the challenges of the recession, created employment and contributed to wealth creation. There is every reason to be optimistic about the electricity industry following the successful sale of shares in June.
Another aspect where there is good news—it is an area in which I have an interest to declare, as the Register of Members' Interests will reveal—is training. The Training and Employment Agency which was created in 1990 has performed well. It uses its budget imaginatively and boldly to create the skills needed for economic growth.
Inevitably, in a debate of this nature, constitutional and security issues dominate. What are the fundamentals? The first answer comes easily: the Union stands absolute; nothing else is on the agenda. I welcomed the Prime Minister's words on 1 July, when he said:The Union is vital for all parts of the United Kingdom. It has the democratic approval of the people of Northern Ireland and we in the Conservative and Unionist party stand four-square behind it."—[Official Report, 1 July 1993; Vol. 227, c. 1101.]I also welcome the words of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, who said at Hillsborough on 15 March this year.
The main focus of discussion now centres on the question of how, for the foreseeable future, Northern Ireland should be governed within the United Kingdom.513 Within that context—the first fundamental being that the Union stands absolute—is the overriding objective of continuing the fight against terrorism. In this, there have been some notable achievements. Information gathering is the most important weapon in the armoury in the fight against terrorism. I understand that good steps have been made in that respect. Over the years, the Government have given the security forces the special and emergency powers that they need, as well as the financial and manpower resources that they need. In that context, I and many others welcome the reassurance given that the security forces in Northern Ireland will not be decreased in line with cuts elsewhere in our defence services.
Another ingredient in fighting terrorism is to ensure that all possible vigorous, proactive measures are taken. A shoot-to-kill policy is entirely unacceptable. Equally unacceptable is a wait-to-be-bombed policy. I welcome the fact that the power to impose internment remains at the Government's disposal. The use of internment can be fully justified. It is a most effective means of destroying the command and communication structures of terrorist organisations. There are times, particularly during periods of heightened terrorist activity, when I believe that internment should be brought back.
The first fundamental is that the Union stands absolute. The second fundamental is the fight against terrorism. The third fundamental is to seek to recreate constitutional and political stability. That requires new arrangements to hand back major responsibilities to locally elected representatives. There must also be initiatives to promote co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic, when it is in the interests of Northern Ireland to do so.
What is the way forward? Politically, there is a short answer: to redress the democratic deficit, direct rule is acceptable only as a lesser of evils. That is why I whole-heartedly support the Government's determination to do everything possible to promote dialogue. There has been a slight change in the format of the dialogue. It varies and evolves over the years, but it is essential that dialogue continues. I hear what my Unionist friends tell me—that the dialogue must be meaningful. There is no point talking for talking's sake.
The paramount importance—the primacy—of what we call strand 1 should be acknowledged. The political well-being and political virility of Northern Ireland demand returning powers and responsibilities to locally elected politicians. Government policy is not to lay clown how they should be effected. I now become a heretic and, I believe, pick up an issue raised by the right hon. Member for Strangford, when I say that if the constitutional political parties in Northern Ireland cannot reach agreement, it must be for the United Kingdom Government to impose what it believes to be best. I suggest to my Unionist friends that the less of an exception and the more of a norm the structures of politics in Northern Ireland are, the better it is for the Unionist cause.
§ Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the need for the Government, in certain circumstances, to impose an internal settlement. Will he answer the question posed by the Secretary of State? Does the hon. Gentleman consider that policy to be coercion?
§ Mr. Hunter
I would not use that word, but I would hope that the Government would come to a solution that 514 was acceptable to the political parties of Northern Ireland. I do not think that "coercion" would be the appropriate word.
§ Mr. Marshall
That is not what the hon. Gentleman has just said. He painted two scenarios. In the first scenario, bilateral talks in the Province had failed, and he said that in those circumstances there might be a need for the United Kingdom Government to impose an internal settlement. Would he define that as coercion?
§ Mr. Hunter
No, I would not use the word "coercion" in that context. I think that the hon. Gentleman is seeking to introduce an alien theme into my argument.
I stressed the primacy of strand 1. I do not believe that we should get too het up about strands 2 and 3. The Brooke-Mayhew talks, if I may call them that, did not result in an overall political accommodation, but all the participants agreed that most, if not all, of the elements that might compose an eventual settlement were discussed. Sir Ninian Stephen, the independent chairman of the strand 2 talks, concluded that the aims of the talks remained "valid and achievable". On 10 November last year, all the parties agreed thatfurther dialogue was both necessary and desirable".I believe in the importance of dialogue and the primacy of strand 1. Strands 2 and 3 will fall into place with the goodwill created by achieving agreement on strand 1.
There are inevitable pitfalls, dangers and inner flaws. Are the nationalists prepared to accept the de jure and de facto reality? If the men of violence are not to win, the men of peace must accept that they are talking about how best Northern Ireland should be governed within the United Kingdom. There is nothing else on the agenda. Do the Government of the Republic accept that articles 2 and 3 must go as a constitutional imperative?
I am worried because when I have conversations with my constituents about Northern Ireland I am made aware of the growing attitude that we should get out and leave them to sort things out. That attitude is worrying. It is a sign that the IRA may be winning the psychological war. It is so important that our resolve to resist terrorism does not falter.
§ Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)
I welcome the debate. One factor that will unite hon. Members across the House is the horror of the violence, not only in Northern Ireland but in mainland Britain. Terrible human tragedies lie behind the continued violence, whereby innocent people are killed and families mourn. We are discussing the right way to peace. But there are different views about how peace should be achieved.
I believe that there is not an Irish problem but a British problem in Northern Ireland. The war which has been going on for many years is the greatest single problem in the United Kingdom. It has had an effect, not only on the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic, but on the people of this country. The city of London is virtually fortified. Unlike when I was first elected, the public can no longer come freely to see people in the House of Commons because of the security problems which are due to the danger of violence.
Justice has been denied all round. For example, just the other day, the judges said that they could not try the West Midlands police because they did not think that the police would get a fair trial because of media coverage. That 515 confirms what my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) said in America about the prospects for justice.
Civil liberties have been denied in Britain. The security services have been engaged in a policy of disinformation in Northern Ireland. I have a copy of a leaflet published by the Northern Ireland security services, allegedly written by Denis Healey and myself, calling for a world revolution. That was produced by public money and it was all part of the Psyops disinformation programme, which has now come to light. The ban on members of Sinn Fein being allowed to broadcast is an absolute denial of every principle of democratic government, the denial of which we have condemned in other countries. The House must reconsider that matter.
I was a member of the Cabinet in 1969, nearly 25 years ago, when the troops were sent into Northern Ireland and I remember vividly that we were told that would solve the problem. I should like to put on record what has happened in those 25 years. There have been 33,000 shootings, 16,000 explosions, incendiaries and defusions, 6,000 claims for damage to property, 3,000 people, civilian and military, killed and 33,000 people, civilian and military, injured. Some 15,000 people have been charged with terrorist offences and 7,000 people have been detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Acts. I asked the House of Commons research department to calculate the total cost of the emergency and, at current prices, the cost of the war has been £l4.5 billion.
We should look at what lies behind all those figures —not at the alleged differences between Catholics and Protestants—and at conditions of life. Unemployment in Northern Ireland, according to figures given out last March, stands at 14.6 per cent. compared with 10.6 per cent. in the United Kingdom. One in five people in the Province live on income support or state benefit—21 per cent. of the population compared with 14 per cent. in England. Those statistics must be put on the record when we consider what the Secretary of State said today. He painted quite a different picture.
It is also important to put on the record the opinion, as far as it can be determined, of the people of Britain on the situation in Northern Ireland. Many opinion polls have been taken and a recent one by MORI found that 61 per cent. of people in Britain favour the withdrawal of troops from Northern Ireland. Of those, the majority favour a withdrawal in up to four years. Only 17 per cent. think that British troops have helped the situation in Northern Ireland, while 73 per cent. believe that they have made no difference or have made the situation worse. Some 65 per cent. believe that British politicians—that is us—are not doing enough to solve the problem, 78 per cent. support talks with all parties from the north and south and 51 per cent. support talks including, specifically, members of Sinn Fein.
The House must take those facts into consideration. We must also accept that all the policies that have been followed by successive Governments have failed—failed if the test is that there should be peace in Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland. Partition has failed, Stormont has failed, direct rule has failed, internment without trial has failed, the prevention of terrorism Acts have failed, the Diplock courts—I have seen them in operation—have 516 failed, the supergrass trials have failed, the use of CS gas has failed, strip searching has failed and the Anglo-Irish Agreement has failed. I voted against that agreement, in unusual company, because I felt that it was a deception practised upon the Irish people. None of those measures has ended the violence and therefore we must explore other ways in which to resolve the problem. In as non-controversial way as I can, I should like to put to the House some of the obstacles that must be overcome.
There is distrust between the communities. I have never accepted that that is entirely due to religious belief. I believe that it is largely due to discrimination in employment. No one can deny that that is a huge problem in Northern Ireland. Discrimination still exists, and the Secretary of State has said that he is dealing with it.
Some loyalists are deeply distrustful of the Government because they believe—I think that they are right—that if the Government could find a way, they would like to be out of Northern Ireland. The Anglo-Irish Agreement was thought to be the shoehorn that would gradually ease the responsibilities of the British Government. There is distrust between Dublin and London because those in Dublin do not think that people in the north get a fair trial. The British people are distrustful of the policy towards Northern Ireland because most of them want Britain to get out of Northern Ireland, sometimes for the wrong reasons.
The tragedy is that the British Parliament and its people are not interested in Northern Ireland. The people in the north know that. If there is a crisis, it is too dangerous to discuss it and if there is no crisis the attitude is: why bother to discuss it? The loyalist connection is therefore breaking down.
If we want peace, we must have talks and therefore I greatly welcome what my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) has been doing with the president of Sinn Fein. Those talks have also been welcomed by the Dublin Government, but I heard the Secretary of State say on radio that those talks should cease. I believe that most people think that those talks are right.
I welcome what my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) said today when he outlined the long-term prospective of Labour policy, because in 1921 the Labour party opposed the partition at a special conference. It also called for an all-Irish constitution, the safeguarding of minority views and the withdrawal of troops. I have always held those beliefs. I am sorry that the Government have decided not to support the talks between my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle and Sinn Fein. I have, however, no knowledge of them.
The problem, allegedly, is that we cannot talk with Sinn Fein because of terrorism. If we examine that argument against a proper historical perspective it does not stand up to a moment's examination. Mrs. Thatcher called Nelson Mandela a terrorist, but I met him in the House of Commons again when he was over in the summer. Any number of people have begun as terrorists and ended up in Buckingham palace. Nehru, Gandhi, Kenyatta, Cheddi Jagan—who is to visit Britain shortly—were all held in British prisons. I was in Cyprus at the weekend and I can recall when Archbishop Makarios was in a British prison. The idea that one cannot talk to people because behind them are people who practise violence is not a valid argument.
What is David Owen doing in the former Yugoslavia? He is talking to people associated with violence, but he and 517 the United Nations feel that the problem has to be resolved through discussion. He is right. The worst terrorists in the world are, of course, Governments, but I will not go into that now.
I must confess to the House that it is not for any British politician to say how the people in the island of Ireland should resolve their difficulties. I have long held the view that the problem is that we should not be there. If I am allowed a personal reference, my grandfather was elected in 1892 as a home rule candidate—
§ Mr. Benn
I am trying to be brief and to put my case as quietly as I can.
My grandfather defeated a Conservative Minister in east London who had said that if home rule were given to Ireland, terrorism and anarchy would follow. In the 1880s, when the London county council asked for control of the police, the Home Secretary said that, unlike Birmingham, the LCC could not take control of the police because of Irish terrorism.
Northern Ireland was set up by violence. It was the bullet and not the ballot that partitioned it. It was achieved by the Black and Tans. Everyone knows that it is an artificial state created by British military force. It is not possible for the British Parliament to bring about Irish unity, but it is for us—
§ Rev. William McCrea
Does the right hon. Gentleman really believe that it is the presence of troops on the streets of Belfast and Northern Ireland that keeps the vast majority of people within the Union? Does he really believe that if the British troops were to pull out tomorrow the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland would decide that they wanted their future to be founded within a united Ireland? If he does believe that, he knows little of the reality of the truth.
§ Mr. Benn
I am saying that the British troops in Northern Ireland have not solved the problem of violence and that it is not for the British Government to bring about Irish unity but for the Irish people to decide the relationship that they have with each other. Any sensible person knows —it has been admitted by a number of people now—that there can be no peace in Northern Ireland without peace between the communities. And there is distrust. There can be no relationship between the north and the south other than on a base of trust. To achieve that we must have talks with everybody and make it clear that Britain does not intend to remain and claim jurisdiction.
A bigger peace dividend is to be gained in Northern Ireland and the Republic than in any other part of the world. It is a highly militarised island, north and south, and that peace dividend should be used to resolve the social problem.
The United Nations has a role in getting the talks going. Indeed, during a Cabinet discussion in 1969, Dublin 518 suggested using the United Nations. I wrote to the Secretary-General the other day suggesting that an observer should go. I have invited the president of Sinn Fein to come to the House of Commons to address a meeting.
§ Mr. Benn
The hon. Gentleman says "Shame", but if the Government will not allow talks, Parliament has a responsibility. As a Member for Chesterfield, I have a responsibility because soldiers from Chesterfield are in Northern Ireland and our people are in danger. I have had a word with Madam Speaker and there is no obstacle to the president of Sinn Fein coming here to address Members of Parliament. As his words cannot be broadcast, Parliament has a duty to hear him. By now, the Secretary of State has probably received my letter saying that I hope that he will not create obstacles to our hearing the president of Sinn Fein—a former Member of the House—address Members of Parliament and the Lobby.
We have a duty to hear the argument. We were told that publicity was the oxygen of terrorism. Information is the oxygen of democracy and we must be able to hear directly what the president of Sinn Fein and others say, because we have already heard our side.
§ Mr. Robathan
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, although the president of Sinn Fein had a seat in the House for eight or nine years, he never once came to the House during that time? His contempt for the democratic process was shown by his failure to come to the House to express his opinion and by his support for terrorism in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Benn
To take his seat, the president of Sinn Fein had to take an oath of allegiance to the Crown, which he could not in conscience do. Why should the Crown be used to deny his constituency its Member of Parliament's right to sit here? The first women Member for Parliament, Countess Markievicz, to whom I shall shortly put up a plaque, was in prison when she was arrested. She could not as a Sinn Fein Member take her seat because unless a Member swears an oath of allegiance to the Crown he or she cannot sit in the House. Charles Bradlaugh was also kept outside for many years, but I will not go into that.
It was the cold war that retained American support for British policy in Northern Ireland, for strategic reasons. The Pentagon did not want an independent neutral Ireland between themselves and the red army. The cold war is now over. President Clinton, who has no love for the present Government because they tried to search Home Office files to prevent his election, has now suggested that he may send an observer. I believe that, before the end of the century, Britain will be out of Northern Ireland. Much emphasis has been placed on articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution, but what about the articles in our own Government of Ireland Act 1920, which makes our claim?
If we are to get out in circumstances of peace and by negotiation, the talks—notably those launched by my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle—must be authorised and encouraged. As Churchill said—I heard him say it—The only alternative to war, war is jaw, jaw.We must talk. The answer to violence is discussion, out of which can come a solution that is quite different from the ones put forward so unsuccessfully by successive 519 Secretaries of State responsible for Northern Ireland. I have heard them for 43 years and they are no more credible today than they were when I heard them in the past.
§ 12.4 pm
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
I am sure that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) will forgive me if I do not follow him but try instead to answer some of the things that are so blatantly wrong and false. The ignorance that he has shown about these matters is deplorable.
We in Northern Ireland have heard the voice of the IRA Sinn Fein and its leader. I have seen the result of his voice; in Roman Catholics and Protestants in my constituency who mourn their loved ones, while Gerry Adams, the IRA Sinn Fein leader, puts out statements justifying those acts of murder. Yet we are told that we need to listen to him. We have listened to him. We have seen him in action. We have heard, no later than last weekend, what his policies really are. He is not for peace; peace is not the prerequisite first of all that we should establish. He wants to get a political agreement that will suit him. Unless the British Government are prepared to say that they will consent, that the right of self-determination rests with the whole of the Irish people, he will not give peace.
The Anglo-Irish Agreement, which was much vaunted by the SDLP and hailed as the structure through which we could get an agreement for the people—not "peoples"—of Northern Ireland makes it clear. That entity "the people of Northern Ireland" was supposed to be recognised by Dublin and the SDLP, who were coaching them to get the agreement, said that they alone had the right of self-determination about the future of the Province. Now we are told by Albert Reynolds that he is not reneging on the agreement but thinks that the other proposal will be of great benefit.
The House needs to realise just how serious the situation is. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) was telling us all the things that had failed. But look at Dublin. Dublin has failed. What has Dublin succeeded in doing? It destroyed 80 per cent. of the Protestant population who lived there when the boundary was drawn, that Protestant population was 10 per cent. of the total population of the 26 counties. Today, there is little over 2 per cent. of Protestants left.
As bad as the Protestants are painted, in the North of Ireland, the figures show that the Roman Catholic population is increasing in Northern Ireland. We have not been guilty of the ethnic cleansing policy, but the South of Ireland has. Those are the facts of the situation. Dublin has failed. It has been suggested that if British troops were pulled out—or those from other parts of the United Kingdom—in some way there would be a change of opinion; the loyalty of the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland who vote unionist with a small U, whether they be Roman Catholic or Protestant, do not desire and will not have a united Ireland. That is a fact.
There is no use in anyone telling the House that there is some way of peace if we take away the troops. I was delayed this morning as, unfortunately, the plane did not take off until 1½ hours after departure time, but I did not see a single soldier. It is not a question of the British Army holding the people of Northern Ireland to ransom, telling 520 them, "You are part of the United Kingdom and we will keep you part of the United Kingdom." We are talking about the will of the people of Northern Ireland, as expressed over and over again. The House must face that fact.
There are Roman Catholics who vote unionist—a fact which can be seen more clearly in elections conducted under a system of proportional representation. In PR elections, one can see the way in which people vote. It is hardly likely that the people voting for John Hume are Protestants in the main, just as it is hardly likely that the people voting for me are Roman Catholics in the main. But I have stood at boxes in the European elections in which not hundreds but thousands of voters have chosen John Hume's name as their first preference on the paper and my name as their second.
Let us be clear that there are Roman Catholics who are happy with and support the Union. Even the prominent priest in Dungannon said some time ago that the Roman Catholic population as a whole could not be branded as wanting a united Ireland. If my memory serves me right, he put the number of Roman Catholics who believed in and would support the Union at some 20 per cent.
The hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) put his finger on the fundamentals. I do not agree with the four priorities outlined by the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor). Rather, I agree with the preferences expressed by the hon. Member for Basingstoke. The first thing that needs to be done to save the situation is for the Government to come back and declare their defence and maintenance of the sovereign position of Northern Ireland within this United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington)
If the Province is to stay part of this country, is it not important that we should finish with the Anglo-Irish Agreement altogether? We do not want a foreign Government having a say in what we do in our own country.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I was rather surprised that that was not mentioned by the Unionist spokesman. The right hon. Gentleman made no mention of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
Anything that interferes with the sovereign right of the people of Northern Ireland to remain part of this United Kingdom must be dealt with as a first priority. The people of Northern Ireland have been undermined in this matter. If the Government's policy is changing, I welcome that —although actions will speak louder than words. In the past, they have said, "We will stay for as long as the majority wish it, and we will go as soon as possible." That has been the Government's attitude, and that is what they practise. I shall not rehearse the statements made by the Secretary of State, which are fresh in the memory of all people of Northern Ireland.
The constitutional position of Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom has been undermined. As long as that remains the case, oxygen is supplied to the terrorists, who say, "Look, we are doing well." Conor Cruise O'Brien—who is not on the same political wavelength as I am—has made it absolutely clear that they are saying in Dublin, "Another push and we will get exactly what we want." He also said, I think, that the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) helped to get him removed from the Dail, and much else besides.
521 All I can say to the House today is that, if we do not defend that pillar, there will be continuing trouble. The IRA knows today that it cannot win the war. The talks came when there was adverse publicity about the IRA's monstrous killings and about the monstrous killings of its own people. As the hon. Member for Foyle pointed out in a television interview, the IRA was killing more Roman Catholics at a certain time than anyone else, so there was a terrible and awful repulsion growing in the hearts of the community.
Suddenly, the hon. Member for Foyle went into conference with the IRA-Sinn Fein leader. That alone seemed strange to the Unionist population. the hon. Gentleman had made forthright statements, but suddenly he was having talks. Various voices of opposition were heard, even in his own patty.
The first statement that came out of the meeting was that the two had agreed that self-determination was the right of the Irish people as a whole. If there was a vote in the whole of Ireland of what to do with Northern Ireland, we would have a united Ireland, because—
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I have little time, but I will give way in a moment.
If that vote occurred, Northern Ireland would be finished. It would be asking Northern Ireland to commit political suicide. We cannot do that. The Northern Ireland people refuse to do that, and will not give up their inalienable right of self-determination. It is not something which they alone said was theirs—we are continually told that the Northern Ireland of today was made up by Britain and by the people of Northern Ireland.
The Dail Eireann accepted and ratified the territory of Northern Ireland. The House of Commons and the British Government of the day ratified the territory, the Stormont Parliament ratified it, and it was lodged at the League of Nations. It was not some fanciful state with which the three parties had nothing to do. The South of Ireland had everything to do with determining the territory, so did the North and so did Britain: it was a tripartite agreement.
That territorial treaty was torn in shreds when the 1937 constitution was brought in, by the way. De Valera, who was against the treaty at the time, and was really a Provo in his own country, carrying out a civil war and shooting his own fellows, came back into politics and devised the present constitution. That constitution sought to reverse what had already been agreed by introducing articles 2 and 3 of the Republic's constitution.
I heard the hon. Member for Foyle telling the world that it is no longer a territorial dispute. Well, if it is not, why did his party come to the talks and tell us that articles 2 and 3 must be kept?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
You certainly did.
Why did the Northern Ireland spokesman of the Labour party go to Cork to say that we must retain articles 2 and 3, where he was rebuked by one of the socialist leaders in the South of Ireland for daring to go there and say it?
Why have the present Dublin Government, including Mr. Spring, the leader of the Labour party, reversed and done a somersault? We read at the talks what their Hansard reported Mr. Spring as saying about articles 2 and 3. The 522 Dublin Government now say, "They must hold on to articles 2 and 3. They will be a bargaining counter." We are not having any bargaining about articles 2 and 3. They are obnoxious and lay an axe at the very root of the Ulster tree. We repudiate them. Until the Southern Government become a democracy and give up that claim, which is immoral, illegal and criminal, and puts oxygen into the terrorists, the claim must be dealt with.
All I have heard is, "Oh yes, that matter can be on the table." The very Union is now to be on the table as well. We heard the right hon. Member for Chesterfield talk about the Government of Ireland Act 1920. The only thing that is left of the 1920 Act is the definition of the six counties. It has been carried forward in other pieces of legislation. As a Unionist, I will be at no table talking about the Union.
When the original talks were called, the primacy of stage 1, as my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke said today, was that it was established that Dublin had no say in the internal affairs of Northern Ireland, and that the constitutional parties, the people at the table, and the British Government who presided at the stage 1 talks were the only people who could have any say.
Yet when we got to the talks, we saw that that was not the attitude of the Social Democratic and Labour party. Earlier today, hon. Members asked why we could not establish what the majority of people wanted. The majority of parties at stage 1 got a basis, a structure and a formula.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
All the parties in the committee.The representatives agreed with the formula, but then their leader came and said that they could not go forward in that way. The Secretary of State made the statement that the British Government saw no difficulty in implementing the formula.
§ Rev. William McCrea
Does my hon. Friend agree that the real reason behind the veto by the leader of the SDLP was that he was not interested in an agreement within Northern Ireland? He wants the matter to be dealt with in a European or in a united Ireland context. He did not want political progress, although that had been agreed to by SDLP members on the committee when the decision was taken. It was vetoed by the SDLP leadership, proving that they are not interested in an internal settlement in Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. We must realise the primacy of the matter—that we must first deal with the internal structures within Northern Ireland. It is within those structures that talks can take place with the Dublin Government, and only when the Ulster people in their own structures can talk to the Dublin Government not as inferiors, but as equals, dealing' with both parts of Ireland, can we come to an agreement between both parts of Ireland.
The right hon. Member for Chesterfield was right to say that there is great disillusionment among the people of Northern Ireland, and that they do not trust the British Government. Why should they, after the way that they have been treated by those deals? Any politician who meets the people of Northern Ireland must realise just how distressed and alienated they are.
The establishment of stage one should come first, and that should be settled without any interference from the Dublin Government. The question should be put to the 523 people of Northern Ireland—not to the people of the Irish Republic—in a referendum that is outside party politics. A referendum would allow everybody to say how they wanted to be governed. In that way, we would find out what the people of Northern Ireland want.
The argument has been put to me by the people of Northern Ireland for years, and I have repeated it in the House. If the people of Northern Ireland are told that they have the final say in their destiny and whether they want to be in the United Kingdom or not, surely in a lesser way they should have their democratic say in how they are to be governed internally.
§ Mr. Beggs
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm for the record that while the loyalist community have been extremely suspicious of the way in which Conservative Governments and successive administrators in Northern Ireland have treated the majority community, they are no more enamoured, and are more suspicious, of the proposals that the Labour party would like to implement?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Even good British Labour supporters and members of the trade union movement to whom I have spoken are amazed that Labour Members are talking about having the army of the Republic on the Falls road and the British Army on the Shankill road, and saying that that is a recipe for peace. I would think that the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Dr. Hendron) has enough horse sense to admit that that would be the greatest recipe for a war to the death.
There are stupid people who, at a time of tension, are telling us that peace will be found in those ways. There can be no way forward under the McNamara blueprint. Talk of joint sovereignty, talk of British and Irish troops or troops from the United Nations Organisation becoming involved leads to far greater tension in the province.
§ Mr. Roger Stott (Wigan)
For the record, I wish to make it clear and unequivocal that the document to which the hon. Gentleman has referred is the intellectual property of its authors. It is not the property of the British Labour party.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I was commenting not on the McNamara document, but rather on the original document of which I have a copy. The original document was circulated, and I had a discussion with the leader of the hon. Gentleman's party in the House about it.
Let us not be fooled. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) and I met the Leader of the Opposition and talked about the document. He explained that the document had been circulated for information. That is the document that I am talking about. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), who leads for the Labour party, approved of and accepted the original document, and it was his document in that sense.
There can be no future as long as the Anglo-Irish Agreement stays in place. I do not know whether it is so, but I was told today that an Anglo-Irish conference is to be convened in Stormont on Wednesday. If that is so, the Government should think again.
To hold an Anglo-Irish conference meeting in Northern Ireland at this time would be not only highly insensitive but could provoke a reaction which would be horrible to 524 contemplate. [HON MEMBERS: "That is a threat."] It is not a threat. When the leader of Sinn Fein has said that he will not declare any peace until the people of Northern Ireland are surrendered and their rights are surrendered, it ill becomes the hon. Member for Foyle to say that we are making threats.
We had better face up to the facts. The situation in Northern Ireland is graver than I have ever seen. I challenge any hon. Member to challenge that statement. I talked to a prominent Roman Catholic barrister this week. He said to me, "Ian, I do not often agree with you, but I agree with you now. We never had a situation in our community as we have at the present moment." It is a fact. Anything that will instil more fear in any section of the community should be guarded against.
Anglo-Irish Agreement conference meetings have been held in London and Dublin. It would be unhelpful to hold one in Northern Ireland. The conference could well meet in London or Dublin. Why are we bringing those members from the Irish Republic on to Ulster's soil at this time, as if to say that they have an inalienable right to be there? Unless that is dealt with, we shall not move forward to any reconciliation or peace.
§ Rev. William McCrea
Before my hon. Friend finishes his speech, will he join me in abhorring the awful tragedy last night of the dastardly murder of a director of a firm in my constituency? He was a man whose only crime was that he desired to be an honest worker instead of a lazy loafer of a republican. Does my hon. Friend agree that the truth of the matter is that we saw last night in the murder of another innocent Protestant worker the reality of the threat that Sinn Fein holds over the people of Northern Ireland?
It ill becomes the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party to bring Gerry Adams, whose hands are stained with the blood of the people of Northern Ireland, into some kind of credibility, so that people now call himMr. Adams. It ill becomes any Member of Parliament to deal with Gerry Adams, because he has been and still is a terrorist at heart.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I know how my hon. Friend feels. I deplore all murders. I certainly deplore a murder for which the only excuse is that the victim was in a building contract to take part in rebuilding bombed police stations and building places where members of the British Army can sleep, eat and work. For that crime, he was brutally murdered. That man had a great charitable record. He devoted his whole life to charities.
On the other side, there have been the same vicious, devilish and diabolical murders. It is a tragedy of tragedies that such murders take place in our Province, but they will continue until we grasp the nettle. The nettle needs to be grasped. I hope that the Government will grasp the nettle —for the Union and against the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
People are saying, "Oh, but give peace a chance." It is not peace that is proposed: it is surrender. Then the terms under which we live will be dictated. Our fellow Protestants in the South of Ireland agreed to that. Where are they today? Practically eliminated.
§ Mr. John Hume (Foyle)
The first point that ought to be made is clear. The murder that has just been condemned had already been unanimously condemned across the House before the hon. Members for Antrim, North (Rev. 525 Ian Paisley) and for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) arrived. If what is happening on our streets were happening on the streets of any part of England, Scotland or Wales, the House would be packed to the doors today. Yet we are told repeatedly that we are an integral part of the United Kingdom.
The Prime Minister and all the Government would be sitting there. Indeed in any part of the world today 'where there is a similar conflict, if a debate were taking place in that country's Parliament the Parliament would be packed. The emptiness of the Chamber tells me everything about the real attitude towards our problem. It tells the same story to the Unionist people. At the end of the day, the Unionist people will find out, as I have often told them, that the only people they can rely on are themselves—their numbers, their strength and their convictions. As we have said repeatedly, we cannot solve the problem without them because the problem of a divided people can be solved only by agreement.
We all know of the terrible tragedies that we have experienced during the past 20 years, but we also know that every attempt until now, as the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said, has failed to solve the problem. Therefore, there is time for a lot of thinking to be done on all sides, and especially—it is simplistic to say so, but it is true and I say it often—because we are where we are as a result of our past attitudes. Our past attitudes have brought us to where we are. In fact, at times our respect for the past in the North of Ireland paralyses our attitude to the future. If we are not prepared to re-examine our past attitudes we shall stay where we are, in the present conflict situation. Everyone who is responsible has to re-examine their attitudes—the Government, who bear total responsibility for the situation in Northern Ireland, the Unionist people and the nationalist people.
As I have often said, the Unionist people's objective, which is often restated, is that they want to preserve and protect their identity and way of life. That is a legitimate objective, with which nobody can quarrel. I do not quarrel with it. Difference is normal in every country in the world. There is no country in the world that is stable if it is based on total uniformity. It is stable only if it is based on respect for difference and diversity. That is what we have to learn. The problem is that the Unionists do not trust us when we say that. They do not seem to understand that, when I say that, my electorate hear my saying that and have to support or not support what I am saying, and they have given strong support to that approach.
I am not telling the Unionists to change their objective of protecting their identity: I am telling them to take a hard look at their methods. Let us remember that from 1921 until the early 1970s Northern Ireland was governed as a one-party state, run by the Official Unionist party. That party left it in the mess that it is in, so they should not give us too many lectures. Their leading Prime Minister, Lord Brookeborough, boasted that he never employed a Roman Catholic in his life. The method that the Unionists have consistently used to protect their identity—given my understanding that the basis of what appears to be their fear is that they will be subsumed into an Ireland into which they do not want to be subsumed—has been to hold all power in their hands and exclude everyone else. That is a mind set which exists everywhere in the world where there is conflict, if one takes a look around. That is also the Afrikaner mind. That approach will never solve any problems in a divided society—it can only lead to conflict.
526 I shall come to my discussions with Mr. Adams in a few moments, but listening to some hon. Members' comments on those talks I have never heard such hypocrisy in my life. I have made clear their purpose—the total cessation of violence. I and my party have taken a stand against that violence for the past 20 years and we, and our homes, have been attacked on many occasions. Now I hear people criticising me for talking with that objective. Could you stand up and tell the House that you have never talked to a paramilitary organisation?
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)
Order. The hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) must remember that he is addressing me.
§ Mr. Hume
Has he ever visited the offices of the Ulster Defence Association in Belfast? Has he ever heard of the Ulster Protestant Volunteers, who were the first people to start violence during the present troubles—the bombing of the Silent valley, the bombing in Ballyshannon and the first killing of a policeman in the Shankill road, constable Arbuckle? What about the third force, and marching on hillsides with berets? What about eulogies for dead leaders of the UDA? Come on, do not be hypocritical when you are telling me about talking—
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I made a statement in this House and I shall repeat it on my feet. I have never talked to any banned organisation in my life—or to any illegal organisation. What is more— Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Member is making a point of substance, but it is not a point of order for the Chair.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Is it not a point of order when a Member accuses another Member of doing something that is absolutely illegal? My answer made it perfectly clear.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
If the hon. Member wants to intervene to clarify or refute a statement made by another hon. Member it is open for him to do so.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that all remarks must be addressed to the Chair.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and other members of his party have been making those allegations time and again. He has been asked to repeat them outside the House or even to print them on the record here. The harsh reality is that—[Interruption.]—Is it a recent picture?
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. That is not a point of order for the Chair. A Member can always seek to intervene to refute any allegations made. I hope that this debate will not degenerate. There are important policies to discuss and I hope that hon. Members will address them.
§ Mr. Hume
No. I am replying to the hon. Members who have made accusations in, and outside, the House. I have never sat down with paramilitary organisations. To work together with them and to achieve a political objective—[HON. MEMBERS: "What about Gerry Adams?"] To work together with them, to achieve a political objective [Interruption]—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
No, sit down. The hon. Member for Foyle has the Floor and he is free to continue.
§ Mr. Hume
Both Unionist parties in the House sat around the table with a body called the Ulster Workers Council, which included paramilitaries, to bring down the only partnership and power-sharing Executive for which the House ever voted and which we ever had in Northren Ireland. There is no doubt about that. Northern Ireland was set up when the sovereignty of this Parliament was overthrown in 1912—[Interruption.]
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. In this House, we give the freedom to each hon. Member to speak without seated interventions. The hon. Gentleman has the Floor.
§ Rev. William McCrea
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Does that apply equally to the threats being made from a sedentary position by hon. Members on the Opposition Benches?
§ Mr. Hume
I have been dealing with what I described as the Unionists' mind set, which is to hold all power in their own hands and exclude everyone else. I have also been replying to the accusations that they have made 528 against me—wholly false accusations, of course—which are dangerous and irresponsible in the present atmosphere. [Interruption.] May I be allowed to speak?
§ Mr. Hume
I shall move on. I said at the beginning that everyone must re-examine their attitudes. I have been asking the Unionists to re-examine the attitude of holding all power in their own hands, which is an exclusive approach. The nationalist community has to do the same because, all along, nationalism has been about territory —a territorial mind set. There is also a handed down notion in Northern Ireland that patriotism is about dying for Ireland. As we know from our own very sad experience, there has been a thin line between dying and killing, and it is about time that living for Ireland was the mode of patriotism. As for the territorial approach, it is people, not territories, who have rights.
The people of Ireland are divided and they can never be brought together by any form of coercion. The Unionist people know that not only have we repeated that notion at every election but that it is at the centre of our philosophy.
As we look to the future, we face a number of choices. The first choice is the status quo. A number of people are comfortable with that because the troubles do not affect them; the troubles affect people in the poorer areas—that is where the violence is and where the troops are on the streets. It is not a solution.
The second choice is a scorched earth policy, turning Northern Ireland into an internment camp. That is not a solution. The third is a minimalist agreement between the Unionists and ourselves, with the extremism and violence continuing. That is not a solution. The fourth choice is to face reality. One recent positive development is the fact that both Governments, and all parties from Northern Ireland in this House, have agreed that if we are to solve the problem rather than merely discussing who wields the power in Northern Ireland we must deal with all the relationships which go to the heart of the problem and sit around the table to do so. I believe that if we sit around the table in an atmosphere of peace the dialogue will have a much greater chance of succeeding.
Unfortunately, there are in our society a substantial number of people who vote for political organisations which support violence and what they call "armed struggle". If one happens to be a public representative in that society, does one have the responsibility to do everything in one's power to try to bring that violence to an end, in particular, by talking to people?
I make no apologies for entering into dialogue with Mr. Adams for the ojective of bringing a total cessation to all violence. That is the objective and can achieve it by talking, despite the risks involved and the irresponsible accusations hurled at us, and at myself in particular, by people from other political parties, and the fact that people's lives are put at risk by such irresponsible criticism—
§ Mr. Maginnis
Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge the fact that it is no good coming to this House again and again to speak in generalisations, platitudes and clichés? What the House needs to know is how the hon. Gentleman 529 can reconcile what he says with Gerry Adams's unequivocal statement that the liaison that he is having with the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) is not about an end to the violence of the IRA.
Can the hon. Member for Foyle explain why the document which he claims exists, although we have no proof that it does, and which he was able to leave for 10 days when he went to America—surely nothing can be more important than peace—is not, in the words of the Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland, Mr. Reynolds, to be passed on to the United Kingdom Government? Will the hon. Gentleman admit that, despite his efforts—let us give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that they are honourable efforts—nothing is to be put on the table?
§ Mr. Hume
First, let me say that my party and I have been in the front line against the violence of the IRA in particular for the past 20 years and our homes have been attacked on numerous occasions by its supporters. Now, because of irresponsible allegations, the homes of our members are being attacked by loyalist paramilitaries—
§ Mr. Hume
I know full well that the home of the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) was attacked. As he knows, I fully condemned that and went to sympathise with him on that occasion.
A lot of people have been hurling quotations at rite in respect of what I am supposed to have said with Mr. Adams. As an example of what I am talking about, let me ask the House what it disagrees with in the following language, which is the language that we have expressed together:The exercise of self-detennination"—which everyone is throwing around—is a matter for agreement between the people of Ireland. It is the search for that agreement and the means of achieving it on which we will be concentrating … We both recognise that such a new agreement is only achievable and viable if it can earn and enjoy the allegiance of the different traditions on this island, by accommodating diversity and providing for … reconciliation.Our second statement says:We are convinced from our discussions that a process can be designed to lead to agreement among the divided people of this island, which will provide a solid basis for peace. Such a process would obviously also be designed to ensure that any new agreement that might emerge respects the diversity of our different traditions and earns their allegiance and agreement.Can anyone in the House claim that an agreement among the divided people of Ireland which respects their diversity and earns the allegiance and agreement of all the traditions is not an objective for which all hon. Members should be working and to which the Government should be totally committed?
§ Mr. Hume
At the end of the day, I have said publicly that the dialogue in which I am engaged has been the most hopeful sign of lasting peace that I have seen in 20 years. I do not make statements like that lightly. I believe that the dialogue in which I have been engaged is a dialogue of real hope. [Interruption.] The proposals that have been put to the Irish Government and, as our statement makes clear —[Interruption.] Would you please keep your mouth shut until I have finished?
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. That is a matter for the Chair, not the hon. Member who is speaking. I repeat 530 my ruling that I deplore seated interventions. Those who engage in them may find it more difficult to catch my eye when they wish actually to make a speech.
§ Mr. Hume
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have said that this is the most hopeful dialogue and the most hopeful chance of lasting peace that I have seen in 20 years. At the end of the day, as our statement made clear, this process must involve both Governments, and all parties. Its objective is an agreement that has the allegiance and agreement of all traditions.
By the way, why cannot people simply wait and see? I hope that this will happen as soon as possible. I should like to see the two Governments meeting next week. I am standing here and telling the Government that I believe that we have a real process of lasting peace and a total cessation of violence on the basis that I have just stated. I am saying to them, "Hurry up and deal with it."
§ Mr. Hume
I am not giving way any more.
The Government must hurry up and deal with it because the process and the opportunity exist. People are asking me to tell the Government what is in these proposals. I am told by the official Unionist party, the Ulster Unionist party, that it has proposals for a solution—a blueprint for success, but I have never seen it. The Democratic Unionist party gave secret documents to the Prime Minister a number of weeks ago. There is no discussion of those secret documents, but there is a lot of discussing about my dialogue.
I do not underestimate the risks that I have taken in entering into the dialogue, but if, by talking to someone, I can make a contribution to saving human life and creating the circumstances in which we shall never, as we are doing today, stand condemning the murders of yesterday, if by dialogue as elected politicians, who surely were elected to talk—the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) is a clergyman, and clergymen tell us that their job is to talk to wrongdoers—what is wrong with talking, particularly if it can bring about lasting peace? I say directly to the Government that I believe that there is now a real basis for lasting peace and the total cessation of violence. I hope that they will examine it in detail and respond positively.
§ Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)
I briefly reiterate the point made that I made in my intervention on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I thought that it was intolerablo—disgraceful—that the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) should go the the United States and try to help a convicted terrorist to escape British justice. Of course, at the same time he made a number of unfounded allegations against this country. The Leader of the Opposition should seriously consider whether the hon. Gentleman should be taking the Labour Whip. I hope that the Leader of the Opposition will consider that point.
I welcome the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). We are delighted to see him still in post after the shadow Cabinet elections, although we note that he did not manage to secure election to the shadow Cabinet. None the less, we are very pleased to see him in his place and to know that he has kept his job. However, I was not convinced by what he said. I understand that if a majority in Northern Ireland say that 531 they wish to become part of a united Ireland, all parties —the Labour party and the Conservative party—have to try to fulfil that wish.
I do not understand why the Labour party has the clear and ultimate objective of a united Ireland. Northern Ireland has existed legally and constitutionally for many years as part of the United Kingdom, and it is clear that the majority of people in Northern Ireland want that situation to remain. Therefore, the hon. Member for Brent, East has not justified his party's policy on that matter.
I shall comment briefly on the "On the Record" programme on the BBC last week. I was surprised and dismayed to see that the BBC circumvented the law by interviewing Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein. The law on this is quite clear: members of Sinn Fein should not be interviewed. The BBC got around the ban by employing the voice of an actor, but, effectively, we saw Gerry Adams being interviewed. The BBC should think much more carefully before it employs such tactics. The fact that Sinn Fein does not like the broadcasting ban is argument and reason enough for the ban to continue to exist.
§ Mr. Trimble
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is remarkable that in the Irish Republic, where there is a prohibition on Sinn Fein in exactly the same words as the prohibition that operates on broadcasting in the United Kingdom, the Irish broadcasting authority operates with greater integrity and does not resort to such cheap tricks in order to get around the ban? The Irish broadcasting authority has greater respect for the law and the established Government than the BBC seems to have.
§ Mr. Riddick
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. Those who argue that the ban in this country should be lifted should bear in mind that the Government of the Irish Republic have a similar ban. The BBC should be much more careful in the way in which it handles such interviews.
§ Mr. Beggs
I agree with the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the BBC should be more careful because it is perceived as being especially insensitive to the Protestant and Unionist community when a member of that community is murdered by the IRA. We never hear reports on the BBC that a Protestant workman has been murdered. However, when a Catholic is murdered, it is almost headline news. We feel that the BBC can inflame the situation and should be more careful. Another typical example is the story this morning of the murder in Carnmoney last night.
§ Mr. Riddick
I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's point, although I am not in a position to confirm what he says.
This morning, we have seen evidence of how passions run high when the politics of Northern Ireland are discussed. I admire all those people on both sides of the political divide who are involved and who play their part in constitutional politics in Northern Ireland. I hope that the House will tolerate me making my views known on this issue, despite the fact that I do not have any great involvement in Northern Ireland.
What has dogged Northern Ireland since the troubles began has been the desire of mainland politicians to provide a political solution. We have had Sunningdale, the 532 Anglo-Irish Agreement and, most recently, the inter-party constitutional talks. I cannot help but think that every new political initiative provides encouragement to the Provisional IRA. We must recognise that there is a clear political objective behind the violence perpetrated by the IRA—a united Ireland.
The political initiatives that are brought forward in good faith are designed to reduce or stop the violence in Northern Ireland. Without the violence, the political initiatives would not be taking place. Such initiatives have the opposite effect of that intended. They prove to the men of violence that politicians will react to that violence. But the IRA will not stop its campaign because the Catholic community is given a greater say in the affairs of Northern Ireland or because the Government of the Republic of Ireland are given a say in the constitutional affairs of Ulster. The IRA's overriding objective of a united Ireland will remain, and its campaign of violence will continue and be encouraged by the fact that political movement is taking place.
The most effective way of discouraging the IRA and undermining its morale seems to be masterful political inactivity. Politicians' response to the campaign of violence perpetrated by the IRA and the so-called loyalist paramilitaries should be no political activity on the constitutional front and a tougher approach by the security forces. That is why I am sceptical about the talks that the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) is having with Sinn Fein. The only outcome that could possibly satisfy Sinn Fein and lead to the cessation of violence by the IRA would be a united Ireland, but that outcome is impossible to envisage as long as the majority of people in Northern Ireland wish Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)
I repeat what the leader of my party and my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) has said—the outcome of his talks with Mr. Adams has to have the agreement of the Unionist people. Therefore, the outcome cannot be seen as something that will be imposed on one or other of the parties. In the aftermath of the process of peace, we shall have to work together around the table to find out the modus vivendi for all of us in Ireland—north and south, Unionist and nationalist. Nobody seems to have understood that that is what was said. Self-protection lies in the participation, agreement and allegiance of all.
§ Mr. Riddick
I fully understand that that is how the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Foyle regard the negotiations of the hon. Member for Foyle. My point is that ultimately only one outcome will be satisfactory to Sinn Fein and the IRA: a united Ireland. I do not believe that anything short of that will be satisfactory. With his experience of politics in Northern Ireland, the hon. Gentleman may be able to tell me otherwise, but that is my judgment, for what it is worth.
The danger seems to be that the talks will result in proposals or recommendations which the Irish Government will put to the British Government. The Unionists and the British Government will be unable to agree to those proposals because the bottom line will still be a united Ireland. The British Government and the Unionists will doubtless be castigated by those with liberal opinions and by many people in the United States for 533 failing to participate in the talks on the new proposals. I do not for a moment doubt the sincerity of the hon. Member for Foyle, but I question whether it is the right thing to do.
I believe that it is time to get back to basic first principles. We must make it crystal clear that as long as the majority of people in that part of the United Kingdom—Northern Ireland—wish to remain part of the United Kingdom, that is exactly what will happen. It may be appropriate to have referendums from time to time to send a message to those people, particularly in America, who talk about oppression and British colonialism, to show them that Britain will remain in Ulster because that is what the majority of people in Ulster want.
I have been encouraged by what my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State said today. I was also encouraged by what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said on a number of occasions. He reiterated his views and strong commitment to the Union in his speech at the Conservative party conference. Probably the greatest benefit to come out of the year-long debate on the Maastricht treaty was the fact that the Unionists and the Conservative Government were drawn closer together, which I see as a major benefit.
If we make it 100 per cent. clear that the constitutional state of Northern Ireland is not in question, I believe that we will be able to put our relationship with the Irish Government on a much sounder footing. I have no enthusiasm for the Anglo-Irish Agreement, but it exists. We should therefore use that forum as a means to discuss issues of mutual concern and interest between the two parts of Ireland, just as NATO, the Commonwealth and the European Community are used to discuss issues of mutual interest.
Something else is missing in Northern Ireland—any form of genuine self-government. We should look at the possibility of providing a form of meaningful local government in Northern Ireland, which allows the people to have the opportunity to decide what happens in their communities. My prescription will not, of course, stop the violence in Ulster overnight. It is an unexciting prescription based on political inactivity. The only decision that would, in reality, stop the violence would be a complete capitulation to the cause of a united Ireland. No doubt we would then witness a violent backlash from the loyalist paramilitaries.
The only policy that can reduce the level of violence in Northern Ireland, and perhaps stop it—and which would be acceptable to the British Government—is one of long-term determination to keep Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom for as long as the people in Northern Ireland want that. That policy, allied with a tough security policy, might convince the men of violence and those within the Catholic community who, unfortunately, sometimes tacitly support the IRA, that their violence leads to nowhere and simply achieves nothing.
It is time for British politicians to put an end to political initiatives and to get on with governing Northern Ireland as if it were part of the United Kingdom like Scotland and Wales.
§ Mr. Clifford Forsythe (Antrim, South)
One could be forgiven for thinking that this debate was solely about the constitution, but there is no mention of that word in the motion. My understanding is that today's debate is a 534 continuation of the appropriation debate that we should have had before the recess. I have been somewhat surprised by the fact that most speakers have dwelt on constitutional matters.
§ Mr. Barnes
Only a few hon. Members attend the appropriation debate despite the fact that it gives hon. Members the chance to discuss the budget for Northern Ireland. There are far more people in the Chamber today from outside Northern Ireland than is normally the case when we discuss the Province. I hope that some hon. Members who have listened to today's debate, which has concentrated on constitutional matters, will also turn up to discuss the economic and social issues connected with Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Forsythe
From my reading of the motion, I understood that the debate concerned all issues relating to Northern Ireland. For my part, there are many matters that I could raise.
There is no doubt that the constitutional position is extremely important, but many other things are of equal importance in Northern Ireland. I could talk about the level of unemployment and the troubles that are associated with planning. I have a list of things that I could discuss were it not for the shortage of available time. I could talk about the problems faced by handicapped people. I could speak for the whole debate on the problems associated with social security and the operation of the social fund. Those problems have not even been mentioned; neither have the homeless, those who are not receiving enough benefit, or those who will be in trouble if VAT is imposed on fuel.
The Secretary of State mentioned the civil service. One could raise a considerable number of problems within the civil service, such as the reporting forms that are filled in at the end of each year by superior officers reporting on their staff. If the reports are queried, they cannot be changed. Even someone who is superior to the superior cannot change the little box that has been ticked, so there is a great danger that if the reporting officer dislikes someone he will give a bad report that cannot be changed. That is bad for civil service morale.
We could discuss a number of planning issues. I should like to mention in passing a mundane matter—that of grass cutting. Why plant grass in areas where local authorities will not cut it? Why does the Department allow grass to be sown and then take no responsibility for it? I see that the civil servants in the Box find that funny, but I assure them that it is extremely important to everyone in Northern Ireland. If Departments in Northern Ireland carried out their jobs properly, we might not have to raise such matters so often in the House.
We could discuss a number of matters related to agriculture. There are drainage problems and people's houses are being flooded because of what is happening on farms.
I wish to discuss briefly the non-existent overall transport plan in Northern Ireland. We have no overall transport plan, simply a hand-to-mouth existence whereby every year the Treasury hands out a little crumb to the Northern Ireland Office with no due regard paid to an overall transport plan. Surely, funds allocated to the roads should be allocated on the basis of an overall Northern Ireland transport plan linking all roads in a proper manner for business and commuters. The same problem exists on 535 the railways, although we have few railway tracks in Northern Ireland. Why do not the Government look at that matter to save using the roads and link rail and road?
We do not have an overall plan for the ports. We simply let each port get on with its own business. We give them grants, but do not say how they should tie into the overall scheme of things, with the result that three or four ports are fighting for the same business.
For some time, the international airport in Northern Ireland has been given millions of pounds to update its facilities to ensure that, regardless of our troubles and bothers, people arriving in the Province will have a proper impression of it and the people who live there. So, having ploughed millions of pounds into the international airport, the Government then decided, for ideological reasons, to privatise it. The privatisation process is now going on.
The Government decided to give grants of millions of pounds, not only to the international airport but to other airports in Northern Ireland, one of which was the city airport—or harbour airport. The idea behind the grants was simply to ensure that the airports were complementary to one another. The smaller airports would look after regional flights and, by definition, the international airport would look after international and main flights to Heathrow.
Now that those grants have been paid, the airports are in competition. The city airport could not be regarded as having any reasonable facilities whatever. When I think of the criticism that is levelled at gate 49 at Heathrow, I wonder why such criticism has not been levelled at the city airport. I have nothing against private enterprise or privatisation provided it is brought in for all the right reasons, and provided it is useful to do so. There is no point in having a state-run airport if grants are then given to the commercial enterprise airport in Belfast, which is in competition with the international airport which is still under public control. The result is that the airlines take advantage of the situation. That is their job. They are commercial airlines and they play off one airport against the other.
§ Mr. Trimble
Does my hon. Friend agree that, whatever one's ideological attitude to privatisation, now is not the best time to privatise the international airport, because, in view of the uncertainty and factors that he mentioned, together with the effect of the slump, one would not get a decent price for the international airport? For that reason alone, it would be better to wait until those uncertainties have been resolved and the economy has recovered.
§ Mr. Forsythe
My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I fully support it. As for the international airport, we require swift, comfortable and efficient flights between Belfast and the rest of the United Kingdom. As we are part of the United Kingdom, that is essential. The great difficulty is that, if we have competition, and are relying solely on the profit motive, it will be to the detriment of the people of Northern Ireland. After electricity privatisation, we found that the promises that we were given—one of them being that the price of electricity would not rise—had not been met. Those of us who have seen what happened with privatisation of the airport are worried about whether the same thing will happen with flights between Belfast and the rest of the United Kingdom, which are essential.
536 Because of the time factor, I do not wish to go on too long, but there are many things that I could say. However, I should like to ask the Minister whether the Northern Ireland Office still feels that, with the changed circumstances with the airlines in Northern Ireland, privatisation should proceed at this point. Will the taxpayer get full recompense for all the public outlay that has been put into the airport? Is the Northern Ireland Office prepared to accept any price to privatise the international airport? Has account been taken of the probable loss of passengers to Belfast city airport?
Many pundits, including the General Consumer Council for Northern Ireland, have made suggestions concerning the disposal of the slots at Heathrow that are at present available to the different airlines that fly between Belfast and that airport. They suggest that instead of those slots being haggled over and horse-traded by the airlines, the Government or the relevant authority should make them available specifically for flights to Northern Ireland—as well as to Scotland, Birmingham and the other regions. It would then not be up to the airlines to haggle over the slots and about where to send their flights. In the absence of such a system, an airline might decide to use its slots at Heathrow for something else—for example, for the European market—in the hope of making a greater profit and it might discontinue its flights to the international airport or even to Belfast city airport. I ask the Minister to let me have information about that at some stage—perhaps that is letting him off the hook—or, if there is time, to give me some answers at the end of today's debate.
Finally, I remind the Minister that, although he is not responsible for these matters, other Ministers who have occupied his position have been responsible for them. They should now make up for lost time and formulate an overall transport strategy for Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)
The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) rightly drew attention to some important issues in the Province. If he does not mind, however, I shall not follow his example but propose to return instead to the more general debate that we have been having about the political situation in the Province.
First, let me pick up some of the points made by the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick). Like one or two other hon. Members, he referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and his lack of a position in the shadow Cabinet. I am sure that my hon. Friend appreciates those hon. Members' views. I should point out to the House, however, that my hon. Friend increased his votes by 26—or 40 per cent.—this time. If that approval rate continues, I am sure that next year my hon. Friend will finish up as a middle-ranking elected member of the shadow Cabinet. I am sure that that is what the Government as well as the official Unionists want.
The hon. Member for Colne Valley referred to the constitutional position of the Province and said that it should not be in doubt. Every time he commented about the constitutional position of the Province he placed it in doubt. That must also be the position of the Government since he shares their view on the matter. While there is a majority of thought in the Province to remain part of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland will remain a part of the 537 United Kingdom. If and when there was a majority desire to leave the United Kingdom, the Government have said —I am sure that the hon. Member for Colne Valley agrees —that they would enable Northern Ireland to leave the United Kingdom and, if it wished, to join the Republic of Ireland. So there is no certitude in anything that the hon. Gentleman said, but a great deal of uncertainty.
I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that the 50 per cent. plus one concept is a great source of uncertainty in the Province. For that reason, I no longer accept the main thrust of the Labour party position because I should like to see a constitutional settlement which would be fair to both communities but durable and not subject to the uncertainty surrounding the 50 per cent. plus one rule. The hon. Member for Colne Valley should reconsider his view of the present constitutional position.
I thank the Secretary of State for describing the economic and social progress that we have seen in the Province over the past few years. Irrespective of party affiliation, I am sure that all hon. Members wish to see an increasingly prosperous Northern Ireland that is beneficial to both communities. We also want social provision to increase year by year in the Province. I pay tribute to the Housing Executive. It has done a great deal to improve housing provision in both communities over the past decade. I wish that the Government would show the same enthusiasm for public housing on this side of the water as they do for provision of public rented housing in the Province.
§ Mr. McGrady
Favourable comments have been made about the Housing Executive in Northern Ireland, especially from the Government Front Bench in the Secretary of State's introduction. If that is the case, and I certainly agree that it has done a magnificent job in difficult circumstances since it was set up, why are the Government proposing to disband it, to privatise it, to sell it to private companies, to renovate houses, to run houses and to manage tenants if it was such a great organisation that they endorse 100 per cent? It is a contradiction of the needs of Northern Ireland people to dismantle what is good and put in its place the unknown and the unwanted.
§ Mr. Marshall
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He has made his point through me to the Minister and I am sure that the Minister will pick up that point and answer it when he replies.
Despite the economic and social progress, the conflict continues. I share the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) that the conflict in the Province is the single most important domestic issue facing the United Kingdom. It continues to sully Britain's reputation abroad. I recently became a member of the Council of Europe—a body which speaks a great deal about civil liberties—and I always hear wry laughter when British spokespeople speak about civil liberties, bearing in mind Britain's history in the Province.
The conflict has cost billions and billions of pounds over the past 20 years and it has greatly contributed, as my right hon. Friend said, to the continuing erosion of the criminal justice system in Britain. Despite my assertion that it is the single most important domestic issue facing the country, it is continually swept to the so-called margins by mainstream politicians—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield once considered himself to be.
538 Mainstream politicians sweep the issue to the margins for one of two reasons. One reason is that there are no votes in it. When I talk to many British politicians they say, "My average voter does not care two hoots about the problems of the Province." As there are no votes in it, it is not designed to catch their attention. The second reason is that it is no quick route to enhancing their reputations. While that attitude persists, death and violence continue to stalk the Province and mainland Britain.
You may remember, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I worked for five years, together with some of my hon. Friends, as a Labour spokesperson on Northern Ireland. Although I was not so frequent a traveller to the Province as some of my hon. Friends were, on my visits there I met many people from all sections. What always impressed me was their resilience and their fortitude in the face of all the difficulties of the past 20 years.
There was a common factor running through everyone whom I met from both sections of the community. They all shared one common desire—a desire for peace, although not peace at any price. I do not like using that phrase because it underpins the war stance to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield referred. The people there do not want peace at any price, but a peace that would enable them to live their lives to the full and a peace that would respect their traditions and ensure that they could live free from social, economic and political discrimination. There is a fundamental desire for peace.
However, we must recognise that peace will be attained only with the development of political institutions of which both communities accept the legitimacy and to which they are prepared to be loyal. Any successful settlement must be based on that proposition and must also fulfil at least four other conditions. The first condition is that the settlement must address the relationship between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the relationship between the Republic and Northern Ireland.
The right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) made one significant statement this morning, although I am not sure that he recognised its significance. When he talked about the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic, he kept referring to the state of Northern Ireland. In other words, he was suggesting that there was a relationship between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom different from that between England, Scotland, Wales and the United Kingdom. That fundamental difference must be addressed.
The second condition for a successful settlement is that it must address the historically entrenched national, cultural and religious differences within Northern Ireland. We might wish that those differences did not exist, but, despite some of the figures given by the right hon. Member for Strangford, we must recognise that those differences exist and that we must take account of them.
Thirdly, we must accept the need for the wide acceptance of the judicial system and the policing institutions in the Province. They must be widely acceptable to both communities, not just to mainly one community. Fourthly, the settlement must eventually lead to a reduction in the level of violence and a removal of the rationale for the existence of paramilitary groups.
My view is not held by me alone. The Secretary of State referred to a document, so I shall bring it formally to the attention of the House. It is a document dealing with the future governance of Northern Ireland. My view is expressed in the document, as are the views of the other 539 three authors. The authors share the view that nationality, or the sense of belonging, is the fundamental axis of conflict in Northern Ireland. The majority community feel themselves to be British and feel that they belong to the United Kingdom and to Great Britain. The minority community—whether we like it or not—have a different sense of belonging. They feel that their tradition associates them with the independent country to the south.
We have to accept that difference, and that it is based on the sense of belonging and on nationality. The national question motivates republican as well as loyalist paramilitaries and accounts for the major cleavage between the two political blocs in Northern Ireland. It has polarised political opinion in the Province since 1969, and any solution that is to be permanent cannot ignore the national question. If it does, it is doomed to failure at the outset. In the coming months and years, I and others hope that we shall convince people about the truth of that statement.
If the statement is true, any settlement that entails one national community—whether Unionists or nationalist—triumphing at the expense of another will be ruled out. I will give examples from each side. On the Unionist side, a full and permanent integration of Northern Ireland into the United Kingdom or, as is more commonly spoken about now, devolution in a purely United Kingdom context will be ruled out. On the nationalist side, and the hard line nationalist side in particular, the full integration of Northern Ireland into the Republic of Ireland would also be ruled out, as would be a federal or confederal Ireland.
I now accept, and an increasing number of people now accept, that Northern Ireland cannot be stably eased into purely Irish institutions. I have espoused the official Labour party policy for a decade, and have spoken in its favour at many private and public meetings. It is with some reluctance that I discard the views that I have held for the past decade. However, I have come to the conclusion that the British and Irish Governments should advocate reconciling the different interests at stake between the two communities through institutions that share political power between the two sovereign powers, represented by London and Dublin, and the people of Northern Ireland. My own view is that only by such a system of shared authority—I am not trying to sell the book at this point—can the present deadlock be broken and a durable and effective government created in the Province.
I emphasise the need for durability, which is an essential ingredient. It is essential that Unionists are assured that shared authority would not be a transitional mechanism which would coerce them into a territorially unified island of Ireland. It would be necessary also to reassure nationalists that it would not be a halfway house to a future independent Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Barnes
Does not such a shared authority have to be established by the agreement of the two communities in Northern Ireland, and are there not considerable difficulties in trying to convince Unionist elements that they should become involved in agreements which involve links with the nationalist community?
§ Mr. Marshall
Perhaps I can answer my hon. Friend in this way. I said that I was about to make my final point, but now my peroration, if I am capable of making one, has been destroyed. The system of shared authority that I 540 support would cover the whole gamut of consent or lack of consent. Clearly, it could be imposed by the two sovereign Governments or it could be achieved by consent. My view is that it should be implemented by the consent of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland and of the two communities in Northern Ireland. Consent is clearly the best way.
I have outlined to the House the journey that I have made in the past 10 years, and particularly in the past five years, in which I have had some involvement with the people and problems of Northern Ireland. I have seen the anguish. I have experienced at second hand the pain and heartache that undoubtedly exists in the Province. We all share a responsibility to seek to eliminate that. It cannot be done quickly by forcing reluctant people into a united Ireland. The best way to achieve a lasting and peaceful solution in the Province is for the two communities to realise that they will continue to live under a unitary authority in Northern Ireland, to bury their differences and to meet halfway to share power together with their patron countries of Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland. I am sure that the wisdom and truth of that will become increasingly apparent in the next few years.
§ Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster)
I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) is genuine and sincere in what he has concluded from his visits to Northern Ireland. However, much of what he said is far from reality. Indeed, it is fantasy because it is not acceptable through the ballot box. It is not the democratic wish of the people of the Province.
I come to the debate with a heavy heart, as do other hon. Members, because once again a firm in my constituency has been attacked and a very honourable member of that firm was murdered last night. The backcloth of the past week also includes the death of an elderly lady. Mrs. Annie Bogle was done to death when the IRA threw a bomb at old people's property. Annie was suddenly taken from us. I have a letter in my possession which she sent to me when she entered that fold and which I shall cherish as long as I am a Member of Parliament and even after those days. She wrote that she was so happy that we had been able to assist her in getting that little house. Little did I know when I assisted her to obtain that little house that it would be the means by which Annie would be taken from us and called to eternity. It certainly grieves me sore. Those are the harsh realities of the situation in Northern Ireland.
I have listened with care to all that has been said here today about the future of the Province. A few realities had better be faced. Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom not because there are troops on the streets, not because there are policemen there with weapons in their hands, but because it is the democratic wish of the people of Northern Ireland to be a part of the United Kingdom. Therefore, all constitutional uncertainty as to the position of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom should be removed.
The Government owe it to the long-suffering people—those whose fortitude in the face of danger amazed the Member for Leicester, South—to come out from the sidelines and off the fence. The Government and the Secretary of State should declare openly and clearly, not only that they accept that Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom and should be a part of the United 541 Kingdom as long as the majority of the people want it to remain a part of the United Kingdom, but that the Government are committed to the United Kingdom and want Northern Ireland to remain a part of the United Kingdom. That is what the long-suffering people of Northern Ireland long for.
When the Secretary of State was asked the other day whether he was Unionist, he said something which I find alarming. He said he was a "new Northern Irelandist". Whatever that is under the sun, I can assure him that the people of Northern Ireland do not know what that means. Had any Unionist made that statement, he would have been lambasted as someone desiring an independent Ulster. Through the ballot box the people of Northern Ireland are Unionists and they are a part of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Beggs
Will the hon. Gentleman re-emphasise that we continually refer in Northern Ireland to the greater majority? In canvassing, people from both comunities, at every opportunity given to them in the past—denied in recent times—have declared their desire to remain in the United Kingdom. So for the foreseeable future, for many generations, the position will not change and we have to be granted stability through that recognition.
§ Rev. William McCrea
I whole-heartedly agree with the assessment of the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs). Many figures have been bandied about and often we are told by Members of Her Majesty's Opposition that in a period of time there will be a majority of Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland and that, therefore, the Unionists should look over their shoulders. I reject that because I do not believe that it is factual. People said that in the 1930s. They are still saying it.
It is an insult to suggest to quite a number of my constituents, even west of the Bann, that, because they happen to be born into a Roman Catholic home and believe in the Roman Catholic faith, that automatically puts them into a little political box of those in favour of a united Ireland, or that they are united Irelanders. That is not true. Her Majesty's Opposition owe an apology to the people of Northern Ireland, and especially those of my constituents who resent that suggestion. If that suggestion were true, there would be a difference in the complexion of the membership of the House.
Many of the people of mid-Ulster have strong opinions. Many of them are happy in the Roman Catholic community and I defend their right to be happy; they are members of the United Kingdom and they want to remain so. Why should they not? They were born British citizens. Why should they not desire to remain so? No member of the SDLP or of Her Majesty's Opposition has the right to take away those people's British heritage or to regard them as lesser mortals because they do not believe in the fantasy of a united Ireland.
Not only is Northern Ireland a part of the United Kingdom, but it follows automatically from that that there is only one legitimate Government of the United Kingdom. We have to get away from the tragedy of the Anglo-Irish Agreement which allowed a foreign Government to have a say in the internal affairs of Northern Ireland. In the historic and even recent past—one only has to think of the Falklands war—they proved themselves to be not only a foreign Government but a foreign enemy Government because, when we had our backs against the wall and were facing the bombs, bullets and aggression of others, we 542 discovered where they stood when it came to the testing time. They are now given the right to interfere in the internal affairs of Northern Ireland, a right which even we, who sit in this House, do not have.
Under the Anglo-Irish Agreement, a determined effort is to be made to reach an agreement with the Government of the Irish Republic but all parties represented in the House, and those from Northern Ireland, know full well that the Government are under no obligation to make a determined effort to reach an agreement with the people and their representatives in the Province. The Government have given to a foreign Government a right that they deny even to hon. Members who sit in the House.
§ Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington)
To use a religious analogy, does the hon. Gentleman agree that if one were to write the benefits of the Anglo-Irish Agreement on the back of a postage stamp, there would be enough room to write the Lord's prayer in long hand?
§ Rev. William McCrea
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. No one—not even the most committed advocates of the Anglo-Irish Agreement at the beginning—can suggest that it has brought any real benefits. Indeed, its supporters are now saying that it has failed. Unfortunately, not only has it failed but it has cost the innocent blood of the innocent British people of Northern Ireland and the ordinary individuals, the young lads from the mainland who rightly came to defend a part of the United Kingdom. Many have been carried home in boxes because Sinn Fein, with which the SDLP is in cahoots, said that the lesson to be learnt from the Anglo-Irish Agreement was "More violence, more concessions". Indeed, it was Danny Morrison, the person who stood for Sinn Fein in my constituency and whom I beat by 78 votes, who said that the lesson to be learnt was "More violence, more concessions". Therefore, the agreement has failed.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
The hon. Gentleman said earlier that there was no determined effort to work with the people in Northern Ireland. Will he confirm that this day week, in conjunction with the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Dr. Hendron) and a representative of the Alliance party, we sought to present various issues to the Minister with responsibility for health and social services in Northern Ireland. There was not obviously a determined effort to reach an agreement with us.
§ Rev. William McCrea
That meeting certainly took place, but I cannot say what the outcome was. We are still hoping that the Government may have a change of heart. However, we have made a joint representation, as is appropriate and proper, as the unanimous voice of the will and wish of the people. I therefore believe that the Government are duty bound to make a determined effort to respond to that representation.
I shall be brief, although I refer to an issue of great importance. Unlike some, I do not believe that the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) is being used by the IRA in the current talks. That is far from the truth. I believe that he deliberately went into cahoots with Sinn Fein/IRA as a way of adding muscle to his demands for an all-Ireland solution which eluded him in the previous talks. Of course, that tactic has been used before. It was used in 1982–86 at the Prior assembly which the SDLP boycotted and set up an alternative Irish forum in Dublin. The SDLP always 543 runs to Dublin. The SDLP will not sit down and produce something which will meet the needs of the Province within the Province. As we have already said—
§ Mr. William McCrea
I know the truth. The reality is that as far as the present talks are concerned—and I listened to the hon. Member for Foyle who spoke extensively today—we are simply told, "Wait and see."
While the people of Northern Ireland are dying, an elected representative and Sinn Fein spokesman went to the United States a few weeks ago, as did an hon. Member of this House, and stated that the IRA was morally justified. We are not talking about the Provos; we are told that that is the view of Sinn Fein. Let us find out what is the difference between the two. As that Sinn Fein representative tried to prevent the extradition of a terrorist from the United States to the United Kingdom, he said that the IRA was morally justified in assassinating British judges and members of the British establishment.
That statement encompasses the Front Bench because it is part of the establishment. Was that statement made when Margaret Thatcher faced the hunger strikers? No, it was made when the leader of the SDLP told the people of Northern Ireland, "Wait and see. With Sinn Fein and Gerry Adams, we are producing peace." The talk is of peace, but the heart is a heart of blood and war.
Once again, the people of Northern Ireland face the usual con trick. They will be offered peace. The SDLP press release states that the new idea has two basic ingredients. It involves the language of consent and, at the same time, it incorporates the tactics of coercion. It involves consent because the Unionists' agreement and allegiance would be required before any decision arising from a multi-party conference could be implemented. Coercion arises because self-determination would be based on the right of the Irish people as a whole.
In other words, the hon. Member for Foyle and his friends in IRA-Sinn Fein are demanding the biggest gerrymander in the history of political activity to ensure a majority for their demands. The people of Northern Ireland will not have the right to decide the constitutional future of the Province. Instead, that will be placed in the hands of the people of a foreign Government and those in the south of Ireland.
The SDLP can come up with any kind of eyewash. It can try and pretend to talk peace, but the people of Northern Ireland know exactly what this is all about. It will take away the right of the people of Northern Ireland to remain an integral, full and vital part of the United Kingdom family.
Without a shadow of a doubt, no matter what trick in the book is tried and no matter how the SDLP tries to paint us, the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland will not go down the Dublin road because the people of Northern Ireland have sealed their Britishness—not only their rights and heritage, but their Britishness—with the blood of the innocent people of our Province. No one, and I care not 544 who that person is, has a right to deny the people of Northern Ireland their British right as expressed through the ballot box.
Some hon. Members may not accept those facts and realities. They can deride whoever says such things and they can say whatever they like. They can say that this is poppycock. However, I can assure you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the reality is that Northern Ireland's majority will not change its mind about the Irish Republic. It wants and desires—it has always desired—to remain a friendly neighbour. And why not? Do hon. Members think that people are fools if they do not want genuine and lasting peace north and south? Certainly we do, but we can have good neighbourliness only as long as the people living beside us are good neighbours. The United Kingdom Government and the people of the United Kingdom have reached out the hand of friendship down the years, desiring to be good neighbours.
I have never once in all my political life expressed any designs upon the territory of the Irish Republic. I have never once interfered in the right of the Government of the Irish Republic, no matter what I have thought of them personally. They have a right to govern and they have a right to be the Government of the Irish Republic. But when they interfere and, in articles 2 and 3, illegally claim a part of her Majesty's territory, and the IRA rides on the back of that claim and murders, as it has, my own family and kith and kin and those of my constituents, I would be treacherous and a traitor to my people if I were to place my hand to anything that would undermine the democratic process and the right of the people of Northern Ireland to be a part of that United Kingdom.
Right hon. and hon. Members can call Gerry Adams "Mr." as long as they like, but I can assure them that the leopard has not changed his spots. Gerry Adams has been and still is a terrorist, and until the day he dies he will have the blood of the innocent people of Northern Ireland on his and his deputy's hands.
Whenever there was a Cook report on a constituent of mine who happened to be in the loyalist community, the next morning that constituent was arrested and questioned. It would be strange if the Goverenment were not somehow in cahoots in this messy situation. Why was Martin Maginnis not arrested the next morning? Programmes such as the two on Martin Maginnis are a damning indictment of any person. He should have been arrested. He would have been arrested had he been a Unionist. He would have been arrested if he had been from the loyalist community.
It seems to be that one cannot touch Sinn Fein. I have to say to the hon. Member for Foyle that there is an old saying in my part of the country—the hon. Gentleman's constituency is next to mine—that if you lie down with the dogs you rise with the fleas. The reality of the situation is that John Hume has lain down with the dog of Sinn Fein. How could any constitutional Unionist regard John Hume in any talks as the constitutional—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. We will start with the rules in this House. The hon. Gentleman knows that we refer to people by their constituencies, not by their names.
§ Rev. William McCrea
I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. Certainly, I am delighted to mention the hon. Member for Foyle from Londonderry. The hon. Member for Foyle has soiled himself by sitting down with Sinn Fein. He has soiled himself by putting his hand to 545 something which he can run off to America and tell them about. He can run off to Dublin and tell them about it, and he can run and call in Mandela and tell him about it, but the only people whom he cannot tell about it are the United Kingdom Government or the United Kingdom people.
It seems that we are to be left in the dark and our people still to die. IRA Sinn Feiners still murder the people of Northern Ireland and still we have the words, "This is the greatest effort towards peace." It is the biggest con trick that Northern Ireland has faced for many years. They might con some of the people and some of the elected representatives, but my colleagues and I are not conned by what is happening. There is an agenda—an agenda for the destruction of Northern Ireland. One thing is sure: Gerry Adams might say 1,000 times how much he dissociates himself from violence. I could not care if it were five years or 10 years. He will never change the reality of what he is —a terrorist. He will always be a terrorist. He has no place at any conference table. Members of the Ulster Democratic Unionist party will not sit down with him.
§ 2.9 pm
§ Mr. Roger Stott (Wigan)
I agree with the Secretary of State that it has been a long time since the House has been able to debate Northern Ireland for a whole day. The debate has allowed many hon. Members who are elected by the constituents of Northern Ireland to express their views. I am sorry that not all hon. Members have had an opportunity to participate in the debate. I am sure that the Minister will need a little time to answer some of the points raised.
This year, the world has witnessed two great historic events that none of us imagined could happen. Nelson Mandela and President de Klerk have rightly been recognised by the Nobel committee for their personal and political courage in finding a lasting peace settlement for South Africa. Two months ago on the lawn of the White House. Yitzhak Rabin offered the hand of peace to Yasser Arafat, accompanied by the word "enough". In South Africa, Israel and Palestine, some people will do everything that they can violently to destabilise the peace process. Thankfully, the vast majority of ordinary people in those countries are willing to make peace and democracy work, while respecting their differences and traditions.
In the light of those historic events, many people in the United Kingdom have rightly been asking, "If it can happen in South Africa, Israel and Palestine, why cannot it happen in Northern Ireland?" Northern Ireland is the most politically violent region in the whole of the European Community. The conflict in and over Northern Ireland is a collective catastrophe for all of the people who live in these islands. We are all affected by the conflict. We are all affected by the deaths and the destruction that it brings, the corrosive effect that it has on people's civil liberties and its economic, legal, security and political costs.
Some people contend that the problems of Northern Ireland are insoluble. As someone who has had the opportunity to be involved in Northern Ireland politics for some years, I do not subscribe to that facile school of thought. It is a view which only leads to the complacent acceptance of the status quo. In that regard, I agree with the deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist party, the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), who said some months ago: 546We face the situation where there is widespread instability; there are no political structures dealing with the regional government of Northern Ireland; over 3,000 people have been murdered; over 35,000 have been maimed and mutilated. Only a fool would suggest that that was a satisfactory solution. Clearly the status quo is not acceptable.The unacceptability of the status quo should be the starting point. While the democratic deficit exists in Northern Ireland, the void will clearly be filled by the despicable atrocities that have been perpetrated by both sets of paramilitaries. Despite the appalling horror and violence, there are many encouraging signs emerging of greater co-operation. I listened carefully to what the Secretary of State said this morning about those signs. I absolutely agree that there is another agenda in Northern Ireland that we should publicise even more.
During the appropriation debate in the summer, I outlined what is a fact of daily life—the growing co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic's business community based on Sir George Quigley's vision of "Ireland—An island economy". Incidentally, that speech was predictably rubbished by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). However, to anyone who does not actively seek to become the last political dinosaur in "Jurassic Park", it is self-evident that the new internal market in the European Community necessitates greater co-operation. Such co-operation is absolutely vital within the island of Ireland across all sectors of industry and the economy.
Today, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) clearly and unambiguously set out the Labour party's position on Northern Ireland and its preferred options. But any solution to the problem of Northern Ireland must start from a recognition by everybody of each community's core values. It will require the creation of political and legal institutions, which will enable both communities to enjoy the benefits of equality, without having to assimilate them forcibly. It will require institutionalising equal respect for nationalists and loyalists, for their culture and for their religious heritage. Without institutionalising the respect for those core values, no settlement would have any lasting value.
I said earlier that the conflict in Northern Ireland affects everyone in these islands. Although I cannot speak for people in the Irish Republic, I can say genuinely and sincerely to hon. Members from Northern Ireland that in the rest of Britain there is a feeling among many people that they are fed up with what they perceive to be the whole sorry mess—I deeply regret that. Hon. Members should not underestimate the school of thought that believes that we should "let them get on with it". That school of thought was referred to by the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) and it is all too pervasive. I intended to say much more about that but, in passing, I say to the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) and his colleagues on the Unionist Bench that there are thousands of families in the coalfield communities of this country, mine included, who will not lightly forgive or forget the part played by the Ulster Unionist party in aiding and abetting the Government in the butchery of the British coal industry. Loyalism is a two-way street.
When the so-called Brooke initiative on Northern Ireland was taking place, and when the present Secretary of State took over the talks process, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North and I, on behalf of the British Labour party and Her Majesty's Opposition, did everything that we could actively to encourage the talks 547 process. Those discussions between the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland and the Irish and British Governments are still our preferred option. For those discussions to stand any chance of success, there can be no wrecking preconditions. It is in the interest of the people of Aldershot and Accrington as well as of the people of Antrim that a just and durable settlement can be found.
§ Mr. Stott
No, I shall not. I want to finish my speech and let the Minister reply to the debate
I have two questions for the Minister. Are the Government considering creating the Select Committee on Northern Ireland without the agreement of all the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland? Will the Minister confirm from the Dispatch Box that the Government are unequivocally continuing their support for the Anglo-Irish Agreement?
During the debate, we have heard many shades of opinion. The debate has been extremely interesting and occasionally heated. No one would for one moment suggest that it should not have been. The constitutional parties in Northern Ireland and the British and Irish Governments have a solemn duty to find the personal and political courage to cross the rubicon. They have a duty to find a solution to the problem in Northern Ireland—a solution for which the vast majority of people in these islands yearn. In case it could help the process along in any way, I have asked my good friend Afif Safieh, the head of the Palestine Liberation Organisation mission in London, whether the chalet on the fjord is still available. The answer is that it is.
§ Mr. Livingstone
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. When the Secretary of State opened the debate this morning, he denounced me. Given the number of hon. Members who wished to speak, it was not possible for me to catch your eye or that of any of the other occupants of the Chair in order to respond to those attacks. Would you use your authority to grant me five minutes in order to answer those charges and put the alternative view? There is a tradition in the House that if an hon. Member is attacked by another, that hon. Member is called in the debate to respond.
§ Dr. Hendron
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. My colleagues, as well as the leader of my party, have been attacked most maliciously today by a number of hon. Members, but just one of my colleagues was called to speak. I have been in the Chamber since prayers at 9.30 am and I have not had the opportunity to speak in the debate. Should you give the hon. Member for Brent, Fast (Mr. Livingstone) five minutes to speak, I, too, should be given the same time.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. Before I take any further points of order, I should like to deal with the issue raised. Such problems arose from the fact that hon. Members on both sides of the House ignored Madam Speaker's earlier plea for short speeches. If short speeches had been the order of the day, everybody, but everybody, would have had the opportunity to put his or her point. I am 548 afraid that it is not possible to grant the request of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) for five minutes to put his case.
§ Mr. Barnes
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. If you had chosen to grant that request, could you have arranged for someone to attack me in the House as well, since I have been here all the time?
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
I believe that the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Dr. Hendron) is a little forgetful, as he was not in the Chamber for prayers—I was. My party, which is the largest party in Northern Ireland, has been attacked but just two of my colleagues were called to speak. Perhaps the opening speeches from those on the Front Benches could be a little shorter in future.
§ Mr. Livingstone
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Could I ask for the debate to be extended for half an hour to take in a further six five-minute contributions? Could I move that formally?
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Sir John Wheeler)
I am very glad to have the concluding nine minutes of the debate to try to reply to some of the many points raised by right hon. and hon. Members.
This has been an important debate for the House, in prime time and during a good part of the day, not least because many hon. Members from Northern Ireland have been able to be present to make a contribution in their various ways. That was particularly welcome. I shall reply to some of the points mentioned by the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) in a few moments.
One of the themes of the debate has been that everyone has condemned wanton violence and killing, regardless of the cause. We associate that thinking in the House today with the murder of the building contractor, Mr. Gibson. That was yet another in a long line of wanton, pointless killings that achieve precisely nothing. At least there is some small consolation for the relatives of the latest vicitm that today the House remembered that murder with great concern and grief and condemned it absolutely. I assure the House that the Royal Ulster Constabulary will leave no stone unturned in its search for those responsible.
I should like to consider some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). He asked specifically whether the Government intended to stand by the Anglo-Irish agreement. I can say without hesitation that the Government intend to do so. Meetings of the intergovernmental conference held under it prove a useful mechanism for co-operation between the Republic of Ireland and the Government, and that arrangement will continue.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
I appreciate the terms in which the Minister is responding, but does he agree that the last talks commenced with both Governments and all parties making a commitment to seek to replace that agreement with a better one? Was it not tragic that Albert Reynolds, the 549 Taoiseach, called for cancellation of the talks because he thought that the Anglo-Irish Agreement was withering? Where was the good faith there?
§ Sir John Wheeler
I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman says. Of course the talks will continue to explore all the possibilities. If alternatives can be found which meet with the approval and agreement of all the concerned and interested parties, I assure the hon. Gentleman that they will be put forward for further consideration.
§ Sir John Wheeler
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to continue for a few moments and deal with a further point raised by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North? He referred to a Select Committee for Northern Ireland. As he knows, I have some small knowledge of Select Committees and how they operate. I also know how people come to be appointed to them and removed from them, as I have some experience of that, too. It is for the House to decide whether there should be a further Select Committee specifically for Northern Ireland. The membership of such a Committee would also be decided by the House, and the House would vote on the names recommended, from wherever they may come, to approve them or substitute other names for membership of that Committee. It is not for me to say what the House should do about that, but entirely a matter for the procedures of the House.
§ Mr. McNamara
Will the Government support the establishment of such a Committee if it does not have the support of the Social Democratic and Labour party and the Labour party?
§ Sir John Wheeler
As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is for the usual channels and the procedures of the House to 550 determine those matters. The hon. Gentleman has yet to make it clear whether his party would unhesitatingly support such a proposal, so it remains a matter for the parties and the House as a whole to decide.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North also referred to deals with the Ulster Unionist party. I cannot see why there should be a need for such deals. Members of that party have only to consider the Opposition's policies to determine how they should vote in the House. All they need to do is consider the Opposition's support for the so-called social chapter to recognise that it would rob the Northern Irish people of the job opportunities that they so desperately need. They have only to look, too, at the future that the Opposition have in mind for Northern Ireland to come to their own conclusion. They require no special arrangements to make up their minds about that.
I hope that I have put that matter to rest.
Among those who spoke today was the hon. Member for North Down (Sir J. Kilfedder) who, if I may say so, is a great champion of his constituents; he is always going into bat to improve the quality of life of the people of whom he is privileged to serve. The Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary will look with interest at the hon. Gentleman's comments on policing in his constituency to see how it may be further improved, perhaps through the police liaison committees which operate so effectively.
The hon. Member for North Down asked about the future of residential homes. I can tell him that the consultation process is still under way. So far as the Banks residential home is concerned, the hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that there is to be a public meeting about its future on 10 February 1994. No decision has yet been made. I know that those who have a concern about the matter will heed his voice with care.
It being half past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.