HC Deb 21 January 1994 vol 235 cc1155-221 9.35 am
Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)

I beg to move, That this House welcomes and supports the insistent demand of ilstthe people of all traditions in Northern Ireland for peace, properly attained; and asserts its abhorrence and rejection of all violence, from whatever quarter, perpetrated in place of democratic persuasion. It is a considerable honour for me to open the debate, and I shall say a little more about that in a moment.

During the morning of 15 December last year, I sat in the plenary session of the British-Irish parliamentary body in Church house. Most of those present allowed their thoughts to wander to events that were unfolding in Downing street a few hundred yards away. While we were discussing items of importance and interest to Members of this House and to Deputies and Senators from the Irish Parliament, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach, Mr. Reynolds, were signing an historic agreement—a joint declaration for peace agreed by the British and Irish Governments. Soon after midday, they made public the result of deliberations and careful negotiations stretching back to February 1992.

A lunch at the Irish embassy for members of the British-Irish parliamentary body was followed in the afternoon by my right hon. Friend's statement to the House on the joint declaration. During an hour and a half's questioning, my right hon. Friend received support from Members in almost all parts of the House and answered questions from 46 right hon. and hon. Members.

It was a good occasion and there was an optimism in the atmosphere that here at last was an initiative which might lead to an end of terror, murder and brutality in Northern Ireland, 25 years on from the civil rights marches of the late 1960s.

At the end of the statement and a further announcement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, you, Madam Speaker, drew the ballot for today's private Members' motions and, for only the second time in more than 10 years, my name was drawn. What is more, I was drawn in pole position.

It is a rare honour for a Back-Bench Member to be allowed to set the day's business for the House. I toyed with the issues presently exercising my constituents and decided that, having just completed many days of debate on the Gracious Speech and on the Budget, most of the contentious, topical issues had already been amply covered. Unlike the occasion when I was able to initiate a Friday debate on the iniquities of the Property Services Agency, no burning local issue was exercising the good folk of Gillingham, and I was briefly at a loss as to what my subject for today should be.

After a few minutes' thought, the prevailing optimism about the joint declaration reasserted itself and it occurred to me that today, five weeks on from the Downing street meeting, might be a suitable occasion for the House to debate the joint declaration and the current political situation in Northern Ireland in the immediate aftermath of that initiative. I reasoned that everyone would have had a chance to read properly the whole of the 12-paragraph statement and to understand its carefully crafted sentences, a chance to recognise the balance between the assurances to the loyalist community and to those who aspire to and yearn for a united Ireland achieved by peaceful means.

Five weeks should be long enough for a thorough analysis of what is on offer and I believed, naively perhaps, that it should be long enough for the leaders of Sinn Fein to convince the leaders of the IRA to announce a permanent cessation of violence so that the brief period of decontamination or quarantine before Sinn Fein is allowed to take part in exploratory talks might commence. Hence today's debate.

I am particularly honoured that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will intervene in the debate. I am also delighted that so many right hon. and hon. Members from the Province are in their seats on a Friday.

In the days following 15 December, many column inches in the press were devoted to the initiative. The principal tenor of the articles matched the mood of hope and optimism in the House on that memorable day. We also read of the chaos and disruption brought to public transport by bomb alerts on commuter networks and the underground. As there had been several bombs in recent days, police had no option but to take such alerts seriously, especially as they followed the pattern of previous Christmases, when the IRA sought to cause maximum disruption before announcing a three-day halt to its terrorist activity.

Before Christmas, there was speculation that the IRA might announce a longer, even permanent, cessation of violence to gain its place at the conference table at the earliest possible moment. In the event, the godfathers of terror proposed only their now customary three-day halt. Their cynicism was swiftly underlined by the murder of a young soldier, Guardsman Daniel Blinco, who was on patrol at Crossmaglen on 30 December. He was killed by an IRA sniper team that was known to have murdered nine members of the security forces in 16 months.

Two days before Guardsman Blinco's murder, a large meeting of republicans, including Sinn Fein representatives and parole prisoners, at Loughmacrory, County Tyrone, had indicated that the joint declaration fell short of the concession that they wanted to halt the violence. At that meeting, Sinn Fein, in the form of South Armagh Councillor Jim McAllister, started the spurious call for clarification. He is quoted as saying: I think the overall view is that the document has a long way to go before it becomes a peace initiative. There is incredulity that we are being told we cannot have clarification. As the document stands, the general feeling is that it would be insufficient to produce an IRA ceasefire. Since that republican meeting, the violence has continued. New year's day saw a dozen incendiary bombs start fires in shops and businesses in Belfast, causing millions of pounds' worth of damage and putting 200 jobs at risk. As if to match the IRA's renewed assault, the Ulster Freedom Fighters announced that they would respond militarily in 1994. The omens for the new year were not good.

On Tuesday 11 January, at least two attacks on the security forces were reported. A bomb secreted in the chassis of a vehicle that had been used in an IRA mortar attack blew up within a security base in South Armagh, badly injuring two soldiers. On the same day, two policemen and a policewomen were wounded by a bomb thrown at their vehicle as it patrolled the Short Strand area of Belfast. The following day, an unarmed military policewoman was shot twice and seriously injured as the IRA ambushed a joint police and military patrol in the New Lodge area of Belfast. The only slight consolation about that attack was that two arrests were made and a weapon was recovered.

Although the loyalist gunmen appear to have been more subdued during that period, a 21-year-old Catholic was shot by UFF terrorists on 6 January in the Lenadoon area of Belfast. However, the Ulster Volunteer Force has suggested that it will abjure violence if all sides accept the joint declaration as a way forward to peace.

Against a back ground of continuing violence since Christmas, some of the euphoria has dissipated. Some of the optimism has given way to realism and even some of the hope has moderated. What has brought that about? I suggest that it is not solely the brutality of defiant terrorism but also the smokescreen put up by the so-called political wing of the republican movement, Sinn Fein. The clarification issue mentioned by Councillor McAllister has been taken up by Sinn Fein's President, Mr. Adams, who has milked it for all it is worth. Adams's demand for clarification is clearly a demand for negotiation without having to order his friends of the IRA to give up the campaign of violence. His first reported reaction to the joint declaration was a demand for direct and unconditional dialogue with the British and Irish Governments.

It is suggested that the areas that Adams considers need clarification are, first, how the constitutional guarantee for the will of the majority will work in Northern Ireland and how the people of Ireland will exercise the right to self determination. Secondly, he demands that the British Government become a persuader in favour of a united Ireland. The third area in which he demands clarification—or rather concession—is on the question of amnesty for republican prisoners.

In his statement on 15 December, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister went to great lengths to explain precisely what was involved in the safeguards for the majority wish in Northern Ireland and how referendums, north and south of the border, might be conducted to fulfil the paragraph on self determination. The body of his statement did not touch on amnesty for prisoners, but my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) and I pressed my right hon. Friend on the question of amnesty.

It is worth putting on the record again the questions and answers in the Official Report. I asked my right hon. Friend to reassure the House that no commitment—explicit or implicit—has been made for any form of amnesty for those who have been convicted of the most heinous crimes in Northern Ireland, and that the judicial process will pursue, with utmost diligence, those who have continued with their crimes of violence in recent weeks". My hon. Friend replied: I can give my hon. Friend that absolute commitment."—[Official Report, 15 December 1993; Vol. 234, c. 1083–84.] My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne, whom I am delighted to see in his place this morning, asked whether my right hon. Friend's definition of a cessation of violence included the handing over of at least some weapons and explosives and will he assure the House that convicted murderers in Northern Ireland will serve the whole of their sentences". My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was unequivocal in his response. He said: I can certainly confirm that not only do I not have any notion in my mind of amnesty, but there is no suggestion of a reduction in sentences awarded by the courts. That is a matter for the courts and not something in which I wish to to interfere. Were there to be an end to violence, the crimes that are currently being investigated would still be the subject of investigation in the future—that is the way our criminal justice system operates and it will continue to operate on that basis."—[Official Report, 15 December 1993; Vol. 234, c. 1089–90.] He then commented on the surrender of arms.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

Is not the hon. Gentleman being a little unfair to the Government? We heard many statements that the Government would not talk, directly or indirectly, to the IRA and Sinn Fein on those matters. In the event, they had to come to the House and say that they were talking to the IRA. Will not those matters be part of the debate, should the next stage of the peace negotiations take place? Our role today should be not to nail people to certain positions that they have or have had in the past, but to encourage people to approach the problem with a much more open mind than in the past.

Mr. Couchman

The hon. Gentleman makes a valuable point, but I am offering my opinions on what should happen, particularly on amnesty, and praying in aid the assurances that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave on 15 December, which he has repeated in the intervening weeks.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

In the hon. Gentleman's quotation of the Prime Minister's answer, the Prime Minister said that the courts would decide. Will he reflect on the fact that, within the Northern Ireland system, the review procedure is independent of the courts' decisions? That system has been operating for a considerable time and decides on the termination or length of sentences that people might serve. We should all look carefully at those mechanisms when we discuss this matter, rather than use pejorative and arbitrary terms such as "amnesty".

Mr. Couchman

I note what the hon. Gentleman says. I am sure that he will wish to enlarge on that point when he contributes to the debate.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for quoting the answer that I received when I raised the issue. In view of what has just been said, does my hon. Friend accept that some hon. Members and many people in the country believe that murder is murder and cannot be excused in the name of politics? If the Government are minded to weaken on that point, some of us will not support such a weakening.

Mr. Couchman

I take my hon. Friend's words seriously, and wish to say more about the question of amnesty, which I think will make abundantly clear my position on that vexed subject.

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)

When the hon. Gentleman gives further detail of his view on amnesty, will he comment on the detailed statement by the former Prime Minister of the Irish Republic, Dr. Garret Fitzgerald, who said that in July 1985 he had entered into an agreement with Mrs. Thatcher? The British Government had agreed that, if there was a cessation of violence or a major reduction in violence, there would be an early release of prisoners. Does the hon. Gentleman make a distinction between that and an amnesty?

Mr. Couchman

My belief in murder as murder remains absolute. Those who have been convicted of the most heinous crimes in Northern Ireland should continue to serve their sentences without early release.

Mr. Mallon

The Shankill butchers have had early release under review.

Mr. Couchman

I shall come to the very issue that the hon. Gentleman has raised in his sedentary intervention.

My right hon. Friend's continuing rejection of Sinn Fein's demands for an amnesty for republican prisoners will be welcomed by every hon. Member who believes in law and order. The prisoners under discussion are not prisoners of war or detainees. Those who have been convicted or who are on remand in custody are in prison because they have been convicted of committing, or are strongly suspected of committing, the most appalling crimes of brutality. Those crimes are often committed against men, women and children who are wholly innocent of any involvement in the conflict and are bystanders who have simply got in the way of thugs bent on violence in the pursuit of who knows what.

Such crimes have been committed in Northern Ireland, here in London, throughout Great Britain and on the continent of Europe. Who would contemplate awarding an amnesty for the Balcombe street gang who were responsible for at least six murders in the 1970s? Who could contemplate an amnesty for the Harrods bombers, Paul Kavanagh and Gilbert McNamee, who were convicted of killing six people outside Harrods 10 years ago? Who could contemplate an amnesty for Patrick Magee, who was responsible for the murder of four people at the Grand hotel in Brighton during the Conservative party conference in 1984?

We must remember that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The loyalist terrorists currently imprisoned include such psychopaths as the Shankill butchers, Robert Bates, Sam McAllister and William Moore who, with their eight accomplices, were sentenced to 42 life sentences for the torture, murder and mutilation of 19 people, often for purely sectarian reasons. Who could offer amnesty to such men or to Michael Stone, the Milltown cemetery murderer? There are presently more than 1,500 men and women serving sentences in Ulster gaols for terror-related offences, and a further 350 are on remand. There are a small number of terrorists serving their sentences in mainland prisons.

To allow an amnesty for those prisoners would be a grotesque insult to the memory of the 3,000 people who have died during the troubles and to the many more who have been maimed or injured mentally by the actions of those terrorists who have been so careless of the impact of their murderous attacks. My right hon. Friend has not been helped by the reported words of the Taoiseach in a BBC interview on 19 December. Mr. Reynolds suggested that the future of terrorist prisoners would be part of any negotiations flowing from the joint declaration. That was not the only apparently unhelpful intervention from Dublin over the demand for clarification from Sinn Fein. There should be no question of any amnesty for those who have committed the most heinous crimes during the past 25 years.

Sinn Fein's demands for clarification are but a smokescreen. The joint declaration is admirably clear. My right hon. Friend's statement on 15 December was equally clear, and his answers to my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne and me could have left no one in any doubt about amnesty. It is difficult to understand why the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), who has done so much for the peace initiative, should urge clarification on the two Governments, as he is reported to have done. I also find it difficult to understand why the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, asks for clarification when the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), has made it clear that such a move would constitute negotiation before the abandonment of violence.

It seems curious that the Taoiseach should have been willing to offer the demanded clarification in a speech on 10 January. In an article in the Evening Standard,Lord Callaghan, who had much to do with the troubles in the early days, has also urged clarification of genuine points of misunderstanding. I am not convinced that there is any need for such clarification.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland made a speech yesterday related to the declaration that could therefore be considered to be an elaboration of what has taken place. A well-developed speech was made by the Irish Prime Minister that seemed to be an explanation of the declaration. Might it not be relevant for such a process to continue and even for the Prime Minister to participate in that process? It would not be negotiation, but it would be a further explanation of what has already been put forward.

Mr. Couchman

I shall leave my right hon. and learned Friend to comment on the speech that he made last night. No doubt he will also have something to say about the words offered by the Irish Prime Minister last night.

Mr. Mallon

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again and apologise for making yet another intervention.

The hon. Gentleman complains about the search for clarification and about recommendations made by my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and others to give that clarification before peace or negotiations have been established. However, he has spent the major part of his speech clarifying for the Government his position on something that may or may not take place as part of the negotiating process. Is there not an irony in his position? Not only is the hon. Gentleman clarifying or attempting to clarify a position for the Government but he is placing a marker on something that may arise in the negotiations. Is there not an irony in that?

Mr. Couchman

I think that I was unwise to give way to the hon. Gentleman.

I am not convinced of the need for such clarification. I am convinced that Sinn Fein, in the form of Mr. Adams, is playing a devious and divisive game in trying to enter negotiations having yielded nothing in the way of a ceasefire. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State are right to have none of it. Mr. Adams should order a total cessation of IRA violence—I have no doubt that he has the power to do so. We could then let three months elapse, after which time Mr. Adams can have ample clarification in properly constituted talks, not held under the shadow of the bomb and the bullet.

Mr. Adams has suggested that the IRA is prepared to fight for another 25 years unless his demands for clarification are met. If the IRA's response is to reject the present offer, there must be an uneqivocal follow-up to the joint declaration, and all possible action on both sides of the border must be taken to eradicate once and for all the terrorist threat from the IRA.

The loopholes in the Irish extradition law that have been contentious between the countries for so long must be closed. The co-operation between the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Garda Siochana must become ever closer, particularly over intelligence matters. The efforts of both security forces to police the border must be intensified. Banning Sinn Fein in the north and the Republic must be considered. In the context of putting pressure on Sinn Fein-IRA, I am perplexed as to why the Dublin Government have chosen this moment to lift the 20-year ban on the broadcasting of interviews with Sinn Fein and paramilitary groups. That seems to be an untimely pandering to terrorists. The two Governments have set out their peace initiative and it is essential that they act in concert in all that they do to bring it to fruition.

The House does not need me to spell out how great is the prize for peace in Northern Ireland. On the day before the Downing street joint declaration, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State announced the public expenditure allocations for 1994–95 to 1996–97 and defined the Governments three public expenditure priorities for Northern Ireland as, first, defeating terrorism, with an allocation for law and order of £931 million—he regretted the need for this enormous budget when, in a peaceful and stable society, much of it could be devoted to other important social and economic programmes—secondly, to strengthen the economy, to which £455 million would be allocated—and how much greater would be the strengthening of the economy were a lasting peace to be established? There is no doubt that Northern Ireland would once again become a good place for inward investment if peace were established. His third priority was targeting social need, with extra funds under various budget heads. The total budget is £7.39 billion, a substantial part of which is spent on problems associated with the troubles.

Peace would undoubtedly allow the distribution of public resources on a different basis from the present one —a basis that would give a more positive impetus to increasing prosperity throughout the community. But the real improvement would be the enhanced attractiveness of Northern Ireland as a place for the private sector to locate, as a place for the most able youngsters, many of whom take their skills elsewhere, to carve out their careers and as a place for tourists to enjoy their holidays in the most breathtaking countryside. The committee of the British-Irish parliamentary body, on which I sit, sees immense advantages for tourism if only peace prevailed.

It would be impudent of me, as a south-east England Member, to lecture those who know Northern Ireland so much better than I. I have taken an interest in the Province since I entered the House in 1983, partly because I represent a garrison town from which soldiers regularly serve in Northern Ireland, partly because of my many Irish friends from north and south of the border and partly because every hon. Member, whichever constituency he or she represents, should take a close interest in the tragedy that has beset a part of the United Kingdom for a quarter of a century—almost half my lifetime and twice as long as the two great wars of the 20th century, the Korean war, the Falklands conflict and the Gulf war added together.

I am not an expert on Irish history, but sometimes I think that there has been too much regard for the past and too little thought given to the future. I have returned from visits to Ireland deeply saddened that two traditions of the same religion could have led to so much strife and enmity. Even as the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland are drawn closer together through our common membership of the European Union, so would I hope and pray that the declaration of 15 December 1993 might act as a basis for people of all persuasions, north and south of the border, to come together to work for peace.

I reiterate that it has been a great honour for me to initiate our debate this morning. I hope that I have not detained the House too long.

10.3 am

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)

The whole House, all Northern Ireland Members and hon. Members who represent constituencies on this side of the water and every law-abiding citizen of the United Kingdom are deeply indebted to the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) for providing us with this opportunity to take stock of the situation in Northern Ireland. We are especially indebted to him for his comprehensive chronological survey of the situation and, although it may be slightly different from what we would like it to be, we on this Bench pay tribute to the hon. Member.

The hon. Member for Gillingham noted the good attendance of Northern Ireland Members today and he will be gratified by the attendance of Members representing constituents in Great Britain, including three Northern Ireland Ministers and a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King). You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will be something of an expert on attendances in the House, and it is the only point on which I seek to involve you: today's attendance compares favourably with the attendance on any normal Friday.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Or on any day.

Mr. Molyneaux

Yes, or on any day. The cameras do what they are not supposed to do: pan around the Chamber to show the lack of interest in, for example, Welsh affairs and, yes, Scottish affairs, legislation on the Mersey Docks and Harbours Board and all such enlightening proceedings. I pay tribute to all hon. Members present who are proof that Northern Ireland is not a forgotten place.

The Sinn Fein-IRA buzzword at the moment is clarification. One Oxford dictionary meaning is: to make a liquid free from impurities. Many IRA criminals will have experience of the illegal production of poteen. They should not need clarification of a simple matter in which the only remaining impurity is their criminality and conscience. The Government cannot enable them to remove that impurity—they must do so themselves; they can simply stop murdering people. They seem to lack the courage to take that crucial decision. First, they said that they needed time to contact the various elements in their band of brothers, but we saw evidence in the "Cook Report" that one Mr. Martin McGuinness can apparently order the murder of a soldier or, when he considers it beneficial to the cause, the execution of an alleged defector. Those who saw that programme waited for a detailed account of the informer's trial. What counsel "learned in the law" appeared for the defence? Was there a jury, because Sinn Fein condemns the Diplock system and it would be unthinkable not to have a jury? Did the accused have any right of appeal?

In the absence of proof of such safeguards, why, for example, does one body that I can think of, but there are many others—Amnesty International—keep silent, as Sinn Fein wheels out that apparatus when an IRA man gets his elbow grazed? Denied, as we all are, the evidence of torture and the execution of even their own, we must conclude that one Mr. McGuinness is so much in control of the organisation that he can order the taking of life within minutes. Is not it strange that he needs five or six weeks to contact and consult those whom he unashamedly claims to lead?

Just as that ploy is seen to be rather less than convincing after all this time, the leadership of Sinn Fein-IRA invent another device. They need to evaluate and weigh the pros and cons. They say, if you please, that they have to take time to make a balanced judgment. Of course, they have taken that line before when they have had to consider their future strategy—for example, in 1967 when one of their godfathers, in a case of mistaken identity, confided in a friend of mine: We shall have to restart our campaign before our people are demoralised by the British welfare state. When prominent people assured us that peace could be achieved within a week and proclaimed peace before Christmas, we did not believe a word of it; but many innocent souls did and they were rewarded by Mr. Adams publicly thanking the thousands who marched and prayed in support of the IRA's campaign for peace. Mr. Adams and Mr. McGuinness long ago stopped blushing when they proclaim themselves to be men of peace, but they and all associated with them will never be forgiven by the thousands whom they betrayed and misled.

That disillusionment would have been greatly lessened had Mr. Adams even suspended the murder campaign while he and his so-called "army council" were studying and reviewing the situation. Instead, they issued a pre-Christmas statement, no doubt "using the recognised code word", wherever that is supposed to come from, as they have done over 20 years, wishing the people a happy Christmas, and adding, "You won't be murdered until Boxing day." One never ceases to be amazed by the gullibility of people who are otherwise intelligent. Some in the ranks of the chattering classes are now being sucked into whining about clarification, not realising that that is the only tactic that can rescue the IRA from the condemnation of world opinion. That is the operation on which they are presently engaged.

It is curious how little notice has been taken of an utterly unprincipled departure from what for decades has been the basic demand of "Brits out", summarised in the translation of Sinn Fein into the English language as "Ourselves alone". The mumbo-jumbo of recent months has cleverly concealed the conversion to acceptance that a British withdrawal would not suit Sinn Fein-IRA at all. They used to refer to Ulster as Britain's last colony, and asserted that they were determined and would succeed in driving out the British Army. They forgot that when Britain withdrew from a colony, it did so in response to the demands of the majority, or the greater number of the native population. On the day of ceremonial departure, Britain transferred all authority to that majority, but never to a neighbouring state.

I might be tempting the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) to ask us how that stands in regard to the Bill that he presented yesterday to terminate British jurisdiction in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

The right hon. Gentleman will recall that we terminated our jurisdiction of Palestine, are handing over Hong Kong to China and that we conceded to a white minority in Rhodesia at the time of the universal declaration of independence. This is a more complex matter than perhaps he allows.

Mr. Molyneaux

The simple question for the right hon. Gentleman and those who share his view remains: By "Brits out now", do they mean now, at the end of the year or—as it is in the minds of the modernised IRA—phased over a period of 11 years? The full horror of that scenario has only recently struck the IRA. A British withdrawal would leave it in an independent Ulster, not a united Ireland. It may even have crossed its mind that the ethnic cleansing that republicans have practised all along the United Kingdom frontier could suddenly become a two-edged sword. I will not go any further than that for obvious reasons. We now have the supreme irony of the IRA murdering British soldiers of the British Army, which the IRA would require to enforce phased joint authority and eventually Irish unity on British citizens of Northern Ireland. Where now stands the principled idealistic freedom fighters of Irish republican mythology? Where now stands their moral courage?

The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have rightly refused to set a deadline for an IRA response. Having provided the IRA with an opportunity to cease its criminal activity—if by some miraculous chance it were so minded—Her Majesty's Government do not need to set a date for acceptance of the offer. Could I suggest that Ministers urgently consult their French and German counterparts in regard to the techniques that they used so efficiently in stamping out their indigenous terrorists? Both those Governments have great respect for our Foreign Secretary. They know that he has the right ideas, as evidenced when he was Home Secretary. At that time, he declared that there was no point in talking to the IRA, and that they just had to be extirpated. Being a man of sound judgment and high principles, the Foreign Secretary will not have changed his views in the interval.

The Government as a whole will be equally determined to do everything in their power to protect the citizens from the resumption of terrorism. If more powers are needed, no responsible Member of the House can refuse to grant the necessary authority. In that respect, the Secretary of State is to be commended for his vigorous approach to security. In his speech last evening, he said: If the violence continues, the work of opposing it will of course continue with the utmost vigour. We shall work to ensure that the law is strong enough to counter these criminal conspiracies, that the police have the necessary resources in terms of manpower, equipment and military support, and that co-operation between the two jurisdictions is as creative and pro-active as possible. We would all support those words. The Irish Government also joined in making the offer to Sinn Fein-IRA. They, too, appeared to believe in peace by Christmas. They, too, feel badly betrayed, and I shall not embarrass them by making security demands of them in public. They know where their duty lies as a sovereign nation with pride in its international standing.

Nor is there any deadline with regard to political progress. During his pre-Christmas visit to Northern Ireland, the Prime Minister discussed the way ahead with party leaders. He agreed on the desirability of pressing ahead with the restoration of accountable democracy. He, the Secretary of State and the Minister of State have accelerated the process. Nationally, the news industry has ignored all that—perhaps in some cases suppressed it—but the fact is that the Minister of State has been patiently proceeding with bilateral discussions since early September last year. I do not complain about the lack of media interest. We are all the more likely to make real progress if we are relieved of the need to compete in sound bites. But, for the sake of accuracy and their professional reputations, journalists might refrain from using inaccurate phrases such as "talks being in abeyance" for the past year.

Ideally, in our drive for the restoration of accountable democracy, we should aim to make progress on three fronts—first, Westminster, which is responsible for the good Government of the entire United Kingdom; secondly, Stormont as a location for sound administrative democracy; and thirdly, local democracy in the ranks of councillors freshly elected less than a year ago. But, as we operate in the real world, we may not find it possible to progress at the same speed on all those fronts. However, progress must be made where progress is possible. We must not be stalled by those who decline to move with the times. We should not ignore the stimulus contained in this week's Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill, which applies to Northern Ireland and bears the name of the Secretary of State. The powers to repeal and amend in the first four clauses could provide a solid launching pad for a campaign to open doors and gates that have remained closed for far too long.

10.18 am
Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke)

It is a great privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux). It will be fair to say that many people who have been following events since 15 December have been struck and impressed by the manner in which he has analysed the joint declaration and responded to it. It is a privilege to follow him in this debate.

I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) was successful in the ballot and that he chose this motion. These Friday morning debates on Northern Ireland have provided a valuable opportunity to explore issues related to the Province. Today, we have the additional bonus that the debate is taking place in the shadow of the speech by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State last night, in which he positively restated the position as he sees it in the light of the joint declaration.

I am intrigued by accusations that last night my right hon. and learned Friend was indulging in clarification. I do not mean to suggest for one moment that anything he says could be boring, but we have heard what he said last night before and he was merely restating a well-definded position, which was first stated in the House on 15 December. Virtually every phrase in his speech can be found on the floppy disks of the word processors in the Northern Ireland Office which contain the texts of his previous speeches. It is advancing rather far to say that it was a clarification; it was a restatement of a well-defined position.

About five weeks have passed since the joint declaration. Sufficient time has elapsed and sufficient developments have taken place since then for it to be worth while to take stock of where we stand. From that point of view, I warmly welcome the speech by the Secretary of State last night. A number of its salient features are well worth bearing in mind. First, he once again reminded his audience that the joint statement is not a settlement in itself but the framework through which peace may be found and that it is very much to be seen as complementing and underpinning the talks process. That is always worth repeating, because I have encountered a mistaken belief in many comments in the media and from constituents that the joint declaration was a settlement, which would or would not be signed and achieve the desired objective. It is a means rather than an end.

I was glad to hear my right hon. and learned Friend quote again the words of Cardinal Daly: The Declaration excludes no-one and predetermines no single political or constitutional future. Nothing is excluded except the use of violence for political ends. At this stage in the proceedings one must be wary of becoming too bogged down in conditional debates about what may or may not be on the agenda in the event that Sinn Fein-IRA declare an end to violence and serious talks start.

In his speech last night to the Trinity College Dublin dining club, my right hon. and learned Friend drew attention to the fact that the joint declaration was a balanced document with reassurances to the two traditions within Northern Ireland. I noted with interest the question of the hon. Member for Newry—I am sorry; I cannot remember the constituency—

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

There are certainly doubts about it at present. It used to be known as Newry and Armagh, but who knows what the future holds?

Mr. Hunter

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. His question yesterday afternoon demonstrated an awareness that the Government's presentation had been insensitive to nationalist feelings. I deeply regret the fact that he has formed that opinion because I am sure that it was not the Government's intention or that of any hon. Member who has spoken publicly on the joint declaration.

Mr. Mallon

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the subject as I welcome an opportunity to compliment the Secretary of State on his remarks last night on the matter that I raised yesterday. I said that in every public utterance by the Prime Minister on the subject there has not been one iota of recognition that within Northern Ireland and the nationalist community there are people who do not support violence and whose sensitivities and views have to be taken into account. I ask all hon. Members and the Government to examine every statement made by the Prime Minister and refute what I have said.

Mr. Hunter

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that observation, which I am sure will be borne in mind.

The joint declaration certainly contains assurances to the nationalist tradition within Northern Ireland. I believe that it also contains the assurances that Unionists can look to and expect. I have never concealed the fact that I regard myself as a staunch Unionist and I am satisfied that the document is sufficiently balanced to protect what, as a Unionist, albeit an English one, I regard as very precious indeed: the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. The document is balanced and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State can be congratulated for reminding us forcefully of its balanced nature.

Last night, my right hon. and learned Friend also spoke of the "golden threads" in the joint declaration: agreement and self determination. With those words he can be seen to echo the theme of the speech by the Prime Minister of the Republic on 10 January—when Mr. Reynolds said that there was no room for "coercion" in any new settlements that may emerge.

As for reactions to the joint declaration in the past five weeks, I do not believe that there are any real grounds for optimism, in the light of the available evidence, that Sinn Fein-IRA will renounce violence. That is deeply to be regretted. My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham summarised that matter, so I need not go into it in depth, but the search for clarification is a will-o'-the-wisp—a game of diplomacy, which is being pursued to blur the joint declaration and to initiate meaningful negotiations before the rejection of violence.

Perhaps insufficient attention has been paid to the six principles that Mr. Adams pronounced in an interview with The Sunday Tribune at the beginning of January. That interview with the editor, Mr. Vincent Browne, could not encourage one to believe that a positive response from Sinn Fein-IRA was likely. I must highlight the sentence in the article in which Mr. Adams says: The six counties cannot have a right to self determination, that is a matter for the Irish people as a whole". It is regrettable that that remains his position.

The violence has continued and I therefore do not believe that one can look ahead with great optimism—

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)

To follow on from the intervention by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), from the way in which my hon. Friend is talking one would think that Sinn Fein-IRA represented the nationalist community. It does not. Is not it time that people were reminded that it has little electoral support in the Province and even less in the Republic? There are some people here and in the Republic who are not enthusiastic about the use of violence and indeed rightly condemn it. We should be reminded of that time and again.

Mr. Hunter

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, which reminds us of the argument that is often put forward by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who has tried to draw a parallel between Mr. Adams and the Sinn Fein/IRA movement and past colonial situations. The great difference and the fundamental flaw in the right hon. Gentleman's argument is that Gerry Adams is not a prime minister or president-in-waiting of a united Ireland; nor is Sinn Fein/IRA like the African National Congress—a political party waiting to take over the reins of power. The parallel does not exist. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) reminded us, only a very small minority of extreme republicans adhere to violence.

There is no value in indulging in any Dublin-bashing at this time. Nevertheless, the speech of 10 January by the Prime Minister of the Republic has commanded much attention. In one or two respects, it did not help. As we have already referred to questions that were asked yesterday, I shall, if I may, expand on mine, which I tried to get over amid a lot of noise just before questions to the Prime Minister started.

In the speech of 10 January, three or four enigmatic lines have attracted insufficient attention. The Prime Minister of the Republic said: It is important to note that the requirement for the consent of a majority is related by the Declaration to the constitutional issue. It does not mean that all forms of political progress or other decisions are subject … to a similar block. It greatly disturbed me to read those lines. They strike me as hard to reconcile with other aspects of the joint declaration.

Mr. John Hume (Foyle)

Is the hon. Gentleman telling me and the House that people who represent less than 2 per cent. of the United Kingdom should be able to dictate to Government what their policy is on everything?

Mr. Hunter

I think that the hon. Gentleman misses the point entirely.

Mr. Hume

No; the hon. Gentleman missed the point that the Irish Prime Minister was making.

Mr. Hunter

I am delighted with the clarification. Let us continue the debate afterwards. It is certainly not my understanding of the words that I have just quoted, so perhaps the hon. Gentleman and I can meet in due course and he can explain why I have failed to understand what the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland was trying to say.

The other observation that I must make about the speech of 10 January is about the use of the concept of persuasion and persuading. In the joint declaration, the word "persuade" or the words "to be a persuader" or "persuasion" are not used. The declaration speaks in terms of encouraging, facilitating and enabling an agreement. There is a subtle difference between being a persuader to an agreement and encouraging, facilitating and enabling a decision. The former suggests directing towards a certain conclusion, whereas the joint declaration perceives no predetermined conclusion whatever.

As for the way forward, I hope that the talks that have taken place, especially between the Minister of State and the constitutional parties, will advance and that something approaching the three-stranded process which was explored a few months ago can be resumed. It is important that the process is not halted by the continued refusal of Sinn Fein/IRA to accept a ceasefire, to accept peace and to renounce violence. I look forward to a meaningful dialogue round the table between the constitutional parties. In that respect, I have noted carefully what the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley said a few minutes ago. That dialogue is to be accompanied by the continued remorseless assault on terrorism from both sides of the traditional divide in Northern Ireland.

10.33 am
Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

In the past 25 years, I have had many traumatic experiences in relation to violence in the area in which I live. The one that touched me most happened when I visited the scene after an incident in my constituency at the very end of the year. It was the period of new year—a period of celebration and joy. When I arrived at Crossmaglen, the body of a young soldier was lying on the ground. It was covered with a blanket. I asked a number of people what his name was, and the thing that touched me most was that no one could tell me his name, not even those associated with him. There was a dead body lying in the street of my constituency, on a part of my country, but no one knew his name, and no one knew he had lost his life.

That affected me deeply, and it affected the people of Crossmaglen deeply. They had read in their newspapers that morning a semantic argument from members of Sinn Fein and the IRA as to what words meant—what "agreement" was or was not, or what "self determination" was or was not—and yet, at the same time as they issued their new year's messages, a body lay there and we could not put a name on it.

It is from that point of view that I want to address my words today. I address them to that section of the community from which I come in the north of Ireland—that section of the community which is represented by myself and my hon. Friends in the House. That section of the community has never supported violence or the type of coercion that is inherent in that which has motivated violence down through the years. It has accepted always the democratic right to work for its objectives and its aspirations through the political process, through any forum, be it in the House, in Northern Ireland or wherever it may be.

For that reason, I sought to remind the House yesterday that there was another view, that it is the substantial view of nationalist people in the north of Ireland, and that it is held by much more than 65 per cent. of that population in political terms and much more in non-political terms. That view is that there is no place for violence in the solution to our problems; that we must solve them through the democratic political process, and that we must do so by peaceful means.

It is from that starting point, and for that reason, that I wish to address my arguments directly to those who would contravene what I believe to be a legitimate political philosophy and a legitimate political approach. I shall refer to two subjects that cropped up in the debate and were mentioned yesterday.

First, I can understand the obvious impatience with the delay in reaching a settlement and a solution to the problem as a result of the joint declaration that was made by the two Prime Ministers on 15 December. I can feel the frustration. I ask hon. Members, however, to remember that it took 18 months of negotiation and discussion for the four constitutional parties in the north of Ireland—or was it five?—the Democratic Unionist party, the Ulster Unionist party, the Social Democratic and Labour party and the Alliance party, to decide how to get to the negotiating table. That was with no guns, with none of the baggage that Sinn Fein and the IRA have and with none of the problems that may or may not arise in terms of the matters that were mentioned by the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman).

In the light of that, I would ask people to be patient and to realise that there will be no quick way of getting to the negotiating table in much more difficult circumstances. If it takes the constitutional parties 18 months to do it, please accept the fact that if the peace process is to work, as I hope and believe that it will, we have to exercise patience.

Let us not succumb to a danger that I have heard so often—"Let us give them until such-and-such a date and then …" Then what, Mr. Deputy Speaker? That is what people should ponder very carefully indeed The "then what?" options are very limited and very dangerous and we have had them, as my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) says, for 25 years. I make that point because it is valid and it is worth remembering the difficulties of the political process when one is trying to end what is a virtual war. It is something that we must all deal with sensitively.

Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the terms in which the expectation of peace were announced raised hope to levels where peace could not be delivered?

Mr. Mallon

The desire for peace among all of us is and was such that we want, did want, and still want peace. If there was a little hyperbole in what any of us may have said, it may be forgiven in respect of that hope and desire to save lives and to create peace.

The second point that requires clarification is the difference between the principle of consent in the definition of self determination, as contained in the joint declaration, and a veto over policy. That is a substantial difference. I hope that we have been dealing with the element of self determination and the consent which is inherent in that, deriving not only from the joint declaration, but from the circumstances and realities of Northern Ireland. One cannot have a change in the constitutional position without the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland. That is inherent in their position, in their numbers and in the geographical factors as well as in the joint declaration, and we abide by that.

Does that mean that that same majority of Northern Ireland has a veto over British Government policy? Does it mean that that same majority has a veto over its relationship with the Republic of Ireland? Does that mean that that veto can aye or nay what the British Government may decide to do with or without the Irish Government? There is a clear distinction between that principle of consent in self determination and the implied or assumed veto over what decisions may be made by a sovereign Government. That should be cleared up carefully, and I believe that the hon. Member for Gillingham would accept that distinction and that it would be intolerable to have anything else.

Mr. Molyneaux

I do not think that anyone would imagine that Ulster Unionists, Democratic Unionists, or SDLP Members, even when they are combined, would claim to have a veto over how the United Kingdom is governed or over British policy. The hon. Gentleman will remember a dramatic demonstration of that when the education order was passing through the House. The three Irish parties represented in the House voted unanimously against it and Her Majesty's Government defied our wishes and went ahead with it to such an extent that bishops of the Catholic Church sought a judicial review to reverse the decision. Surely that was an example of the fact that, in the end, as three minority parties in the House of Commons, we bow to the wishes of the greater number of Members of Parliament in the House.

Mr. Mallon

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for confirming that; but to take that on to a different plain, I repeat that there is a substantive and crucial difference between the element of consent in the joint declaration and the requirement to meet the political needs and desires of the majority of people of the north of Ireland on every other issue.

Clarification has become almost a weasel word. I have heard it analysed as the difference between analysis and explanation. I shall leave the Secretary of State to speak about whatever clarification may or may not have meant in his fine speech last night. Those who have read the speech and do not seek further clarification or interpretation have not been reading the same speech as I have. I leave it to the Secretary of State to expand on that if he so wishes. Let those who can read, read.

Mr. Frank Field

On the point of clarification, I have not had an opportunity before to say how important I think the initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) has been. However, I am puzzled in that, when the Downing street declaration became public, great emphasis was put on how similar it was to the Hume-Adams dialogue/agreement. Since then, Mr. Adams has said that he has had substantial difficulties in accepting the Downing street agreement. Would not it help the process of clarification if the Hume-Adams statement, agreement, document, whatever it is, were published so that some of us can consider the differences and draw our own conclusions, both in the name of clarification and in trying to speed the debate along?

Mr. Mallon

I have referred to the fact that, on the issue of self determination, there is not a whisker between what is in the joint declaration and what is in the document to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I shall stand by that statement at all times. It is not for me to publish the Hume-Adams document; it is for the authors of the document to make it public. I am sure that the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) would agree.

Mr. Frank Field

Of course, I accept that it is not our property to do so, but does the hon. Gentleman accept that it would help our deliberations if it was published?

[Hon. Members: "No."]

Mr. Mallon

I will give way to anybody who would like to elaborate on that matter.

Mr. Hunter

Would the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) clarify this point? If the Hume-Adams document is so similar to the joint declaration, why did Adams's six principles go so far from the joint declaration a fortnight or so later?

Mr. Mallon

The publication of the Hume-Adams document is not a matter for me; but the truth and integrity of what is said about the means through which we are trying to get a resolution of the problem is a matter for me. The IRA and Sinn Fein tell us that that centres on the core issue of self determination which is defined in the joint declaration. I emphasise that there is not a whisker of difference between the definition in the joint declaration and what is contained in the document to which the hon. Member for Birkenhead referred.

I shall go further than that and say that, in the joint statement issued after the meeting on 10 April between Mr. Hume and Mr. Adams, it became public and was clearly recognised that the problem could be resolved only by peaceful means, that it could be resolved only through agreement and, that the Irish people have the right to self determination—there is a difference of opinion on that—that it can be achieved only by agreement and, for that agreement to be viable, it must have the agreement of all the people and all the traditions in the island of Ireland. If that is not saying the same thing as that contained in the joint declaration, again we are not reading well.

Mr. Peter Robinson

As I understand the hon. Gentleman's argument in relation to the issue of whether clarification should be given to the Provisional IRA on the Downing street declaration, does he view the prize of peace as being of sufficient importance that clarification, if necessary, should be given? If he feels that, although it is not his responsibility to clarify the Downing street declaration, will he give us his viewpoint in relation to whether there should be a publication of the Hume-Adams proposal? Should not there be clarification of that, and has not the hon. Gentleman got a view on that matter?

Mr. Mallon

I have spent the past five minutes trying to provide clarification of that document. Let me repeat what I said in case there are any mistakes: in my view, there is not a whisker of difference between the factor of self determination in the document and the document that is now known as the joint declaration. I am providing the clarification, for which hon. Members have asked, as publicly as I can.

Ms Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)

I appreciate that the document is not the hon. Gentleman's and he therefore cannot decide to publish it, but does he not understand that the fact that the document is not in the public domain is adding to the confusion about clarification? As it was the leader of the hon. Gentleman's party who had the discussions, who produced the document and who received the praise of everyone in this House in respect of the document—and rightly so—and for moving matters forward, why can we not see that document? What is so secret? If the document is not published, surely that will give more people ammunition to talk about confusion and misunderstanding. Will not the hon. Gentleman ask the leader of his party to publish the document, place it in the public domain and let us all see it?

Mr. Mallon

The hon. Lady will recognise that I can give my opinion in terms of what I see on a piece of paper before me as I have done in terms of the document to which the hon. Lady referred and in relation to the joint declaration. I am giving my view and I stand by it. I stand by it because if people use the issue of self determination to kill other human beings, it is my duty to challenge it if that is the reason they give for taking away the lives of other human beings.

Mr. Couchman

I hate to belabour the point, but there were two parties to the Hume-Adams document—the hon. Gentleman's party leader who is sitting beside him today, who presumably is not blocking publication of the document, and Adams and Sinn Fein. Is Sinn Fein blocking publication? Which part of Hume-Adams is blocking publication?

Mr. Mallon

I can say which part of the process is assuring the House that if the IRA believes that the core element is self determination, but it is continuing to kill people because of that core element, that is spurious and cynical because there is no difference between what the IRA agreed in the other document and what is in the joint declaration. Surely that is the importance and the essence of it all.

There are no valid grounds for misunderstanding or misrepresenting the purpose of the declaration as opposed to the text and interpretation. With regard to purpose, the declaration does not claim to be a solution to the Irish problem. If it did, it would rightly be condemned for failing to deal adequately with many aspects, including security and north-south structures. The declaration is not an attempt to provide a solution.

However, the declaration opens the door very widely to a solution. It does that by recognising formally, and in a way without precedent in Anglo-Irish relationships, that the future of Ireland is to be decided and agreed by Irish people alone. British Cabinet papers of the past 30 years that were released recently show how matters have advanced in that regard in relation to what could not be obtained from the British Government even 30 years ago.

If what the declaration states had been said early enough and often enough, we might not have these problems. There would probably not have been an IRA. Indeed, I have gone further and have said that, had that been stated in 1921 during negotiations, there would not have been a civil war on the island of Ireland. However, it has now been said. Let us now all recognise that it places the determination of the future of Ireland for the first time in the hands of the Irish people alone.

The declaration is consistent with that principle and it leaves the shape of the future arrangements for the island of Ireland for negotiation between the Irish people themselves. It confines itself to the essential purpose of offering the people of Ireland, North and South, the basis to agree that from now on their differences can be negotiated and resolved exclusively by peaceful, political means. That is a singular radical step and it could transform the situation in Ireland and open an entirely new political vista free from the straitjacket of violence. It is a challenge for every form of leadership on the island of Ireland, but especially for the leadership of the paramilitary organisations.

The declaration goes further than ever before to offer a political alternative which paramilitaries can operate and acknowledge. It assumes that they resort to violence not from any psychological preference, but as a last resort in terms of their own particular logic. The declaration seeks explicitly to be the starting point for an alternative political approach which will be meaningful for all, as both aspirations are reflected in it with no qualifications or limitations save that which arises from the abiding reality of the other tradition in each case which neither side can wish away.

The nationalists cannot wish away the Unionist people of the north of Ireland and they do not want to do that. Nor can they wish away the strength of the Unionist position in the north of Ireland even if they did want to do that. Unionists cannot wish away the substantial section of the population which is non-Unionist and nationalist and, I believe, they do not want to do that. Nor can they wish away our aspiration towards Irish unity, even if they did want to do that. That is the abiding reality we live with and, as we live with it, the declaration becomes crucially more important for all of us.

Coming from the nationalist tradition, I am sure that there is no one within that nationalist tradition who will take upon himself lightly and justify the awesome decision to take people's lives, having for the first time had that clear understanding and recognition formally that it is for the Irish people to decide what the future of the island of Ireland may be.

There are certain basic fundamentals to republicanism which I would like to measure against the joint declaration. Does the island of Britain still assert colonial rights over the island of Ireland—the basis of republican views? The declaration states: The British Government agree that it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively, to exercise their right of self determination alone, as of right without outside impediment. There is no economic or strategic selfish reason for Britain remaining in Northern Ireland. That tenet of republicanism surely cannot stand up.

Are the British Government setting limits to what Parnell, a former Member of this House, called the "march of the nation"? In the declaration, the British Government formally accept that the right of self determination of the Irish people can be exercised on the basis of consent freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland if that is their wish. The declaration also states that agreement among all the people living in Ireland may, as of right, take the form of agreed structures for the island as a whole, including a united Ireland achieved by peaceful means". Does that tenet of republicanism stand up when it is put beside the declaration?

Would the British Government thwart the process of agreement between the people living in Ireland? According to the joint declaration, the two Governments formally pledge the role of the British Government will be to encourage, facilitate and enable the achievement of … agreement between all the people of the island of Ireland. They make a solemn pledge to promote co-operation at all levels and to create institutions and structures which, while respecting the diversity of the people of Ireland, would enable them to work together in all areas of common interest. There is nothing to say that the British Government will thwart the wishes of the Irish people.

Is it that the declaration does not determine and advance what the new arrangements for the island might be? One of the ironies of what are euphemistically called community activists in Northern Ireland has been that the document has been criticised because the British Government do not decide what nationalists will have. Surely, if the British Government were to decide what the Irish people would have, it would be a contradiction of the self determination that the very same community activists have been demanding for so long. It is a contradiction of the very essence of self determination.

The declaration also holds out prospects for a forum for peace and reconciliation to heal the divisions caused by violence over the past years. The persistent taint of atrocity has caused many people, particularly in the Republic of Ireland, to reject not just violent nationalism but nationalism itself. A border reinforced by public opinion in the south would be a formidably permanent one.

Let me send clearly a message to the IRA and Sinn Fein. They have done more damage to the cause of Irish unity in the past 25 years, through their violence, than any other single factor. Let me assure them that they have gone a long way to creating within the Republic of Ireland a partitionist point of view which, in many ways, has become anti-national and anti-nationalist. If the IRA and Sinn Fein want partition to continue, they are going exactly the right way about it. That message must go out to them very loud and clear. I, as a nationalist and as a republican in the true sense of the word, want to take this opportunity of again saying that to them, straight from the Floor of the House.

We have debated self determination at length, but I make one basic observation about it. The vast majority of people in Ireland, north and south, Unionists and nationalists, self determined long ago that there should not be violence on the island of Ireland. Who is standing in the way of that right to self determination? It is those who are carrying out violence. We have the right as Irish people, north and south, to determine that our problems cannot be solved through violence. Yet those people who make issues of self determination are the people who are negating the right that the Irish people have already taken on that issue, that violence should not be the way in which we pursue our objectives.

I am conscious of the time, but I make one further point. We have heard about confirmation, elaboration and interpretation, but I finish by asking for clarification, or asking others to clarify. In this case, I do not request the Government for clarification. I shall ask the leaders of Sinn Fein and the IRA now to have the courage to give three elements of clarification to their supporters, voters, members and activists. First, I ask them to be honest enough publicly to say to them, "Violence will never achieve the objective of a united Ireland." They must say that to them. If they have the courage of their convictions and the integrity of leadership, they must spell out the reality that we can never unite people by killing them and that Irish unity will never be achieved by violence. I ask the leaders of the IRA and Sinn Fein to make that public declaration to their own members, not to the rest of the people of Ireland who already believe it. That is what leadership is about.

Secondly, I ask them to tell their own membership, supporters and voters that, in essence, they have agreed to the principle of self determination for the Irish people, with the consent of the majority of the people of the north of Ireland. That is another piece of honesty which I should like to see instilled. Also, I ask them to explain and clarify that self determination without that principle of consent is not self determination but coercion. There is a little bit of clarification, interpretation and elaboration which might help the situation.

Thirdly—and this is very important—I ask them, as with the role that my hon. Friends and I have chosen, to become the persuaders of those who do not agree with Irish unity and do not want it. The logic is that if I accept the principle of consent in self determination, my role as a nationalist is to persuade those who are not that their future would be better in a country which was unified in whatever form that unification might take. That is the role of nationalists if we wish to pursue the noble objective of creating Irish unity.

Will Sinn Fein and the IRA join us in becoming the persuaders, through the political process, through peaceful means, through persuasion and through every form of political action that will not and cannot entertain or include violent action against anyone on the island of Ireland?

Mr. Barry Porter

How long would the hon. Gentleman give Sinn Fein and its supporters to weigh up his very wise words?

Mr. Mallon

I do not put time scales on the matter. Time scales have no place in politics. I made my position clear when I said that it took the constitutional parties 18 months to get started, even to get to the table, never mind obtain any type of agreement.

I make my point about persuasion. There are those within the process who have said to me, "But that is a pipedream; you will never get Unionists to agree to any form of Irish unity."

I finish with two very pertinent quotations. The first is: There is no one in the world who will be more pleased to see an absolute unity in Ireland than I would. I do not want to enter into the game of "Who said that?", but it is relevant. It was Sir Edward Carson, a former Member of this House, in January 1921. The second quotation is: In this island we cannot live always separated from one another. We are too small to be apart or for the border to be there for all time. The change will not come in my time but it will come. I will not enter into the business of saying, "Who said that?", but it was James Craig, Lord Craigavon, the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. Persuasion can, will and must work.

11.8 am

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

It might be for the convenience of the House if I now make what I hope will be a reasonably brief intervention to offer a Government view of the issues that have been addressed to eloquently so far. The motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) invites the House to assert its abhorrence and rejection of all violence, from whatever quarter, perpetrated in place of democratic persuasion. We have just listened to a devastating examination of the claim of the IRA and Sinn Fein to justify the perpetration of violence in the circumstances that apply now, after the joint declaration by the two Governments. We listened to a penetrating examination of those claims by my hon. Friend and other hon. Members—indeed, all who have spoken in the debate so far. I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend not only on his choice of subject but on his most careful and, if I might say so, perceptive and moving speech.

My hon. Friend mentioned the meeting of the British-Irish interparliamentary body, which he was attending when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach signed the declaration in Downing street on 15 December. I was to have answered questions before that body that morning and was looking forward to it, but I had to withdraw at the last moment in order to be present at Downing street. I regret that, and perhaps there will be another occasion when I can attend that body. But I entirely agree with my hon. Friend when he describes the declaration signed that day as an historic agreement—it patently is—which offers a real opportunity to see an end to the inexcusable violence which has so marred the image of Northern Ireland.

My hon. Friend described the joint declaration as a declaration for peace. That is exactly right. It is profoundly for peace and profoundly against violence. Peace—not peace at whatever price, but peace properly attained—and an agreed political settlement are the Government's twin objectives in Northern Ireland. Each of the objectives supports the other, and we share them with the Irish Government.

To my mind, the motion's reference to the "insistent demand" of the people accurately captures the present mood for peace that is so apparent in Northern Ireland today. Violence leads nowhere; in a democracy, it is wrong, inexcusable and always revolting. Last year, 84 human beings were killed in Northern Ireland alone—murdered. All of them were killed by terrorists; none by the police or Army. Hundreds more were injured. We do not and will not forget in particular Tim Parry or Jonathan Ball, the children of Warrington, or the victims of Shankill or Greysteel. They and the other victims were not mere statistics. Sometimes, we give the impression that we treat them as mere statistics as we compare one year with another, but we do not mean to do so. They are not mere statistics; they are flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone.

People demand that the violence stop now. There is a great yearning everywhere to hear that the days of the bomb and the bullet are over for good, and that those who wish to seek political change in Northern Ireland—and why should they not?—will now follow the democratic path, and only the democratic path.

The joint declaration sets out in full public view a clear framework for peace provided by both Governments. As my hon. Friend said, it is not a settlement in itself. It is a framework in which a settlement can be achieved, and it removes any doubt that violence can somehow be justified. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) and the leader of his party have made that abundantly clear. On 4 January, the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) said: past reasons given by the republican movement for armed struggle no longer exist. The declaration is clear for all to see. As the Taoiseach said last night, it is not open to renegotiation.

Let me make it clear that the declaration places nobody's interests at risk. It represents the shared view of the two Governments on how to pursue peace, stability and reconciliation through agreement. It represents a balanced statement of the constitutional principles and political realities that safeguard the vital interests of all sections of the community in Northern Ireland—and I stress the word all. The words of Cardinal Daly have already been cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter). Cardinal Daly said: The Declaration excludes no-one and pre-determines no single political or constitutional future. Nothing is excluded except the use of violence for political ends". That is precisely what the two Governments intended.

In the past, the use of violence in one form or another on many sides has led to much of the pain and division that we see today. This is a cause of real and general regret. Today, both Governments and most people believe that the way to break this vicious circle is to stick rigorously to the principles of agreement, consent and democracy. The declaration is founded on those principles. I suggest that its most important characteristic is its balance.

For those who support the Union, the declaration offers real reassurance. In it, the Prime Minister reaffirms the constitutional guarantee and declares that the British Government will uphold the democratic wish of a greater number of the people of Northern Ireland on the specific issue of whether they prefer to support the Union or a sovereign united Ireland. The wishes of the people of Northern Ireland on this point are and will remain decisive for the reason given by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh—self determination that is not based on consent is not self determination at all; it is coercion

Elsewhere in the declaration, the Taoiseach states: It would be wrong to attempt to impose a united Ireland, in the absence of the freely-given consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland", and he accepts, on behalf of the Irish Government, that the democratic right of self determination by the people of Ireland as a whole must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland". In the event of an overall political settlement, the Irish Government undertake to put forward and support proposals for change in the Irish constitution which would fully reflect the principle of consent in Northern Ireland. The declaration therefore offers the key reassurance to the people of Northern Ireland that their future lies in their own hands.

Today, I reiterate that while Northern Ireland, by its own volition, remains part of the United Kingdom, all its people can continue to count on the whole-hearted commitment of the British Government to upholding them in that status, with all the entitlements and obligations that that entails.

On the other side of the coin, to those who hope to see a sovereign and united Ireland, the declaration gives reassurance that their aspirations, when pursued by peaceful means, are fully legitimate. Reassuring those who are encouraged to believe that the British Government have narrow, colonial or strategic ambitions in Northern Ireland, the declaration says that, on the contrary, they have no selfish strategic or economic interest there. Our primary interest is to see peace, stability and reconciliation in Northern Ireland established by agreement among all the people who live there.

Accordingly, no single outcome to the process of agreement is ruled out in advance. Nor will any be ruled out in the event. We accept a binding obligation to introduce the necessary legislation to give effect to any measure of agreement on future relationships in Ireland. That is for the people living in Ireland freely to determine without external impediment. But, equally, the outcome cannot be predetermined.

The declaration commits us to encourage, facilitate and enable all the people living in Ireland to achieve agreement—not agreement of a particular character, but simply agreement—through a process of dialogue and co-operation based on full respect for the rights and identities of both traditions in Ireland. The declaration provides explicit recognition of the aspirations of both the main traditions. Above all, it emphasises the need for agreement and consent, and for devising a stable future.

It specifically asserts: The British Government agree that it is for the people of the island of Ireland as a whole, by agreement between the two parts respectively, to exercise their right of self determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish". Both Governments will stick by the declaration. We have laboured to produce it for many months, and it is going to stand.

We want to know, together with millions of people around the world to say nothing of these islands, whether all those who are now engaged in violence will recognise that there is clear encouragement to end the violence, and to open the way to political dialogue. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister rightly pointed out that talk of clarification is but a smokescreen to distract attention from that crucial question.

The House should know that the Prime Minister has today placed in the Library a letter, unsigned but written on Mr. Adams's headed notepaper, together with the reply which was issued yesterday. The letter talks of clarification of the joint declaration, but does not give particulars of anything that needs to be clarified. Instead, it seeks to reopen issues for negotiation by pointing back to a position that was attributed to the Irish Government in June last year.

Mr. Benn

Would I be wrong in thinking that all of the correspondence with Sinn Fein that the Secretary of State published during last year was, in effect, the British Government seeking clarification from them about what might be done? Is the word clarification quite such a problem when, in fact, we are discussing talks about talks? Is not that a very familiar procedure in any peacemaking process?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I dealt with that matter at Question Time yesterday. It is perfectly true to say that during the exchanges which were carried out through the channel of communication in the years going back to 1990, the Government did clarify their thinking and sought clarification in return. That is a very different position from that which applies today when, after many months of discussion, the two Governments have made a declaration which sets out constitutional principles and the political realities which govern—in their view—the future of Northern Ireland.

If that document, which has been fashioned after consultation on a wide scale, were to be glossed, or if it were to have interpretations placed upon it, it begins to unravel. It is then induced that the process inevitably becomes one of negotiation when clarification, thus defined, is entered into at the request of an outside party. That is why both Governments have said that they do not propose to do that.

Mr. Benn

This is the core of the current argument, and I am grateful to the Secretary of State. If the Downing street declaration was, as he said, a framework and not a solution—the means by which a solution could be achieved—is it unreasonable to suppose that the framework should be fully understood before it is entered into by those who are parties in the matter? I am trying to assist, and not to obstruct, what the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying. Will the statement, "This is the declaration and there will be no explanation—take it or leave it" increase the prospect for a positive response which everybody in the House would like?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

Of course, everybody hopes for —indeed demands—a positive response. However, the document is substantial and sets out a framework for peace in a way which makes it clear that only the absence or the giving up of violence is required before there would begin a process of exploratory talks. Those talks would begin within some three months, within which three separate factors can be discussed. I will come to those in a moment. I suggest that that is when clarification could be appropriate.

That would be the time when it would be possible to clarify what is to be done to ensure that Sinn Fein may enter into the political process. That is a way in which clarification can be obtained of the consequences of giving up violence. However, it is violence alone that prevents that from happening at the moment. The first stage of the route to participation in politics is already as clear as it possibly could be, and it is that stage which it should take now. I do not want there to be any doubt about it. We cannot add to, take away from, gloss or interpret that text. We shall not clarify it, because it speaks for itself and, so far as we are concerned, it will continue to do so.

So I say to Sinn Fein and its leaders address the issue that counts. They should heed the overwhelming desire among the people of both traditions of Ireland, north and south, to see an end to terrorism. If they call for it to end now and for good—they claim they want to—then, once their good faith is plain, we will engage in exploratory dialogue within three months. We will not negotiate before they have disclaimed violence.

It is already in the public domain what the purpose of that explanatory dialogue would be. It has been there since my statement of 29 November, and there is nothing new in it. It would be threefold: to explore the basis upon which Sinn Fein would come to be admitted to an inclusive political talks process, to which the British Government are committed, but without anticipating negotiations within that process; to exchange views on how Sinn Fein would be able, over a period, to play the same part as the current constitutional parties in the public life of Northern Ireland; and to examine the practical consequences of the ending of violence.

It is in this exploratory dialogue that clarification, as I have said, could be appropriate—not clarification of the joint declaration but of the three processes. It is significant, when testing whether the claims that clarification of the declaration is needed are bona fide, that I am aware that there is no specific particular of which clarification has yet been sought.

The first stage of the route into political dialogue lies straight and clear before Sinn Fein. It cannot be made more clear, and that is the route Sinn Fein should take if it truly wishes to represent, in political dialogue rather than by violence, those who have voted for it.

As has been said in the debate, if the violence were to end, it would create a new era for Northern Ireland, an era in which opportunities which have been denied it for the past 20 years again become available. It is difficult to put a limit on the possibilities if violence were to end. Paramilitary violence has cast such a cloud—a pall would be a better word—over Northern Ireland.

It is only in response to that violence that troops are on the streets of Northern Ireland in such numbers. It is the response to violence in Northern Ireland that requires gallant young men and women to accept the risk that their lives may be taken in an instant by less than heroic villains, who take over people's houses and who treat them with ruthless cruelty. They hit and then run, and they sully disgustingly the cause of Irish nationalism. It is to enable the forces of law and order to combat violence that Parliament renews our very necessary emergency legislation. However, were violence to come to an end for good, the need for all of those measures and for other responses to violence would also end.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham rightly attached much importance to whether there should be an amnesty as some settlement price or inducement to bring violence to an end. Whatever happens, the rule of law must be upheld. So I endorse what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said on the subject. There must be no misunderstanding. There are no political prisoners in Northern Ireland or any other part of the United Kingdom.

Terrorist crime, both past and future, will continue to be vigorously investigated by the police with the aim of bringing the perpetrators to justice. That must be so. There is at present no let-up in this, and there will be none. Those convicted after due process of law must expect to serve their sentences according to law. One vital feature of any peaceful and civilised society is respect for the rule of law, which means the consistent application of the legal process to all its members without partiality. There can be no compromise on this.

I turn lastly to the consequences for building on the progress already made in the talks process, if violence comes to an end.

Mr. Corbyn

Does the Secretary of State think that a useful step in the peace process might well be to lift the broadcasting ban on Sinn Fein, as the Government of the Irish Republic have done, and, as a gesture towards negotiations, to lift the exclusion order against the president of Sinn Fein to enable him to travel to London to put his views and perhaps further the peace process?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

If Sinn Fein announces that it no longer justifies the use of violence and turns away from terrorism, there will be no need for special legislation that spares the people of the United Kingdom the humiliation, indignity and gall of not only suffering terrorist attacks but seeing the perpetrators of those attacks justify them, with their words broadcast into every sitting room in the land. That could go. As I made clear yesterday, the Government's position is that the justification for introducing that legislation in 1988 is no less strong today than it was then.

Mr. Benn

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has spoken greatly as a lawyer about the rule of law and so on. If Mr. Adams is guilty of an offence, why is not he taken before the courts and convicted? If he is not guilty of an offence, why is not he allowed as a member of the United Kingdom—which the Secretary of State proclaims as a democratic country—to travel to any part of the United Kingdom? The denial of civil liberties in Britain is the price that we are paying for the policy that has been pursued.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

The right hon. Gentleman speaks as if each of those matters derogates from the rule of law. But each of those matters is a factor by reason of the will of Parliament. Exclusion orders have been made available by Parliament in the emergency legislation in response to the need to counter terrorism. That is the first instance. The broadcasting legislation is also the will of Parliament. Those matters derive solely from terrorist attacks in this democracy. If the terrorist campaign ceases and a party ceases to justify terrorism, the need for those matters falls.

I was speaking about the political talks and the talks process. I believe that we can build rapidly on the progress that has already been made. The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) spoke of the progress that had been made. I am grateful for the words that he used in that regard. The declaration complements and underpins the talks process. We are determined for our part that the talks process covering all three strands should be carried forward intensively, and with additional focus and direction which we will be minded to provide. The need to develop political consensus in Northern Ireland and to create institutions that command support from both sides of the community, within a stable framework of wider relationships, grows ever more urgent.

I have long thought it unsatisfactory that the Secretary of State should hold so many of the reins of power in Northern Ireland. I have said so almost from the beginning of my term of office. I judge that there is growing impatience within the community at the lack of arrangements that would increase local accountability and give Northern Ireland's own political representatives a greater say in the running of the Province's affairs. That is what strand one of the talks is about.

There is also, I believe, increasing recognition of the interests which all the people of Ireland, north and south, have in common. And so, where it is to their mutual advantage, it makes good sense to work closely together and to have arrangements that make this possible. That is the substance of strand two. Finally, there are important issues that only the two Governments can address. They are doing that now, at official level, in strand three.

The Prime Minister and the Taoiseach stated on 29 October last year that the two Governments would work together on a framework to carry the process forward. I attach great imortance to developing a clear understanding with the Irish Government. For that reason, I very much welcome the Taoiseach's call on 10 January for an early restart to the wider talks process, in order to pursue agreement". The contribution of the Irish Government is vital if we are to achieve a comprehensive agreement covering all three strands.

Mr. Peter Robinson

Will the previous maxim stated in the March agreement, which was the basis of the previous talks process, that nothing was agreed until everything was agreed, be the basis of the new talks process?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

It was a sensible maxim to adopt at that stage. Whether it will apply to the future talks will be a matter for all those who participate in them.

I am convinced that the talks process, involving the two Governments and the main Northern Ireland parties in Northern Ireland, and based on a broad agenda, offers the best hope of achieving an agreed, durable and comprehensive settlement. The talks process must therefore press forward with all urgency, based on the statement of 26 March 1991. I continue to agree with the view of the independent chairman, Sir Ninian Stephen, that the objectives of the process remain valid and achievable.

There can be no question of allowing the momentum to drop. There is a momentum for agreement; a hunger for the dignity and responsibility of deciding and governing local affairs; a determination to work together throughout the whole island. The people of Northern Ireland want peace and agreement: the joint declaration provides the framework in which this can be achieved. The talks process offers the way forward. Sinn Fein can join in, or stay out, but it cannot stop the process. It has only one rational choice.

11.36 pm
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

On 15 December my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition, speaking on behalf of the Labour party, enthusiastically welcomed the joint declaration as an important first step in the peace process which will lead to a new political settlement. But it is just that—a first step. The declaration represents a framework for peace in Ireland. We hope that it will provide the basis for a just and lasting political settlement for the people of Ireland.

The declaration contained the first official recognition by a British Government of the right to self-determination of the Irish people as a whole—a right to be exercised. with the consent of the people of Ireland north and south, freely and concurrently given. In his speech today, the Secretary of State made it clear that he agreed with the Taoiseach's assertion that, under the declaration, the nationalist people of Northern Ireland have had their existing rights of self determination, which they share with the rest of the people of Ireland, formally recognised.

The expression of the right to self determination was not imposed on the Irish people by the British Government. The majority of the Irish people, through their elected parliament and with the agreement of the elected constitutional northern nationalists, have chosen to declare that a united Ireland requires the consent of a majority in the north of Ireland. The two traditions within Ireland can never be united by coercion. So the only way forward must be through peaceful negotiation and dialogue.

We welcome last night's clarification—or, if the Secretary of State prefers, "elucidation", "illumination", "promotion of a more full understanding"—of the declaration by the Government. Last night, reading the Secretary of State's speech, I thought that he came perilously close to becoming a persuader. However, it was a good speech and an important one, as indeed was that of the Taoiseach.

In his speech, the Secretary of State made it clear that no outcome of any talks is precluded other than a united Ireland achieved through coercion and that, equally, no outcome of any talks is predetermined. All other constitutional possibilities and institutional arrangements are, in principle, open to discussion: they are for anybody to put on the agenda.

The Labour party is happy that the Government have confirmed that this is so, because that confronts Sinn Fein and the IRA with a stark choice. They must either openly reveal whether it is their policy to continue to seek the coerced unification of Ireland, or they must abandon violence, enter constitutional dialogue and seek to persuade the Unionists of the merits of Irish unity through peaceful, practical and co-operative politics.

Thus, the Downing street declaration is entirely consistent with Labour's declared policy and that is why we have supported it. We wish to see the unification of Ireland by consent and we oppose any general veto on political progress being given to any political party or community, other than the right of a majority to veto a united Ireland within the north and the expulsion of Northern Ireland from the Union.

Last night, the Secretary of State asserted that the talks process requires ideally, the involvement of the two Governments and the main constitutional parties in Northern Ireland committed to the democratic process. While we welcome the Government's reassertion that no single, constitutional political party can veto the talks process, may I ask the Secretary of State to confirm that he did not mean to imply that the Irish Government could conceivably be excluded from any constitutional talks on the future of Northern Ireland?

The joint declaration reiterates the Anglo-Irish Agreement by making it clear that "as of right" Irish unity would be implemented if a majority so wished—just what we have always sought to support in the House. In the absence of consent for Irish unification, we have frequently expressed our wish to encourage all constitutional parties in Ireland, north and south, to agree institutional arrangements that will enable them to live together in peace and prosperity. That can also be part of the dialogue.

The declaration commits both states to foster agreement leading to a new political framework founded on consent and encompassing arrangements within Northern Ireland, for the whole island, and between these islands". The British Government have also committed themselves to reaching an agreement that will embrace the totality of relationships". Those statements recognise what should be plain to all and what the Secretary of State reiterated last night: that there can be no lasting resolution of the conflict in and over Northern Ireland which does not address all the relevant relationships, internal and external, north and south, east and west, between parties in Northern Ireland, between the Republic and Northern Ireland and between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

It follows from that, from the declaration and from the Anglo-Irish Agreement, that there are three important matters. First, the Government have said, and the Secretary of State said today, that they still adhere to the three-strand structure of talks agreed in March 1991. Secondly, any attempt to decouple one strand of the talks from the others could be a recipe for failure. Thirdly, the principle holds good that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, because these three strands are inextricably intermingled and if one is pulled out the rest will unravel. Any abandonment or equivocation on those matters will only arouse the deepest suspicions.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

Is it the official Opposition's view that Dublin should have a real say in the internal affairs of Northern Ireland? That matter was once relevant to stage one of the talks that ceased.

Mr. McNamara

The Opposition's attitude is that one cannot have agreement on strand one which would be acceptable to all in Northern Ireland unless there is a considerable Irish dimension within it.

The Secretary of State signalled last night and said today that he intended to seek a resumption of the round table inter-party talks. While we welcome such a development, we should like the Government to clarify —if I am allowed to use that word—that they do not intend to give focus and direction solely to strand one of the talks. We must never forget that it is equally vital to secure progress on strands two and three.

Last night, the Secretary of State asserted: there can be no going back to a system which has the allegiance of, and is operated by, only one part of the community. We welcome the fact that the Government now appear to preclude any simple majoritarian approach to the establishment of a devolved Government for Northern Ireland under strand one.

In the debate and in his speech last night, the Secretary of State spoke about the need for local political institutions and about giving power back to local assemblies and councils. There may be an argument for that, but I caution the Secretary of State to remember the history of Northern Ireland and the fact that it was precisely in those areas that much of the discrimination and unhappiness that led to the civil rights movement had their origin. If any powers are to be given back, it must be done in a way that will prevent the possibility of the abuse of any of those powers at local level.

It is of particular importance to bear in mind the carryings on of some local authorities in Northern Ireland. It would be a brave man who would be prepared to return powers to some of those councils.

I realise that it can be argued that the very absence of powers may make people operate in that way because they lack the ability to take responsible, authoritative decisions. There may be some substance in that argument, but I repeat that when the councils had power to make important decisions, many of them used those powers arbitrarily in the interests of only one group. One must look carefully at any proposals for returning power to local authorities without adequate safeguards.

The Secretary of State will have noted from my reply to the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) that we think that it is wrong to try to get one internal settlement in Northern Ireland which does not have the full support of all the parties and which lacks a substantial Irish dimension.

In a letter to my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition on the question of the Northern Ireland Select Committee, the Secretary of State said that it had been agreed in the talks on strand one that such a Committee should be established. That may or may not be so, although if it is correct it would seem to be contrary to the principle that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. More importantly, there has been a constant drip of comments on what has or has not been agreed earlier in strand one. It is important to have some understanding of what was or was not agreed, because there are conflicting statements from the different parties. I realise that it is important that the parties negotiate as much as possible in confidence, knowing that statements that they make will not be immediately relayed to the enemy or its supporters —sometimes one is not certain which is which—but statements made since the Brooke talks on the basis of what the Secretary of State said about Sir Ninian Stephen suggest that the information should be more widely distributed.

We welcome the fact that the Government have also fully understood the stark realities of the existence of the two national communities, which look to their respective nation states for protection and the institutional expression of their identities. That is particularly important given the Prime Minister's gloss on paragraph 9 of the declaration in the Newsletter of 4 January. The relevant paragraph says that the two Governments will work to create through agreement institutions and structures which, while respecting the diversity of the people of Ireland, would enable them to work together in all areas of common interest. The Prime Minister said that that was simply two countries sharing a border on an island looking for ways to work together that made sense to both. The message that such language conveyed was that a future Irish dimension would be minor and almost derisory. There should be no preconceived and narrow perception of the future of north-south institutions. Part and parcel of the apparent narrowing down of the agenda by such matters as the Prime Minister's minimalist interpretation of paragraph 9 of the declaration have caused people to ask for precise clarification. So we welcome again the point made clearly by the Secretary of State yesterday evening that there were no inhibititions or preconceived solutions whatever and that any matter could be discussed.

The onus is now on Sinn Fein to respond to the declaration and the clarification that has been given by both Irish and British Governments. Like the British Government, we are and will remain steadfastly committed to encouraging, facilitating and enabling agreement among the people of Ireland through a process of dialogue and co-operation based on full respect for the rights and identities of both traditions in Ireland.

The challenge is now for Sinn Fein and the IRA to enter that dialogue and seek that co-operation, based on full respect for the rights and identities of both traditions in Ireland, which means ending the violence.

11.51 pm
Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater)

The theme on which the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) ended his speech has echoed through the debate. It is the absolute justification for my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) having chosen this subject for debate today. It has enabled the House to speak clearly on the matter and, in the case of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), to ask direct questions that must now be addressed by the Sinn Fein leadership. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State made clear, no amount of wriggling or trying to find ways to avoid addressing those questions will last. Sinn Fein must now say whether it is prepared to accept the challenge.

The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh gave a moving description of the murder of a soldier in his constituency. As he described that event, I reflected that what had also shocked the people of Crossmaglen was their knowledge that, whatever excuses had been made for violence in the past, they no longer existed. That death was an outrageous act. Such murders are always outrageous, but that one was even more outrageous because there was simply no excuse for it.

I believe that the possibility of peace still exists. I agree with the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) that there was an unhelpful over-optimism at the start of the process. That is often followed by over-pessimism that the opportunity no longer exists. Clearly, difficult questions must be addressed by the leadership of Sinn Fein. It must admit that the path on which it set out is not only a dead end but is increasingly recognised as hostile and positively damaging to the cause of nationalism. It is an obstacle to achieving a united Ireland, not a way of advancing it. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh made that point clear.

Another obstacle that has worried me greatly since the publication of the joint declaration is the approach of the media to the subject. The enterprise is a difficult one which needs careful handling, leadership and quiet discussion and I worry that the media's handling of it will not be helpful. I listen to the ever-active Mr. Peter Snow, the persistent Mr. John Humphrys and Sue MacGregor trying to drive people to make statements and corner them on various issues.

It will take considerable leadership of Sinn Fein to deal with some of the issues. Bringing the subjects out into the open, shining a blinding light on them and calling for categorical statements is seriously inimical to the chance of quiet discussion and persuasion that is necessary. I hope that my comments will be taken in an entirely constructive spirit. Newspapers do not have anything like the force and power on this subject as on others. However, when the principal protagonists are challenged on such issues in front of television cameras it raises real difficulties. Every hon. Member listening to me knows the difficulty of facing such interviews. We all wish the peace process well and I hope that the media's responsibility will be recognised in those quarters where it matters.

Today, and in an excellent speech last night, my right hon. and learned Friend echoed the phrase that was used when I was Secretary of Northern Ireland, when we first received approaches, which go back to before 1990. It was said that we did not really mean what we said about the principle of consent in the Anglo-Irish Agreement because there was a secret, strategic reason why Northern Ireland had to remain part of the United Kingdom. That argument went back to the U-boats and Winston Churchill—indeed, some people still thought that it had something to do with the first world war. It illustrated the awful time warp in which some people in the republican movement live. People still thought that there was a secret agenda.

Hon. Members may have seen Mr. Adams's recent comments following the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach. He said that we were hearing the language of Lloyd George all over again. I do not think that many hon. Members live on the speeches of Mr. Lloyd George, as they feel that the world has moved on in some respects, but for some people in Ireland it has not. Such views are still very much part of their mythology.

Lloyd George wrote an interesting letter, dated 29 May 1916, to Sir Edward Carson when it was proposed to implement the 1914 legislation. It stated: My dear Carson, I enclose Greer's draft propositions. We must make it clear that at the end of the provisional period"— when the 26 counties would have home rule and the six counties of Ulster would be excluded— Ulster does not, whether she wills it or not, merge in the rest of Ireland. Lloyd George's comments made it clear that, regardless of the views of its people, there were reasons why Ulster should remain part of the United Kingdom.

I first made the statement that there was no selfish strategic or economic reason that could override the democratic wishes of the people of Northern Ireland. It is due to the democratic wishes of the people of Northern Ireland that it is proud to be part of the United Kingdom —we welcome and value that.

Some people in Sinn Fein are still in a time warp. They believe that we need desperately to keep trade routes open from America to allow corn to come in. They have not heard that Great Britain is now a food and grain exporting country and that, unlike in 1916, the port of Liverpool is no longer regarded as the vital link for the nation's commerce and trade—Southampton, Felixstowe and a few other ports would say that time has moved on. Air travel may have made some small contribution to the change in the position.

"Prisoners of the past" was the phrase that echoed through my right hon. and learned Friend's speech. Sinn Fein must realise that the situation has changed. We are in 1994; 1916 or 1921 are not being fought all over again.

Mr. Mallon

The right hon. Gentleman's reference to Lloyd George prompts me to remind him that there were also two documents during those negotiations—one for Collins and one for Griffith.

Mr. King

Not those negotiations—they were a little earlier. I noted an amusing commentary that the letter to Carson is signed, "Ever sincerely, D. Lloyd George". Sir Edward Carson may have greeted that with certain reservations.

People still seem to believe that we are in the Lloyd George era, but the situation now depends on democratic choice. As the Taoiseach said in his excellent speech last night, no fairer statement of the nationalist ideals could have been made in the Anglo-Irish declaration. As we said in the Anglo-Irish Agreement, although it seems to have taken a little time to sink in, and as we have repeated in the declaration, the future of the people of Northern Ireland is a matter for their consent.

As the Taoiseach said last night, partition may be considered by many to have been wrong, but that wrong, if that is how it is seen, will not be righted by another wrong of coercion. Under the principle of self determination and the generally accepted principles of the United Nations, any transfer of sovereignty must have the consent of those concerned. The idea that sovereignty can be transferred against the wishes of those concerned is clearly unacceptable.

That is why the Taoiseach was right to say to those who wish to achieve Irish unity that there is no short cut to agreement and consent. I respected his comment last night that the agreement must be freely entered into. He added that the agreement might involve an united Ireland, but he accepted that any other form of agreement might be reached between the north and south of Ireland. That is precisely the point. Those who believe in self-determination and in the principle of consent must accept whatever the people wish to achieve.

The challenge, as the House has said with impressive clarity, is that the declaration offers the best opportunity for the cessation of violence that has arisen certainly in the past 20 years, but Sinn Fein finds itself in a catch-22 situation. It has become wedded to violence to achieve its objective, yet the perpetration of that violence is now counterproductive to the objective that it seeks to achieve. With all the history and suffering for its own communities, as it would see it, with the legacy of tragedy, with the number of boys behind the wire, and with whatever mythologies exist, it is not easy for Sinn Fein to recognise that that road is leading nowhere, that times have moved on and that there is now an agreement.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North made the point extremely well. The democratic voice of those in the island of Ireland who pursue the cause of nationalism —the cause which they claim to support—has spoken and has determined the way in which that cause will be pursued: either now, as very much a significant minority, Sinn Fein decides to use the force of coercion and continue its path, or it accepts the democratic route. The question then is, can it accept the challenge of argument? Every act of violence is an admission that it does not believe that it can achieve its aims by persuasion. That is the challenge that it faces. Each atrocity that is committed, each further death, is further confirmation of lack of confidence among members of Sinn Fein in their ability as Irishmen to persuade other Irishmen of their cause. The House has spelt out the matter clearly. We stand absolutely together across the Chamber—in the parties and among the overwhelming majority of those who speak for the people of Northern Ireland—in saying that the opportunity is there. The question is whether Sinn Fein will release the island of Ireland from the pall of violence from which it suffers and give it a chance to enjoy the future that it deserves.

12.16 pm
Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

I agree that the debate should be set against the background of the historical perspective. There was a debate in the House of Commons in November—November 1641. I looked at the record and it said: Monday in the House of Commons they received letters from Ireland, intimating that theire troubles are so great, that they have scarce time … to write … the Rebells doe much increase and presse hard towards Dublin" and that they expect Armes and supply from … England, France and Spaine. A letter was sent to ask what the trouble was about. It was, of course, the time of Charles I. The rebels sent a remonstrance, because they were not allowed to worship as they wished. The Government of the day—presumably the then Secretary of State—answered that if they would lay down their Armes and repaire to theire owne dwellings, they should have pardon and that they would bee a meanes to the Parliament for the satisfaction of theire demandes. I am not for going over every atrocity and every horror of Hamar Greenwood and Lloyd George and the rest, but the House of Commons must discuss this in a proper, historical context, because Sinn Fein is a relatively new body. The Fenians were not there all the time. The one consistent element throughout that period is that Britain has governed Ireland, or a part of Ireland. The only contribution that I want to make to the debate—it is not without importance—is that there is a deep British interest in peace in Ireland, apart from the interests of the Irish people themselves. The war, and it is a war, between the British Army and the Irish Republican Army, however small and unrepresentative it may be, is costly in lives, money and the civil liberties of the British people.

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Benn

No; I am going to continue my argument. The hon. Lady will have to listen. I have no doubt that she will be called.

I feel that the British people have scarcely been brought into the argument, even by the Government. We have been told about the discussions between the constitutional parties, and there have been the so-called Hume-Adams talks. There have been contacts or exchanges with Sinn Fein. But the British interest has hardly been mentioned.

I feel very strongly about the denial of my civil liberties. I was in the Jubilee Room on Monday when at my suggestion Mr. Hartley, the chairperson of Sinn Fein, presented his version of the exchanges. The room was crowded with television units—Americans, Australians, Swedes and the French—including one from Radio Telefis Eireann. I knew that British television units would be committing a criminal offence if they broadcast the words of a Belfast councillor about an exchange with the British Government.

I felt that my rights were being taken away, as I do when I enter the House and see people being searched. It is about security—

Lady Olga Maitland


Mr. Benn

The hon. Lady will have an opportunity to speak. I intend to make my speech because I am entitled to do so.

I invited Mr. Adams to come here to present his side of the peace argument. I announced it in the House after meeting the Speaker. There was a debate—the Secretary of State was present—during which I referred to the visit. Although the right hon. and learned Gentleman knew that the Home Secretary had already banned Mr. Adams, he did not mention it during that debate.

I want to bring the denial of our rights into the argument. Where have we got to? I agree with the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) about the importance of the Downing street declaration ; the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) emphasised that importance. For the first time, we are saying that the United Kingdom Government are not committed to the Union because a part of the United Kingdom could leave it, with the consent of that Government. That is a very important change and the right hon. Member for Bridgwater made much of it, saying that it was no longer a case of trade and Liverpool, U-boats and so forth and that we must get up to date.

If we—the British people—do not have an interest in maintaining the Union, why do we maintain it? Is it simply to protect the people whom we drew out of Ireland and placed in a partitioned state? Why are we there? My argument is that once a United Kingdom Government have solemnly announced that we have no interest in the Union —something that a former Secretary of State with great knowledge of the matter has emphasized—there is no going back.

Mr. King

indicated dissent.

Mr. Benn

Well, that is what the right hon. Gentleman said. He said that it was for the people in the North to decide whether the Union continued. I listened to his speech and it was important. I therefore think that it would be sensible to jump back from the day-to-day argument for a moment and consider the true position, which I understand is that the British Government would like to get out of Northern Ireland. That is my conviction. I may be wrong, but I was a member of the Cabinet for 11 years, and when I used to speak to my colleagues about the matter they always said, "Of course we agree with you, but we can't say it."

Sir Patrick Mayhew

indicated dissent.

Mr. Benn

The Secretary of State shakes his head, but I am saying that the cost of the war and the failure of the military enterprise must influence present Cabinet members, as it influenced members of past Cabinets.

Mr. King

I should not like there to be any misunderstanding over what I said about a very important matter. I made it absolutely clear that the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the joint declaration make it clear that it would be wrong to override the wish of the people of Northern Ireland if they wanted a different outcome.

I also made it clear—the right hon. Member may not have heard me—that I have always hoped that Northern Ireland would remain a part of the United Kingdom by virtue of the wishes of its people.

Mr. Benn

I am not disputing what the right hon. Gentleman said. He would like the Union to continue, but the Government whom he supports have said—

Mr. King

indicated dissent.

Mr. Benn

That was the meaning of the Downing street declaration. That is why the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) is so angry about it. He says that we have subcontracted the future of that part of the United Kingdom to a mere part. The hon. Member also thinks that we have subcontracted it to Dublin, but I shall not go into that.

We are in a new situation. Although it may be embarrassing for the Secretary of State, I am emphasising the importance of the Downing street declaration. Secondly, I do not think that Dublin has any interest in taking over Northern Ireland. The bogey of the greedy Dail waiting to grab those angry Protestants is a complete illusion. The last thing that Dublin wants, with its own problems, is to take on the hon. Member for Antrim, North and others. The bogey created by the loyalists is, therefore, imaginary.

Thirdly, I think that it has penetrated into the minds of Sinn Fein, and certainly those of other nationalists, that they cannot force the north into the south without the consent of the people of the north.

Mr. Mallon

The right hon. Gentleman has always said that.

Mr. Benn

I have always said it, but if one puts the three ingredients together, that the British Government do not care—I shall put it like that—what happens because they are prepared to subcontract the decision, that Dublin does not want to take it over and that the nationalists could not cope, the bits of the jigsaw puzzle are there but someone is obstinately refusing to put them together.

Mr. Molyneaux


Mr. Benn

I am determined not to be another British politician with an answer to the problems. I am speaking about the British involvement.

The United States has lost all interest in the policy because, whatever may have been the position in the past, President Clinton is not interested in British troops remaining in the north, whereas Bush and Reagan saw them as NATO troops.

The other part of the jigsaw puzzle that has to be considered is that not only is Sinn Fein in a difficulty about whether to say yes or no because it has to persuade the IRA—Adams could say, "No fighting !" and the fighting could go on—but the Government are in a difficulty. That difficulty is that, in spite of all the trumpeting about "If it is turned down we shall have all those terrible penal ways of dealing with it", they did not work. We have had those policies since 1969.

I have listened to the right hon. Member for Bridgwater, the Secretary of State as he then was, warning that terrorism would be rooted out. It did not work. The policies did not work. So if there are people in the House who think, "Aha, when Sinn Fein turns this down we will get them; we will return to internment without trial and put Adams in gaol", they should realise that it will not work. Not only will it not work, but world opinion will be very much more angered by an increase of the measures that have been attempted.

What I am saying is simple. I am saying that the elements of a settlement are there. It is no good saying, "You cannot have clarification". The word "clarification" has suddenly jumped out of the dictionary and acquired an importance that I have never attributed to it before.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

They clarified Maastricht.

Mr. Benn

I am speaking about "talks about talks". Every time there is a settlement there are talks about talks. Just before the Vietnam war ended, there was a huge step-up of a military bombardment by the Americans. Anyone who knows anything about trade union negotiations or the military knows that that goes on; people take positions.

I agree with the hon. Member for Bridgwater when he said that the media do not help by pinning everyone into a corner when acutally they are all more flexible than they make out. The Secretary of State is much more flexible than sometimes he makes out or than others make him out to be.

If one wants to end the fighting, one has to talk. I heard Churchill say from the Dispatch Box, "Jaw-jaw is better than war-war." Those are elementary lessons. Every possible opportunity must be taken to remove misunderstanding.

The ban on the President of Sinn Fein is a great mistake from the Government's point of view. The ban on broadcasting is not only an outrage for my civil liberties but also an absurdity as one can sit in Belfast and listen to Gerry Adams broadcasting from Dublin now.

Mr. Skinner

They all listen to him.

Mr. Benn

Of course, and he is quite happy.

My solution, which I put to Sinn Fein the other day, would be that if Gerry Adams joined Equity he could broadcast and they could say "actor's voice" on the television screen. What nonsense it is to deny us the right to hear from one of the participants who are being pleaded to come to the table.

We should reconsider what contribution we could make. Yesterday I introduced a Bill into the House. It will not be debated because presentation Bills earn no time. I do not apologise for the fact that it is the fourth time that I have put before the House the idea that one element of a settlement should be a statement by the British Government that they will terminate their jurisdiction in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Molyneaux


Mr. Benn

The date in the Bill is 31 December 1999, the end of the century, which is about as long a time as the Chinese had to discuss the future of Hong Kong.

The Bill would have a number of important consequences. It would remove the one continuing element of conflict in Ireland, which is that it has been controlled by the British for hundreds of years. It would recognise that there is a growing demand for peace. It would build on the Hume-Adams talks. It would recognise what is implicit —I have tried to make it explicit—in the Downing street declaration, that there is no British interest or British commitment to the future of the Union, that British sovereignty and military presence have been totally unsuccessful over hundreds of years in bringing peace to Northern Ireland and there is no reason for believing that it would be any better now. It points out that our civil liabilities have been lost by our presence there and that the peace dividend in Northern Ireland and in the whole island of Ireland is probably—pro rata—the greatest in the world and greater than the cold war, because both the Republic and the north are highly militarised states. I welcomed the Taoiseach's reference to demilitarisation because I saw it as the peace dividend.

People in Britain have for a long time favoured withdrawal from Northern Ireland. I was on a train a while back and three young lads came up to me so I asked them what they did. They said that they were soldiers so we had a chat. I asked them where they had been and they replied Northern Ireland. I asked them what it was like and they said awful, but that if they were Irish we would be in the IRA. I was absolutely staggered. I did not approach them. They approached me and they clearly saw the troubles as a military conflict. They could understand. It cannot be pleasant for the soldiers there to be shot at. The young corpse in Crossmaglen, mentioned by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh, was a tragedy and a waste. People have asked why was he there and why was he shot?

A certain anxiety has been expressed about articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution. If we want to increase the prospect of the Dail considering again its claim on the north, we should make it clear that we have no claim ourselves, because there would have to be a new constitution. If Irish unity came, by no stretch of the imagination could it mean the reabsorption of the north into a constitution which was devised for the Republic.

I say all this with sincerity and I hope that the House will accept that such an indication of British intention on a fixed date would create the most favourable atmosphere for peaceful talks, because a British withdrawal is not the same as coercing the north into the south. It is a separate and parallel issue. I believe therefore that it would be right for the British Government to do what they have done on many occasions and indicate, not just that they have no commitment of their own to our interest, but that they are prepared and indeed determined to extricate themselves from the Irish sovereignty question. If that were done Even in six years' time—the date does not matter, but the determination does—it would contribute immensely to the prospect of a peace which could be durable rather than merely a renewal, under a new name, of a conflict that cannot be won under the present constitutional provisions.

12.23 pm
Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

I am sure that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) would not expect me to go down the road that he has been following. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I welcome the fact that he takes the view of the Downing street agreement that I and many other people have taken. It was unfortunate of him to quote 1641, because if he had any knowledge of 1641 he would have known that the basic targets for genocide were the Protestant colonisers in the north. That is what sparked off the rebellion of 1641 and that has continued to this day. The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) mentioned the fact that the genocide of Protestant people is continuing along the border of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Mallon

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Rev. Ian Paisley

No, I want to make a little progress.

The right hon. Member for Chesterfield referred to the people who were drawn out of Ireland into a partitioned state. The people of Northern Ireland were never drawn out of other parts of Ireland. They were there already. I find it very disconcerting and alarming that some people inside and outside the House seem to think that the presence of British troops keeps Northern Ireland within the Union. The people of Northern Ireland have made that decision. If every member of our Army were taken out of Northern Ireland, that would not change the views of the people one iota.

However, announcing a date for the withdrawal of the British Army would be a signal to the IRA to step up its campaign with even more intensive vigour. Who would then protect the right-thinking citizens of both religious communities in Northern Ireland?

I agree with the right hon. Member for Chesterfield that there is much hypocrisy in Dublin. Members of Dail Eireann do not want people from the north of Ireland to come to an all-Ireland Parliament. That would spoil their little game. However, that is not an argument for Unionists to sell their heritage and to enter such a position. It is a pity that Members of Dail Eireann are not honest about that matter and do not state publicly that they have no interest in getting Northern Ireland into their grasp.

The old controversies are resurrected today in Northern Ireland. It is noticeable that there was no mention in the Downing street declaration of articles 2 and 3. There is a question of consent, but, as I said when I questioned the Prime Minister in the House after the declaration was signed, the question of consent does not relate to articles 2 and 3. Those articles deal with a territorial claim which has not been faced up to and is not being faced up to by Her Majesty's Government.

The hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) was right to refer to the catalogue of IRA crimes that have been committed since the Downing street declaration. The list of those crimes, which was published recently in the press, is staggering. IRA violence occurred on 15 December, 16 December, 19 December, 20 December, 27 December, 29 December, 30 December, 31 December, 1 January, 3 January, 6 January, 7 January, 10 January, 11 January, 12 January, 13 January, 19 January and 20 January. However, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield would have Gerry Adams on the box telling us that that was all in the process of peace. That is not peace.

I received a very sad letter from the widow of one of the latest victims, a prominent business man, of IRA violence. She wrote to me, saying: As the wife of one of the last victims of the IRA killings I, through the press, have appreciated what you have said. I do not want peace on the IRA's terms. I think history has proved that the IRA keep increasing their demands. Deep down, we all want peace, but not on the enemy's terms. While they were talking peace, at the same time they planned my husband's murder and carried it out. There is a heartfelt cry from a person who has experienced what violence is doing and will continue to do.

The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) talked about the constitutional parties taking a long time to get to the conference table, and a long time at the conference table before the axe was brought down on it by the Dublin Government insisting on having an Anglo-Irish conference. But as the time was spent by constitutional politicans trying to get the talks going, their people outside were not engaged in killing. They were not advocating continuing violence to kill people. That is the difference. This time, the IRA is talking peace while its soldiers—so-called—are committing murders. How long must the long-suffering people of Northern Ireland tolerate that?

The Prime Minister says that he has a little more patience. I read today in the press that Mr. Adams says that it will be April before they get their consultations going. After those consultations, they have to consider, and then Gerry Adams has to consider whether he can go to the IRA, whether he can get up in the morning and take off his political hat and say, "Now, Gerry, I am talking to you as an IRA man." That is the folly. The Government are pursuing a course and saying—I have heard it repeatedly—"It is over to the IRA." If we are going to put the IRA into the driving seat and give them the initiative, what is going to happen to the law-abiding people of Northern Ireland?

It is all very well for the Secretary of State to make speeches such as he made last night, but the interesting thing is that he quoted two people: a cardinal and the leader of the SDLP. Those two men advocate that their constituents or religious membership could not join the security forces. We loyalist people are told by the Secretary of State that we should heed them, but the cardinal is on record in an article in the Belfast Telegraph as saying, "I will not call on Roman Catholics to join the security forces." The SDLP's policy on that matter is the same; it will not call on its constituents to join the security forces.

When I was at Downing street, I faced the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) on that matter before the Prime Minister, and he had to admit that that was his policy. Yet the Secretary of State thinks that the loyalist people of Northern Ireland will somehow be convinced because he quotes sources that have made no contribution to trying to defend all sections of the community against violence from whatever source. But, for the vast majority of the security forces, who come from the loyalist community—not all of them, because I have Roman Catholic constituents who are in the security forces—it is a big sacrifice. They cannot go home, their parents have to visit them 50 miles from where they live, and they cannot visit their grandmothers or grandfathers when they take ill. I salute them. Of course, they are prime targets for IRA violence. The Secretary of State should be careful when he calls to his aid those who have not made any contribution to defending the rights of all individuals in Northern Ireland by becoming members of security forces.

Let us look at the Downing street declaration. What was its purpose? Why do we have the Downing street declaration? We have a Downing street declaration because the Hume-Adams talks took place, and those talks were the womb from which the declaration came. In fact, it has been suggested that the first draft of what the southern Government should put to Her Majesty's Government was made out of a draft from the Hume-Adams talks. It is interesting that today hon. Members asked why could we not see the Hume-Adams document. Why can we not see it? Why is it hidden? Why is it concealed? The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh said that there was no difference between documents on the subject of the right of self determination. I am glad about what the hon. Gentleman said—it will make my business in Northern Ireland a lot easier—when he confirmed vigorously the view that the document advocates self determination for all the people of Ireland.

We are told that the northern people must give consent. I put this to the House today. What if we went to Gibraltar and said to the people of the rock, "We will have a referendum on your future, but it will have to run concurrently with a referendum throughout the whole of Spain. The votes cast in Spain will have nothing to do with what we will abide by, but we will still have a concurrent referendum"? I wonder what the people of the rock would think about such an outrageous proposal.

What if we went to the Falklands and said, "We will give you a referendum on your future, but at the same time we must have a referendum in Argentina. Of course, the votes of the Argentinean people do not really count but we must still run in tandem with them"? What would the people think? Yet the loyalist people of Northern Ireland are supposed to be happy. They are supposed to accept that this gives them what they want.

I said to the Prime Minister in Hillsborough house, "Perhaps the Government are determined that the final situation will be decided by the people of Northern Ireland, but they were not consulted about the Anglo-Irish agreement." As for my party, I was not consulted about the Downing street declaration. I want to make it perfectly clear—because I hear all sorts of rumours that all the constitutional parties were brought in and consulted about the Downing street declaration—that I was not consulted. I told the Prime Minister that we have legislation which can come in with a stroke of a pen. It is called Northern Ireland border poll legislation and has two questions: "Do you want Northern Ireland to be part of the United Kingdom? Do you want Northern Ireland to be joined with the Republic of Ireland, outside the United Kingdom"? I told the Prime Minister, "Actions speak louder than words. You can allay the fears of the people of Northern Ireland by having an immediate border poll."

The Prime Minister said that that was not the right question. I said that I had got the message. That was supposed to be the question which the people of Northern Ireland were to be allowed to answer. I asked when, because I do not believe that, when it comes to those issues, they will have the opportunity of giving the answer to the right question. They could give that answer today and the Prime Minister can prove that he will allow the people of Northern Ireland to decide their own destiny.

What has taken place is a tragedy, but it is better seen from a statement made by the Taoiseach on 10 January. He made a very interesting speech which dealt with the matter of consent. He said that the people of the south of Ireland —or the people of Ireland, for whom he took himself to be the spokesman—have agreed in Parliament that such and such a thing should happen. He went on that it was important to note that the requirement for the consent of a majority is related by the declaration to the constitutional issue. It does not mean that all forms of political progress or other decisions by the two Governments are subject to a similar block. That was mentioned today by the chairman of the Tory Back-Bench Northern Ireland committee, the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter).

The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh tried to argue that that related to matters of legislation which dealt with administration. However, the Taoiseach made it clear. He said that home rule had been blocked in any form, that all-Ireland institutions had been blocked, that the deal on equality and advancement of nationalists within Northern Ireland had been blocked and that the Anglo-Irish Agreement was, to a considerable extent, frustrated.

The Taoiseach was talking about all-Ireland institutions, the type of institutions which the Opposition spokesman talked about today. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's forthright and clear statement from the Opposition Front Bench that any institutions in Northern Ireland which deal with the internal affairs of Northern Ireland must have an Irish dimension. He spelled that out clearly and that is exactly what the declaration is about.

The Secretary of State has made that clear and has sent all hon. Members a letter on the subject. That letter makes it clear that the declaration complements and underpins the talks process; the declaration reinforces the firm foundation for future political development; the joint declaration represents a sound platform for the talks process. So the present talks process is on the basis of the Downing street declaration. There is talk about a prerequisite, but we have one now: the precondition of the talks process is that one must accept the Downing street declaration because that is the platform, the foundation and what will underpin the talks process. My party rejects the Downing street declaration.

It may interest the House to know that The Lurgan Mail announced on Saturday last: The Ulster Unionist Party does not support the Downing Street Declaration, party workers in Craigavon have been told. They were given this clarification at a party meeting in Brownlow House, Lurgan, attended by leader James Molyneaux. A statement released after the meeting said: 'Those who accuse us of supporting the Declaration have a duty to explain why they are uttering deliberate falsehoods.' A lot of people have made claims. The Government have claimed loudly that the Unionist party is on board. Members of the Unionist party made it clear that they were on board and that there was no sell-out whatever. One member said that the declaration was green, but that when one looked at the map, no principle of Unionism had been conceded.

The Democratic Unionist party was attacked for not being in favour of the declaration. So it would be wise for the House to know who is for the declaration and who is against it.

Mr. Molyneaux

I have consistently made my position clear. We sit on this side of the House because our party does not support the Government. It is for the hon. Gentleman to decide why he sits on the Government side and whether he supports the Government. All Opposition parties sit on Madam Speaker's left. That is the constitutional position. I have made it abundantly clear at all times that I reserve the right to dissent from any action or policy of the Government.

I made it clear during all stages of the consultations that I would not put my name to any document. I reserve that position and will continue to do so. My formula has always been—it goes back even to 22 July—that so long as Her Majesty's Government of the day are governing in the best interests of the United Kingdom in general and Northern Ireland in particular, we will not terminate the life of the Parliament prematurely. We have never varied from that.

Rev. Ian Paisley

That is an interesting statement from the right hon. Gentleman. He said that the declaration was a comparatively safe document and that it could not possibly be a sell-out. The right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) said: It is not necessary to oppose it. It is a pleasant contrast with the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) gave the declaration a guarded welcome. He said: There is no threat to Northern Ireland's position within the United Kingdom. The right hon. Member for Strangford said: For us as Unionists there are disappointments but also some things which we welcome. Chris McGimpsey said: There are certain aspects of the document which are valuable. It is a positive document. The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr.Maginnis) said: We have given tentative approval to the agreement. If that is not in some way supporting the agreement, I do not know what is.

I make a simple point to the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley. I sit on the Unionist side of the House and I have always done so. When the Unionists changed over, I sat on that side of the House. I wonder whether we should have Cross Benches in the House. If we did, I could take up a different position. I came to the House as an independent Unionist. In similar circumstances, other Independent Unionists, including Johnston of Ballykilbeg, did likewise—I am in good company —

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Rev. Ian Paisley

No, I will not give way because time is short.

Mr. Canavan

The hon. Gentleman sat on this side of the House when Labour was in Government.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I crossed over with the Unionists, as the hon. Gentleman knows well, because there was an incident to which I shall not refer now.

Mr. Peter Robinson

I shall put another quotation on the record. The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) told the Sunday Express on 2 January that if the Government did not move to stop the continuing IRA campaign they will be seen to have gone back on what they have agreed with the largest political party in Northern Ireland, the Unionist Party, and they will no longer have them on board. How on earth, if the Unionist party does not support the agreement, could it be "on board"? Hon. Members should go and look up the quotation.

Rev. Ian Paisley

The people of Northern Ireland know exactly what is happening. An officer of one of the branches of the Unionist party wrote a long communication in the Official Unionist newspaper the other morning. It stated clearly that he had news for the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone. He had not found one member of the Official Unionist party who accepted the party line of the leadership and of Unionist Members of Parliament. That is what he said in the letter. If they want an argument they should have it with their own people.

I am glad that two national British newspapers took the view that I take about this declaration. On the day after the declaration, The Daily Telegraph said: The Declaration treats the British only as custodians of Northern Ireland, licensed by democratic mandate. The view that Northern Irishmen and women are British as the people of Surrey or South Yorkshire are British becomes no longer sustainable. This is unlikely to worry political opinion in mainland Britain but it would be naive to deny that it will trouble many Ulster Unionists, even beyond the ranks of the fanatics and paramilitaries That newspaper, which supports the Tory party, says that the United Kingdom Government are only the custodians of Northern Ireland, licensed by democratic mandate. Is that full United Kingdom citizenship?

In an editorial on 21 December, The Times stated that when the Prime Minister was challenged to reconcile the "strong Unionist rhetoric" used during his election campaign with the neutral language of last week's declaration, he has described his Unionist conviction with great precision as a 'personal right'. Though he himself believes in the Union, he does not appear to regard it as a cornerstone of British national identity or of the Conservative tradition. Should the majority in Northern Ireland wish to leave the United Kingdom, he will happily facilitate reunification. Thus the prime minsiter has distanced himself still further from the waning Tory Unionism of Bonar Law, Randolph Churchill and Enoch Powell. An article of party faith has become a clear matter of private conscience … But no nation should tamper carelessly with its deepest roots. In its challenge to old ideas of Britishness, Mr. Major's initiative has implications far beyond the steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone. Those are not the words of some Democratic Unionist politician: they are the words of The Times. These are the serious issues which the House must address when examining the declaration.

We were told that this is what we have to build upon. That is very strange. What was negotiated between the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley and me and the Government in the talks about talks all seems to have changed. First, those talks were for a specific purpose—to find a replacement for the Anglo-Irish Agreement, an alternative to it. That has been completely forgotten and no Minister says that today. It has completely vanished.

Strand one had to do with Northern Ireland politicians alone and the British Government finding an agreeable system for the administration and government of Northern Ireland. The Dublin Government wanted to be included in strand one. The first proposal put to us was that they should be included, but we said on no account should they be there because the internal affairs of Northern Ireland are matters for Her Majesty's Government, this United Kingdom Parliament and the people of Northern Ireland alone. So Dublin was rightly excluded from strand one. Strand two was about the relationship that the new administration which was agreed to by the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland would adopt with the Dublin Government. Now, that, too, has been forgotten. Strand three was about the relationships between the two Governments. The goalposts have been moved.

The Secretary of State said that he did not know whether the principle that nothing was agreed until everything was agreed still stood. The Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), said that it must stand. May I give the Secretary of State the news that the talks and everything that was agreed in them are finished? Nobody told the Government more vehemently than I did that if they pulled down the shutters on the talks, the talks would be over and the Government would have to start again. When the Government resumed the second talks, the then Secretary of State was careful to say that they were new talks.

So all the background is wiped out. Given that foundation of sand, my party is not prepared to sit down and talk under those auspices. The response has been that there is now a difference between the Irish and British Governments. There was supposed to be a document to bring unity, but the Irish Government believe that the declaration should be clarified and have proceeded to give that clarification. Every speech that the Taoiseach makes is an attempt to clarify. Brian Lenihan, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Dail, has been having face-to-face encounters with IRA-Sinn Fein and says that he is clarifying the situation. The hon. Member for Foyle went to Downing street and, when he left, said that he was going back to have further meetings with the IRA.

It is very well for the Government to say that there is no clarification. We heard statements from them before that they had no links, channels or talks with the IRA and we found out that those affirmations were unfounded. The people of Northern Ireland are asking what is really happening.

We are told that there will be a "get tough" attitude to the IRA if it does not agree to the declaration. Why did not Governments get tough long ago? Why did not they save us the orphans and widows? The ordinary people of Northern Ireland say that the Government will make more concessions and continue down the slippery slope.

If the House really believes that the people of Northern Ireland have a right to a final say, the legislation exists and the House can give them the opportunity to have that say. They did it in the days of the Sunningdale agreement and the nationalists boycotted it. They never attended the Stormont Assembly. I am amused when the leader of the SDLP tells the House that his party will go along with what the sovereign Parliament does. This sovereign Parliament set up an assembly to produce a plan for the government of Northern Ireland and they boycotted that assembly and did their best to bring it down. In the end, it was brought down by the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

The people of Northern Ireland need a tangible assurance. If they do not receive it, the words of the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley will be true; it is a two-edged sword. We have to face that reality. Those of us who live in Northern Ireland know exactly what is happening there. Therefore, the best thing for the Government to do is to say that, as the declaration states that the people of Northern Ireland must give consent, let us have a border poll to see what the people feel. That could be the starting point for a series of talks to deal with a form of government of Northern Ireland in which the Dublin Government can have no say.

Why should the Dublin Government dictate to the people of Northern Ireland about what sort of Government they should have? If there is agreement between the parties in Northern Ireland, should not the Dublin Government be happy with that agreement? Why must they interfere and why should they demand their sort of Irish dimension?

The document is about a united Ireland and is in the context of a united Ireland. The question before the people is: do you want to go into a united Ireland? How can that be facilitated? The Taoiseach has made it clear by saying, "You will have absolutely no say on the institutions that straddle the border—we will decide, the British Government will decide and the institutions will be set up. You will have no say." That will lead to more trouble and more problems.

I trust that the House will learn from the experiences of history. I was amused when I was told by the Secretary of State that I should trust the word of the Taoiseach. It is not much consolation for a Unionist to be told to put his faith in the Taoiseach's word. The Secretary of State should remember that every treaty that Dublin has made with this Parliament and its Governments has been torn up. What about the treaty of 1920, the ports and the arrangement that was taken away in 1937 by the new constitution? What about the claim over Northern Ireland that the Dail Eireann refused? The treaty making Northern Ireland part of the United Kingdom and would remain so was ratified. The international border was agreed and the legislation was signed. The Dail Eireann agreed it, this Parliament agreed it and the Stormont Parliament agreed it; they all signed it and it was taken to the League of Nations where it was lodged. But De Valera tore it up and introduced his new 1937 constitution.

I reminded Irish Ministers of those events at the talks and asked them how they could expect a Unionist to trust them. We are then told that we should trust the Taoiseach's word. I do not want my United Kingdom citizenship to rest on the word of the Prime Minister of a Government who claim jurisdiction over the part of the United Kingdom in which I live, which is what we are being told to do.

I trust that we in Northern Ireland will have an opportunity of dealing with the subject at the polls. I trust that the other parties will see the wisdom of that. Once that is settled, we can begin to build, not on the sinking sands of the Downing street declaration, but on the firm rock of a democratic vote in which everyone has a say in what they want to do in future and in where their citizenship lies.

1.4 pm

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

The House is grateful to the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) for the further opportunity to discuss the problems and needs of the people of Northern Ireland. As we all know, their most compelling need is an end to the sickening violence, the manic and serial killings there, and I hope very much that today's debate will make some contribution to hastening the pursuit of peace. That hope is shared by the vast majority of people on this side of the water and overwhelmingly, too. I believe, by the people of Ireland, north and south alike. With Arafat shaking hands with Rabin and Mandela smiling at de Klerk, many people are daring to hope new hopes for the people of Northern Ireland. Let us pray that they can soon be realised.

My purpose today is briefly to focus on an issue that unites people of all persuasions in Northern Ireland. It is one that affects, among some 200,000 other disabled people, the innocent victims of violence there. They will spend the rest of their lives trying to cope with severe and long-term disability, yet the law as it stands permits unfair discrimination against them, not only in employment policies but in housing, education, transport and all other public and private services.

Northern Ireland's Members of Parliament, without exception, gave strong and persistent support to the Bill that I drafted—the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill —to make such discrimination unlawful throughout the United Kingdom. Indeed, it was the unanimity of their support that prompted me, when the Bill's progress was blocked for the second time by the Government on 26 February 1992, to draft a more limited version of the Bill applicable solely to Northern Ireland in an effort at least to secure its benefits for disabled people there.

It was totally unreasonable and manifestly unfair for the Government to have delayed the application to Northern Ireland of a Bill supported by all its Members of Parliament and which applied solely to their constituents. To obstruct this more limited measure in the only Parliament that can legislate for the disabled people of Northern Ireland, when all their parliamentary representatives want to see it enacted, is both constitutionally and morally indefensible.

It calls sharply into question the sincerity of the Government's repetitive insistence that the only certain way for Northern Ireland's Members of Parliament to achieve meaningful progress for their communities is to unite. One Secretary of State after another has given the impression that, if only they would act together, there is nothing they cannot achieve for the betterment of the people they were sent here to represent. The Secretary of State has given that impression, but its validity has to be judged by his attitude to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) (Northern Ireland) Bill.

It may help the House for me to recall some of the background to the drafting of this more limited Bill and its First Reading in the House on 16 June 1993. The story is not a happy one for Britain's 6.5 million disabled people. Nor is it a creditable one to the Government; but it needs to be told for there to be full understanding of the unanimous decision by Northern Ireland's Members of Parliament to back the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) (Northern Ireland) Bill.

By last June, my original Bill, for the United Kingdom as a whole, had been subjected, over the previous 18 months, to every procedural device available for obstructing its progress. On Second Reading on 31 January 1992, it was talked out by Robert Hayward, who lost his seat at the ensuing election and, more recently, the Christchurch by-election. He apologised for his behaviour after the debate in a personal statement to the House, but his action ended all hope of my Bill becoming law in that parliamentary Session.

To keep the Bill before Parliament, I arranged for it to be introduced in another place by Baroness Lockwood and by 4 November 1992 it had completed all its stages there. When it came back to the House, a further Second Reading was timed for 26 February 1993 to coincide with the debate on a motion calling for its enactment in the following terms: This House believes that anti-discrimination legislation is necessary to ensure equality of opportunity for people with disabilities; and calls for the early enactment of specific provisions relating to public transport and other public and private services, employment and housing. Notwithstanding the approval of that motion by the House, the Government again used a procedural device to block the Bill. So for a second time, and after seven hours of debate on its provisions, this House was prevented from giving it a Second Reading.

Lord Renton, the Prime Minister's predecessor as Conservative Member of Parliament for Huntingdon, said in the Third Reading debate on the Bill in another place that he found it strange as well as wrong that unfair discrimination against disabled people was not already unlawful. He thought it extraordinary and not very creditable that Parliament had not already legislated and said that, after all the thought that had been given to the Bill in the House of Lords, he did not believe that many hours of discussion would be necessary in the House of Commons.

The Government's tactics in the House made it clear, however, that they had no intention of responding to Lord Renton's plea. The Government's principal reason for blocking the Bill, for the United Kingdom as a whole, was said to be cost. When the Prime Minister and I met to discuss the Bill, he said that any action to end discrimination must proceed "without cost implications". In other words, we could afford civil rights for everyone else, but not for disabled people. They and their organisations found that deeply offensive, just as they resented the criticism that my Bill did not "sit comfortably with the Government's policy on deregulation".

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. Before the right hon. Gentleman continues—I realise that he wants to sketch in the background—I must point out that we are dealing with current developments in Northern Ireland. Although passing reference to previous events is in order, the right hon. Gentleman is going into considerable detail. I ask him to bear that in mind.

Mr. Morris

I am trying to put into context the Bill's importance to the victims of violence in Northern Ireland, but I shall abbreviate my look at the past. What needs emphasising is the sustained blocking of the Bill and what has been said in justification of what has been done. As I said at the outset, my concern is for more than 200,000 disabled people in Northern Ireland today, including many innocent victims of violence.

I was told also by the Prime Minister that the Bill did not "sit comfortably with the Government's policy on deregulation". Nor does the Equal Opportunities Commission, and the Commission for Racial Equality. Nor does the Fair Employment Act for Northern Ireland. The Government's third criticism—and I want to be fair by explaining their attitude to the Bill—was that discrimination against disabled people is best dealt with by piecemeal change. But that view is rejected by many employers in Northern Ireland, as it is totally rejected by many employers in Great Britain. They argue that the Government are trying to divide the indivisible, that one cannot improve the employment opportunities of disabled people without looking at their transport problems and securing training for them on the same basis as other people. One employer told me recently that piecemeal change would be a total waste of time and money.

That is the story—some will think the shabby story—behind the blocking of my Bill for the United Kingdom as a whole and my decision to draft a Bill applicable solely to Northern Ireland. Before giving his approval to the blocking of that more limited Bill on 2 July 1993, did the Secretary of State fight the corner of Northern Ireland's Members of Parliament and the disabled people they represent in discussions about the Bill within the Government? Did he talk about his decision to approve the blocking of the Bill to Disability Action in Northern Ireland? He is aware that I myself met them in Belfast to discuss my Bill, as the guest speaker at their last annual general meeting in June 1993, and that its members were as one in wanting the Bill to succeed.

If he has not so far done so, will the Secretary of State now meet Disability Action—the Northern Ireland Council on Disability—to discuss the Bill? I hope very much that he will discuss the Bill with them soon and then act to give some validity to ministerial statements about the gains to be won when Northern Ireland Members of Parliament work together. He will have a clear opportunity to do so when my good and hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Dr. Berry) reintroduces the original Bill to help disabled people in the United Kingdom as a whole for which, happily, he has won a place in the private Members' ballot.

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman assist the progress of that Bill so that it secures a Second Reading? If not, will the Government stop telling—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I tried to warn the right hon. Gentleman gently that he was straying rather far from the terms of the motion. I must now tell him that he is going far beyond what we are discussing, which is issues of violence and peace. I must therefore ask him to return more closely to the motion under consideration.

Mr. Morris

I am very near to my conclusion and addressing myself to the problems—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. Whether the right hon. Gentleman has reached, or is getting near to, a conclusion is not the point. He must address himself to the terms of the motion.

Mr. Morris

As you said, Madam Deputy Speaker, the motion refers to violence and peace. I was seeking to ensure that the voice of Northern Ireland's victims of violence was heard in this debate and that the legislation they seek will be looked at more sympathetically by the Government.

Britain used to lead the world in legislation for disabled people. Now we lag behind. I hope that the Secretary of State will recognise that the issue that I have raised is a very important one for some of the most needful people in Northern Ireland. He will be praised, I believe, by both communities if he can respond positively to the plea I have made on their behalf.

1.17 pm
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

The House could be forgiven for wondering why an Englishman with no personal links with either part of the island of Ireland takes a close interest in these matters. Indeed, some hon. Members might even question the sanity of this particular Englishman in wishing to join the debate when surrounded by so many experts on such a difficult subject.

Let me explain why I take an interest. First, because my predecessor as the Member for Spelthorne, then Sir Humphrey Atkins, was a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Working alongside him as the candidate while he was the Member of Parliament taught me a great deal about the tragedy and bravery of the Province and about the opportunities and frustrations facing politicians of all types on both sides of the water. My experience as a candidate aroused my interest and concern. It made me determined to try to do a little to help.

The second reason why I became interested and concerned was because the Province is part of my country. It is not a colony, but an integral part of my country until its people choose otherwise. Together with all Members of the House, I believe that I share some little responsibility for trying to ensure the security and the safety of my fellow countrymen, whichever tradition they come from.

That interest in the Province has led, in my six years in the House, to an ever-closer involvement with Northern Ireland issues and with the politicians in Dublin. It has resulted in my now being a member of the British-Irish interparliamentary body and a member of its political and security committee.

With that type of involvement, I have always felt it right and proper for me to think through a clear and consistent approach to those matters, and to think through exactly what I seek to contribute and to achieve. Let me, therefore, put on the record the conclusions that I have reached when I have thought along those lines.

Here is my approach to the issues of Northern Ireland. First, I believe that I have to try to understand the reality of Northern Ireland—the reality as distinct from the political rhetoric, not only of the north, but of the south. The second part of my approach is to ensure that I always work within that reality rather than the rhetoric, and to try to avoid being seduced by the siren voices that claim that concessions lead to peace and, at the moment, to try to avoid the siren voices that say that clarification leads to peace—it does not.

The third part of the approach that I have always tried to bring to bear is to try to avoid at all costs any policies, any initiatives and any deals that fall outside the reality, as I see it, because history—history is always mentioned on such occasions—teaches me the awful lesson that any policies, initiatives or deals that fall outside the reality make matters worse in the end and lead to more violence.

Using that approach, let me try to explain what I have been trying to achieve in my own small way. First, I have tried to put something of a brake on any over-enthusiastic searches for undeliverable solutions, because of those awful lessions of history, if we go too fast down an unsustainable route.

Secondly, through the British-Irish interparliamentary body I have tried to help to foster a greater understanding in the south of the island of Ireland of an English persepective as distinct from the Northern Ireland perspective. The more I have got to know Dublin politicians, the more I have realised how important it is that they are told of the English perspective as well as the Northern Irish perspective.

Let me explain the way in which I have tried to apply that approach and those objectives to the issues raised by the joint declaration.

Although I—and I am sure everyone else—welcome the goals of the joint declaration, and although I commend the spirit behind it, and although I am delighted that the world has now been shown that both democratically elected Governments can agree on a peaceful future, which I believe is one of the things that the IRA finds difficult to swallow, I said, when I was with my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) at the meeting of the British-Irish interparliamentary body on the day that the joint declaration was announced, that I feared that it would run into the sand. I said, "I pray that it will not, but I fear that it will." I said that then because I could sense something of a fatal flaw behind the thinking that led to the joint declaration. I sensed that the joint declaration was based on an assumption that the members of the IRA are reasonable people who will agree to allow the people of the Province to choose their own future democratically.

The joint declaration seems to assume that the IRA members are people who will accept continued imprisonment of their demonic members and it seems to be based on the assumption that the IRA would bow to pressure from the Dublin Government, which I believe it abhors almost as much as our Government in London. The sickening truth, as it appears to me, is that the IRA members are not reasonable people. They are psychopathic murderers driven by a blind hatred, not by sweet reason.

As well as that flaw in the assumption of the joint declaration about the state of mind of the IRA, it bothers me that some realities are being overlooked in the general debate. In my short speech, I have time to highlight only four of those realities which concern me. First, it strikes me that there are some who forget that the desire for peace in Northern Ireland is most certainly not the same as the desire for unity. It is blindingly clear to me, as, I am sure it is to all hon. Members, that almost everybody in the Province wants peace. However, it is equally clear that the majority do not want a united Ireland and that that majority, judging from my experience of visits, includes more than a few Roman Catholics.

I maintain that it is essential that Her Majesty's Government remain neutral on the question of a united Ireland. If they do not, the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) is right, we shall be washing our hands of the future of the Province. The Government must remain neutral if there is to be a decision, if the people of the Province are to make their minds up in a free manner and it is not for us to bring any pressure whatever on them.

Secondly, I sense that some people forget the reality that the understandable demands of the nationalists in the north to be Irish implies a similar right for the Unionists in the north to remain British. If we forget that, any deal that we seek to strike will not stick and will be doomed to failure. Any way forward must square that circle.

The third reality is that some people seem to be forgetting that before we can have any sort of agreement, it is necessary to define what we mean by an acceptable majority for change. As I see it in the Province at the moment, we have a majority of 60–40 or 55–45—I do not know exactly; I bow to expert internal judgments. Clearly, there is a majority at the moment for a union with the remainder of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)

I shall try not to hold up the hon. Gentleman. When he considers the sectarian head count in Northern Ireland, will he be careful not to use that as the basis for counting those who favour the Union? Earlier in his speech, he got it right, but he is going down the wrong road now.

Mr. Wilshire

I hope that I am not. I certainly accept the point made by the hon. Gentleman and, earlier, I tried to say that I did not use the sectarian head count in a simplistic way. The point that I seek to make is that however one makes up the majority and from whatever tradition those people come, it is clear to me at least that there is a majority for the Union. It concerns me that some people seem to forget that, if the current majority for the continuation of the Union does not bring peace, why in heaven's name should anybody assume that a 51–49 per cent. support for a united Ireland from whatever tradition slightly in the other direction, should be any more peaceful than the majority we have at the moment? Until we can define what is meant by an acceptable majority, I fear that any deal will run into the sand.

The final reality which people seem to forget is that geography and history, on their own, do not justify a united Ireland. Everyone who listens to a debate like this is aware of how much history figures in debates about the future of the island of Ireland. If geography and history alone were to justify the definition of sovereignty, Spain would argue that it should take over Portugal, and Norway would be sucked into Sweden because the lessons of history certainly point in that direction. A simplistic view of an atlas would suggest that geography argues the same thing.

Simplistic arguments about the history of Ireland and about how the island looks in an atlas worry me when they are used to justify a united Ireland, irrespective of the social and political realities. That is not the basis for a united sovereign state. The only basis that any of us should recognise is when two different traditions realise that they have a future together because they share more than what separates them, based on the present and the future and not on the atlas and history book.

I realise that what I call realities other people may call contentious and quarrelsome nonsense. I equally recognise that such realities, or whatever we choose to call them, represent formidible obstacles to peace. I would be foolish if I did not also realise that, by raising those points, I open myself to the accusation that I sound negative. However, I do not believe that I am.

I raise those points because, like everyone else, I am desperate for peace. However, I believe that peace at any price is no peace at all. If we ignore the realities, we will make matters worse. I also raise those points because I know from experience that many people inside and outside this place share my worries and feelings. It is up to someone to stand up and spell them out during a debate of this kind.

Having said all that, I applaud the work of both Governments. I am acutely aware of, and amazed by, the bravery of many politicians and Ministers on both sides of the water. As they continue to search for a peace that will stick, I plead with them: please do not do deals that will run into the sand; please do not do deals that ignore the realities; please do not negotiate and clarify things with terrorists; please do not redefine murder as an excusable political tactic and, above all, please do not abandon the wonderful people of Ireland, both north and south of the border.

Several hon. Members

rose— —

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. Before the debate continues, may I point out that several hon. Members still wish to make contributions. We have only about one hour left. If hon. Members would make shorter speeches than they might otherwise wish, hopefully all hon. Members who want to take part will be able to do so.

1.33 pm
Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)

This is an appropriate time to have this debate and I am grateful for the opportunity, five weeks after the Downing street declaration, to be able to contribute to it.

What is happening in relation to the declaration is now becoming clear. Indeed, the IRA's attitude is becoming exceedingly clear. Its attitude does not fall in line with the prediction by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) who suggested that he could bring peace to the Province in seven days. Nor does it fall into line with the prediction of the Taoiseach of the Irish Republic who predicted that that could happen by Christmas. The peculiar thing was that the Taoiseach said that he would not sign a declaration which did not give him confidence that he could fulfil that promise.

Before I talk about the IRA, its reaction and the dangers, I cannot ignore the speech by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). One becomes not a little tired of the hon. Gentleman's constant harping in relation to my party's performance and its contribution to the constructive interests of Unionism in general and Northern Ireland in particular. Perhaps I should not have been surprised at the long rambling regurgitation of what we have all heard before—bland statements that there was no consultation for the hon. Gentleman's party in terms of what has been happening throughout the past year and a half to two years and particularly in recent times. If there was no consultation, I would be very interested to know exactly what he and his colleagues were doing at 10 Downing street on 24 November.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Maginnis

I have much more to say, and then I will give way.

Rev. Ian Paisley

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it right for an hon. Member not to give way when he challenges the integrity of the hon. Member who has just spoken?

Madam Deputy Speaker

The rule of the House is that, unless the hon. Member concerned agrees to give way, he has the right to continue.

Mr. Maginnis

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have many more connected points to make and then I most certainly will give way. I will be particularly interested to hear the answers.

I get a little tired of the frightening speculation—it is frightening speculation—which appears not to be based on anything that I have read in the Downing street declaration, for example, but appears to have the European election interests of the hon. Member for Antrim, North at heart. The way in which the interests of Northern Ireland are subverted in the interests of the Democratic Unionist party's overwhelming need to top the poll on 9 June is somewhat disgusting. The hon. Gentleman has made no secret that that is what he intends to do, and it involves the usual sleight of hand when one connects two issues which are totally unrelated.

The hon. Gentleman says that he will test the joint declaration. How? It will be by making his vote on 9 June a referendum on whether Ulster Unionists want to be sold out to a united Ireland. For far too long, such misleading and such misuse of the Unionist vote and of the Unionist strength in Northern Ireland has been an impediment to progress that would benefit all the people of Northern Ireland. It has been going on for years—we try to ignore it.

For example, in 1970, the hon. Gentleman frequently attacked the new Ulster Defence Regiment—the "dad's army", he called it—and frequently called for the Ulster special constabulary to be brought back. I served in both organisations and I have tremendous respect for them. But it was a good idea to frighten the old and the bold in 1970 by shouting in favour of the Ulster special constabulary. Twenty years on, when the old and the bold have perhaps learnt how shallow that support is, it becomes the hon. Gentleman's job to shout in support of the UDR and to denigrate the Royal Irish Regiment. I do not know the Latin for it but if I can find out, I suggest that a slogan for the Democratic Unionist party might be "flogging dead horses".

Until 9 June, we will have a tremendous contribution by the DUP to the interests of the people of Northern Ireland. The DUP will embark on yet another poster campaign and, by the look of what happened in Portadown on Monday, we will have one or two Free Presbyterian rallies in order to build the hon. Gentleman's vote on 9 June.

The people of Northern Ireland are getting a little sick of rallies and posters. They want hard work, and they want their views represented directly and effectively to Government. They have seen the Third Force; it has come and gone, and it has done nothing for them. They have seen the leader of the DUP leading people with firearm certificates up a hill in the middle of the night, and it has done nothing for them. They have seen the Carson trail. They have seen the Ulster Resistance, of which the hon. Gentleman was nominally the leader until three poor fellows were caught trying to buy guns in Paris, then it turned out that he had not been a member of the Ulster Resistance for a few weeks. We have seen all those things come and go. They peculiarly coincided with elections in Northern Ireland.

It is time that an hon. Member from Northern Ireland stood in the House and told the hon. Gentleman, "Stop using and abusing the Unionist people who have suffered too much without being exploited once again by a 'Save Ulster' campaign."

The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) quoted part of an article from the Sunday Express.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I do not want to answer the rubbish that the hon. Gentleman is speaking. It is interesting that, after all those happenings, the same hon. Gentleman was glad to have a coalition with the Ulster Democratic Unionist party, to take the joint leadership from his leader and me and to stand at City hall. It was his party which expressed great worry about the European elections; it was not me. Members of his party said, "Paisley will be be grovelling for our transfer votes." I remind the hon. Gentleman that his party member had to get 40,000 of my votes to be elected. I remind him that in every European election in which I have stood, his party member gets in only on my election surplus. Therefore to say that I want that is completely wrong.

I have put the alternative. Let us have a border poll. If we have a border poll, we will then have the European election. The hon. Gentleman is afraid that his party, having issued a manifesto which he signed and supported, went back on Maastricht and voted with the Government on that issue. That is what he is worried about.

Mr. Maginnis

The last point has nothing to do with this and is not entirely accurate.

Let me take up the point of a border poll. As an Ulster Unionist, I know the strength of support in Northern Ireland for the Union within the United Kingdom. I do not want Northern Ireland to be put up for sale every 10 years, as the hon. Member for Antrim, North would want. If the pro-Union vote is 80 per cent. on the first occasion and only 77 per cent. next time, everybody will say, "The desire for Northern Ireland to remain within the Union is not as strong as it was 10 years ago". The clamour will return to make more allowances for the alleged increase in support for a united Ireland.

There is no increasing support for a united Ireland—that support is decreasing. I would not have raised the matter if the hon. Member for Antrim, North had not chosen his ground and attacked my party here today. Everything that the hon. Gentleman does undermines the credibility of Unionism in Northern Ireland.

Ulster Unionism is justifiable, and is more justifiable than was demonstrated by the efforts of the hon. Member for Belfast, East. He decided that he would lead "Robinson's raiders", as they were called, down into the Protestant enclave of Clontibret in county Monaghan. As a result, the hon. Gentleman got lost, had to hitch ride in a Garda car and eventually had to pay £15,000 to the Irish Exchequer for the privilege of that ride. The hon. Gentleman was lost on that occasion, and he is still lost.

Let me leave that matter, and move to the threat of the IRA. The IRA, along with Sinn Fein, made a decision at the end of December that they would reject the declaration as a basis for the peace process. However, their recognition of the weight of national and international opinion has left them with a dilemma. They want to be able to retain the myth that they have widespread support in a struggle against a colonial power, whereas we know that more than 70 per cent. of the people in Northern Ireland want to remain within the Union. To this end, Sinn Fein and the IRA have tentatively agreed to announce a temporary ceasefire at an appropriate moment during the next couple of months. They are hopeful that such a move will place irresistible public pressure on the Irish Government to begin direct talks with Sinn Fein. However, they assume —I hope that they are right in their assumption—that the British Government will not meet them on the basis of such an interim ceasefire.

After a few weeks, it is intended that the IRA will resume with a particularly intensive campaign, while Sinn Fein sits in Dublin expressing regret, but, at the same time, its complete understanding of the IRA's total frustration at what it will claim is the intransigence and provocation of the British Government and their military machine. We have heard all that garbage before and we will hear it again.

Sinn Fein will have agreed to appear to distance itself from the IRA onslaught at that stage, and continue to protest its desire to pursue the peace process with the Irish Government. That is in expectation that the Republic will not dare to test public opinion at that stage by aborting any of the talks which have begun. After the Irish Cabinet's capitulation over section 31 of the Republic's broadcasting ban to allow Sinn Fein back on the air, one could hardly expect Dublin not to submit again.

Listening to the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) today, we get a glimpse of what the so-called Adams-Hume talks were about and what the proposals were. There, I am convinced, is the hidden agenda. It is about the gradual withdrawal of support by our own Government from the people of Northern Ireland over a period moving towards the end of the century. I might tell the right hon. Member for Chesterfield that the end of the century is not 31 December 1999. It is 31 December 2000.

The Government do not have to reassure me today. I have heard their reassurances and I have to accept them. As I implied on 2 January in the Sunday Express, obviously, my party is monitoring and will continue carefully to monitor the extent to which the Government meet the commitment that they have given in the House. That is why we are here as an Opposition party. What I want to hear is that the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister are trying to ensure and obtain agreement from the Irish Government that they will not fall into the trap of the IRA's proposed tactics that I have just outlined.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I know that you want me to be brief. I wanted to talk both in hypothetical terms about what would need to be done if we were fortunate enough to move towards peace and about what would need to be done if the negative response that we anticipate were given. I will deal with the matter as briefly as possible.

In any peace process pre-planning for not only disengagement but verification will be important. We must assume that there is a tremendous amount of information and military intelligence in the hands of special branch and the Foreign Office on exactly what weapons were brought to Ireland from Libya. As we understand it, Mr. Gaddafi has supplied that information. That has to be balanced against the weaponry that has been discovered, the ammunition that we know has been discharged and the explosives that have been used or captured in order to set our targets for verification. That is essential.

We cannot travel towards some false dawn in which we believe that we shall have peace but find ourselves in the midst of another onslaught five, six or seven years down the road when the IRA has reorganised. Verification must be about not only that weaponry and ammunition which is presently in hides somewhere in the Irish Republic; it must be about how we ensure that no further shipments from eastern Europe or wherever get into Ireland. That is a matter of grave concern to us.

Other matters of equal concern include what we will do with the 20,000 or 30,000 people who, if peace breaks out tomorrow, will be redundant—to put it bluntly? We have had violence within the Province for 25 years. Even if it goes away, there will be a vacuum for many years to come. There will be a space to be filled by evil men. Even if they are not involved in political violence, they will be involved in drugs and racketeering. We all know how the Mafia began. Therefore, there must be no reduction whatever in the level of home-based security services. We must carefully monitor the extent to which regular battalions are taken out of Northern Ireland. My party will want to have its say in that area because we want to influence how the Government tackle that problem.

Difficulties will flow from the ultimate loss of 30,000 jobs some years hence, and there will be a knock-on effect on the economy. All those matters must be thought about now if we hope to move towards peace. I hope that I am wrong, but I believe that the IRA has no intention of moving in that direction. That makes it important to maintain the present security force capability in Northern Ireland in every respect. That relates to regular troops, the maintenance of our police services and the use of special forces. All those will be absolutely necessary, but there is more than that.

As the Irish Republic signed the joint declaration along with Her Majesty's Government, it has an obligation that has not been fulfilled to its full extent in the past. In his speech last night, the Secretary of State alluded to the extent to which border security was deficient. There must now be consultation between the British and Irish Governments about the areas along the frontier where the greatest threat occurs.

South Armagh has seen one sniper attack after another. Although I do not predict where the snipers are domiciled, we know that they mount their attacks from south of the frontier and retreat there after the killings. A great deal more is required in terms of the Irish Republic's obligation in that area. Of course, there are other areas. There is the Dublin bomb team that operates out of the midlands and primes the mortars that are brought across into Northern Ireland. That matter has to be followed up more effectively.

Dr. Joe Hendron (Belfast, West)

The hon. Gentleman speaks about the border separating Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland. When going to Dublin or crossing the border, one sees many soldiers along different parts of the border. Those soldiers would not be there if there were peace, if the IRA declared a total cessation of violence. Does he agree that the border has become an IRA border?

Mr. Maginnis

Unfortunately, that is so. In terrorist warfare as distinct from conventional warfare, a border such as ours will be dominated by an organisation such as the IRA when there is no effective security with a high degree of co-operation on both sides.

The Government must indicate to constitutional politicians how they will prepare for either eventuality. I hope that those in Northern Ireland who call themselves Unionists but who act in a selfish way against the general interest of Unionism will rethink their position and realise that, for purely electoral purposes, they cannot for ever hold to ransom people who have endured so much.

1.59 pm
Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)

In concentrating on the joint declaration relating to Northern Ireland, a debate so ably initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman), we must not fail to condemn the evil men of violence on both sides of the sectarian divide, whose murderous campaigns have lead to the death and maiming of so many totally innocent men, women and children.

Let us also be clear about placing the blame for the conflict that has so divided the people of Northern Ireland. Some, while claiming to be loyalist, have sunk to the republican terrorists' level. But although the hand of Ulster may be red, the hands of the IRA and their apologists in Sinn Fein are steeped in the blood of so many victims—a blood-red stain that can never be removed by pious platitudes, joint declarations or hypocritical messages of regret. Indeed, it can never be removed until those responsible are identified, apprehended, tried and sentenced for crimes of such grotesque barbarity that they have turned the stomachs of the world.

We have heard too many words and noble statements from the Front Benches of both sides of the House. Noble words are all too often used to mask ignoble deeds, and 10 years' service in this House lead me to suspect that that position might have arisen in connection with Northern Ireland.

Even in agreeing the joint declaration with his counterpart in the Republic of Ireland, the Prime Minister has sent a clear message to the IRA terrorists. Ministers have sought, through weasel words in their statements, to portray themselves as defenders of the Union while endorsing the signing of the declaration—a Trojan horse that heralds the death of the Union and may prove the downfall and break-up of our nation.

The message that the Government's actions have sent clearly and unmistakably is that the IRA has succeeded in one of its most fundamental aims: it has brought about a position in which the Government are now presiding over the dissolution of the Union and are prepared to negotiate with overseas Governments about the future of British citizens. We have only to compare our Government's attitude to, and neutrality on, the Union's future with the attitude of the Irish Government who, in articles 2 and 3, make perfectly clear their territorial claim to Ulster.

I am sorry to introduce a discordant note to the debate, but I believe that the declaration was a fundamental political error in the principles that it espoused and particularly in the clear message that the spaces between its lines sent to the terrorists. Far from feeling that they have failed, they will now feel that they are making good progress and that the wages of their evil are not the political death which they and their aspirations deserve but the realisation of their dreams—a united Ireland.

Ministers have talked about respecting the views of the majority of the people of Ulster and said that they see no prospect of that majority seeking to secede from the Union. Much has been made in this debate of the right to self-determination. That may be the case today, but, for so many years, the people of the Province have borne the brunt of terrorist atrocity after terrorist atrocity. When, in the coming months and years, they inevitably gradually realise that the Government's commitment to the Union is but grudging, that the Government see the Province's problems as a burden which they are forced reluctantly to bear for historical reasons, that, although they are members of the Union, they will never be brought fully within it, and that the cost of their presence within it is resented in some quarters of the United Kingdom, their views will turn.

I have no crystal ball and I cannot accurately predict how the break-up of the Union may be brought about. However, the signing of the joint declaration, both in terms of its words and its coded message to the terrorists, has commenced a process that will lead irrevocably to a united Ireland unless the Government change their views, and do so quickly, robustly and publicly.

We can be certain of one thing: moves towards a united Ireland will not solve the troubles of the Province. They will not bring an end to the bloodshed. In their resentment at such a move—and what many of us consider to be such a betrayal—it is inevitable that the loyalist terrorists will, in turn, increase their violence. The signatories to the joint declaration will have condemned the people of Northern Ireland to further decades of bloodshed. There is only one way for peaceful change in Northern Ireland—to defeat the terrorists on their own terms.

We in the House cannot abandon the people of Northern Ireland to the fate of being ruled by terrorism, any more than we can abandon any other part of the United Kingdom. We must take the opposite course and fully incorporate Northern Ireland within the Union as soon as possible. Only then will we in the House be sending to the IRA the clear message that the armed struggle has failed.

2.7 pm

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

I thank the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) for initiating the debate and express my support for the motion.

The Downing street declaration was certainly given a warmer reception than the so-called Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. I never thought that the 1985 agreement provided the basis for a peaceful settlement because it lacked the necessary grass-roots support and was essentially an agreement between two Governments. A just and lasting peace requires the support of the people as well as the support of Governments.

I was pleasantly surprised at the comparatively warm reception that the Downing street declaration received last month. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) and his party for at least giving the declaration serious consideration—I recognise that that probably required a degree of political courage on their part. I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) for the courage that he has displayed in his attempts to find a peaceful solution.

Unfortunately, Sinn Fein's attitude is still unclear, but I appeal to it to abandon violence and take the opportunity to become involved in democratic discussions. I also hope that the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) will think again. I can well understand that he and his party are far from satisfied with some aspects of the declaration, but it at least provides a basis for discussion. Surely, it is helpful for opponents to sit round a table to discuss their differences in an effort to end the bloodshed.

The hon. Member for Antrim, North is not alone in finding some aspects of the declaration unpalatable. I am not happy about the definition of self determination in the declaration. I cannot accept the double standards of the British Government, who grant a degree of determination to the people of the Province of Northern Ireland while denying any degree of self determination to the people of Scotland who constitute an entire nation. The British Government should admit that Britain was wrong to partition Ireland, and that the resultant creation of Northern Ireland inevitably produced a gerrymandered, unstable entity—politically, economically and militarily. Whether we like it or not, the division of Ireland is a fact and sometimes it is not easy for today's politicians to undo the mistakes of 70 years ago. Let us learn from past mistakes, but let us look to the future now instead of merely living in the past.

There is nothing wrong—indeed, in my opinion there is much that is laudable—in having an aspiration or a vision of a united Ireland where people of different religions, cultures and traditions live together in peace and harmony with mutual respect for each other's beliefs, but it is a political problem or, dare I say, a political challenge, to turn that vision into reality.

I welcome the reference in the declaration to the right of self determination for the people of the entire island of Ireland, but I have reservations, to say the least, about the declaration's split definition of that right. I can well understand the difficulty of many Irish people in accepting the definition. It could be argued, however, that it is possible to stand by the right of self determination for the people of Ireland as a whole, while saying that it would be politically unwise to assert or exercise that right at this time without the consent of both parts of Ireland.

Politicians and parties can compromise without abadoning their principles, and it is on that basis that I appeal to all parties to enter discussions on the basis of the declaration.

The Government are needlessly getting themselves into an entrenched position on clarification of the declaration. As I said yesterday at Question Time, they cannot on the one hand say, "We believe in open government" but on the other say, "We do not believe in clarification".

There is a big difference between clarification, negotiation or renegotiation, and certain parts of the declaration are ambiguous and require genuine clarification. I appeal to the Secretary of State to think again on that point.

The declaration is not a settlement but a framework for further progress. I therefore endorse the appeal to all parties to take this opportunity of a place at the negotiating table. Time is running out. More than 3,000 people have lost their lives in the bloody conflict over the past quarter of a century and many more lost their lives in the longer conflict that lasted on for many centuries before that. Surely now is the time to try to find a peaceful and just settlement in the interests of all the people of Ireland, north and south. Whatever their differing beliefs and traditions, they are all human beings with human rights, including the right to live together in peace and harmony.

2.12 pm
Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

We have heard two speeches from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland —one last night and another this morning. This morning's included a lengthy discussion of the question of amnesty, in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman repeated the formal position. I have no time to make my argument in detail, but I was not reassured by what he said. He knows that law and practice are flexible on the issue of early release, which has been used in the past. It is not encouraging that, despite being invited on a number of occasions directly to address the question of early release, the Government have failed to do so.

That is particularly significant in view of one of the misleading and mischievous statements that have been made by Garret Fitzgerald, which was repeated by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson). I find it interesting to read the five pages that Garret Fitzgerald devoted in his memoirs to the meeting with Lady Thatcher in Milan, in which he alleges that an agreement was reached. A similar description of that meeting appears in Lady Thatcher's memoirs. The two discriptions are consistent—but wholly inconsistent with the view that there has been no agreement on early release.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I do not want there to be any misunderstanding—it never occurred to me that there were grounds for any. As the hon. Gentleman knows, a discretionary power exists to release on licence those who are serving life sentences. That will operate in precisely the same way and without any special dispensation being made by reference to the cessation of violence. As to determinate sentences, the hon. Gentleman knows that there is no similar provision.

Mr. Trimble

I thank the Secretary of State for saying that, because it is a clearer statement than we have had so far. I am glad to hear it and it has been worth while.

While we are on the topic, it might be a good idea to look at the practice in England and Wales. It might be a good idea to assimilate it with that of Northern Ireland, or—I shall not recommend one over the other—to a common standard, because the problem is common and there are prisoners on both sides of the Irish sea. There should be common treatment in that respect, too.

In his speech last night, the Secretary of State said two things that I want to touch on. On page 20 of his speech, he referred to a willingness to strengthen the law with regard to terrorism and give the police the resources that they need. We have heard statements like that before. I can remember a similar one last year shortly after the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary had publicly called for greater powers. I know that the RUC is still keen to see certain changes introduced, but they are stuck somewhere; whether in the Home Office or the Northern Ireland Office we do not know. Let us clear that logjam and get them introduced.

Again in his speech last night, the Secretary of State referred to the continuing talks process. I am glad that he referred to continuing the present process rather than referring to some new grand round-table extravaganza. I noticed that he mentioned Her Majesty's Government making proposals to give focus and direction. We welcome that. I recall that, some 14 or 15 months ago during the inter-party talks of October or November 1992, we sought such a statement of Government policy and proposals. We urged the Government to get off the fence and put their cards on the table. We have been disappointed that, during that period, the Government have not done so. For long periods last year, it was frustrating to try to understand why there were occasional hints about proposals that would give focus and direction to the talks, but nothing ever happened.

Of course, we now know the reason: for much of last year, indeed even now, the Government have been playing footsie under the table with the Provos. I understand the reasons why they started to do that, but they were naive in rushing into it in terms of their response to the February message and in their response to the Hume-Adams initiative. I hope that we will get past that. As we do, I hope that the Secretary of State will appreciate the extent to which the Government's actions on both fronts has weakened public confidence in Northern Ireland.

There is still a need for the Secretary of State to address the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) put to him last December, when he asked what the Secretary of State was going to do to give our constituents renewed confidence in the integrity of Government and the direction of Government policy.

There is still a need to rebuild the confidence of the people of Northern Ireland. I do not have time to go into detail, but it is my view that the Downing street declaration —understandably, I do not regard it as a balanced document—which is a response to the Hume-Adams-Reynolds initiative, is a diversion. It has distracted energy from the right way forward; the continuation and intensification of the dialogue in which we have been engaged. I believe that that declaration, as my hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) has said, will not receive a positive response from the Provisional IRA.

The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) posed certain questions to the republican movement about whether it was really interested in providing unity and consent. Of course, it is not. From its inception, the IRA has been interested only in coercion. It does not care about the views of the greater number of the people of Northern Ireland who wish to be part of the United Kingdom and who consider themselves British. It is concerned with the expulsion of those people from Northern Ireland. It is interesting that, on the rare occasions when the Provos let their guard slip on the matter, one hears references to the analogy of Algeria and the pieds noirs there. Anyone who has discussed such matters with republicans will find that once one probes a little bit, that idea is there. People who regard themselves as British will have no part in the Ireland that the IRA will have created; indeed, they will not even be on the island if it has its way.

That is the reality and we should not disguise the fact. That reality will be acted out, or there will be a propaganda overlay. All this business about clarification is no more than propaganda. It is no more than an attempt by the IRA to divert blame from itself, partly because it fears the reaction in its own areas if it is seen to turn down the offer of peace, and the possibility of peace, but also so that it can maintain its connections and the relationship that it has established with the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and with the Irish Prime Minister.

There is another consideration. The Provos have fought what they say is a long war—they have been at it for 25 years—and are quite prepared to wait for another two years when they think that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) will be in a position to give them all that they want on a plate. His statements at the Dispatch Box today will have reinforced that belief. They are quite prepared to wait for what they think will be a Labour Administration. Even if there is a Labour Government I think that they will be disappointed, but I do not think that that hope should be offered to them. The actions and statements of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North on the matter are reprehensible.

None the less, the Downing street declaration is a diversion. I hope that the Secretary of State's speech last night shows that we are getting away from it and back to the more sensible approach of trying to press forward and deal with the real issue, which is remedying the democratic deficit.

The Secretary of State said today that the people of Northern Ireland will be supported by the Government while they remain part of the United Kingdom and will have all the entitlements of citizenship. No, we do not have those entitlements. We do not have any form of useful local democracy or administration; we do not have any real say in decisions taken locally which affect us; and we do not even have any real say in this House where, in terms of the legislative procedures adopted, we are second-class Members and second-class citizens in Northern Ireland. That must be remedied.

I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) expound the distinctions between consent in constitutional matters, not having a veto on policy and all the rest. That was interesting. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. It is not right that a party with four Members of Parliament—a party that represents such a small fraction of the United Kingdom electorate—should have a veto on restoring accountable democracy in Northern Ireland and proper procedures in this House. I hope that as we proceed we shall not hear the phrase, "Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed". It may have served a purpose, but it has had its day and I do not see it serving a purpose in the future.

The hon. Member for Foyle is very fond of European comparisons. There is a lot of advantage in such comparisons and we could learn a great deal from the way in which the peoples of western Europe have resolved their problems on the basis of mutual respect and an absence of territorial claims. If we study closely the procedures of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, we can learn a great deal. Through the human dimension, developed since the Vienna conference of 1989 and reflected in the charter of Paris in 1990, a lot of work has been done to try to stipulate what should be the rights of national and ethnic minorities. We should adopt those standards. They have the advantage that they are not framed merely for our conditions but are the principles that the countries of Europe should apply. I notice that, for Finland, the CSCE talks not merely about having no territorial claims but about refraining from advancing any such claims and from hostile political propaganda.

I am told that the Taoiseach, Mr. Reynolds, made another speech last night. I did not hear it and I have not read it, but a journalist told me this morning that in it he expounded his views on national self determination in terms of international law. Our reaction is, "Good!" I am glad that the Taoiseach is paying some respect to international law. I only wish that he would adopt it and bring his constitution and Government practice wholly into accord with it.

2.23 pm
Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)

This debate is timely. Today's newspapers reported that Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said yesterday that he would not rule out the prospect of a ceasefire. That is welcome news. However, we must not judge members of Sinn Fein-IRA by their words—I judge them by their deeds. I have a permanent reminder of exactly what they stand for—a piece of shrapnel which I picked up after a housing estate in Dungannon had been mortar-bombed only a few weeks ago. I therefore need to be far more persuaded of the commitment of the Sinn Fein-IRA to peace.

My acquaintance with them last Monday, observing the Sinn Fein-IRA meeting sponsored by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), in the Jubilee Room here in the Houses of Parliament, did not persuade me that their remarks were at all sincere. That entire press conference was another cynical attempt to divert from the real issue. The message that everyone wants to hear is a date. When will they end their violence? A serious reference to that might have given Gerry Adams's remarks yesterday more validity.

As it was, the meeting left a deeply unpleasant memory for me. It was simply, as far as I could see, a cheap propaganda ploy—delaying tactics. The national chairperson, Tom Hartley—looking more like a bank manager than a man who sponsors terrorism—with an attractive escort, Joan O'Connar, gave an unreal impression of being there to discuss everything but the hidden catalogue of human misery that they have inflicted, causing more than 3,000 deaths. Last year, 84 people were killed and many more were maimed.

Never once did those people respond to my call to end violence. It was as if my intervention had never happened. I could have been reciting the telephone directory for all the response that they gave. Never once did they apologise for the grief and unhappiness that they have caused. They were utterly detached and unmoved. It was all so remote. They could have been people living on another planet, unconnected with the trail of terrorism that they have left behind. I wonder how much they want peace. If they did want it, they are perfectly capable, in their own brutal terms, of making their more extreme followers fall into line, as was shown by the 72-hour Christmas truce. Their sheer detachment was harrowing. It was clinical and polished. They praised the Hume-Adams document, but, when asked, "When will it be published?" they said, "We will do it at a date that suits us." Their vocabulary was littered with words such as "lying", "ridiculous refusal of the British Government", "bogus accounts", accusations that the British Government "falsified versions of exchanges" and allegations of "British Government duplicity". Further words—"demilitarisation", "a withdrawal by the British"—by Mr. Hartley did not send signals of serious intent to promote any interest in ceasing violence.

The call by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield for "terminating British jurisdiction in Northern Ireland"—by 31 December 1999, as he detailed earlier this morning—did nothing to promote an illusion of a desire to end violence. It was more a case of surrendering to violence and terrorism. I found it nauseating to watch him, together with the hon. Member for Islington, North, sponsoring such a meeting. Neither of them cared a rap for the majority will of the people in Ulster.

How could those people hold a meeting in the very Parliament which the IRA have tried so hard to destroy? We were just 50 ft from the spot where Airey Neave was killed in his car coming up the car park ramp. Our walls bear tribute to colleagues here in Parliament who became victims of the IRA, such as Ian Gow and Sir Anthony Berry.

The press conference was slick and odious. As for the document that Sinn Fein produced, claiming their own version of contacts with the British Government, I can only say that those who have studied it tell me that it is full of lies, innuendoes and deceit. In these difficult times, it is essential that we are guided by our heads and not by our hearts. We must be careful where we are treading and we must be under no illusions about the nature of the people with whom we are dealing.

2.29 pm
Dr. Joe Hendron (Belfast, West)

Looking at the clock Madam Deputy Speaker, may I ask whether we finish this debate at 2.30 pm?

Madam Deputy Speaker


Dr. Hendron

That gives me half a minute, but thank you for calling me.

The Downing street declaration should be supported by all those who are seeking peace in Northern Ireland. We have had power-sharing assemblies, conventions and all sorts of initiatives over the years, but at this stage, the: people of Northern Ireland are crying out for peace. I am aware of the hypocrisy of the Provos, but—

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

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