HC Deb 01 December 1994 vol 250 cc1316-8
2. Mr. Molyneaux

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the restoration of democratic accountability to Northern Ireland.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Sir Patrick Mayhew)

We wish to see a much greater degree of democratic accountability restored in Northern Ireland. We hope shortly to publish our own understanding of how that might fairly and workably be achieved, in the context of a wider settlement addressing all the relevant relationships.

Mr. Molyneaux

Does the Secretary of State agree that the two economic forums—the one to be held in December in Belfast and the other in mid-January, at which local government representatives will meet the Prime Minister—will have the desirable effect of bringing together the people of Northern Ireland and their representatives so that they may work together in peace, which will in turn lead to the equally desirable objective of enabling them to design between themselves a practical and workable system for the governance of Northern Ireland?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

Everything that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned can only be beneficial in its effect. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is very anxious that there should be as wide an opportunity as possible for elected representatives covering the whole spectrum of parties and of Northern Ireland to express their views, deriving from their local and elected responsibilities, on how the economy of Northern Ireland can best be progressed.

Mr. Hunter

With regard to the restoration of democratic accountability, although I warmly welcome this morning's announcement, I remind my right hon. and learned Friend that many people are concerned. Will he take this opportunity to reassure them that this Government will not barter with the IRA, that there will be no surrender of principle and no appeasement and that this Government will not fete or flatter Mr. McGuinness, Mr. Adams and their henchmen because we cannot forget the evil that the IRA has done, and nor should we do so?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's expression of his personal support and for giving me the opportunity to acknowledge that suspicions of the sort he characterised remain. I have dealt with them before, but it is necessary to continue to state that the Government recognise that there are suspicions—on the one side of some clandestine deal and, on the other, that there is an intention to restore an unreformed Stormont Administration. Neither is true and neither is capable of being true, but it is very important that I continue to say so. The Downing street declaration, which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister signed nearly a year ago with Mr. Reynolds, is informing and shaping the future of Northern Ireland, and will continue to do so.

Mr. McGrady

In his response to the original question, the Secretary of State did not refer in any way to the diminution of democratic responsibility in Northern Ireland in the past couple of years, whereby local representatives have been taken off health and social services boards and are being threatened with removal from education boards. A plethora of quangos have been appointed, as well as nine next steps agencies, and accountability in Northern Ireland, such as it is, has been diminished under this Administration. Are we to wait years before the people of Northern Ireland can get answers to the questions, which they need answers to, about local administrations?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I very much hope that, implicit in the hon. Gentleman's question, is support for the restoration of local democratic accountability in Northern Ireland. I believe that everyone who is concerned about the good governance of Northern Ireland very much believes that that restoration is sorely needed, but it must take place in a way that takes account of the special circumstances in Northern Ireland, and as part of an overall settlement. It is rather unjust, and uncharacteristically harsh of the hon. Gentleman, to say that democratic accountability has diminished under the present Administration. I do not think that that has been so at all.

Mr. Bill Walker

My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware of the long historic connection between Scotland and Northern Ireland. Is he aware that many Scots are watching with concern the movement towards democratic accountability—of which they approve—as action may be taken that will have a damaging ripple effect on Scotland?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I am aware of the anxieties to which my hon. Friend refers, but everybody in Scotland has grounds for being extremely thankful that their society and community is not divided in the way that Northern Ireland's is, and that neither are there antagonisms deriving from a history that is special to Northern Ireland.

Ms Mowlam

I acknowledge that the Secretary of State has had a rather difficult time recently with not only the uncertainty in Dublin but minority government at home and, in the past 24 hours, a fair bit of external pressure. We should like to welcome the beginning of exploratory talks with Sinn Fein next Wednesday. Given the importance of economic changes to the future stability of Northern Ireland, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman make clear what the status of Sinn Fein and the former loyalist paramilitaries will be at the Government's economic conference in 12 days?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

On the hon. Lady's original remarks, I must say that I have come to believe that Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland are born with difficulties as the sparks fly upwards. None the less, it remains an excellent job to have.

We have made considerable progress with the investment forum, and acceptances are coming in at a satisfactory rate. We have today decided to write to individual elected members of the two committees concerned with economic development on each of the main city councils, Belfast city council and Derry city council, so that those people—by right of their elected responsibility for the matter in their localities—will have an opportunity to come to the investment conference. The parties involved will, of course, include Sinn Fein if it chooses to come. I believe that that is a proper step to have taken.

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