HC Deb 27 October 1994 vol 248 cc1018-105

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Conway.]

Madam Speaker

I have had to impose a 10-minute limit between 7 pm and 9 pm.

4 pm

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

I warmly welcome the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam) to her important and demanding responsibilities. She brings with her valuable previous experience of the Province. I must also say that, although I often disagreed with him—sometimes fiercely—I have always respected the dedication of her predecessor, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), over many years.

This debate comes at a very opportune time. I am glad that it has been arranged because it is high time that the House had the opportunity to review the developments that have followed one upon the other during the recess and more recently, and to discuss the way forward for Northern Ireland.

Yesterday, I was in Magherafelt in the constituency of the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea). He was present as a member of the council, and I was present at the council. There, the chairman of the district council, Mr. Bertie Montgomerie, welcomed the events of the past two months and described them as amazing. I find that that impression is widely held.

In common with every other council in the Province—I was with Strabane councillors on Tuesday—Magherafelt councillors are making common cause to build on the present peace. They are building on the bright prospects for jobs and for stability that can open up because of it.

Throughout the Province, there is also an altogether new sense of hope—hope in place never of despair, but of a grim and dogged acceptance that violence would go on being inflicted for the foreseeable future.

What is the character of that hope? It is that this time, in defiance of all too many precedents, violence will prove to have been set aside for good; that the overlay of history will no longer dominate the political scene; and that the conflict between national identities and loyalties will at last be managed peacefully and fairly.

At first, it was a tentative, even timid hope. However, as the weeks have gone by, it is increasingly being seen as realistic, although in many minds it is a long way from being an expectation. The agony has gone on for so long that it has been hard for people to hoist in that the guns are, indeed, silent.

As the weeks have passed since 31 August—eight now—people have become less disoriented and a lot less suspicious as well. However, on all sides, suspicion and fear remain dangerous, powerful forces in Northern Ireland, and we must show that we understand that. The fears may be allayed, but they are all too easily revived. Unionists fear above all that an end to the Union will somehow be imposed on the people of Northern Ireland against their wishes, or somehow—by a kind of ratchet process—made inevitable. It will not happen; it cannot happen. But the fear is there. Equally, nationalists fear a secret plot to reimpose an unrefonned Stormont, with one side of the community permanently dominant and the other permanently subordinate. It will not happen; it cannot happen; no one even argues that it should happen. But the fear is there.

It is worth examining whether these immensely welcome developments really should have amazed us, or whether we should properly see them as simply the outcome of consistent policies followed over a long time. I am sure that the latter is the case. Let us take the Provisional IRA's ceasefire statement. Was it truly surprising, save perhaps that it did not come earlier?

Looking across the Chamber, I can see several right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who were not surprised by that statement. Once the world came to realise that the Irish and British Governments took a common position in the Downing street declaration, surely it was hopeless for anyone to go on using violence to advance his political purpose. The reason is that the Governments declared then that it was democracy that would shape the future for Northern Ireland, and that violence never worked. They declared that, whereas anyone with a democratic mandate could join in the debate and try to shape the future, no one could do so who still seemed willing to fortify his negotiating position with a bomb.

For someone to continue violence for political purposes in those circumstances is to admit to all the world that he knows that he cannot succeed democratically, yet he is not prepared to put up with the position. That is not very attractive; in fact, it looks very bad indeed. So that person has to stop the violence—and that is what the declaration did. Let me add that it simply would not have come about without the vision and courage of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister; and I similarly salute Mr. Reynolds.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

It is certainly important for us to mark the fact that terrorism did not triumph over the democratic process, and that at no stage did the British people or the British Parliament abdicate from the fight against it. But if it is important that the two Governments reached an agreement over a period—which includes the joint declaration—is not it equally important that London and Dublin continue that degree of working together? Should not that be the cornerstone of our policy? Should not we also recognise that it is not the Republic's wish in any way to take over Northern Ireland without the consent of the majority, and never has been? Is not it also important that we decide, with Dublin, the nature of the cross-border executive bodies that will give the minority community in Northern Ireland the feeling of security that it clearly requires?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

The hon. Gentleman has covered a large sector of the rest of my speech. It is, of course, important for the two Governments to go on working together. They worked together very beneficially to bring about the joint declaration; there was a constructive and useful meeting at Chequers on Monday, and I am certain that that pattern not only should but will continue.

I was saying how much the declaration owed to the two Prime Ministers. Those who were present last weekend in Dungannon, Newry or Lisburn, will have seen the crowds greet the Prime Minister in the streets and shopping centres—right across the spectrum; we should reflect on the character of those towns. It will be apparent to those who saw those huge crowds that they knew perfectly well how important the contributions of the Prime Ministers had been.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

I was in Newry at the time. As the Secretary of State said, we were pleased to be visited by the Prime Minister: he was given a warm and widespread welcome.

May I make two further points, lest they go by default? The real peace people in Northern Ireland are the ordinary men and women sitting in their houses whose names we do not know and who stood up against the bully-boys for 25 years and said that they would not succeed.

May I also recognise the contribution of the leader of my party, my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), who took enormous risks inside and outside the House to play his part on behalf of our party to bring us towards a peaceful resolution?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

The hon. Gentleman is rightly generous in his tributes to all those whom he mentioned in that intervention, and I gladly associate myself with him.

So deep is the suspicion that I mentioned that I need to repeat once more the words used by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister a little time ago when speaking about the ceasefire declaration of 31 August. He said that no price had been paid, that there had been no secret deals, no secret assurances, no nods, no winks and no tricks with mirrors and that we had not lowered our guard. It is necessary to go on saying that and, of course, it is equally true of the ceasefire announced on 13 October—no less welcome—by the combined loyalist military command. The Prime Minister's promise that the outcome of a resumed talks process would be put to the people of Northern Ireland in a referendum was undoubtedly highly reassuring, and may well have been decisive; I do not know.

So the developments of the past two months have rightly heartened countless people. They have come from policies which we have long pursued and which have always had very great support.

Through all of these traumatic years, our resolve has remained constant. It has been to protect the people, to uphold the rule of law, never to give in to terrorism and, therefore, to give our full support to the Royal Ulster Constabulary and to the Army which acts only in its support. Mine is now the responsibility for that.

Since long before I became Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I have supported the constitutional doctrine that chief officers of police are independent in operational matters. Their duty is owed to the law and to the Crown, not to Ministers. I believe that to be of great importance, especially now when crucial decisions are being taken, which must be taken on the basis of professional advice from that quarter.

Like all my predecessors, I have to see to it that the people in Northern Ireland get the best protection against terrorist crime—and it is crime—that can practicably be provided. Therefore, the response of the security forces to the terrorist threat has always had to be proportionate to that threat and in whatever strength it may necessitate.

That is why, in January 1992, the Army battalions additional to the Royal Irish Regiment were increased in Northern Ireland from 10 to 12 in number. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State and I are grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence for his agreement that they will stay there for as long as they continue to be needed.

Methods of deployment, too, have always been dictated by the character of the threat, and that continues to be the case in today's changing circumstances.

Ms Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

May I take the Secretary of State back a moment? At an enormously important moment in history such as this when we can make real progress, it is important for everyone to be honest and humble. In his earlier remarks, the right hon. and learned Gentleman talked as if what Britain had done in Northern Ireland had always been fine and good. Does he accept that Britain's failure to secure justice in Northern Ireland during the period of Stormont is a part of the problem and that we must all do better in future?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

If the hon. Lady, who is a close student of these matters, cares to remind herself of a speech that I made in Coleraine in December 1992, she may find that something of that character was addressed.

In some areas, it has been possible to reduce quite markedly the numbers of soldiers accompanying police patrols. It has been possible to make changes in the weapons carried by police officers on patrol in some areas. Flak jackets have in some areas been removed, and berets worn in place of helmets. Camouflage cream is generally no longer used on the streets, and so on.

Wherever practicable, there has been a general lightening in the forward deployment of the military in particular. The General Officer Commanding, Sir Roger Wheeler, has been able to make other changes in his discretion. It is, for example, very exceptional for helicopters to fly below 500 ft. As long ago as December 1992, I made the speech to which I have already referred the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short). In that speech, I anticipated that with an ending of violence, it would become possible for the Army to revert in normal times to normal garrison duties in Northern Ireland. There are garrison towns and stations throughout the United Kingdom, so that would be a return to normality. In Northern Ireland and in Great Britain, garrison towns have always been established.

It is not possible as yet, or anything like it, for the RUC to police the Province without the assistance of the Army, but steps in that direction are beginning to be taken and it is important that they should be. The Army does not want to be a policeman any longer than it has to and the RUC, although deeply grateful to the Army, would much prefer to be able to do the job on its own. People can see for themselves that that is now happening.

In that context, I want to make one thing absolutely clear to the House. In no circumstances will risks be taken by reducing security measures to a level below what is professionally seen to be necessitated by the perceived threat of terrorist crime. Nothing has been reduced or discontinued that cannot very quickly be put back should the situation be seen to require it once again. That goes in particular for my rescinding on Friday some 80 closure orders on the remaining closed border-crossing points. Again, I acted on the advice of the Chief Constable, Sir Hugh Annesley. If the situation necessitates it, the border-crossing points can be quickly closed again. Meanwhile, the protection of those near the border in whose interests the closures were initially made remains a prime responsibility of the RUC. The Chief Constable and the GOC are paying close attention to it.

On the RUC, I shall give one illustration of the benefits that the process that I have described is bringing in terms of enabling it to get on with the ordinary duties of policing. On Friday, I was in a police station where a police inspector said to me how much more effectively the RUC was now able to deal with ordinary policing, such as dealing with non-terrorist crime. He gave as an example an incident in which the police had recently been able to reach a house where a burglary had been reported almost before the householder had put down the telephone. The diminution in the threat accounted for their ability to do that. Accordingly, they were able to arrest the burglar. The householder said: if this is peace, I am for it". What is not recorded is what the burglar said. There is, of course, very much more to it than that. Racketeering, for example, will now get even more attention from the RUC, which it will continue to need.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

The Secretary of State will recall that I have questioned him previously about the incidence of protection rackets and racketeering generally in Northern Ireland. He will be familiar with the work of Families Against Intimidation and Terror in Northern Ireland and he will know that despite the ceasefire, welcome though it is, the IRA has continued to try to be the de facto civil authority in parts of Northern Ireland and has viciously attacked young men. A 16-year-old Catholic in west Belfast had his leg badly broken. The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Dr. Hendron) has raised the matter with the Department. Can the Secretary of State confirm that the Government will continue to take every possible action to deal with those who carry out protection threats and racketeering, using political ideologies and terrorist organisations? Will he confirm that they will not be allowed to operate like a Mafia?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I am glad that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) raised that point. He is right to refer to the so-called "punishment beatings"—the presumption that those people are entitled to punish anybody, and to deal with anyone without charge, trial or appeal. So much for their view of human rights. I am glad that the RUC has been insistent that such activities should stop. It has been reported to me that, in recent weeks, their incidence has declined. There is no justification for such activities.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)

Although what my right hon. and learned Friend has just said about the RUC and its new duties means that Northern Ireland will be the Province with the most perfect motorists for at least the next six or nine months as a result of the RUC's vigilance, does he agree that what is now unfolding is what the Prime Minister referred to in his speeches during his recent visit—the very exciting economic prospects that are beginning to open up? Although it is very early days, does my right hon. and learned Friend see signs of economic optimism returning already?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

Yes, I do. My hon. Friend is right to point to that matter, to which I shall come in a few moments, depending on how often I give way to interruptions.

Before I move on from the security aspects of the scene, I pay tribute to the gallant police officers who [...]ave served or now serve in the Royal Ulster Constabulary. They have held the line for 25 years. I believe, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister sitting beside me agrees, that without their efforts, supported prodigiously by the Army, the Province would not be at peace today. They have never weakened in their duty to the law and to the people of Northern Ireland as a whole, nor have they ever flinched in the face of the gravest danger. Theirs has been the continuing courage of cold blood, and it has been shared by their families. Their casualties have been high–296 have been killed and nearly 7,300 injured over the past 25 years. But without their service, those of the civilian population would have been far, far higher. They deserve, and I know that they get, our deep admiration and thanks.

With the peace, which we all hope will stick, the police officers of the RUC face new challenges but also new anxieties, especially about their jobs. Those anxieties deserve our understanding and sympathy and a decent and worthy response from us. And they will get them. We shall not turn our backs on the people who have seen us through.

I should like to say something now about the Army, and the Royal Marines who have served in company with it. I do not forget the contributions of the Royal Air Force, the rest of the Royal Navy and the other services. During all this time, the Army has shared the burden of policing the Province under the rule of law. Even now, members of the armed forces must outnumber the police by a proportion of about 3:2. No fewer than 648 members of the armed forces have been killed; and 5,762 have been injured, nearly all of them in each category in the Army. Like the police, they have no privileges or immunities; they have only duties, which are often very dangerous. Generally very young men and women, they have habitually worked 16 or even more hours a day in exhausting conditions. They have fulfilled that role with great discipline and courage and they are a source of great pride to our country.

Dr. Joe Hendron (Belfast, West)

First, may I formally thank the Prime Minister for putting Northern Ireland at the top of his agenda? I was present when he made his speech in Belfast last week, and the points that he made were extremely well taken.

On the point raised by the Secretary of State, I totally accept the great sacrifices made by the police and the British Army in Northern Ireland. However, is not it insensitive to bring the Parachute Regiment into the streets of west Belfast? I am not noted for making things difficult for the security forces.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I do not agree with that point, which is unusual in the case of the hon. Gentleman, who lives a courageous life in west Belfast. There is no regiment in the British Army that cannot be trusted to serve with the discipline, care and courage needed in Northern Ireland. May I point out to the hon. Gentleman, in case he has forgotten, that the second battalion of the Parachute Regiment has been serving in Holywood, east of Belfast, for the past two years with great distinction, engaging in a considerable amount of community work as well as its ordinary duties? It has always had one company detached up at Woodbourne, which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is not too far away from his constituency. Therefore, I do not accept his argument that the Parachute Regiment should not serve, and nor should any of us.

On the political response to the ceasefire, it has been necessary to assess the true intention of PIRA-Sinn Fein, as it is necessary also to assess the true intention of the anti-nationalist paramilitaries. The fundamental point is that we must not enter into substantive negotiations with people who may still intend to bring a gun or bomb to the table with them. Only they can know their true intentions. The rest of us must rely on their words and actions, or rather on what they do not do. Conduct speaks louder than words.

I make no bones about the fact that, although Sinn Fein and the IRA have sought to convey the impression that the ceasefire is permanent, they have not yet stated that unambiguously. It is fair to say that they have not, which is why we have been very cautious. It is now recognised that we have been wise to be very cautious. However, as the Prime Minister said last week in Belfast, we have been reviewing their actions, which have been more compelling than their words. My right hon. Friend announced then that we are prepared to make a working assumption, in those circumstances, that their ceasefire is intended to be permanent. That means that we can move carefully towards the beginning of exploratory dialogue between Sinn Fein and the Government, which, for so long, we have publicly stated to be the next stage in the process.

If we can continue reasonably to assume that Sinn Fein is establishing a commitment to exclusively peaceful methods and if the IRA goes on showing that it has indeed ended its terrorism, we shall be ready, as the Prime Minister has said, to convene those exploratory talks before the year is out. They will, of course, need to embrace the republicans' proposals for depositing and decommissioning their armaments, and that also goes for the anti-nationalists. Continued retention can have no justification whatever, for republicans and loyalists alike. If, on the other hand, the evidence starts to point away from a continuing commitment to exclusively democratic methods, our working assumption will cease. It is up to them.

Just as that has been our political response to the republican ceasefire, it has been no less necessary to recognise the ceasefire announced by the others. We have needed in their case, too, to show an understanding of their desire that their political concerns should be taken into consideration, and not excluded. They, and those close to them, have genuine anxieties, not least on social matters. Those worries need to be heeded, as is the case with anxieties emanating from the other end of the paramilitary spectrum. We shall need, therefore, to consult on that, and consider it further.

I shall now mention the interests of the victims—the people who have borne the brunt. Although all the recent events have brought hope, we must surely not forget the victims and their families, who have suffered so much in the past 25 years. The staff who work in the health and personal social services in Northern Ireland have responded to those people's needs as caring and dedicated professionals, and I pay tribute to their work, which has been excellent. However, often victims and their families will have long-term physical and psychological scars and disabilities, which need continuing care, compassion and support.

The Government want to do more to help staff in that most important work. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State responsible for health and social services, the Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Moss), will therefore set up a special fund to provide additional help for people disabled by violence in Northern Ireland, and £1 million will be made available. I envisage that fund being used to help people with physical disabilities in the regional disablement centre, Musgrave Park hospital. It will also help people with psychiatric problems, and those needing bereavement counselling and support.

I recognise that some people still argue, in the case of Sinn Fein, for example, that, by reason of its affiliation and association with terrorists, its members should never be allowed to sit down at the conference table with Governments and parties that have always followed constitutional paths.

I well recognise the bitter feelings of many people whose husbands, wives and relatives have been the victims of terrorist violence. I have seen more than enough to be able to sympathise with them. So great is the grief, pain and anger that has been caused, that it is readily understandable for such people to take that position—but I do not find that it is typical.

To my great admiration, many people who have suffered grievously nevertheless recognise that stability will come to Northern Ireland only if all viewpoints are represented in discussion. They stipulate only that we speak to people who now reliably commit themselves exclusively to democratic purposes and means. I am sure that they are right. That is why the Government have established the stages by which Sinn Fein could, as far as we are concerned, be admitted to a resumed process of political talks. I shall now discuss that process.

The House has always warmly supported that process, so patiently introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke), and announced by him in March 1991. The objective of the process has been to achieve a widely acceptable and durable political accommodation for Northern Ireland as a whole. The House is familiar with its three-stranded process. I believe that the House has always endorsed the judgment that only by means of political talks of that composite character can there be a realistic prospect of a more stable, less antagonistic, more tranquil and more prosperous way of life in Northern Ireland.

As for the first strand, for our part we want, for example, more responsibility to be restored to locally accountable representatives in Northern Ireland, in relationships that are fair, and that reflect the principle that the principal traditions in the community should be held in parity of esteem. The British Government are responsible for Northern Ireland, as has always been recognised since the inception of th[...] process. As for the second strand of relationships, we also think that it must make sense to make common cause with the Republic in areas where there is common interest between north and south. The means by which that can be achieved without impinging in any way upon sovereignty in relationships across the border, is a matter for careful judgment. We want to see whether a new formulation of the relationship between the Republic and ourselves can be arrived at, commanding broader consent than at present.

All those matters were, to varying degrees, discussed during the talks process in 1992. It is our earnest hope that that process will be resumed, again with all the main constitutional parties in Northern Ireland participating, and, if the proper conditions are fulfilled, with Sinn Fein as well.

The two Governments want to help the parties to get back round the table. We have resolved to try to develop a shared understanding of the sort of overall accommodation that might have the best chance of winning the wide acceptance across the community that it will need if it is to stick. We continue to work at that. It has come to be called the joint framework document. We have not yet reached agreement, therefore no document yet exists. I greatly hope that we can reach agreement, but it is not certain. We have made some good progress.

We want to achieve agreement and to do so quickly. We want to do so not in order to present the result as some sort of blueprint with which the political parties in Northern Ireland must conform—far from it. We want to do so as a means of helping them realise that it would be worth their while sitting down around the table again because there would be a prospect of carrying the process through to success. It would be a suggestion—an offering—but because some fears have begun to centre on the framework document, we have undertaken jointly that it will be published when it is handed over to the parties. It is for exactly the same reason—because the British Government are responsible for the internal arrangements of Northern Ireland—that we shall publish our suggestions on the first strand of relationships. With the maximum degree of openness thus established, confidence on all sides should grow, which is what we hope and intend.

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

If the hon. Gentleman will excuse me, I should very much like to finish my speech as I am taking too long.

Meanwhile, underpinning everything is the unshakeable guarantee that the constitutional future of Northern Ireland will be determined by the consent of its people and that the outcome of the talks process will be submitted to the judgment of the people of Northern Ireland themselves.

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

No, if the hon. Gentleman will excuse me. I must finish my speech.

This is a time to build. The Northern Ireland Economic Council said on Monday: The combination of Northern Ireland going into a seemingly sustained period of economic recovery, together with the benefits that would arise with an end to all violence and the creation of political stability, provides an economic scenario in Northern Ireland that has never been better in the past 25 years". I very much welcome the generous support that the international community is showing for the peace process. Both the European Union and the Government of New Zealand are increasing their contributions to the International Fund for Ireland, and the Australian Government have announced their intention to contribute to it. The Government of the United States and the European Union are also putting forward packages of economic assistance to Northern Ireland to help embed the peace and promote community reconciliation through economic regeneration. We, as the Government responsible for them, shall be seeking the views of the people of Northern Ireland, across the spectrum, on the projects that we and the European Union should back financially.

We shall convene an international investment conference in Belfast before Christmas. In settling future public spending levels in the Province, we shall continue to take full account of Northern Ireland's social needs. We shall concentrate, above all, on jobs.

The potential and prospects for Northern Ireland are extraordinarily good. It will be the desire and the will of the entire House that, this time, they shall not be blighted.

4.33 pm
Ms Marjorie Mowlam (Redcar)

I welcome the timing of the debate. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), the Leader of the Opposition, who sits beside me, said at the party conference this year, we need a new politics of courage, honesty and trust. That means being open. If the Government get things right, we shall give them credit; when they do not, we shall say so. I intend to do just that on the subject of Northern Ireland. In that vein I thank the Secretary of State for his open, honest and complimentary remarks about me at the beginning of his speech.

I also welcome the opportunity to do this job at such an important time in the search for a permanent peace within these islands. There is now the best opportunity for many years to enable normal life to return to so many people in the north of Ireland.

First, however, I extend my thanks to my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), for his tireless work in the interests of both communities over the past seven years. As many of my colleagues will know, his interest in Northern Ireland began long before that. He was a leading figure in a group of Labour Members in the Campaign for Democracy in Ulster in the 1960s. He was tenacious in raising questions in the House about discrimination against the minority community, and active in breaking the Speaker's convention that restricted discussion of Northern Ireland issues in this House.

As I am sure the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) will remember, my hon. Friend was also active in 1969, when he marched with him in the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. My hon. Friend has been a committed campaigner for civil liberties, and he divided this House after internment was introduced in 1971. He has been held in especially high regard for the role that he played in the House during the passage of the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1989, when he worked assiduously to rectify the inadequacies of the 1976 Act.

My hon. Friend has played an historically significant role in raising issues such as the administration of justice in Northern Ireland—the UDR Four, for instance—and in his astute and effective use of parliamentary questions. He has avidly campaigned for civil rights, justice and fair employment. I am honoured to have the chance to continue his work, and I know that he will be working in the days and years ahead on the same areas. I look forward to his support.

I should also like to record my party's thanks to my hon. Friends the Members for Wigan (Mr. Stott) and for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien). Their hard work in Northern Ireland is readily acknowledged, not least in the letters that I have received in the past few days from various organisations testifying to their assiduous efforts.

Following the changes to Labour's Front-Bench team that have just occurred, it might be helpful if I took this opportunity to reaffirm to the House Labour's full support for the Downing street declaration, and to acknowledge its crucial importance in changing the context in which the peace process in Northern Ireland can be advanced. The Opposition endorse the aim of the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach, outlined in the declaration, to foster agreement and reconciliation leading to a new political framework, founded on consent and encompassing arrangements within Northern Ireland, for the whole island of Ireland and between Ireland and Britain.

I should like also to reaffirm Labour's historic commitment to the unification of Ireland by consent—always the crucial word. I reaffirm our support for the principles contained in the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which states that there can be no change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland without the consent of a majority of its people. Labour also welcomes the Government's recognition in the Downing Street declaration that it is right for the people of Ireland alone to exercise their right of self-determination; and the Irish Government's recognition that this right must be exercised with, and subject to, the agreement and consent of a majority of people in Northern Ireland.

We welcome the cessation of violence by all the paramilitary organisations, and acknowledge that the next couple of months are crucial to moving the peace process forward—although everyone in the House knows that there are many thorny questions to be dealt with. It is essential, however, that the peace process keep moving forward. We have to keep on trucking, and unless we do, it will be counter-productive for everyone involved.

No one will have anything to gain from prevarication or procrastination in the hope of a change of Government. Labour, in opposition and in government, will seek to facilitate and encourage a balanced constitutional settlement leading to an agreement that will have the support of both traditions.

We believe that such a settlement requires five features. First, there will have to be provisions that ensure that constitutional legislation in both Ireland and Britain is mutually consistent, and consistent with the principle of majority consent.

Secondly, there must be provision to establish strong devolved government in Northern Ireland—a devolved assembly which will need to be based entirely upon proportional representation to ensure that each party is fairly represented. That principle is now broadly accepted in Northern Ireland.

Thirdly, there must be provision to ensure that each community receives parity of esteem and equity of treatment. Those principles will have to be reflected in a fair employment policy, policing and the administration of justice. They will require imagination and willingness to break the shackles of our past.

Fourthly, as the Downing street declaration envisaged, deepening cross-border co-operation in Ireland and the encouragement of institutions which reflect that, are simply common sense, irrespective of where one stands on the national question. Those arrangements need infringe no one's sovereign statehood.

Fifthly and finally, any constitutional arrangements that are established must be securely and appropriately guaranteed and protected by both Governments. In that respect, we welcome the recent statement by the Irish Foreign Minister, Dick Spring, in his address to the United Nations on 28 September. He argued that an agreement was needed in which the exercise of sovereignty, by whichever government, will at all times, now and in the future, be qualified by scrupulously equal treatment of the two northern communities and their rights, identities and allegiances. We agree that a balanced constitutional settlement must achieve that objective. That process was assisted by the Government's announcement on Friday, which we supported, and especially by the package of security and investment measures which are crucial to the process of moving towards a stable peace.

If that future is to be one of peace and prosperity, both Governments must take the necessary steps to encourage both the restructuring and the regeneration of the Northern Ireland economy. The Opposition welcome the statement earlier this week in the annual report of the Northern Ireland Economic Council, which said that public spending should be maintained at current levels if the peace process is to be moved forward.

We all want to see a permanent cessation of violence, and we must recognise that, as a result, over time that will bring structural changes in public expenditure. There will be a need for the reallocation of public spending not only to tackle the structural weaknesses in the Northern Ireland economy but to respond to changes in the public sector and to the need to stimulate greater private sector investment.

There is no doubt in my mind that Government subventions are a significant determinant of demand in the Northern Ireland economy. We should like assurances from the Government that, in the wake of the ceasefire, the Treasury will not, as it has done elsewhere on public expenditure, be keen to see immediate cuts. We should like a clear statement from the Minister that the Treasury will keep its hands off current public expenditure in Northern Ireland.

Peace as well as conflict present difficult economic adjustments. It is essential for the Government to consider now the implications of economic policies and priorities for an increase in employment opportunities and standards of living for everyone in Northern Ireland. We acknowledge the conference that the Secretary of State is organising in December, but we are interested in the steps beyond that that the Government plan to take.

It is crucial to address the problems of long-term unemployment. It is appalling for anyone without a job, from whichever side of the divide, to contemplate continuing in the long-term unemployment that exists in both communities but especially in the nationalist community. The fears of people in the police and security forces about future employment are apparent from talking to them, and, as everybody knows, people's fears and insecurities about future employment are powerful and potentially destructive feelings at the best of times. But when going through a process of political change, those insecurities are considerably magnified.

The Government must not fail to address the problems of unemployment, the consequent social deprivation and the structural change in the employment market in Northern Ireland. To fail to do so would be potentially harmful to the peace process.

There has been much recent talk about a peace dividend, but the Opposition recognise that failure to address issues of investment and structural unemployment could lead to an economic peace deficit. Consequently, we welcome the setting up by the European Union of the task force to help regenerate the Northern Ireland economy, and we also welcome the endorsement by the Council of Europe, the Commission and the Parliament of the Downing street declaration and the peace process.

We look forward to the peace summit in December in Essen, where measures to regenerate the Northern Ireland economy will be considered. Northern Ireland has great assets in its young talent and its natural environment, and they must be developed in the interests of stable peace and lasting prosperity. Tourism is a classic example, because in Northern Ireland it generates £120 million of GNP and employs about 10,000 people. There is no doubt that the onset of peace can enable the full potential of Northern Ireland's natural inbuilt heritage to be realised in the medium to long term, and that has potential employment opportunities for another 8,000 to 10,000 people.

As the peace process accelerates, it is vital for all parties to look to the future and to consider everyone else's fears and anxieties, and not simply to reiterate past positions and stay in their trenches.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. Many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate, so I ask for succinct speeches.

4.46 pm
Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)

I am flattered to be called so early in the debate. In deference to other hon. Members who wish to speak, I shall restrict myself to specific topics. As I am the first Back Bencher to be called in the debate, I shall make some well-deserved nice remarks about the Government and thank the Opposition parties for their support in the process, which so far is going so very well.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was in his place a moment ago, and is well aware of my support. I was one of the first to write to him about his Guildhall speech. He has occasionally been criticised for going too slowly, and perhaps at times I have been a little impatient, as have other hon. Members. However, so far so very good. Our congratulations on the success so far by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State are the best judgment that we can offer. I wish them well as we now enter possibly more difficult successive stages in this historic operation. I said that I would mention specific topics, and I should like to speak about the nature of the cessations of violence with, of course, particular reference to Sinn Fein/IRA, and to address the immediate problem of weapons and explosives. Last but not least, I shall speak about pace and progress in the immediate future. I shall not even begin to take up all the parameters of this vast subject, but shall concentrate on those specifics.

The nature of the cessations of violence is extremely relevant to what follows, and especially to the attitudes that we adopt to judge such key issues as the surrender of weapons and explosives. On the basic situation—I am mainly addressing the IRA—we need to be realistic, and should perhaps remind ourselves what has been achieved. I dare say that it is more profound than usual, but basically it is an IRA ceasefire in the terms that have been expressed.

I shall remind the House of those terms by using direct quotations. At the outset it was stated that there was a complete cessation of military operations … it is unconditional and open ended. When he addressed the remarks by the Irish Taoiseach, Mr. Adams said: The assumption of permanence is correct. Last but not least, the statement by Mr. Adams and my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) outside Government buildings in Dublin perhaps took it even further, saying: We are all totally and absolutely committed to democratic and peaceful methods of resolving our political problems". In the light of that, let me, as a Conservative Back Bencher, make a few comments about what appears to be the IRA/Sinn Fein position. I am not being semantic, but, as far as I understand it—I do not have as exact an understanding of IRA constitutional rules as some others do—the IRA cannot actually use the word "permanent" because it has had no Army Council meeting. IRA spokesmen are obliged to do that if they are to use the word "permanent", as that would mean the end of what they would term "the struggle". There is nothing they will do, or be prepared to do, that could be said to amount to a surrender.

Therefore, without the word "permanent", and with no council meeting or surrender, we begin to understand the terminology that I have outlined to the House. IRA leaders have, however, declared an intention to make it permanent, and deserve an acknowledgement of their considerable contribution to the position. They appear—it has to be put to the test—ready and willing to negotiate and build a permanent peace.

I welcome the other cessation and ceasefire—that of the loyalist paramilitaries—and I particularly welcome its terms. Hon. Members will agree that the terms were generous, to say the least, and that the only condition, which relates to a resumption of violence on the other side, is completely understandable. On the paramilitary side, everyone is ready to talk.

My second point concerns an immediate problem that applies to both sides: the surrender or decommissioning of weapons and explosives. That has to be a matter for our preliminary talks with Sinn Fein. Unless we get over that problem, we shall not get very far with anything at all. It is of paramount importance to getting Sinn Fein into substantive talks at a later stage or whenever we can. We want those weapons handed in. At the end of the day, we must have them in, but Sinn Fein is unlikely to bring them in without some progress being made, either generally or in negotiation. Hon. Members will have heard that point being made by a Mr. McLoughlin on the "Today" programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning. He made the position very clear. It will not be easy, and will need some patience on both sides.

What can we do about it? Perhaps all we can do at the beginning is to stick rigidly to the logistics. At least we have to talk about it and to quantify the agreed and accepted amounts of arms and explosives. We can categorise—I welcome something that crept in with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at Question Time last week—and differentiate between weapons that are undoubtedly offensive, such as Semtex explosives and detonators, and those which can be used for defensive purposes.

We have to consider the manner of handing over weapons and to whom they are handed over. There will be no Falkland Islands stockpiling of weapons and no surrender of weapons. Some people have the idea that it will amount to that, but it will not.

We have to try to establish a political sequence linked to progress, which can lead increasingly to the handover of weapons and the gradual involvement of Sinn Fein in the process. Obviously, the eventual aim is to get it involved in the substantive talks.

Finally, as far as the pace of progress is concerned, I must repeat that the caution of Her Majesty's Government has proved to be completely correct. The main players have to remain on board, and the pace cannot be too fast for those main players. I welcome the attitude throughout—I have done so publicly before, although it is not always recognised that I do this—of the Official Unionist party. It has behaved in a statesmanlike way, as have other Northern Ireland parties.

We need a steady momentum. There need be no rush, but everybody—including Sinn Fein—has to feel that, at whatever pace, we are getting somewhere. We have to remember that each side has to be kept on board. No great rush is necessary, provided we all have confidence that we are getting somewhere.

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way at this crucial moment, but will he make it clear whether he envisages talks continuing, or at least starting, while not a single weapon has been handed in? If that is the case, could it not be interpreted that Sinn Fein would have the upper hand and could instigate a process of blackmail?

Mr. Temple-Morris

I was trying to make it fairly clear that I was talking about talks about talks. As for talks about weaponry, surrender, logistics and so on, I set out a whole sequence. Only when we have accomplished an agreed handing over, or at least an agreed sequence that everyone accepts and that will have involved a large-scale handing over, will talks be practicable, because the Official Unionist party and other parties in Northern Ireland have to be prepared to talk to Sinn Fein. I am not addressing the House in a cloud of imaginary optimism; we have to be practical.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

Unless I misheard the hon. Gentleman, I thought that he was trying to draw a distinction between defensive and offensive weapons. What does he mean by defensive weapons?

Mr. Temple-Morris

I was trying to make it clear that that distinction appears to be creeping into the frame. It is for those who take part in the negotiations to determine it. I would guess that, on the loyalist side, it would be extremely difficult for everybody to hand in firearms which they would class as defensive. In practical terms, to expect everyone in Sinn Fein-IRA to respond to an amnesty with every weapon might be a little optimistic.

I am making no distinctions in terms of the desire to get everything handed in, but we should remember in the back of our minds that the absolutely lethal offensive weaponry that would be used right at the front line should there be a resumption of violence and should we fail in all this, would be Semtex and detonators.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

Would the hon. Gentleman regard the knee-capping of someone as an offensive or defensive act, and would he regard the weapon used as one that should be surrendered?

Mr. Temple-Morris

That is a smart point to make in a debating society, and I commend the hon. Gentleman on making it. We all deplore such acts, and as soon as he makes some slight acknowledgement of the desire of the vast majority of the House for peace and his considerable potential contribution to it, which would not include such comments, the quicker we will be able to make progress. It is not very clever to raise that which we all deplore.

Let us get on if we may, now that I have given way a number of times. I just want to make my final point about confidence-building measures which do not all involve formal talking. Obviously, we have to talk as soon as possible about talks—and formally—but on the way there, by way of building up confidence, a crucial contribution can be made by all concerned. My last answer went some way to pointing out the attitudes which could be involved.

Because we are just dealing with speeches and actions, not agreements, things are a bit easier at this stage. In that context, I welcome the measures that have already been taken to lift the broadcasting ban and the exclusion orders, as well as the decision to open the cross-border roads. I also welcome the reduced level of police and military activity, with which my right hon. and learned Friend dealt today.

I do not want to discuss policing in detail now, but it is part of the confidence-building process, and decisions on it have practical implications. There is nothing more prominent, more in the front line or more pertinent now and in the future than the policing of Northern Ireland.

In my humble view, we will not establish a permanent peace without some changes in the Royal Ulster Constabulary. That must be accepted. Despite that, we must still end up with an effective police force for Northern Ireland. In that respect, both communities and both sides will need to give. More signs of a willingness to do so by either side would be we[...]come, and would be the best signal we could have to suggest that we might be on our way.

Parity of esteem is a key part of policing and is important in general. A diminution of majorityism and a feeling that both communities belong to the whole are vital ingredients. In terms of building confidence at this stage, it is also important that, last but not least, the framework document is published. I desperately hope that we will reach agreement on that.

I understand why my right hon. and learned Friend said that that agreement had not been reached and was by no means automatic, but it is vital to confidence-building and in general. It is most vital in terms of the constitution and the sort of assembly and Executive that will be proposed for Northern Ireland. Developments on that are pivotal to progress.

Although it is right to pause to offer congratulations to everyone on where we are now, we are but at the beginning. I wish the Government, which has the support of the Opposition—one is very grateful for that support when one merits it—all good fortune and good luck in an historic task.

5.1 pm

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)

I am delighted to be called in the debate and I shall keep my remarks as brief as possible.

I am sure that my feelings about the progress achieved in Northern Ireland are shared by all those who have been involved in its affairs for many years.

My involvement started with my election to the House in 1979. Throughout those years, many people told those of us who took an interest in Northern Ireland that, at the end of the day, the republicans would say this or the Unionists would say that. Everyone said that there would be no end to that day, that it would go on for ever and that we should not make any assumptions about the violence coming to an end. What so many of us had hoped for and dreamed about has come true in the past few months and weeks. In all honesty and fairness, I must say that the Government and the Prime Minister—I am not one of the right hon. Gentleman's greatest fans—deserve our unstinting congratulations.

I first became hopeful in 1985, with the British-Irish agreement, and those hopes shot through the roof with the Downing street declaration. They were visionary steps forward and I compliment the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and others involved on their achievement. I should love to list some of the other people who were involved, not least the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and his party and the Unionist population, who recently have changed their position quite significantly. Time does not permit that, but I should just like to say that our hopes are invested in the Northern Ireland people, who have borne the brunt of the violence. Their future, however, is partly entrusted to us, which is why we must deliver on the important Downing street declaration.

I have always argued that I am not a historian and that I do not understand, nor seek to know in great detail, the history of Ireland. That statement sometimes surprises people, but I have always believed that our duty as politicians is to solve political problems. To do so, we might need some understanding of history, but if we tried to understand the entire history of Ireland we would spend the rest of our lives studying it. We would never solve the problem. The essential problem was that a significant minority of the state of Northern Ireland did not accept the government of that area. One of the most important developments on the Unionist side, to which I wish to pay tribute, has been the way in which the Unionist population and, I think, now, their political leaders, seem to accept not only that they cannot return to life prior to 1969, but that they do not want to. It is important to recognise the significance of that sentiment.

Although it was always easy to condemn the violence in Northern Ireland, because it was obviously wrong, we would make a serious mistake if we assumed that it had no cause. The Unionist domination of Northern Ireland up to 1969 meant that it was a one-party state. However, I believe that that one-party state did not even serve the Unionist population very well. It broke down in 1969, but it has taken us a long time to address the deep feelings, bitterness and distrust that followed as the two communities struggled to gain domination.

In many respects, the problem with the Unionists is that they feared what would be done to them if they were subsumed into a united Ireland, in much the same way as the minority community in Northern Ireland continued to remember what was done to it when it was subsumed within the majority in Northern Ireland. Because of that struggle for power and that fear of reprisal, we must build confidence in both communities.

In the 1980s, I pointed out to the leaders of Sinn Fein that the violence that they were pursuing was not only wrong in principle but counter-productive, given what it set out to achieve. I also knew, however, that the violence was due in large part to what had happened in the past. Too often we in Britain forgot that many nationalists, republicans and Catholics suffered at the hands of Unionist violence, which we did not always condemn equally. It is always important to do so, because violence from either side is totally unacceptable, and always has been. I am pleased to repeat that assertion.

I also have some pleasure in saying that the Labour party's policy has been proved right. It is one of those rare examples of a political party having a policy that has stood up to the test of time rather well. I had a hand in devising our 1981 policy document on Northern Ireland, which made it clear that there could be a united Ireland only with the consent of the majority of the people. It said that there could be no veto on political progress by any group. It also said that there needed to be greater cross-border co-operation and harmonisation between the two parts of Ireland. All those recommendations are in the Downing street declaration or in the British-Irish agreement, and I welcome them warmly.

It is clear to me that Sinn Fein is committed to peace—that is clear from its actions and, increasingly, from the words of its leaders. Its leadership and that of the Unionist paramilitaries recognise that they cannot possibly go back to life as it was. As Sinn Fein's leaders have said, they want to be involved in the democratic process. That is important. We should make it as easy as possible for the Unionist and republican paramilitaries to give up violence and become involved in the political process. For that reason, it is a little early to talk of the surrender of weapons by either side. I accept that that proviso is important, but if we allow talks to founder because of it, we will not gain the confidence that is necessary within Northern Ireland to enable the talks to make headway.

We must all remember that the followers of Sinn Fein and the Unionist paramilitaries do not necessarily share their leaders' commitment to the peace process. They are bound to have doubts and anxieties and no doubt some will consider that they have been betrayed by (heir leaders. If those leaders are to continue to lead effectively, and if we are to avoid a drift back into violence by either side, we must make it as easy as possible for those leaders to benefit from their involvement in the political process. It is clear to me, however, that the leaders of Sinn Fein consider a return to violence on their part as inconceivable.

We must seize this moment. The developments that the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister announced at the weekend were exceptionally important and exactly what was needed. I had been concerned that progress had not been sufficient, but the decision to open all the cross-border roads and the associated measures was exactly right and well timed.

The marvellous reception that the Prime Minister received in Newry and, indeed, that the Secretary State for Northern Ireland received in Strabane, where he was acknowledged by even Sinn Fein councillors, was no accident. Movement was recognised. It goes without saying that the Unionist population showed their support for what the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have done.

The reassurance of Britain is important. That is why I was delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam) made it clear that there are no hidden deals, that Labour Members agree with the Government on this matter and that there will be no transfer of sovereignty without consent. That is a common position between the parties and, funnily enough and despite popular reports to the contrary over the years, it always has been.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), who has taken the lead for the Labour party very well, also made the all-important point very clear—again, it frequently was not acknowledged, but I heard him say it at a number of conferences and in a number of speeches—that if there were peace and agreement in Northern Ireland, to which both communities were committed and which they wanted, we would not let our party's policies stand in the way. That was always the line that we took and it was exactly the right line. It would make no sense at all for Britain to say that we were going to impose our views on the people of Northern Ireland once they had agreed a settlement. After all, we have all been working for a settlement over the years.

The role of the British is now crucial. I recently heard an economist at a conference say that a statue should be erected in Northern Ireland to the great unknown British taxpayer. There is a lot in that statement. The cost of running Northern Ireland is immense. One of my views over the years has been that if we could resolve the problems in Northern Ireland, the burden of carrying it would lessen and there would be marvellous opportunities for the people of the north. There is a peace dividend to be had, but it will not arrive quickly.

It is sometimes assumed that once people stop fighting and troops are withdrawn, a pocket of money will suddenly be available. It will not, but there is a process by which, initially, there may be more unemployment. For example, people working in security organisations may lose their jobs. We need to plan the use of the peace dividend to ensure that such people are retrained and kept in employment. Although I have never believed that the underlying levels of high unemployment in Northern Ireland have been the cause of the violence, they certainly have not helped. There have been quite good recruiting serjeant majors for paramilitary groups on the Unionist and republican sides.

I shall now do what I think is the duty of Opposition parties—make a few suggestions and perhaps press the Government to go a little further in certain areas, which I hope would help both Unionists and nationalists alike. We have to choose from different menus, as it were, to help both, but they are both important.

I want to start with an area that has always been profoundly important to me. I was slightly disappointed—this was about the only disappointment that I felt during the Secretary of State's speech—that we did not hear a statement about the future of emergency legislation in the United Kingdom as a whole. The Secretary of State will know that, for the first time since the second world war, Ireland has abolished the emergency legislation. One of the matters that involved me in the Northern Ireland debate was the way in which we were undermining our own democracy by the use of exceptional powers, such as the prevention of terrorism Act and the emergency powers legislation. I have made the point many times that the prevention of terrorism Act involves internal exile. A former Minister, Lord Coleraine, if I remember rightly, used that term after I had used it. It is the first time that we have had that power since the days of Henry VIII. It is an exceptional power and we need to clarify its future, even though we may not be able to get rid of all those Acts quickly. It would be welcome if the Government made a statement saying that if the peace process continues as it is at present, it would be our intention to get rid of the emergency legislation as early as possible.

A small example of that intention could relate to the Diplock courts in Northern Ireland. There has always been an argument for scheduling cases in—to describe a case as being of a terrorist type and putting it on the list for inclusion under that schedule—rather than, as at present, having to schedule them out. The argument for that change must now be overwhelming. It is very difficult to argue that we must go on assuming that all cases in the Diplock courts are of a terrorist type. Similarly, although I will not develop the point for reasons of time, the admissibility of evidence rules need to be brought into line with what we expect from a sophisticated democracy with a commitment to the rule of law.

It is important to continue the process of getting the troops off the streets, with one exception—those areas bordering the peace lines, where the communities say that they want the troops to remain. That is important for both Unionists and republicans in those areas, who feel very insecure at times. If they want them, the troops should stay on the streets of those areas.

We need to consider checkpoints, look-out posts and security bases and generally try to downgrade or mothball them. I recognise the difficulties of moving too fast, but people who live in Armagh especially, or somewhere like that, where the peace process has worked, may ask what they are seeing in return. If they are dominated by a large Army base, which even now is being redeveloped, rebuilt and enlarged because of mortar attacks on helicopters and so on, it is difficult to see the reason for continuing that process when we are trying to convince the population—not the leaders, but the population—that we are serious about responding to the current window of opportunity. It is a small point, but I remember all the fuss and hassle when the Gaelic Athletics Association pitch was half absorbed in, I think, Crossmaglen. Such changes, by which we can allow the population to use their leisure areas again, could help to reassure the population of those areas.

We need to look at increased resources, especially in housing and jobs in a number of areas. I accept fully the Fair Employment Act and everything that goes with it, but in a number of Unionist areas housing is quite often worse than in neighbouring Catholic areas because of the success of the Housing Executive. There are areas, even in west Belfast, where that is true, so we need to use what money we can—I urge the Government not to cut public expenditure in Northern Ireland—to prevent some parts of the Unionist community from feeling that the money goes to Catholics and not to Protestants. That is one of the arguments that the paramilitaries use when recruiting.

I urge that we use European and other money to develop one of the key prospects for the future in Northern Ireland—the Dublin-Belfast link. It is noticeable that, of the six largest United States personal computer producers, four are located in the south. The opportunities in the north for software development on a similar basis as that between London and Bristol or, indeed, between Edinburgh and Glasgow, which in many ways are similar cities to Belfast and Dublin, are such that they may enable us to create a necessary high-tech belt. I strongly suspect that the Europeans would be able to put money into that.

I thought that I heard mumbling from the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) about further links with Scotland. I am fully in favour of that. It is a great idea, but, as I said in the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs, just because there is a cultural, political and social link with an area, it does not mean that an economic future lies there. I may well have an affinity with Canadians, Australians or Americans, but that does not mean that I do not recognise the economic importance of Europe. In a sense, that is true for the people of Northern Ireland in relating to the people of southern Ireland to create an economy that works for all the people.

By all means change articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution in the framework document, and I suspect that there is the will to do so, but, in recognition of that, we have to deal with the remaining parts of the Government of Ireland Act 1920. I have said on many occasions that it is a little odd that Britain says in one of our Acts of Parliament that Northern Ireland will stay in the United Kingdom for as long as it likes, because, of course, it is really a statement of insecurity. It allows the United Kingdom to say, "You can stay if you like, but we would not put it into Acts of Parliament relating to England, Scotland or Wales because they do not feel insecure."

Mr. Trimble

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Soley

I shall give way in a second.

There has to be new legislation and I hope that, in the process of making it, we can make it clear that we accept that the border cannot be changed without consent, but that we in Britain, as in the British-Irish agreement and the Downing street declaration, are prepared to look at change.

Mr. Trimble

I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman, but I found his comments rather confusing. He said that there had to be changes to the Government of Ireland Act 1920, but he then quoted the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973. I agree with him that the 1973 Act does nothing to strengthen the Union, but does he agree that section 75 of the 1920 Act is of no importance whatsoever?

Mr. Soley

I am inclined to agree with that, although not everyone would. That is why I said that it needs to go. I do not believe that there is a difference. I was simply saying that some people perceive it to be stronger than I believe it is. The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) was right to say that it is not that important. However, it is important to say that it can go. I hope that I have made myself clear.

I understand that cross-border institutions should not be given Irish executive power. However, it is critical that we ensure that they can work if, for whatever reason, they are not being made to work in Northern Ireland. In that sense, the British still need to recognise that we have a role as a direct-rule power. That is important.

I was going to intervene on the Secretary of State about my next point, but I will make it now. I understand that the strand 1 talks are extremely important. I can see that the framework document is even more important. I hope that I am making this point unnecessarily, but I hope that the Government are aware that those two things must work in tandem and that they must in no way be in conflict.

I have kept my comments as short as I can. For many years, I have spoken on a matter that has troubled me deeply, not just because of the violence, death and horror—which we saw primarily on the streets of Northern Ireland but also in southern Ireland and Britain—but because I have watched our great democracy eroding many of our greatest civil liberties and being found guilty before the European Court of Human Rights in respect of issues that often arose from Northern Ireland on more occasions than any other country in Europe and when we were the country that drafted that very code of human rights.

It is deeply sad that such a great democracy as ours should allow itself to slip back because of the crisis in Northern Ireland. We now have a chance to begin to undo that and I fully commend the Government for their achievements so far. I simply ask them to go that bit further and, above all, to begin to restore our democracy to what it used to be.

5.21 pm
Sir James Kilfedder (North Down)

I agree with the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) that a statue should be erected to the British taxpayer. The only trouble is that the IRA would vandalise it or, despite the peace process, blow it up. The IRA has nothing but contempt for the connection with Britain.

Tribute should be paid to the British people because, despite 25 years of terrorism which was also brought to this mainland, the British people have stood firm, shoulder to shoulder, with the decent people of Northern Ireland in the fight against terrorism. That point should be placed on the record.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam) on her appointment as shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Her appointment is well deserved and she has my good wishes. I pay tribute also to the Prime Minister who, on taking office as Prime Minister, dedicated himself to ending terrorism in Northern Ireland. He deserves the plaudits of the people of this country for being a man of vision and honour. It is regrettable that the press devotes so much time to other matters and not to the serious matter of the peace process in Northern Ireland.

When the Prime Minister announced the Downing street declaration 10 months ago, some people did not believe that it would lead to peace. That declaration, agreed by both the British and Irish Governments, has established that the will of the majority in Northern Ireland will prevail and that if the people of Northern Ireland wish to remain within the United Kingdom, that wish will be respected by the people of this country and by the Government of the Irish Republic.

However, it is important to emphasise that the majority to which I have referred comprises both Catholics and Protestants. It is not simply a Protestant majority. That idea is sometimes put abroad mischievously. Roman Catholics as well as Protestants voted in the last referendum to maintain the British connection. That was the only way in which the number of votes could be accounted for.

That majority in Northern Ireland wishes Ulster to remain fully within the United Kingdom. It is equally important to stress that it is the wish of most Unionists to develop harmonious relations in our Province with all the people of Northern Ireland and their elected representatives, working together to improve the quality of life for all in the Province without regard to religion or politics.

About a year ago, I criticised the frequent use of the expression "two communities in Northern Ireland" because, in my opinion, there is only one community even though, over the past years, there has been an unhappy division, mainly as a result of the terrorists who wish always to divide the people and sometimes as a result of politicians who always believe that, by dividing the people, they can ensure their position in the political life of the country.

If peace prevails—and I pray that it does—I have a vision of an Ulster at peace with itself. That will take a long time, as some hon. Members have said, and I hope that people will not be disappointed at the slowness. However, we must build up confidence, not only within Northern Ireland, but between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

I believe that the people of Northern Ireland wish to have nothing but the very best relations with people in the Irish Republic. That is perhaps not always understood in Dublin, but I believe that it is absolutely true. Indeed, if someone were to give me a ticket for the Dublin train, despite the sleaze factor which is abroad at the moment, I would be happy to go to Dublin and see any Dublin Minister. That does not weaken my position as a Unionist because I believe that the way forward is for everyone to work together on an informal basis.

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)

In view of the hon. Gentleman's willingness to take the train to Dublin, will he accept the very generous invitation that he has already received to participate with the rest of us in arguing the debate on peace and reconciliation by attending the forum opening in Dublin tomorrow morning?

Sir James Kilfedder

I said that I would take a trip to Dublin and of course I would return again. However, I have no wish to attend the forum to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I am prepared to engage in any talks with constitutional politicians and anyone who repudiates violence. When those talks begin in Northern Ireland, I am prepared to participate in them. I will not join what is largely a republican organisation in Dublin, although I wish it well and I hope that it fully understands the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland. When the real talks begin—

Mr. Mallon

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir James Kilfedder

No, I promised to take only 10 minutes. I doubt whether the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) is offering me anything other than an invitation to attend tomorrow's meeting.

The fight against terrorism over the past 25 years required great courage, restraint and dedication on the part of the Ulster people and on the part of the security forces. I join the tribute which was paid by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—I admired the way in which he paid it—to the security forces and the police in Northern Ireland. I echo his words when he said that he had admiration for their service and he thanked them for what they had done over the past 25 years.

That was a terrible battle against terrorism in respect of which most people in Northern Ireland were totally impotent. As civilians, they could do nothing but watch what happened as a result of terrorism on their television screens or, worse still, endure it if they were there when a bomb went off or a bullet killed an innocent person.

With peace, we must fight with the same determination for the peace to prevail. We need to nurture the peace process. I have doubts about it. Like the Prime Minister, I am wary and cautious about it, but I am not going to condemn it because of those reservations: I wish to nurture it and I believe that most people in Northern Ireland would wish to see the peace process go ahead and succeed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) said that Sinn Fein had definitely and permanently ended the violence. I was appalled to hear on BBC radio this morning a statement by the chairman of Sinn Fein to the effect that the present ceasefire is only temporary—I think that he used the word "pause"—and that there will not be permanent peace until the IRA-Sinn Fein have all their demands met. That is not the language of peace. That is not an indication of permanent peace. It is blackmail, telling the people of Northern Ireland, the House of Commons and the Government that they must submit to the demands of the IRA or they will return to the gun and the bomb.

Sadly, after 25 years, the IRA realised that it was getting nowhere with terrorism and that it was being defeated by the restraint, courage and determination of the Ulster and British people. The IRA has nothing but contempt for fundamental democratic rights. Having failed in its horrendous campaign of terrorism, it now hopes, in peace, to obtain what it failed to get with the gun. It is vital that the IRA hands over all its Semtex, detonators, arms and ammunition, which was largely provided by Colonel Gaddafi. While such weapons of destruction remain in the hands of the IRA and loyalist paramilitaries—I include them as well—there is little prospect of meaningful discussion and little prospect of permanent peace in Northern Ireland.

It would be possible to devote an entire speech at great length and involving many hours to the negative aspects of the present situation—that is, the threats, to which I have already referred, and the present recruitment of youngsters by the IRA. I do not understand why, if peace has come, it is still recruiting people. I refer also to the work of IRA punishment squads, shooting youngsters in the knees, and so on. We must adopt a positive approach. We must all do our best to nurture the peace process and build bridges.

The way forward is to have a devolved assembly at Stormont. It would provide an arena in which all political parties would be represented. They would be able not only to speak in the Chamber of the Stormont Parliament but to meet in the dining room, smoking room, bars, and so on and get to know each other. Half the trouble in Northern Ireland is that politicians do not meet frequently. A political arena would help to bring about the harmony that we so desperately need in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir James Kilfedder

No, I must finish.

An arena would certainly create the political stability that we need. Stability is certainly required in Northern Ireland, because we need more jobs and we need to deal with the unemployment problem. That is the way forward. I thank the Prime Minister for embarking on the peace process, and I wish him and the Government well.

5.32 pm
Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

The hon. Member for North Down (Sir J. Kilfedder) is a distinguished former Speaker of the previous assembly in Northern Ireland. I share his hope that, once again, there will be decentralised devolved government in Northern Ireland, so that Northern Irish people together will be able to take decisions there which far too often we have dealt with in this place in a casual way, in one-and-a-half-hour debates and unamendable orders which have prevented the normal business of politics from taking place. By putting Northern Ireland business in such a straitjacket, we have impeded the process that we all want to encourage.

I join others who have expressed their unqualified admiration and support for the Prime Minister, the Taoiseach, the Tanaiste, the Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), for the way in which they have combined to try to bring about the peace process. I also welcome the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam) to her Front-Bench position. I join those who have also paid tribute to her predecessor, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), for the distinguished role that he has always played in our Northern Ireland debates.

I particularly congratulate the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister on daring to think the unthinkable. For too many years we have been caught up in the idea that it is impossible to make progress. Coming from a city such as Liverpool—I have the honour to represent a constituency that was once, in part, in the south-west Lancashire division, which Mr. Gladstone once represented—I can be forgiven for recognising the problems of sectarianism in an especially acute way.

A century ago, Gladstone commented that the problem in Ireland was that, when one thought that one had an answer to a question, the Irish would change the question. The Secretary of State must feel sometimes that the goalposts have kept moving during his time in that position. If we could have our time again and could go back to the second Home Rule Bill which Mr. Gladstone piloted through the House but which was rejected in the other place, hon. Members might reflect that many of the tragedies and divisions in Northern Ireland since that time could have been avoided.

The future is what calls us today. On a personal note, with a mother from the west of Ireland who once taught the former Speaker of the Dail his Irish as a boy, and with children who, I am proud to say, have Irish citizenship—as I have—as well as British citizenship, I recognise the importance of my pride in my Irish origins as well as my pride in my British origins. Only when we recognise the enormous contribution and worth of both traditions—the hon. Member for North Down said that there is one community, but there are two traditions—will we see real progress.

I do not think that any united Ireland or United Kingdom solution exists. We must have shared goals, shared power and shared responsibilities. Throughout these islands there is a need for plural systems of democratic, effective and accountable government based on modern concepts of citizenship and the rule of law. That raises fundamental issues for us all. In Ireland, it raises fundamental questions about articles 2, 3 and 4 of the Irish constitution. Hon. Members will accept that, since the 1972 referendum, the previously privileged position of the Roman Catholic Church has been removed. Nevertheless, there are many issues which disturb people in the north about the way in which the Irish constitution still lays claim to the territory of Northern Ireland. Such matters will have to be addressed honestly in due course.

There are many shared ideals north and south of the border, particularly the strength of family life north and south of the border, authentic human values, and the sanctity of human life, which is held in such great regard both north and south of the border. As sectarianism becomes less important, there will be many shared goals, particularly as many committed people north and south of the border see the need to turn the tide of secularism which would otherwise engulf the people of the whole of the island of Ireland.

In Britain, we also need an understanding of the rights of the people of the north who are nationalists and who rejoice in their Irishness, every bit as much as of the rights of unionists who have pride in their Britishness. We must end the way in which we have treated Northern Ireland issues in this place and move as quickly as we can to a devolved and decentralised system of government.

There are also issues that must be addressed by the paramilitaries. Two weeks ago, when I was last in Northern Ireland, I visited the university of Ulster at Coleraine and spoke to young people from both traditions. They showed extraordinary enthusiasm and optimism about the future, but they were also hard-headed and realistic about the problems which must be overcome. After that, I met representatives of FAIT—Families Against Intimidation and Terror—in Belfast.

I intervened on the Secretary of State to point out the continuing problems of operations which are conducted without fear or favour against vulnerable people, some of whom have been driven out of Northern Ireland. We hear much about freedom of movement within the United Kingdom or in the United States of America, but let there be freedom of movement as well for families who have been exiled from Northern Ireland and required to live in the United Kingdom on pain of death if they should return to Northern Ireland.

I want to hear more from the leaders of Sinn Fein and the IRA about what has happened to those families. I want to hear more about such cases as the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Dr. Hendron) has recently raised. Despite the ceasefire, there have been continued assaults on people who might have committed minor offences in Northern Ireland, but the IRA has set itself up as a quasi-judicial authority. The Belfast Telegraph of 20 September states: This youth had known for weeks that the IRA was pursuing him. Then one night last week, he was hiding in a friend's house in the Whiterock area, when six men raided the house and took him out. They laid him down on the ground and broke his wrists and fingers with a metal bar. They beat him about the legs with a hurley stick with a nail through it and punctured the flesh by his shin bone. He had a black eye.

Ms Short

Obviously, we are revolted by such events. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is a real challenge to us here? There are areas of Northern Ireland where the police's writ has not run and the IRA has taken on the policing role at the request of the community.

Mr. Mallon

Not in Crossmaglen.

Ms Short

I regret to say that it is true in Crossmaglen. Hon. Members will not allow the truth to be spoken in the House because they are so partial.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short) is intervening on the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) and should not respond to sedentary comments.

Ms Short

I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but there was a lot of noise which was preventing me from making my point, and I was responding to that. Surely, the challenge to us—this is the point that I want to put to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton)—is to improve the policing in Northern Ireland to win the trust of those communities. Of course, we must denounce all these evil actions, but that is the real challenge to the United Kingdom Government, in co-operation with the Irish Government.

Mr. Alton

The hon. Lady makes a good point which I shall mention in a moment. I was about to say—

Mr. Mallon

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Alton

I shall give way in a moment. Articles which have appeared in the press, and the human rights updates regularly produced by FAIT, demonstrate that these cases of intimidation continue daily. Once again, I quote from the Belfast Telegraph: Since the IRA ceasefire, Provo punishment squads have been beating their victims with iron bars, hammers and baseball bats instead of kneecapping them. Recently, the hon. Member for Belfast, West raised the case of a 16-year-old who was viciously assaulted with a crowbar; I know that the hon. Gentleman has raised that issue with the RUC.

Such cases are not confined only to one side of the community. Clearly, many of the loyalist paramilitary organisations have become heavily involved in drugs, which is an increasing problem in many ordinary families in the north of Ireland. We also have such problems in our urban areas in Liverpool and drugs can be one of the most powerful pressures for crime. The racketeering, profiteering and Mafia-style activities which have been part and parcel of terrorism must not be regarded as a side issue; they must be central to the future that we are trying to create in Northern Ireland. Military violence may have ended, but violence per se has certainly not ended.

Mr. Mallon

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. As the Member of Parliament who represents the area of Crossmaglen, I wish to make it clear that the people of Crossmaglen have not asked the IRA or anyone else to police on their behalf. The people of Crossmaglen and south Armagh have no time whatever for the type of thuggery involved in the incident identified by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton). My own research assistant was subjected to such a beating by thugs in the IRA. Everyone should understand that no one in south Armagh asked the IRA to do that. Did the IRA do it in the name of anyone in south Armagh?

Mr. Alton

The hon. Gentleman has made a powerful and eloquent intervention. He makes the point effectively that no one wants to see a quasi-judicial organisation established with a de facto policing power under the aegis of the IRA. That is not the way forward.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short) said—the House must recognise that this is a problem—that the nationalist community, the Catholic community, was alienated from the Royal Ulster Constabulary. For good reasons, many Catholics and nationalists have felt unable to join the RUC because of the consequences that would follow if they did.

That must change, and that will require us to reform both the policing and judicial arrangements in Northern Ireland. I hope that we shall not do that by a series of knee-jerk reactions or piecemeal reforms with emergency powers, prevention of terrorism orders, or whatever. I hope that these matters will be legitimate questions for the talks process, and that we shall examine all the questions together and try to provide an ordered way of moving forward. That is surely what the people of the north want. They want the same freedom of movement that we enjoy in the rest of the United Kingdom. People should not be forced to become exiles in their own land.

It would be a move of extraordinary importance if Gerry Adams were to say—never mind the persiflage of whether he speaks for the IRA and/or Sinn Fein—that he has no intention of resuming violence, whatever gains or defeats he has in the talks process. That would go a long way to reassuring the cynics and pessimists who wonder precisely where the future is leading. It is not good enough to come out with ambiguities and obfuscation about whether violence will be resumed, depending on what happens in the talks. That is holding a gun to people's heads and it will not do.

The Government have shown courage, vision and determination. They are entitled to the support of the whole House, and on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends I can say that they will continue to receive it.

5.44 pm
Mr. Nicholas Scott (Chelsea)

First, I apologise to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for not being present for the whole of his speech. In the same breath, I congratulate the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam) and welcome her to her responsibilities on the Opposition Front Bench. She takes on those responsibilities at a challenging and important time and I am sure that we all wish her well.

It was 13 years ago when I arrived in Belfast as a Minister. I arrived when the hunger strike was still in progress, a number of hunger strikers had died, the streets of Belfast were littered with debris, the Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary were under tremendous pressure and one almost despaired at the prospect of movement towards peace in Northern Ireland.

We seemed to be in a stand-off position, yet patient negotiation behind the scenes and understanding of the feelings on both sides managed to bring the hunger strike to an end. Patient, understanding work—much of it behind the scenes—led to the situation where we have a ceasefire in Northern Ireland. I have the highest hope that its permanence will soon be recognised.

Those of us who follow the cartoonist Matt in his light-hearted interpretations of current events will remember the cartoon of the two ladies waiting at a bus stop in Belfast with one expostulating to the other, "Typical. We wait 25 years for a ceasefire and now we get two coming along at the same time." We have two ceasefires and I hope that they will last.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on his vision and courage to go down a route where there was no success guaranteed at the end. He would have been severely criticised by a variety of quarters if the whole thing had failed. However, the Prime Minister, in co-operation with the Taoiseach, the Tanaiste and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, has brought about a remarkable success. I know that hard-working people in the Northern Ireland Office and elsewhere have played their part, and they also deserve our gratitude. We can celebrate—hopefully, not prematurely—the progress that has been made so far. We all recognise that there will be pitfalls ahead, but I remain an optimist, not least because of some of my experiences when I was a Minister in Northern Ireland.

After all, it was the Prime Minister's predecessor who signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The workings of that agreement, which was not welcomed whole-heartedly in all quarters of the community in Northern Ireland, proved that it was possible for those holding ministerial offices in London and Dublin to work against a background of constructive understanding between the two Governments, to develop habits of mutual co-operation without the surrender of sovereignty on either part in the discussions that took place. As each Government began better to understand the position of the other, they made adjustments in their policies and approaches to the issues that confronted us in Northern Ireland.

There was no question of executive power being transferred or sovereignty eroded, but there was a steady development of mutual understanding, which has been immensely beneficial and which may well have laid the foundations for what has been achieved in the latest accord between London and Dublin. If there are new bodies to be formed under the terms of the latest arrangement, I think that they can learn a great deal from the work that followed the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

We stand on the threshold, as it were, of historic steps affecting the future of the island of Ireland. At such a time, we should look back and pay tribute to the security forces which have borne such an immense burden over the years of the emergency. I was privileged to be security Minister in Northern Ireland for a number of years, and I recognised the pressures that those forces were under: I was in no doubt that terrorist organisations, especially the Provisional IRA, set out to do their best to provoke the British Government and the security forces to react—to over-react, it could be said—to the terrorism with which they were being presented.

I recognise, of course, that over the past 25 years mistakes have been made in security policy, but I find it difficult to imagine another Government in a liberal democracy who would have reacted more calmly and steadfastly in the face of such provocation. As I said, undoubtedly mistakes were made, but overwhelmingly we preserved the values of a liberal democracy in the face of immense provocation from the terrorists.

Let us translate the statistics for those 25 years of violence in Northern Ireland into a Great Britain equivalent. That would mean our having incurred about 1 million casualties and nearly 100,000 deaths—figures that put into perspective what the people of Northern Ireland have suffered. To their immense credit, they have endured it; they deserve our understanding and our continued support as the peace process develops.

A number of problems must be confronted if that peace process is to continue. My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) mentioned weapons: I think that they will pose a very difficult problem. If I were a member of either side of the Northern Ireland community, perhaps on the fringes of the paramilitary organisations, I should be very reluctant to hand over weapons that many people—perhaps doubting the good will of the other side—may regard as personal protection. I believe that the heavier weaponry, the Semtex and detonators, should be first on the agenda. I hope that an arrangement can be made with the paramilitary organisations to ensure that that happens.

There is another problem, in which I took particular interest when I was in the Northern Ireland Office: the prisoners—men and women, many of them young—who have been caught up in terrorist activities over the years, and are now serving very long sentences, life sentences in some cases. The life sentence review board could help us to resolve that problem. The board assesses when it would be possible to release those sentenced to life imprisonment in Northern Ireland.

I recall that one of the major factors in the decision was the risk that released prisoners would reoffend. Given recent events and the constructive atmosphere that seems to be developing in Northern Ireland, I hope that the Ministers will examine the workings of the board and consider how it might play a more proactive role in considering which prisoners could be released into the community. I am certain that, during my time in the Northern Ireland Office, the board's activities had a profound effect in the Northern Ireland communities: it was possible to release a number of people into the community, and I hope that we can build on that achievement now. I was particularly pleased to note that Mr. Gusty Spence—a loyalist former prisoner; I was able to use my influence to secure his release—had played an important part in bringing about the loyalist ceasefire.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

Does my right hon. Friend understand that some Conservative Members see no distinction between someone blowing up a three-year-old in the name of a united Ireland, and someone blowing up a three-year-old just because he is plain evil? They would find it impossible to follow the route that my right hon. Friend suggests.

Mr. Scott

My experience was that examining the background of offenders who had probably been sentenced by the courts in Northern Ireland, the possibility of their reoffending if they were released and the part that they could play in persuading others to turn away from the path of violence was a constructive contribution to the process of bringing about a change of mind and heart in the paramilitary organisations. Again, I mention Mr. Augustus Spence in particular.

Let me say a word about the economy. Over the past 25 years, we have spent a vast amount on security in Northern Ireland. I hope that, if peace endures, the extra resources spent in recent years will not suddenly be clawed back by the Treasury and denied to Northern Ireland Ministers; I believe that at least some of them should be deployed in trying to ensure that both Northern Ireland communities have job opportunities in the future. We have seen some remarkable economic successes in Northern Ireland, and the peace dividend—as it is sometimes called—should be reflected in more job opportunities throughout the Province.

Of course, we still face—in the words of the Tanaiste—a great conundrum in bringing about a final arrangement in Northern Ireland. The competing claims of nationalists and Unionists still strike many as incompatible; the Governments of both the Republic and the United Kingdom bear a heavy responsibility in taking the process forward. I hope that they will not be persuaded to rush fences—that they will be patient, take small steps in the right direction and not allow themselves to be panicked into sudden action that may leave them face downwards in the mud. Patience, I believe, is the key to a final solution to the problems that we are trying to solve.

I believe that the nationalist community in the north of Ireland should take some satisfaction from the progress that has been made since the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and the recognition of the legitimacy of the nationalist aspiration. We in this country, however, must understand the depth of feeling in the Unionist community. John Hewitt—who could, I suppose, be called the poet of unionism—once said: This is my country, nowhere else. I shall not be outcast on the world. Those who seek a solution, within the island of Ireland, to the problems of Northern Ireland must bear in mind the depth of passion among Unionists about their identity. It is essential that whatever solution we find can accommodate both traditions; otherwise, we shall write ourselves a recipe for a return to violence and disaster.

The future of Northern Ireland should provide no role for facile slogans such as "No surrender" or, indeed, "Ourselves alone". We must find ways in which the two communities can work together and build confidence. That will not happen overnight; it will take years, if not decades. But we need to maintain the momentum, keep our nerve and keep our vision of peace. We owe it to the people of Northern Ireland, as well as to the people of Britain and the Republic of Ireland.

5.59 pm
Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) served as the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman on Northern Ireland for several years, and while I must confess that as far as the Ulster Unionist party is concerned, we never really reached a shared understanding, we can say that the hon. Gentleman put his opinions with clarity and force.

One of the reasons for the hon. Gentleman's departure is the fact that the present leadership of the Labour party has decided to upgrade the Northern Ireland post to shadow Cabinet level, so we have a double reason for congratulating the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam). The hon. Lady is the first woman in that post, and she will no doubt make clear the Labour party's views on Northern Ireland as they develop in the coming years. We offer her our sincere congratulations.

We are also looking forward to the further clearing-up of the problems that some of us have in trying to define defensive weapons in the hands of terrorist assassins and fellow travellers. The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) raised that matter, and some of us found a measure of difficulty with it.

I have had the same measure of difficulty since 31 August with the degree of euphoria that clouds the judgment of so many in Northern Ireland, and indeed further afield, in regard to the present ceasefire, cessation of violence or truce—whatever one cares to call it.

The Government have been refreshingly wise in the way in which they have dealt with the evolving situation in Northern Ireland. I can use that, description, because this Administration have come to understand that they do not need any selfish, strategic or economic reasons to stay in Northern Ireland, because the people who live there have a vast array of good reasons to remain within the United Kingdom and not a single good reason to leave it. Thus, Ulster's constitutional position depends upon the will of its inhabitants, so it will stay within the United Kingdom.

However, I must say to the House—and particularly to the Government—that the unity of the kingdom is best secured when the central authority also has the wit to understand that it has a role to play beyond a benign neutrality while leaving others to defend the integrity of the Union and the realm. In the long run, of course, the people of Northern Ireland need to know that their constitutional position is secure. The Secretary of State's rejection of the comments made by Martin McGuinness at the weekend as arrant nonsense was both necessary and clear.

More needs to be done, for that exchange highlighted the need to convince people by taking action to restore local accountability. The Prime Minister's carefully constructed speech in Belfast last Friday deserves the most detailed analysis by all who are trying to move Northern Ireland towards real peace and stability, and that careful consideration will take into account all that he and his Government colleagues are saying and have said in the past few months.

The Prime Minister must not be under any illusions as to the complexity of the situation, and clearly he is not. Great dangers are still present as we proceed down the difficult road to stable institutions of government in the Province. In the light of that, he does well to exercise due caution and to say that the Government will judge the situation by the deeds of terrorist organisations, as much as by their words.

In his speech, the Prime Minister said that he now had sufficient evidence of the IRA's intentions for him to proceed on the "workable assumption"—as he called it—that violence by the IRA had come to an end. The noble Lady Baroness Denton of Wakefield, who speaks for the Government in another place, said last week that the time lapse before accepting that violence had ended was to enable commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic methods to be demonstrated."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 17 October 1994; Vol. 558, c. 80.] A young man who is in the process of having his bones smashed with an iron bar might not fully share the Government's opinion that the IRA has given up violence. It may well be that such unfortunates will be comforted by the fact that the IRA has construed the term "complete cessation of violence" in a very narrow sense. The IRA has always intended the term to mean only that it has stopped murdering people and exploding bombs. For all its other items of activity, it is simply business as usual—a slogan that we have become well used to in Northern Ireland during the past 25 years.

The IRA is therefore behaving in accordance with the strict letter of the words, and the spirit of good will and common decency that some wrongly detected in the ceasefire statement is simply non-existent. The fact that it has hitherto ensured its continuing dominance of the sections of the community of which it is an integral component—combined with its storage of weapons and explosives, fund raising and all the activities that are needed to sustain, direct and execute a terrorist campaign—is not evidence that it is really dismantling its murderous machine. Rather, it is simply being semi-mothballed for the moment. The rotation from the IRA's version of peace to a full-blown terrorist campaign would take a very short period, should it decide to change.

The present limited peace is self-evidently fragile, and the action taken by the Garda last Saturday is convincing evidence of the danger that still surrounds us. From what was said in regard to that episode, it would appear that dissident elements within the IRA were planning to take over the organisation and its weaponry. We must also assume that any such takeover would not have been bloodless and that there might have been deadly consequences for the leading peacemakers. The Garda's efforts to protect them are therefore welcome, and show the high quality of intelligence that is now available to that force. Had such information been available and similar action taken in the past, many who became the victims of murder and other crimes would be alive and well today.

The IRA has spent 25 years trying to overthrow the will of the people of Northern Ireland, and even it found eventually that violence would not shift them from their fixed desire to remain within the United Kingdom. It has made no secret of the reasons for its new behaviour—it is to get a united Ireland by other means. It has now spent some eight weeks trying to get its new policy off the ground.

The question now is whether the IRA will persist in the democratic debate and persuasion, or whether it will revert to type. I must say that many of us believe that the latter is the more likely course that it will follow in the coming days, weeks and months. It would be extremely foolish to diminish the capacity of the Army and the RUC, in case they are needed rapidly to restore the defences that have been swept away in recent days.

The opening of border roads and the removal of soldiers from the streets give welcome evidence of a slow return to normality, but so long as the possibility and the threat remain that violence will resume, the capacity to restore defences has to be kept intact. I hope that the soldiers will stay—if not on the streets—in barracks in Northern Ireland where they can be instantly available in large numbers.

One thing of which we can be sure: Irish republicans of whatever shade of green will always find some new product from their factory of grievances about which to complain. We had much experience of that 25 years ago. I hope that the House, and especially the Government, have learnt that no matter what concessions Irish nationalists—again of every shade of green—have been given down the years, they have been received with ill grace, and nothing has ever come back in return.

On the issue of law and order, on which we had hoped to find co-operation—and where every right-minded person would want co-operation—we find that the Social Democratic and Labour party has still not taken up a place on the Police Authority, even to the point where it recently expelled Councillor Rocks of Cookstown because, as a very brave citizen, he dared to play his part on that body.

It is clear to many people in Northern Ireland that that sad rejection of responsibility does the SDLP no good in the eyes of reasonable people, and drives many people in Ulster to ask how it can ever play a responsible part in the Province, a view that we share when it simply refuses to do what it can to make the police service acceptable to those whom it represents. We had some striking evidence of the need for a police service, even in the most republican areas of Northern Ireland, in the early exchanges on Opposition Benches today.

The SDLP should have the confidence to stand on its own feet and take the lead, and it should not be tagging along with those who want to dismantle the RUC and replace it with something else, which, in the end, would be acceptable to no one. Such a betrayal of that force would not be acceptable either to my party or to the House.

The Prime Minister's speech last week set out a most ambitious agenda, much of which can be put in train regardless of what the IRA does in the coming weeks and months. He set out a considerable programme on the economy, which we warmly support. Four members of the Ulster Unionist party, including myself, were in Washington in September. We found much talk in several quarters about how to help to provide American investment for jobs. It was suggested that there should be a meeting of business leaders to see what could be done.

It is notable and welcome that the Prime Minister went much further. He said that he wanted to draw together possible investment from the whole globe. We already have quite a lot of successful investment from many of the areas mentioned in his speeches. The Prime Minister will also know that the Ulster Unionist party estimates a loss of 25,000 to 30,000 jobs in security-related work in conditions of permanent peace. Such a drop in employment would be devastating to many places that currently supply the persons employed in that work. For that reason, my party has already called for resources to be deployed to ensure that unemployment levels equal to those in the worst black spots do not become the norm in many areas of Northern Ireland.

We especially welcome the Prime Minister's statement that European Community money will be in addition to the Government's expenditure plans over the next few years. In the past, such sums have always been subsumed in United Kingdom Government spending plans. I am glad that the Prime Minister, as First Lord of the Treasury, has persuaded that institution to be a little more like Scrooge at the end of "A Christmas Carol" rather than the individual whom we meet in its earliest passages.

The fact that the Prime Minister also intends to consult at council level to hear local opinion on what is needed to rejuvenate and regenerate those council areas is very welcome. For the first time, local voices will be heard where it really matters. We have every confidence that the varying needs of the different council areas will be made clear to the Government by the leaders and chief executives of each council.

The Prime Minister has made it evident that he intends to move ahead on a wide front to reinforce the demand for a peaceful Ulster and, as far as possible, to make it impossible for anyone to return to violence. He is well aware of the great responsibility that he carries as he works patiently to construct a system of governance in Northern Ireland that will command the respect of all well-intentioned people. We all know that universal acceptance is a bit like the holy grail—long sought, but never found. Frankly, it will never be found. Nevertheless, methods of administration and representation acceptable to the great preponderance of the population in that part of the country can be created. The acquiescence of more will be certain and only the tiny number who are totally blinded to reality by their detestation of all things pertaining to Britain will oppose those methods.

The Prime Minister is to be congratulated on his cautious advances so far. We wish him well in future and we hope that his efforts and those of many others involved will eventually be crowned with success.

6.12 pm
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)

I join right hon. and hon. Members in welcoming the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam) to the Opposition Front Bench. I assure her that my colleagues and I will be happy to meet her at any time to express our views not only on the general constitutional position, but on social and economic matters where there may be more of a meeting of minds.

In saying that, I also acknowledge the deep interest that the hon. Lady's predecessor, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), showed in his post. Undoubtedly, there has not been much common cause on constitutional matters between the hon. Gentleman and my colleagues and myself, but we recognise that he was sincere in his interest in Northern Ireland—indeed, so much so that, when I came to the House in the 1970s, he regularly expressed his views, different though they may have been from mine, although he did not have a Front-Bench post.

I welcome the opportunity that this debate provides. Like the Secretary of State, I believe that it is high time that we had a debate to consider many of the recent developments in the Province. I recognise that I may well be swimming against a popular tide in the House, although I share many of the hopes and desires expressed for Northern Ireland by other hon. Members. It will not be a surprise to the House to learn that I do not have the expectations that other hon. Members have expressed about the prospects for this process. I certainly have greater fears and concerns than those expressed by others.

I believe that the Provisional IRA has punctuated its activities with what appears to be more a comma than a full stop. However, over the past weeks, the weary and hard-pressed people of Northern Ireland have been enjoying a taste of life without the thud of the bomb and the crack of gunfire.

Much has been said about Northern Ireland and its prospects for peace. Newspaper editors, some politicians, some Churchmen and some people who should know better have been using expressions such as, "Peace is the most precious pearl. Nothing is more important than peace." I expect that many hon. Members share my belief that that statement is not valid. Although peace is undoubtedly a precious gem, to be sought after and cherished, there is a more precious gem than peace. That gem is, of course, freedom, and the protection of the rights and liberties of the people of Northern Ireland.

We would not want peace if it was a peace of slavery or a peace of surrender. Who better than this nation to say that, if peace had been the most precious gem, if peace had been the ultimate objective and if peace had been the most important factor, this nation would have stood aside to Hitler, it would have offered no resistance to Galtieri, and it would have bowed before Saddam Hussein. Indeed, it would have surrendered to the Provisional IRA several decades ago. Peace, therefore, is a priority, but it is not the main priority. The main priority must be the protection of the rights and liberties of the people of Northern Ireland.

When the Prime Minister came to Northern Ireland a few days ago—I welcome his regular visits—he said: Seven weeks after the IRA ceasefire, seven days after the Loyalist paramilitaries' ceasefire, Northern Ireland is at peace. Those words have been uttered many times before and since his visit, so I must address the question whether Northern Ireland is at peace. Many commentators who have used those terms have not entered certain caveats as carefully as the Prime Minister did in his speech.

For me, peace signifies more than the silencing of guns, more than the stilling of bombs, and more than the easing of the sorrows of war. Peace must be a permanent, enduring and lasting end to violence. It means stability in terms of our political structures. It means that the causes of the conflict have been addressed. What we have is not peace; it is at best a peace process. By definition, if a peace process is real, it may achieve peace at the end, but it is not peace at the beginning.

I shall now look at the prospects for the present process, based on the recognition that the cardinal principle to be observed is the protection of the rights and liberties of the people of Northern Ireland and the acknowledgement that it is yet to be determined whether this process can achieve peace.

As the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) said, we have two ceasefires. First, let us look at the stated reasons why those have been announced. On the part of the loyalist paramilitary organisations, the combined loyalist military command said that it called its ceasefire because "the Union is safe". The Provisional IRA said clearly, and has said since its statement, that its ceasefire has been called because it believes that the Union is to be dissolved. It hardly requires me to point out to the House that we therefore have ceasefires called by two of the paramilitary groups on a contradictory belief as to the outcome of the process.

Secondly, let us look at the nature of the ceasefires that have been announced. The loyalist paramilitary ceasefire is conditional and depends entirely on the Provisional IRA and republicans maintaining a ceasefire. The Provisional IRA ceasefire is clearly conditional on achieving its goals. So if the IRA does not have the concessions necessary to maintain its ceasefire, not only does its ceasefire end, but the loyalist ceasefire ends as well.

The Provisional IRA's announcement did not meet the criteria which the Prime Minister set out on a number of occasions for the basis on which he would engage the Provisional IRA in dialogue in exploratory talks. The Prime Minister had consistently declared that he needed to be satisfied that the ceasefire was permanent. I remind the House that, on 8 October 1993, the Prime Minister said: No Government which I lead will negotiate with those who perpetrate or support the use of violence. On 1 November 1993, in this House, he said that, if the implication of the remarks by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is that we should sit down and talk with Mr. Adams and the Provisional IRA, I can say only that that would turn my stomach and those of most hon. Members; we will not do it. If and when there is a total ending of violence, and if and when that ending of violence is established for a significant time, we shall talk to all the constitutional parties that have people elected in their names. I will not talk to people who murder indiscriminately."—[Official Report, 1 November 1993; Vol. 231, c. 35.] In the Downing street declaration, the Prime Minister made clear the position of his Government and that of the Irish Republic. Section 10 says that the involvement of Sinn Fein and, indeed, any other paramilitary organisation, in the democratic process and the exploratory talks depended on a permanent end to the use of or support for paramilitary violence.

On 31 August this year, the Prime Minister said: We need to be sure the cessation of violence is not temporary. And on 7 September, he said: I must be certain that this is not just a short-term ceasefire but a credible, long-term, permanent cessation of violence. So I am looking for the Prime Minister's reasons for determining that the ceasefire is not temporary but long-term, lasting and permanent. When the Provisional IRA called it several months ago, the IRA official newspaper, An Phoblach, described it as a suspension of the armed struggle. The hon. Member for North Down (Sir J. Kilfedder) said that the chairman of Sinn Fein used the same terms this morning on radio.

When speaking on the subject of the ceasefire, the well-known Sinn Fein spokesman, Mitchell McLoughlin, made it clear that, unless the British Government came up with the goods, the ceasefire was, to use his term, "doomed". It is also worth pointing out that he laid down a number of demands in that statement: that talks must begin with the Government and Sinn Fein—that condition is on its way to being met; that the electoral and democratic mandate of republicans must be recognised in every area—we saw that starting yesterday; that the broadcasting ban must be lifted—that has been met; that exclusion orders on Sinn Fein members must be lifted—that is already under way; and that the demilitarisation process must begin immediately—that is also under way. But his remarks clearly showed that, unless the Government made concessions, the ceasefire would not be permanent.

Speaking in Boston, the leader of Sinn Fein, Mr. Adams, said once more that, if the reasons for violence had not been addressed in two or three years' time, a new leadership would come along. Whatever one may think about the truth of that, it is clear that he does not think that this is a permanent cessation of violence.

Only last week, the former IRA leader and present Army Council member, Joe Cahill, told republicans in America that violence had not been renounced, and said that the position would be re-evaluated at Christmas. Depending on what concessions had been made by that date, he said that they would go on until Easter, at which time they would take a decision on whether to end their violence permanently.

All those remarks have been accompanied by a break-out at a prison, when the IRA attempted to shoot its way out. That hardly demonstrates a wish for a permanent ceasefire. Members of the IRA have consistently challenged the police and the Army on the streets of Northern Ireland, removing in the first instance cross-border blockages, and trying to pull down the security outside police stations. On the Falls road, Mr. Adams told his supporters that the conflict was not over, and that they would be called out on to the streets if the Government did not make the concessions that he required.

The punishment beatings continue. Exclusion orders on young Catholic men whom the IRA deems not suitable to remain in its areas are still in force. Mr. Adams and Mr. McGuinness have had their exclusion orders removed, but they still hold them on young Catholic men, who have been forced to leave Northern Ireland.

A report has appeared in a national newspaper that the Provisional IRA is keeping open its supply lines from America, and the flow of arms is continuing. Indeed, we had an unusual day when my colleague, the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), who is currently in the United States, said that he had information that a containerload or so of arms had entered the island. The FBI managed to put out three statements in the same day, two of which confirmed my hon. Friend's statement.

All those factors do not point to a permanence in the IRA's ceasefire—quite the opposite. Yet in spite of them, the Prime Minister made the statement he did. He sometimes wonders why some of us are so cautious about assurances that he gives us. I believe that that is a further lesson to Unionists not to depend on assurances for their political salvation.

A year or more ago, we were assured that there would be no contact with the Provisional IRA. There was. The Government then explained that it was not really contact: it was simply a channel of communication—but, to the people of Northern Ireland, it was a promise broken, or, at best, a promise diluted. We were then assured that there would be no clarification of the Downing street declaration for the Provisional IRA. There was–21 pages of it. The Government explained that it was not clarification; it was a commentary—but, to the people of Northern Ireland, it was another promise broken, or, at best, diluted.

As I said, the Prime Minister promised us that there would be no move to bring Sinn Fein-IRA into exploratory talks until it had permanently ended its violence—but again, there was. The Government now explain to us that, although it is not permanent, they will make a working assumption that it is intended to he permanent. There is a double dilution for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker: another promise bites the dust.

I therefore advise people who are holding on to promises from the Government to look carefully at the bottle of promises they have, because they will see clearly on the label the words, "to be diluted".

Mr. Barnes

Would the hon. Gentleman prefer that there had been no ceasefires in the first place, so that the logical inconsistencies would not have continued?

Mr. Robinson

That must be one of the most absurd views for anyone to take. I think that the hon. Gentleman is being deliberately obtuse—at least, I hope that he is being deliberately obtuse, and that it is not part of his nature.

How on earth could anyone assume that I am worried that promises are being broken because I would prefer violence to occur? I would prefer that the promises were kept. That is the obvious conclusion for anyone to draw from my remarks. What is the next promise that may be broken? Is it the promise—

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman is being quite fair to the Prime Minister. I am looking at the Prime Minister's statement, made on 16 September in Belfast. I think the hon. Gentleman stopped short of the part when the Prime Minister said: We shall therefore go on scrutinising both words and actions until—as we hope—we can sensibly make the assumption that the IRA truly intend to end violence for good. He had previously said: We need to know from their words and their actions that this is a firm and unequivocal decision. They are nearly there. I hope they will have the courage to remove ambiguities and make the … statement. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman is being fair. I think that the Prime Minister was recently expressing quite a well-established line of thought. We needed to be able to make a sensible assumption.

Mr. Robinson

I hope that I am not being unfair to the Prime Minister, but I would point out to the Secretary of State that the Prime Minister's undertaking was that he would not start the clock ticking until he was satisfied that the Provisional IRA ceasefire was permanent. The Secretary of State's words obviously showed that he is not convinced that the IRA ceasefire is permanent. Indeed, the opinion of the Prime Minister that events must be continuously monitored shows that the Prime Minister is not convinced that it is permanent. I did not set the criteria. I did not lay down the yardstick. The Prime Minister did. I am asking the Prime Minister merely that he should keep to his own guidelines.

If the Prime Minister continues to monitor events, I wonder whether he was monitoring BBC radio this morning. Did he hear the opinion of the chairman of Sinn Fein that the cessation of violence will not be permanent? Will the Prime Minister therefore say that, in view of his continuing monitoring of the situation, he will now change the opinion that he expressed when he was in Northern Ireland a few days ago?

The Prime Minister also gave a sign to the hon. Member for North Down last week, in answer to a question about the IRA's arms and explosives. I shall happily give way if someone wants to assure the House that I am drawing the wrong conclusion from this matter. The Prime Minister started to change the basis of his previous promise. His previous promise was that there would be no entry to the negotiating process for the Provisional IRA's representatives until all the guns, arms, ammunition and detonators had been handed over. However, in answer to the hon. Member for North Down, the Prime Minister last week said: Armaments—especially Semtex and detonators, perhaps more than guns—are a crucial issue that will have to be dealt with as we advance the process"—[Official Report, 18 October 1994; Vol. 248, c. 140.] Mr. Spring—who, until last week, had also been sure that guns had to be handed over before the IRA started the negotiating process—changed his opinion. He said: It would be unrealistic to expect the arms to be handed over right now, but I would hope that can be done in, due course. I don't see a completion of any negotiations taking place until arrangements are made for the handing over of arms by both sides. It seems to have moved from the start of the process to some time during the process, and I note the views of the hon. Gentleman, where he seems to say that, if the guns were not handed over at the beginning, at least there should be some understanding of at what point they should be handed over.

How could anyone sit down in negotiations with the Provisional IRA or anyone else if they are still holding on to their guns? I believe that the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) was right when he said that there should be no guns on the table, under the table or outside the door. That seems to make good common sense to me.

In case I was reading too much into the Prime Minister's remarks in his answer to the hon. Member for North Down, I note that the spokespersons—the spin doctors of the Northern Ireland Office—were at work at the weekend, and that they had been helping our newspapers to interpret those events. The Mail on Sunday says: Both governments are trying to get the IRA to hand over most of the non-defence weapons"— where did we hear that expression used today?—

such as explosives and mortar bombs". The Observer said: Handing in guns and explosives is not the British Government's priority". There you are, now. It went on to say: No one will want to create artificial hurdles to stop the process". A senior Northern Ireland Office source said: It's not the guns. The detonators and the bombs do most of the killing. I would question that, but that is the Northern Ireland Office senior spokesman's views on the matter. Therefore, there is some anxiety that yet a further promise may be watered down.

If the Government cannot be trusted to deliver on those promises, can they be trusted to deliver on the more important issue of the safety of the Union? The quickest glance at all those issues leads me to conclude that I should make a working assumption that the Union is not yet safe.

Mr. Winnick

I cannot understand the logic, for the life of me. If this country has fought terrorism for 25 years, and its international reputation has suffered—in some respects, wrongly, obviously, in our opinion—and if we have made it clear throughout those 25 years under successive Governments, Labour and Conservative, that we will not give in to terrorism, that we will not go against the majority wish in Northern Ireland, why on earth, under conditions of peace, would we abandon that pledge, which has been given by successive Governments and by all the political parties in the House of Commons? I do not understand the logic of what the hon. Gentleman says.

Mr. Robinson

I shall attempt to help the hon. Gentleman.

I do not need to suggest any malevolent intent on the part of those people who are watering down those principles. All I need to show is that they are reducing the standards that they themselves set. The important thing—[Interruption.] I am sorry; let me answer the hon. Gentleman. The important thing is the enthusiasm. Everyone can understand why people so long for peace, hope for peace, desire peace, that they are prepared to push any process forward.

But the criteria set down by the Government initially were set down in the cool light of day, when they recognised that certain standards had to be met along the route to any peace. The Government are reducing those standards as they go along. That may be due to their enthusiasm to achieve peace, but it is a high-risk strategy. If the people of Northern Ireland are made to believe that peace is on its way or that peace has already arrived, but that peace cannot be achieved, those people will be not only deflated, but without hope. I suspect that many hon. Members will know, without me having to say it, what can happen if people are let down in that way.

I want to make it clear that my colleagues and I will do nothing to present an obstacle to real, lasting peace in our Province. The people we represent have much to gain from unconditional and lasting peace, but, after the decades of vicious terror, nobody should be surprised that those who have endured that terror campaign should closely examine the bona fides of the terrorist organisations and the commitments they make.

I put it to the Prime Minister when I last met him—brief though that may have been—that the vital issue for the future of Northern Ireland, from the perspective of Unionists with fears and concerns, was that their rights must be protected through the principle of consent. The traditional guarantee, which has already been repeated in the House, which is enshrined in statute and which successive Prime Ministers have enunciated from the Dispatch Box, is that Northern Ireland will remain part of the United Kingdom for as long as the people of Northern Ireland wish. But the weakness of that guarantee was brought home to me most acutely in 1985, when the Anglo-Irish Agreement was published.

When the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed, it became evident to me that, whatever constitutional guarantees may have been on the statute book or enunciated by Prime Ministers and Secretaries of State, the agreement represented a significant change in the way that Northern Ireland was to be governed in future. That change went to the very core of Northern Ireland's constitutional position. Dublin was now inside the door, but the people of Northern Ireland had not been asked for their consent or been given the opportunity to give it.

I saw a weakness in the constitutional guarantee. It appeared that it was a guarantee only at the end, at the final act of severance—the legal handing over of Northern Ireland to the Irish Republic. It gave the people of Northern Ireland no power or control in any step leading up to that final act. The Downing street declaration also underlines the fact that the people of Northern Ireland do not have a right to give or withhold their consent. They were not asked to give their consent to that declaration and did not have an opportunity to give it.

It is clear that the traditional constitutional guarantee is a limited warranty. It does not apply to each and every step leading to a united Ireland, but only to the final step. There were even some people who looked at the joint declaration and thought that it enunciated and endorsed the principle of consent. They were soon blown out of the water by Albert Reynolds who, on 10 January in Dublin castle, made it clear to the Irish Association that it applied only to that one constitutional issue. He said: It does not mean that all forms of political progress or other decisions by the two Governments are subject to a similar block. We pressed the Prime Minister to give an undertaking that not only would any constitutional change affecting Northern Ireland be subject to the principle of consent, but any new means of governance for Northern Ireland, or any new institution or structure affecting Northern Ireland. I was heartened by the Prime Minister's statement in Northern Ireland on 16 September, when he said at a press conference at Stormont: So for the avoidance of any doubt I want to make clear today that the Government will submit the final outcome of the three-stranded process of talks to the electorate of Northern Ireland for approval by referendum. That is to say, we shall consult the people of the Province on the full package of proposals as a whole. The details of such a referendum will rightly be for discussion with the parties. Let me say to all the people of Northern Ireland the referendum means that it will be your choice whether to accept the outcome. However, the Prime Minister did not say what would happen were the outcome of the talks process to be a failure. He did not say whether he would then decide—either on his own or, worse, in league with Mr. Reynolds—that they should bring in their own proposals for change in Northern Ireland. He did not say whether those proposals would also be put to the people of Northern Ireland by way of referendum. The only true consent that is meaningful within the context of Northern Ireland is the explicit approval of the people of Northern Ireland—the population—at each stage of the evolution of any change.

But the Prime Minister implicitly suggested that the commitment did not or may not end with the outcome of the talks process. He said: My commitment means that no one can go behind your backs—not today, not tomorrow, not at any time. There is a suggestion that the commitment, while given specifically to apply in the one set of circumstances, might also apply in other circumstances. The Prime Minister should apply the principle of consent to all sets of circumstances and for all time. Once again, I today seek confirmation that that is the Government's position, and that the democratic principle of consent will apply to any future change in Northern Ireland.

The Government should clarify the extent to which they will abide by the principle of consent in Northern Ireland. They should formally submit that principle to the House. That would also give the Labour party the opportunity to commit itself to the principle of consent on the terms under which the people of Northern Ireland decide their future.

The principle of consent makes sound common sense. If one looks back into the recent history of Northern Ireland, one sees that, for about 50 years, there was a system of government that had the consent of the Unionist community in Northern Ireland, but not the consent of the nationalist population. It collapsed. Why? Because it did not have sufficient consent within the community. The Sunningdale agreement had the consent of the nationalist community, but not that of the Unionist population. It collapsed after five months. Why? Because it did not have sufficient consent. We must all learn the lesson that one cannot govern without consent. If the Government commit themselves fully to that principle, they will, apart from anything else, leave my colleagues and me free to concentrate on our next priority—urging the Government to try to overcome the obstacles to our participation in a new talks process. I hope that the Government will ensure that they create a talks process that will not be tied to a fixed or predetermined outcome, or to one that is so circumscribed by Albert Reynolds's principles that agreement cannot be achieved.

No sensible negotiator would allow his negotiating base to be either limited or extended by the terms of agreements reached by others. No one could expect us to allow ourselves to be constrained or steered by an agreement to which we were not a party and which we had not signed. The basis for talks must be on a level playing field.

I shall now make some observations on the state of the Union. Some say that the Union is safe. In November 1985, all Unionists believed that the Union was in peril. When I look at its present state, I must ask myself what has changed since 1985 to make the Union safe. Every change since 1985—whether the outflow of the work of the secretariat and the conference to the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Downing Street declaration or other concessions that have been granted—shows that, if the Union was in danger in 1985, it is in greater danger today.

I believe that the Government's policy is based on a false premise—the idea that ultimately the people of Northern Ireland will go into a united Ireland. There is no sound reason for believing that. The whole strategy of this Government is based on the idea of a transitional process towards a united Ireland, however. They believe that some time, somewhere down the road, the people of Northern Ireland will not want to be part of the United Kingdom. This is why Northern Ireland is not governed in the same way as other parts of the United Kingdom are. It is why Northern Ireland is the detachable part of the United Kingdom.

It is quite false to believe that the people of Northern Ireland will ever want a united Ireland. An opinion poll carried out by the two Unionist parties some years ago showed that the overwhelming majority in Northern Ireland wanted to retain the link with Great Britain. Not a single supporter of the Democratic Unionist party or the Ulster Unionist party said that he or she wanted a united Ireland. Only six per cent. of those who support the Alliance party said that they wanted a united Ireland; and only 41 per cent.—fewer than half—of the supporters of the SDLP wanted a united Ireland! Not surprisingly, 91 per cent. of those who vote for Sinn Fein said that they wanted a united Ireland, but that 91 per cent. brought the total who wanted a united Ireland to only 17 per cent.

Just think of the constitutional manipulation, the political transformations and the programmes for further change that have been undertaken to placate this mini-minority of 17 per cent. I believe that the Prime Minister should build the Government's Northern Ireland policy around the inevitability of its remaining in the United Kingdom, instead of being dragged by Albert Reynolds into constructing a road that has only one destination, and for which only the timetable is in doubt.

The Prime Minister should move to ensure that Northern Ireland is more contained within the Union, instead of pushing it towards a united Ireland.

6.51 pm
Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

I congratulate the Labour Front-Bench spokesman and wish her all the best. I have no doubt that she will talk to everyone and listen to everyone. There may even be a "Dear Marjorie" column somewhere along the line in the years ahead. I pay tribute also to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and his colleagues. I salute his remarkable contribution to events in Ireland over a long period. I offer that tribute with the greatest sincerity on behalf of those whom we represent in this House.

I came to this debate with an air of confidence and with a feeling that I would see for the first time in this Chamber some signs of hope in the air. It did not take long for that hope to be dispelled and for the sourness that we heard from both Unionist parties today to creep in again.

Spinoza said that peace is not an absence of war: it is an attitude of mind, a disposition towards benevolence, confidence and justice. After listening to the two Unionist speeches this evening, I wonder where that benevolence is going to be found, or where we shall find the generosity of spirit that will be needed to overcome the problems that we will face. How are we to remove the terrible aridity that has invaded those Unionists' political lives?

I should like to refer to an historic statement made by another Unionist in another forum. William Butler Yeats reminded the people of the Republic of Ireland, We are not petty people". Indeed; the Unionist people are not a petty people, and they would not want to be associated with the aridity, negativity and nihilism to which we have just listened. The Unionist people among whom I live have greeted the opportunity of peace with confidence, generosity and the sense of justice that I think will be required to solve this problem.

I do not intend to deal today with some of the points made by the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross). I shall deal with them in my own good time, and there will be plenty of opportunities. I would, however, like to make one point about what the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) said. I agree whole-heartedly with the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes), who challenged him, saying that he had the distinct impression that the hon. Gentleman was almost sorry that peace had broken out—that he would have preferred continuing carnage in the north of Ireland and rubble on the streets of London in the wake of bombs and bullets.

There is something terrible about such a begrudging attitude of mind and a disposition that cannot follow the type of leadership offered so courageously by the Prime Minister, the Irish Prime Minister, the leader of my party, and above all by the ordinary men and women, Unionists and nationalists alike, in the north of Ireland. It is they who have stood up to the bullies and resisted the terrorists, telling them, "You are not going to do that to my children, my country or my community." That is what eventually wore down the conflict and created this wonderful thing called peace, which we must nurture and treasure. We must value it, and to hell with nihilism. Those who are alive today because of the peace will have absolutely no sympathy with the negativity that we have heard from various quarters.

I shall be brief because I know that many others want to speak and we have been detained for some time at the crossroads of aridity by the hon. Member for Belfast, East. I speak from the nationalist point of view. We nationalists want the creation of a united Ireland through peaceful and democratic means—I have never said otherwise. Now the Government and the Unionist parties face a new challenge: how, in the foreseeable future, to create a north of Ireland where nationalists and people who think like me can enjoy equality, self-esteem and dignity while the framework remains. I readily accept the principle of consent—that there can be no change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland without the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland. My consent to that idea means that I intend to live in Northern Ireland until a majority of its people decide to change it; but I want to live there with dignity and equality, without my political aspirations or those of the people I represent being compromised by the type of sourness that we have heard today. Together with the Unionist people, we can, for the first time, start to create a settlement in a positive and generous way that will take us beyond the myriad problems that we face.

The coin of consent has two sides. Let us be clear: agreeing that the status of Northern Ireland cannot be changed without the consent of the majority of its people does not mean that I have to agree with the status of Northern Ireland. I have the right politically to disagree with its status while agreeing that it cannot be changed without a majority.

I have a question for some, but not all, the Unionist Members. If a change took place somewhere down the line and the majority of people in the north of Ireland decided that they wanted to change its status, to end the constitutional arrangement with Britain and be part of a 32-county Ireland or to have an independent Ulster, would Unionist Members go on record in Hansard and say that they would readily accept the wishes of the majority of people in the north of Ireland? I will give way to anyone who would like to confirm that on the record. That is the acid test of sincerity about adherence to the principle of consent.

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)

I cannot understand why the hon. Gentleman has any difficulty about understanding the Unionist position on the right of consent. The Downing street declaration was not a document that we would have written, but we subscribed to it because it recognised the right of consent not just for today but for tomorrow and next year and for as long as we have any say in the matter.

Mr. Mallon

I am delighted that I gave way because, with his usual honesty and sincerity, the hon. Gentleman has stated what I believe to be the correct position of unionism, just as it is the correct position of nationalism. If we have done nothing else in the debate, at least we have put both positions on the record for posterity.

I spoke about equality and dignity. It is the job of the two Governments to ensure that what is created will give those to me and to the people I represent. It is an onerous task because when the two Governments issued the joint declaration on 15 December, they decided to remove the cause of the conflict, to overcome the legacy of history and to heal the divisions of that legacy. They made a commitment to go to the heart of and solve the underlying problems in Ireland. Let us remind ourselves of what was in the joint declaration. It was not confined to Northern Ireland. It states: The role of the British Government will be to encourage, facilitate and enable the achievement of such agreement over a period through a process of dialogue and co-operation based on full respect for the rights and identities of both traditions in Ireland. That is the role of the British Government while they remain in Ireland. By working together that aim can be translated into reality.

Does anybody imagine that, given the sorry history of the north of Ireland, there will not be problems? Does anyone imagine that those can be overcome quickly or that there will not be things said on radio in the mornings that will throw everybody into a tizzy?

A remarkable feature of the speeches so far has been the absolute obsession with Sinn Fein and what it and McGuinness—not the hon. Member behind me—and Mitchell McLoughlin say. That is what the debate has been about, but I should like to put it in terms of the other section of the nationalist community in the north of Ireland, the community which does not bomb anyone and which does not, has not and will not inflict terrorism on anyone. Its stand in the north of Ireland prevented the entire nationalist community from going over the brink after the hunger strike about which we have heard in the debate. How clearly we remember that period. Let us look at the needs of those people to see how we can give them equality and dignity and whether we will have the courage to be able to do that, because that is what the two Governments will have to do.

Will anything given to the nationalist community be by grace and favour of the Unionist parties? Will it have to have Jim's imprimatur in political terms? Will I have to meet an unwritten test of unionism before I can get dignity for the community in which I live? Will we need to have the agreement of all sections of unionism before making changes in some of the matters with which we shall have to deal?

Reference has been made to policing, but as soon as the term is used, hackles rise. I understand the reason for that because I know the emotional conflict in the Unionist community about policing. I remind the House that no section of the community owns the police; that the police are the servants of the entire community. Are we to approach changes in policing on the basis that they are needed for a new and changing situation, or will they be approached on the basis of what unionism will allow? Those are the questions that we and the two Governments must ask ourselves.

Will there be north-south bodies that will allow the expression of my aspirations? Will they have powers to enable them to be dynamic and capable of acting, of serving all the people and of being of mutual benefit, or will we have the sort of north-south bodies that unionism will allow? Does unionism have a veto on the decisions of sovereign Governments so that those Governments cannot make decisions about solving Ireland's problems?

That imprimatur of the Unionist parties is what we reach when we deal with questions of equality, parity of esteem and dignity. If the nationalist position is squeezed out as one squeezes toothpaste from a tube in terms of what unionism will or will not allow, we will not get to the root of the problem. I make that point forcefully because we are at a crossroads in deciding the philosophical basis from which we should start to address our political problems.

We can address those problems only on the basis of honesty. We can respond to the type of leadership that has not so far been given with generosity of spirit and confidence for the future, and with the courage that is required to take on the unknown, because that is what we face.

Mr. Maginnis

I should like to make two points in answer to the hon. Gentleman. First, as a Unionist I do not have a veto. I have a mandate given at the ballot box, and that mandate must be honoured by me and by others who represent the majority community. The only veto that I know of in Northern Ireland is the veto that is exercised by terrorists through the barrel of a rifle. The hon. Gentleman should be careful when speaking about the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I do not want the RUC to be my police force: I want it to be the community's police force, and that will happen only if people such as the hon. Gentleman do not kick them around like a political football. I shall try not to do that if he will do the same.

Mr. Mallon

I thank the hon. Gentleman. I have one minute left but if I had the time I would say thanks very much.

If the Unionist veto means the strong political influence of a coherent community of 900,000 people in the north of Ireland, I accept that: it would be futile not to do so. If it is something extra—if it is something that must be met on every decision that a sovereign British Government will take in relation to the solution of the problem—it is a contrived veto which will do nothing for unionism and which never has over the years. We should look where it has got us; it will bring us all into a position where we can solve nothing.

Generosity of spirit has been shown by the Prime Minister, the Taoiseach and others, including the people of the north of Ireland, Unionist and nationalist, with the courage that will be required and with the approach that will be needed to solve this awful, intractable problem—let us face it on that basis and none other.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. I must remind the House that between now and 9 o'clock speeches are limited to 10 minutes.

7.10 pm
Sir Giles Shaw (Pudsey)

I am grateful to follow the triptych on the wall of Northern Ireland politics made by the excellent contributions of the hon. Members for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross), for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) and for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon). I shall draw something from each of those speeches in the few remarks that I wish to make.

Everyone taking part in the debate recognises that there has been a very substantial change since we last met to discuss Northern Ireland affairs. Those of us who had some involvement in them way back are in many ways astounded that this debate is taking place and at its context.

Our first feelings are a combination of relief and gratitude—gratitude to those who, like my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach, have taken immensely difficult decisions showing great initiative and courage to bring these matters to book.

In terms of the phases with which we have to deal with matters in Northern Ireland, relief and gratitude may well be fairly short-term. We have already seen some signs recently and in the speeches just made that there is a fairly short time limit allowed for both relief and gratitude.

After 25 years of total disruption of civil liberties, during which people experienced difficulties walking round the streets, faced road blocks and body searches, had their handbags emptied on to the pavement and were unable to go Christmas shopping—as was the case when I was a Minister—a remarkable change will have to take place before the various factors that have come into play can cohere to produce a more unified and stable society.

After relief and gratitude comes phase two—suspicion and anxiety, and I suspect that we have seen something of that already in the comments of the hon. Member for Belfast, East, the deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist party. Deep anxiety and suspicion have represented a common view. People want to know what has happened to create such an enormous shift so remarkably quickly after the intransigence, the bullets and the bombs have lasted for 25 years. It is a rational view to be deeply suspicious that some secret agenda has been worked upon. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it abundantly clear that that is not the case and has repeated that nothing was underhand and that there were no nods and no winks, but it will take a long time to remove entirely the suspicion that something has occurred. With suspicion comes anxiety about what happens next—the anxiety that, although a hideous nightmare is apparently over, suddenly things will change in a unknown manner and, possibly, in a unstructured way.

In that second phase of anxiety and suspicion, decisions on such issues as disarmament and the role of the Army and the police are absolutely crucial. There cannot be any meaningful exchange between Government and Sinn Fein or the IRA until the issue of disarmament has been addressed. There must be disarmament to a level which is at least understandable and recognisable so that anxiety is reduced.

Those of us who have been involved from time to time in, for example, Home Office activities, know that there are two attitudes to crime: there is crime itself and there is the fear of crime, and sometimes the fear of crime is a vastly more destabilising factor than the incidence of crime itself. The anxiety factor has to be addressed in the next phase into which the Government, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State in particular, will be moving. The Army must not be removed, as the Sinn Feiners would wish, until the anxieties and the confidence of the population have been restored to a level at which that can be done most safely.

The third phase is the phase of caution and care. Caution, I am happy to say, is clear in some of the Prime Minister's recent speeches and comments. He is right to move slowly, to behave with great caution and to take note that he can move only in such a way that he carries the confidence of the people with him. I suspect that the vast majority of the citizens represented by Members of Parliament on both sides of the House are extremely anxious that there should be procedure with care—that it does not outrun the cautious view of many people in the Province that, with the termination of hostilities, there has to be a considerable period of time before people will regard the situation as something approaching normal.

We need a cautious period and a careful period, making sure that the question is not the timetable that the Taoiseach may wish to see. The rapidity with which he himself has moved is surprising—although of course at the last election the Sinn Fein commitment represented about 2 per cent. of the vote in the Republic and a much larger and more important proportion in the Province, so the anxieties that he may have in relation to the pace at which the movements are made are not as great as the anxieties of those who are responsible for the governance of Northern Ireland.

I am concerned that there should not be a timetable and that the only factor that should determine the pace is the real and genuine prospect of success—not an artificial timetable, but moving with caution and care to ensure success.

The final phase—and we do not know how long it will take—will, no doubt, be confidence and then commitment. It is clear from comments across the spectrum of the debate tonight that the confidence of the entire community of Northern Ireland has to be obtained. It may not exist currently in the nationalist community or in certain minds of the Democratic Unionist quarter of the population—a very significant proportion of votes. It may not exist among those who support the majority party—the Unionist party. There is certainly anxiety and suspicion, and it may take some time for confidence to be built up again.

In a sense, the Government have only to ensure that they move in a way that allows the confidence of the people to determine that point at which they can reach commitment. Obviously, within that phase comes the crucial nature of whatever structures are to be put into Northern Ireland to enable the population— the entire community—to be reflected properly in a democratic manner and to start reaching decisions for the governance of Northern Ireland at local or regional level. Those structures have to be built in a situation where they can create confidence so that those who are elected to those structures will represent a people who are prepared to reach commitment.

The consequence of the rather laborious and dangerous process of unknown timing will ultimately, I trust, be that the people of Northern Ireland, throughout the length and breadth of the Province, whatever their view, their religion or their political affiliation —and many will have none—will be the ultimate winners after 25 years of desperate trial and tribulation.

7.19 pm
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

As I said in an intervention, it is important to mark the fact that terrorism has not triumphed over the democratic process.

The course taken by the Provisional IRA from the late 1960s onwards, which was designed to force through the union of both parts of Ireland by terror and sustained violence, was always unlikely to succeed. The policy of successive Governments was quite clear—that the majority wish to remain part of the United Kingdom would be respected. Although it is true that the IRA could not be defeated—if that had been possible, it would have been achieved—nor was there any chance that it would succeed.

In the past 25 years, terrible crimes and atrocities have been committed, obviously mainly in Northern Ireland, but also on the mainland. In the west midlands, we recall the murder of 21 totally innocent people in Birmingham in November 1974. As we all know, they were killed by bombs in two public houses. It is right and proper that we should remember them, as we should remember the victims of all the atrocities of the past 25 years. We should also remember the victims of the loyalist murder gangs, including their last victim, who were put to death for no other reason than that they happened to be Catholics.

I am reasonably optimistic about the permanence of the IRA ceasefire. Just as the leaders of the IRA must have realised that they had not achieved their objectives in 25 years, they must also have realised that, even if they continued their terrorist campaign for another 25 years, there was no sign that they would succeed. They were right to appreciate that victory would not be possible. They, and the leaders of Sinn Fein, must also have recognised that, by continuing with the killings and rejecting the joint declaration of the British and Irish Governments of last December, they were seriously out of step with opinion in the Irish Republic and, I imagine, with that of most nationalists in the north.

Although I believe that the IRA ceasefire is likely to be permanent, I accept that another terrorist campaign could be launched in future years. No one can be certain about that. Other people may come to share the view held by the Provisional IRA in the late 1960s: that Britain can be forced out of Northern Ireland through terror arid violence. Progress towards political reform is therefore necessary to guarantee that any such future campaign is unlikely to succeed in winning marked support among the minority community.

We must recognise, as I am sure that Ministers already do, that there are two distinct communities in Northern Ireland. It is no good obscuring that fact. I am not suggesting that everyone in the minority community is in favour of a united Ireland. It is important, however, to take note of the historical traditions of each community, which are as legitimate as one another. Improvements in the local economy and in the housing stock will also deter violence, because undoubtedly the economic conditions of Northern Ireland aided the forces of terrorism.

I understand that the concept of power sharing is no longer a controversial breaking point among Unionists, as it was 20 years ago. We remember what happened in 1974 shortly after the election of a Labour Government, when the Sunningdale agreement was destroyed on the ground in Northern Ireland. It is unthinkable that any political changes in Northern Ireland would not now be based on power sharing between the two communities. What was once so controversial and a matter of principle to the majority community 20 years ago is no longer so for the majority of Unionists. More is required, however, because a purely internal political settlement will not meet with the approval of the minority community, nor is it likely to meet with the approval of the Irish Republic. An Irish dimension is required. That is why cross-border organisations with some executive powers are as essential as power sharing in any political settlement. Irresponsible elements within the Unionist community argue that the peace process is part and parcel of a plot to drive Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom. They claim that the Irish Republic and what some Unionists call the pan-nationalist front are plotting to bring about a united Ireland. That is absolute nonsense. Irish Governments of successive political parties have decl[...]red time and again that they respect the majority wish of the people of Northern Ireland. They recognise that there cannot be a united Ireland as such without the agreement of the majority community. That has been the Irish Government view for a long time, regardless of articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution. The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris), who co-chairs the British-Irish parliamentary body, and I have met many Irish politicians of all parties and we know that they believe that consent is absolutely essential to achieve any united Ireland.

The basis of continued progress must undoubtedly be a working relationship between Dublin and London. The problems with Stormont would probably never have arisen if there had been such a proper working relationship between the two countries. How much better it would have been had that relationship existed prior to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. It is right and proper that two neighbouring countries should work closely together. It is perfectly understandable for the Irish Republic to have a legitimate interest in the north, as was recognised in the agreement.

Northern Ireland has been a feature of British politics for a very long time. Those of us who read our history know of the fierce debates that took place over home rule in 1886 and afterwards. We know about the even fiercer debates and bitter controversies of the years leading to the war in 1914. That was an unhappy time in Anglo-Irish relations and should not be repeated. It is rather remarkable that, given all the changes that have occurred in Europe since 1914, making it almost unrecognisable by comparison, here we are in 1994, six years from the next century, once again debating Northern Ireland.

I hope that, at long last, we are near to reaching a settlement which respects the wishes of the majority community. The Labour party has no plot. As my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam), the Labour party spokesman on Northern Ireland, and her predecessor made clear, we are in favour of a united Ireland on one basis—that it has the support of the majority of the people. We recognise that without that consent the proposal simply would not work. It would not be possible to transfer a substantial minority of people within a united Ireland if that minority was unwilling to accept that. Such forced transfers do not work, as is clear from what has happened in the Indian sub-continent and in former Yugoslavia. What we say, we mean, because it makes political sense.

It is necessary for political reforms to take place along the lines that we in the Labour party have indicated. Certainly, there should be power sharing, certainly there should be an Irish dimension, and certainly there should be a continued working relationship between London and Dublin. If we can work on that basis, we shall perhaps at long last end the sickening violence which has disfigured Northern Ireland.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Time is up.

7.29 pm
Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke)

For the sake of brevity, I must be selective. The much welcomed peace process is now nearly eight weeks old. It is far too early to predict the outcome. It is too early to talk in terms of being optimistic or pessimistic. Those are vagaries. We must, however, ensure that our thinking is firmly rooted in realism and reality. There is a very long way to go. Some of the early signs are not very promising. There are many pitfalls to be avoided.

There is good news. The good news, of course, is that a genuine peace process has started. The bad news is that, despite many pleasing sound bites, there are strong reasons for being deeply suspicious about the policies, the motives and the objectives of the IRA. Due to all that, the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have, in my judgment, been absolutely right. Their cautious, step-by-step approach has been fully justified. The peace process can maintain its momentum only if it retains the confidence of both sides of the deeply divided community in Northern Ireland. That is why the Prime Minister has been right to move slowly and cautiously, to warn against euphoria and over-hasty action—all of which could jeopardise the process.

The Government's policy has been right from the start. They were right in February last year to enter into the exchange of messages with the IRA after that message was received which began: The conflict is over but we need your advice on how to bring it to a close… The Government were right to embark on the lengthy dialogue with Dublin which led to the Downing street declaration. The Government were right in that Downing street declaration to assert the concept of consent rather than coercion as the way forward and to underwrite Northern Ireland's constitutional guarantee. The Government have been right since the ceasefire to move the peace process forward, but to do so cautiously and slowly.

We must have no illusions about the IRA ceasefire. When Mr. Adams announced that ceasefire on 31 August, the Provisionals were neither war-weary nor militarily defeated. The IRA had not lost the "arms struggle", nor had it lost its appetite for it. If the IRA so wished, it could tomorrow inflict death and destruction in virtually any part of the United Kingdom, just as loyalist terrorists could do so in Northern Ireland if they so chose. The IRA has not permanently renounced violence. There has been much reference already in the debate to the disagreeable interview with Mr. McLoughlin on this morning's "Today" programme, which illustrates the point.

The cessation of military operations is a long, long way from the renunciation— permanently—of violence. I fear that some Irish republicans can and probably will resume violence if the IRA's present option does not deliver the goods that they seek. The ceasefire statement signalled the Provisionals' belief that, while present circumstances prevail, they can better achieve their objectives by suspending military operations rather than by continuing them. The IRA objective remains to obtain a seat at the negotiating table and hope that it can so orchestrate events that external pressure will convince the United Kingdom Government to make concessions, to compromise their commitment to Northern Ireland. Alternatively, the IRA could interpret UK intransigence as justification for resumed violence.

We must stand fast against IRA demands for an amnesty for prisoners. We must insist on the surrender of IRA and loyalist weapons and explosives before there. can be meaningful talks. Most especially, we must take note of the fact that the IRA has rejected Northern Ireland's constitutional guarantee and the Prime Minister's promised referendum in the north in absolute terms. When Mr. Adams declared on 19 September that the British government's imposed veto based on this artificial majority is undemocratic and unacceptable", he was restating the Provisionals' willingness to impose a united Ireland, against the wishes, if need be, of the majority of people in the north.

The Government have followed the right course of action. The Government are charting the right way forward. It is right that we move towards "talks about talks" with the Provisionals. It is right that we search for an agreed Ireland under the three strand headings, clearly stressing that strand No. 1 has less to do with the Republic than the other strands. Above all, time and again, we must repeat our irrevocable and absolute commitment to the constitutional guarantee which we have given to the people of Northern Ireland. There will be no change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, nor will any cross-border structures or institutions be created unless that is the wish of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland. That is the way forward.

7.35 pm
Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

The speech of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) was delivered with his habitual acerbity, but it contained an important and unequivocal acceptance of the principle of consent and it recognised further that that meant that Northern Ireland would continue to be part of the United Kingdom. I hope that that means that he will accept and participate in any future institutions in Northern Ireland. I do not want to trail over the past, but the problems of Stormont were to a considerable extent due to the hostility and obstruction of nationalists. If, in the future, nationalists will be positive, they will be welcomed and mutual esteem will be generated from there.

The Secretary of State's speech made reference to the joint framework document and acknowledged that there were difficulties with regard to that document. Unfortunately, he did not go into detail on that matter and I would have welcomed more from him. Perhaps we shall hear more about that from the Minister in his winding-up speech.

I shall comment on what appeared to be some of the constitutional issues with regard to that joint framework document with which there appear to be difficulties at the moment. The Irish Prime Minister, Mr. Reynolds, has talked about the need for what he calls a balanced constitutional settlement. So far as we can determine, however, the proposals being advanced by the Irish Government are not balanced and would not lead to a settlement.

The Irish position with regard to articles 2 and 3 of their constitution is not satisfactory. Judging by press reports, they are apparently offering to insert into article 3 a qualification that unification, if it is to come about, will be by consent. That is not an acceptable position. Merely amending article 3 is not enough. It is not clear whether an amendment to article 3 would enable the Irish Government formally to acknowledge that Northern Ireland is de jure part of the United Kingdom, because it would leave intact the assertion in article 2 that the national territory is the whole of Ireland. Furthermore, it would preserve the territorial ambition or aspiration and so it would hold out no prospect of a stable relationship. Unless the territorial claim is explicitly renounced, the Irish Government are, in effect, serving notice that they will still continue to try to realise that claim or ambition and are merely forswearing a means which is not currently in their capacity.

The Irish try to justify that position by saying that they need article 2 to define the nation and they advance what to me seems the ridiculous argument that if they repealed article 2, towns in Northern Ireland would somehow cease to be Irish or that northern nationalists would not be entitled to be recognised in some way as part of the Irish nation.

If that is a real concern—I wonder whether it is merely a tactical argument— there is a solution. There is no difficulty, I should have thought, with drawing a distinction between the nation and the state. That is done in many other European countries, where a part of the nation lives outside the borders of the state. Indeed, that may be hinted at in some respects in the Irish constitution, which contains headings referring to the nation and the state, so that some sort of distinction along those lines may be implicit in their constitution. Unfortunately, the Irish constitution as currently drafted does not draw a clear distinction between the nation and the state. Indeed, the territorial claim comes in the section headed "nation" rather than "state".

There may be a solution to this point if the Irish were to clarify their constitution. They could do so in a way that recognised that northern nationalists were a part of the nation, provided, however, that the state was clearly defined as being only the present geographic entity known as the Republic of Ireland and that there was no implication of a territorial ambition — and, of course, provided that the Ulster British people were not insulted by being described as part of Mr. Reynolds's Irish nation. If there is legitimate Irish concern, it could be met in that way.

The Irish also apparently wish to see changes to the Government of Ireland Act 1920. They say that they are seeking only symbolic changes to that Act. That is a position and a claim by the Irish which I have always found somewhat difficult to follow. The Irish seem to believe that section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act 1920 in some way contains a British claim to Northern Ireland. That is simply nonsense. There is no British claim to Northern Ireland.

Section 75 of the 1920 Act is not a substantive section. It is purely a saving clause. It makes it clear that the Parliaments being created by the 1920 Act would not detract from the authority of this House. The authority of this House in no way derives from section 75. It derives from the Act of Union. Section 75 of the 1920 Act is not significant. Section 75 of the 1920 Act has been kept on the statute book for reasons that are not altogether clear. The Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 repealed virtually all of the 1920 Act. Only three or four provisions from the 1920 Act remain on the statute book. They include some financial provisions which are of no great significance, section 1(2) which defines Northern Ireland and is the only important part of the Act, and section 75. Section 75 could be repealed and disappear tomorrow and make absolutely no difference to the constitutional position.

In some respects, repealing section 75 would be preferable to the sort of amendment that we suspect that the Irish are seeking. The text of a proposed amendment to section 75 was leaked some time ago to the press in Dublin. It was leaked by one of the three civil servants who are members of the liaison group with which Her Majesty's Government are supposed to be in negotiations and discussions. It is a remarkable reflection on the character and integrity of the people with whom Her Majesty's Government are discussing matters that a civil servant involved in the liaison group leaked that document to the press.

The leaked document is horrendous. It would turn section 75, which is purely a saving clause, into a substantive provision which could seriously damage the Union and would create great difficulties for future legislation and practice. The document contains the kind of gobbledegook and nonsense that one might allow to pass in an ephemeral document, but which if translated into law would cause enormous difficulties for this House and for a future Administration. I hope and trust that it will be the Government's position that an amendment in the terms of that leaked to the press will be firmly dealt with and sat on. I should like to hear comments about that in the Minister's winding-up speech.

The Irish are also pressing for cross-border institutions. On that point, the Irish Prime Minister has referred on several occasions to the Council of Ireland, which was provided for in the Government of Ireland Act 1920. Monday's Irish Times quotes the Irish Prime Minister as saying that meaningful north-south institutional links with executive functions were part of the original compromise on partition in the Government of Ireland Act 1920 and in the Treaty. He is quite wrong. The 1920 Act, which merely provided for devolution within the United Kingdom to two regional assemblies, did indeed contain provision for common administration of railways, fisheries and contagious diseases in animals by a Council of Ireland. However, those were matters of no great political significance.

In Nicholas Mansergh's recent book "The Unresolved Question", which was published in 1991, the only reference to the Council of Ireland is an unidentified quotation—I think that it is actually from Asquith—in which the Council of Ireland is described as a fleshless and bloodless skeleton. In fact, the council never functioned. The Northern Ireland Parliament appointed members to it in June 1921, but no members were appointed by the southern Parliament. The treaty of December 1921 provided for the abolition of the council with regard to the south. So much for the claim by the Taoiseach that that was part of the treaty.

For the north, the council remained in limbo until it was wound up by the 1925 agreement. Interestingly, the 1925 agreement provided for joint meetings of the two Governments— the Stormont Government and the Dublin Government—to discuss matters of common interest.

It may interest hon. Members to know that two meetings took place under the provisions of the Northern Ireland Act 1925 agreement. There was a meeting of Agriculture Ministers and a meeting at which the Dublin Cabinet Secretary attended a meeting of the Stormont Cabinet. However, those provisions were ended by the Irish Government. Cosgrave, the Irish Prime Minister, said at the time that it was too much of an embarrassment for him to meet his northern counterparts. By containing the territorial claim, the 1937 constitution ended the possibility of further meetings. That remains the case until the 1937 constitution is ended.

Mr. Reynolds's error with regard to the Council of Ireland may be a result of his ignorance. However, the references in the earlier parts cannot be described as ignorance. The conclusion that I draw from the inaccurate description by the Irish of what they are proposing is that they are not negotiating in good faith. The Irish sometimes—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. The hon. Gentleman's time is up.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise, particularly to hon. Members from Northern Ireland, for impinging even briefly on the debate, but a matter of considerable importance has arisen and I seek your guidance.

Earlier this week there were reports in the Evening Standard about lobbying that had taken place in support of Ebbsfleet and Blue Circle with regard to the choice of an intermediate station on the proposed channel tunnel link. The central allegation was that the lobbying firm of which the right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Dame A. Rumbold) is a director had used its influence to secure meetings with Ministers right up to the level of Prime Minister.

Tonight the right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden has resigned as director of the lobbying firm concerned. In view of the gravity of the allegations and the fact that there appears to be a correlation between them and the fact that she now recognises a conflict of interest as she has resigned, it is of the utmost importance that we have a statement at the earliest possible opportunity on the circumstances surrounding the matter and, in particular, that we have a statement from the Prime Minister about what meetings took place and what influence was exerted on behalf of Ebbsfleet and Blue Circle.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I represent the Stratford area, which is one of the areas being considered for the intermediate station. Will you please advise me how I can possibly represent my constituents fairly and equitably if someone else can use influence with Ministers in a way that I cannot as I cannot therefore represent my constituents in the way that I would wish to?

Will this point of order be reported to Madam Speaker tomorrow, so that we shall have a chance of asking for a statement from the new Secretary of State for Transport and so that I can know that the interests of my constituency and of Stratford will be considered fairly in terms of the intermediate station and we do not have to involve ourselves with a public relations company that employs a vice-chairman of the Conservative party?

Madam Deputy Speaker

I have heard no indication that a statement is to be made. No doubt the points that have been made will have been noted by those on the Government Front Bench.

7.48 pm
Mr. Mark Wolfson (Sevenoaks)

I welcome the progress that has been made on the peace initiative. Many tributes have already been paid to the work of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach in achieving this stage. I add my tributes particularly to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, my constituency neighbour, for his ability and success so far. I am sure that his vision, tenacity and, on occasion, his undoubted good humour have helped to move the negotiations forward to the benefit of so many in the Province and in this country. I also pay tribute to the work of the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram).

I strongly support the Government's cautious approach. It is absolutely vital. Not all hon. Members agree with it, but the House generally supports that step-by-step approach. It would be a huge mistake if undue pressure broke that steady and careful approach. We cannot be confident that the ceasefire arrangements will hold while there is no clear way forward in terms of giving up arms and explosives. That must be the next step in the careful agenda.

In balancing the discussions, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has also demonstrated his readiness to judge the IRA by its action rather than its words, and he has rightly given the clear commitment that, if the ceasefire holds, we can have exploratory talks before the year is over. That must be a correct and sensible way forward. It has been proven beyond doubt by the stage that we have reached in the peace process that the early talks and contacts with the IRA, which were widely attacked at the time and which caused Ministers to stand up to great fire both in the press and elsewhere, have paid dividends.

I was interested in the point of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott), which was that the Anglo-Irish Agreement had enabled discussions to take place between Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office and Ministers in the Irish Government. He said that that process had helped them to understand each other's point of view and, therefore, increase trust between them. That must be a sign of the way in which, as negotiations develop between the democratic parties in the Province, better working relationships can be established. Those are vital points.

I shall spend a moment or two referring to the importance of achieving greater employment prospects in the Province. Until now, there has been much discussion of the fact that many employment initiatives have been taken, and that, if only the terrorist problem no longer existed, many of the Province's unemployment problems would be solved. That will not be the case. It will take an awful lot of effort and continuous, work by individual private entrepreneurs and statutory bodies to make progress. As has been mentioned, the reduced need for Government spending on the security forces could result in initially higher unemployment and that will not be an encouragement to people in the Province. Therefore, it is necessary that no opportunity is lost to use Government funding and, most important, to stimulate entrepreneurial activity in the Province, in particular in small businesses.

Obviously, inward investment by large companies will continue to be an important part of achieving economic development in the Province, but, as in many instances in the United Kingdom, small businesses will generate increased activity at many levels. Increased effort in education and training will be required to equip people for such entrepreneurial work. The Government should focus strongly on activities that will generate additional work within the Province.

My 10 years' experience of the Province gives me great confidence in the business acumen and ability of people there to grip a situation, to make progress and to achieve success. The people of the Province are admirable, as the way in which they have stood up to terrorist attacks from both sides of the political divide for 25 years has demonstrated. I am confident that they will bring such ability to bear in building a more vibrant and active economy and thereby will provide more job opportunities if the peace initiative holds and develops. They have great opportunities. Their history, commitment, energy and enthusiasm give me cautious confidence in the future.

7.55 pm
Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

It is almost unheard of for me to say anything good about the Government, but I must say that I warmly welcome the recent steps to further the peace process in Ireland. I recognise the important roles that the British and Irish Governments have played in that process. In order to encourage the peace process, it was very important—indeed, essential—for the British Government to respond fairly quickly and positively to the declared ceasefire by the IRA and loyalist paramilitaries. I am sure that there is wide support for the reopening of cross-border roads, the lower profile that is being adopted by the British Army, the lifting of the exclusion orders and, of course, the lifting of the ludicrous broadcasting ban. I also wish the Government every success in their efforts to enter exploratory talks with Sinn Fein by the end of the year.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), because it was largely due to his initiating the dialogue that the peace process got off the ground. He showed great courage and tenacity despite being subjected at times to a deluge of criticism and, indeed, vilification from certain hon. Members and others.

I also publicly thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), who, for many years in the House and elsewhere, has consistently campaigned for peace and justice for all the people of Ireland. I trust that my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam) will continue that good work, and I congratulate her on her appointment. While I am dishing out all those compliments—

Ms Mowlam

It is very unusual.

Mr. Canavan

It is very unusual, yes. I also give credit to the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), who has a key role to play in the peace process. I firmly believe that the Downing street initiative of December 1993 would be as dead as the previous initiative of 1985 if the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley and his party had taken the same intransigent attitude as the Democratic Unionist party. I look forward to the day when the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) shows the same flexibility. Unfortunately, judging by the speech of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), that day will not come soon.

I understand people's desire—particularly the Unionists' desire—for an assembly for Northern Ireland. If that assembly becomes a reality, it must not be simply a resurrection of the old Stormont system where the winner-takes-all attitude led to widespread discrimination and denial of human rights. If an assembly is to command wide respect, it must include real power sharing and be accompanied by a cross-border institution, or institutions, with real executive powers.

Previously, I have declared my belief that the partition of Ireland was a gross political blunder and a crime against the Irish people. I have also declared in the House and elsewhere my support for the peaceful reunification of Ireland, and I still see that as a legitimate democratic goal. But I am realistic enough to know—more importantly, the overwhelming majority of people in the island of Ireland are realistic enough to know this—that a united Ireland is not on the immediate agenda. However, what should be on the immediate agenda is the establishment of cross-border co-operation on such matters as trade, tourism, transport, energy sharing and a common strategy to attract inward investment. Such co-operation could be of immediate benefit to the people of Ireland, both north and south of the border. The other day, the chairman of the Northern Ireland tourist board, Mr. Hugh O'Neill, estimated that if the peace process lasts, tourism alone could generate an extra 20,000 jobs in the next five years. I therefore urge the Government to put more emphasis on the all-Ireland dimension with a view to bringing about peace and reconciliation between not only the different communities in Northern Ireland but all the people of Ireland, whether north or south of the border.

I shall finish on this note. Earlier, I was sorry to hear the hon. Member for North Down (Sir J. Kilfedder) say that he did not want to take part in the All-Ireland Forum. I put to him an alternative proposal that it is time that he and his Unionist colleagues of whatever party reconsidered the decision to boycott the British-Irish parliamentary body. It has no real executive decision-making powers, but nevertheless it is useful and valuable in terms of encouraging relations between parliamentarians in Britain and in Ireland both north and south of the border. Although it does not have any real executive power, it has some influence in that it is able to make representations to the British and Irish Governments.

Our work would be much more valuable if Unionist Members of Parliament from the various parties participated. They have nothing to lose and the people whom they represent—the Unionist community in Northern Ireland—might have something to gain. I believe that the people of Northern Ireland as a whole would have a great deal to gain if their elected representatives took part in such discussions. Surely, it is only through dialogue and democratic debate that the peace process will reach fruition and all the people of Ireland, whatever their traditions, will be able to live together in peace and harmony while respecting each other's different beliefs.

8.3 pm

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

It is never easy to admit that one is wrong, but on this occasion I freely admit that my pessimism about the peace process has not been justified thus far. Indeed, I am delighted that my original doubts have not been confirmed by events. I hope and pray that the process will continue.

When one gets something wrong, it is important to understand why. On this occasion, I sense that there are two things that have prevented my misgivings from turning into reality: the active involvement of the Prime Minister, and the state of public opinion in Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister's role in the peace process has been pivotal. The Downing street declaration and the progress that has been made since are eloquent testimonies to his personal commitment to the cause, and his political courage and diplomatic skill. Whatever our personal party politics, all of us should unite in giving support and thanks to the Prime Minister for what he has done.

Another reason why I have not been proved right thus far is that public opinion has been overwhelmingly in favour of the peace process. I sense that public opinion has played a key part in producing flexibility in Dublin, establishing both ceasefires and prompting a positive response from the Unionists. The message that I get time and again is that the overwhelming majority of people of both traditions and on both sides of the border have never supported violence and, now that it has stopped, they are all determined to do everything in their power to prevent it from starting again. It is with that in mind that we should turn to the future of the peace process itself.

I sometimes worry that the peace process might be like a high-jump competition: each round sees the bar get higher, each round sees jumping it get ever harder and every high-jump competition ends when even the best fail to clear the final hurdle. I hope that it will not be like that in Northern Ireland.

While I have little doubt that the peace process will make more progress, I see two problems that may prove impossible to clear: the surrender of arms and explosives, and the premature release of terrorist prisoners both north and south of the border. As some people have said, securing the early surrender of arms and explosives is a formidable challenge. Some believe that to push too hard and too quickly for that will wreck the peace process. While I am a realist, I also believe that if we do not push hard and reasonably quickly, that will also wreck the peace process.

Despite everything that has been said today, and despite the experience of the past eight weeks, I agree with the Sinn Fein spokesman who said on Radio 4 today that there is a difference between a ceasefire and permanent peace, and one of those differences is arms and explosives. While the retention of arms and explosives does not need to be a barrier to starting exploratory talks, I at least want to make it clear that I could never vote for any settlement that was founded on the use of arms and explosives as a bargaining counter or where the surrender of them was a reward for promising political structures that are acceptable to the IRA.

Another difficult issue is the pressure that is building up for the premature release of terrorist prisoners. I choose my words with care, but I want to make my position crystal clear to the House. Murder is murder. It can never be an unfortunate but excusable consequence of political campaigning. I am not interested in why someone chooses to blow up an innocent child or gun down an elderly person who is enjoying a drink. Such evil acts can never be justified or excused in my book. I want my hon. Friends on the Front Bench and in the Whips Office to know that I shall never vote for any settlement that has been bought by or includes an amnesty for so-called political prisoners. I simply cannot go with that.

Despite those two grave reservations, we must press ahead with the peace process. As we do so, however, we need to be aware of two dangers—the danger of over-inflating the status of the IRA, Sinn Fein and Gerry Adams, and the danger of entering into negotiations without an objective that has been thought through clearly. First, we must not lose sight of the fact that the IRA, Sinn Fein and Gerry Adams do not speak for all nationalists. In recent general elections, Sinn Fein polled 10 per cent. in the north and 3 per cent. in the south. In the north, it is a minority within a minority; in the south, it is despised by the democratic voices of legitimate nationalism.

The second danger is that of sitting down with Sinn Fein without knowing exactly what we are trying to achieve. Sinn Fein knows exactly what it wants—a united Ireland—but do we know what we want? Negotiating with nothing more than a commitment to even-handed neutrality may not represent a clear enough objective. If the objective is not clear, the chance of the other side's getting its own way will be maximised. That worries me.

I applaud the progress made so far; I hope and pray that it will continue. I believe, however, that the House must not allow itself to be carried away by euphoria. I have no doubt that all hon. Members, and all those outside the House, want peace and a just settlement. This individual Member of Parliament, however, does not consider the retention of arms and explosives and the release of evil murderers to be the path to peace and a just settlement; I see both as an abject surrender to terrorism. I plead with the Government to avoid that at all costs. I have no doubt that, if they do, permanent peace will be possible; but I fear that, if they do not, I may be proved right after all.

8.11 pm
Dr. Joe Hendron (Belfast, West)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam) on her new position as shadow Secretary of State, and thank the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) for the outstanding work that he has done for so many years. I also thank his colleagues, the hon. Members for Wigan (Mr. Stott) and for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien), for their great work.

I am delighted to say that, since the announcement of the IRA ceasefire and the subsequent announcement of a loyalist ceasefire, the atmosphere on the streets of Belfast—and, indeed, throughout Northern Ireland—has been transformed. More people are returning to city-centre stores, families are more relaxed and parents are worrying less about the whereabouts of their teenage children. Young people, especially young adults, are now enjoying life: fear, apprehension and confrontation are no longer part of their daily lives. After 25 years of violence, murder and intimidation all around them, they are experiencing a peace and tranquillity that is entirely new to them.

I pay tribute to those who have worked so hard for the peace process, although much work remains to be done. Two priests from Clonard monastery have done a great deal of work, and I am sure that their names will be well known in years to come; indeed, many of those present this evening will know who they are. The Rev. Roy Magee also played a significant role. The Prime Minister, helped by the Secretary of State and his colleagues, put Northern Ireland at the top of his agenda; we are very grateful to him for that. I was in the Europa hotel when he made his speech last week, and the points that he made then were well taken.

The Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, and the Tanaiste, Dick Spring, continue to play their part to the full. I emphasised the part played by the Prime Minister because he faced considerable political risk. Both Prime Ministers showed courage in developing and signing the Downing street declaration, which I see as the political bible for the future of the island of Ireland. I also pay tribute to the leadership shown by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), who has also incurred considerable risk.

I believe, however, that the central part in the peace process has been played by my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), without whom we would not have secured the Downing street declaration. History will record his noble and persistent efforts on behalf of all the people of the island of Ireland—especially, of course, those of Northern Ireland.

Reconciliation between our two communities must now be the top priority. Inward investment in deprived areas such as west and north Belfast to alleviate their massive unemployment is essential. The unemployment rate in my constituency is 35 per cent.—the highest constituency rate in the United Kingdom. At least 60 per cent. of the west Belfast unemployed population are long-term unemployed: that is, they have been out of work for more than a year.

When I visited the United States recently, I spoke to numerous top industrialists in New York and elsewhere. Many would be keen to come to Northern Ireland to get into the European market, but the Republic's 10 per cent. corporate tax rate makes that territory more attractive. Will the Government seriously consider encouraging the European Union, for a limited period—say 10 years—to provide the necessary derogations to enable the Government to apply a 10 per cent. corporation tax rate to new internationally mobile manufacturing projects locating in Northern Ireland? That would provide a level playing field for inward investment in the whole island.

The university of Ulster has proposed a fifth campus in the Springvale area. I strongly support that proposal, because I believe that a campus straddling the Unionist and nationalist parts of west Belfast could do nothing but good. Such a campus should conform to the highest standards of academic excellence, and, I hope, attract students from all over Northern Ireland—and, indeed, internationally. It should also have a close liaison with the Royal Victoria hospital, one of the finest hospitals in these islands. People will say that we should draw a line under the past. I go along with that to some extent, but I also think of the thousands who have died, and the many hundreds who have died through violence in my constituency: most of them were murdered, and many were my friends. I do not think that people have suffered so much in any part of the island of Ireland, or Britain. I cannot tell others to draw a line under the past, or to forgive; forgiveness is personal, and it is up to those people themselves.

Nevertheless, we must look ahead. We hope that the two Governments will produce the framework document very soon, and I trust that its main points will be based on the principles of the Downing street declaration. A great responsibility rests on all of us to seize the present opportunity to work for a lasting peace in Ireland.

8.17 pm
Mr. Henry Bellingham (Norfolk, North-West)

Let me contribute to the wave of congratulations, and congratulate the very brave hon. Member for Belfast, West (Dr. Hendron) on the role that he has played. I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, whose caution has been vindicated: had he not been cautious, the possibility of the paramilitaries announcing a ceasefire would have been very slim.

I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and, indeed, the Taoiseach. His acceptance, particularly in view of his membership of Fianna Fail, that change in Northern Ireland is possible only with the consent of the majority cuts across 70 years of cultural denial in his party. He has achieved something that Sean Lemass, Jack Lynch and Charlie Haughey never achieved.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), I have felt pessimistic at times. It is easy to wake up one morning and ask oneself what is actually in it for the IRA. The IRA has not renounced violence or given up any arms; Gerry Adams and his cohorts have paraded across media studios in the United States, building up propaganda credibility. Gerry Adams can make demands and, if he does not get what he wants, it will be easy for him to say that it is not his fault but that it is entirely the fault of the British Government. Back to violence he will then go, and back with him will go a great deal of extra money and credibility to boot.

On the other hand, during my recent visits to the Province, some of which have been paid in my capacity as a member of the British-Irish parliamentary body, I have detected a real determination among people throughout the island of Ireland to secure peace. That is why every single effort has to be made and why we must go that extra inch to try to achieve peace.

Probably no Conservative Member has as much of a vested interest in Ireland as me. I was brought up in Ireland, I have relations there and I am a sleeping partner in a business in Dublin. I have every interest in being able to go to Ireland without fearing for my own security. Yes, we have to go that extra inch and the prize is well worth having, but it cannot be peace at any price. That theme has run through the speeches of many Conservative Members.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne, I believe that some concessions will be demanded of us that we will not even begin to consider, and I share my hon. Friend's view on prisoners. Obviously I respect the great experience and wisdom of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott), but many of my constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Moss), whom I congratulate on his recent appointment, have fresh in their minds the IRA break-out from Whitemoor prison, which is in my hon. Friend's constituency. We also remember the violence that was shown against very brave prison officers. Many of my constituents would not accept any abnormal treatment for those prisoners, who have been sentenced for the most heinous of crimes.

I find it difficult to follow the logic of my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris), who tried to draw a distinction between defensive and offensive weapons. I do not think that one can draw that distinction. Does he mean that the Light Barrett sniper rifle is offensive, whereas the Armalite is defensive? I think that that makes no sense at all.

I feel strongly that before we can move forward from the framework document to a proper discussion involving all parties there must be a settlement of the arms situation. Arms have to be handed over by all sides, and there can be no compromise on that.

There can also be no compromise on the prevention of terrorism Act, on which, in some ways, I was surprised by the remarks of the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), because we have to carry with us the people of this country as well.

On the positive side, I welcome the statement that the Prime Minister made in Belfast the other day. At the previous meeting of the British-Irish parliamentary body, we discussed cross-border roads. It was interesting to hear the views of TDs who represent border constituencies, who said that the IRA is winning a great deal of local propaganda by lobbying to get those roads opened. They have now been opened, and I welcome that.

I was interested to hear what the hon. Member for Hammersmith said about the Gaelic Athletics Association. I think that it was Ernest Blyth, the Finance Minister of the first Government of the Irish Free State, who understood the deep significance of Gaelic football to the nationalist sporting psyche. He said at the time that the free state had to try to bring the Unionist population on board, which meant that the RUC and British soldiers should be allowed into GAA grounds, that the tricolour should not fly and that they should not play on Sunday. Some of that is obviously out of date, but I believe that the Government must carefully consider ensuring that those athletics grounds are returned to athletics use as soon as possible, especially the ground at Crossmaglen. That point was emphasised to me by a number of my friends from the Dail who are on the parliamentary body.

On the economic front, I am optimistic. When the barrier to economic activity comes down, cross-border trade will increase. Artificial barriers to entrepreneurial activity on both sides of the border will come down, and activity will increase. There will be a breaking down of some of the cultural and political divides, which will be extremely healthy. We will then have an even closer economic union between the two countries and everyone to whom I have spoken would welcome that with open arms. We must abide by the wishes of the majority in Ulster. I feel strongly that peace must not be bought at the price of their future and security. If they wish to leave the Union, that is entirely up to them, but, so long as they decide to remain in it, I will remain committed to their wishes and we must show that we have a commitment to them. We must remain persuaders of their opinions, just as I remain a persuader of my own constituents. In the meantime, I am becoming more optimistic and—like everyone in the House—I hope and pray that it will all work out.

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

When I spoke during the debate on the defence estimates on 18 October, I dealt with the need that the IRA had for a ceasefire in the wake of the Downing street declaration when the IRA's political justification—even in its own terms—was seen to be non-existent, and when it was seen that the United Kingdom and Irish Republic recognised the right of Northern Ireland alone to decide how it should be governed.

It slowly became apparent that those who used violence either had no mandate or, in the case of the IRA—which one must assume judges itself on an all-Ireland basis— represented fewer than 5 per cent. of the people on the island. The philosophy of Mao Tse Tung that power comes through the barrel of a rifle was the most powerful veto of the democratic process.

People tell us that the IRA has for some time been engaged in a debate as to whether it should cease violence and move into the political mode. One must recognise that this argument is taking place not for any moral reason but because the IRA believes that after 25 years it is moving farther away from achieving a united Ireland through using violence—and that more people throughout the United Kingdom are losing sympathy for it—than if it pursued its objective through political means.

The great problem about spending 25 years using violence to try to achieve one's end is that one detaches oneself from reality. The IRA somehow believed that if it offered to stop killing, people would consider that to be an act of courage; that there would be a great outpouring of sympathy and that it would be handed over—against the democratic wishes of the people of Northern Ireland—the route towards a united Ireland.

That is not going to happen. We must decide not how we drag the IRA forward—that is something that it will decide—but how we can place road blocks behind it so that it will not regress. We have been helped in that respect by the fact that all parties in this House have been discreet in the way in which they have looked at the problem as it evolves from day to day. They have recognised that we cannot tie ourselves to specific words, although in the beginning it was perhaps natural that we should tie ourselves to words such as "permanent". My right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) was, I believe, the first to point out that actions speak louder than words, and that we must do that which is necessary to ensure that the IRA is not allowed to slip back into the violence mode.

The Prime Minister has been justified in accepting the evidence of almost eight weeks of ceasefire as justification for holding out some hope to the IRA—not hope that it will achieve its all-Ireland objective but hope that it can free the people of Northern Ireland from the violence to which it has subjected them for 25 years.

The Forum for Peace and Reconciliation is to sit in Dublin from tomorrow onwards. Some people have asked why the Unionists are not participating in that forum. I do not need to be reconciled with anyone. I am reconciled with all those who follow and participate in the democratic process, as are my colleagues and the entire party to which I belong. We are reconciled. We have been at peace for 25 years when other people have been indulging in violence.

If the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation is to be anything—I use that term in the best sense—the pan-nationalist membership of that forum must work to convince the IRA that it represents a minority of a minority and that it has a long way to come if it is to move from the side of the spectrum that deals with violence to the other side, which deals with the democratic process. It must learn that it cannot, for example, keep guns under the table or behind chairs when it moves into that process. If people wonder why we as a party continue to emphasise the need for total disarmament, the decommissioning of weapons and explosives and the verification of that process, I hope that I have given them some idea why. I hope that I have given them some idea why the IRA must make a tangible movement in that direction before it can hope to benefit and before the community can hope to benefit from any talks that take place. I concede that the forum has that job to do. If it does that job successfully, there will be reciprocal action from the loyalist paramilitaries. They have already said that they want future battles to be political battles. Implicit in that statement is an offer to give up their arms and explosives.

I now turn to those who have placed themselves between the community and the terrorists for the past 25 years. I refer specifically to the soldiers who come from Great Britain and who do their duties in Northern Ireland from the various barracks throughout the Province. At present, there is pressure to have those people removed from the streets. Let us be frank. We all want to see soldiers off our streets. We are not suggesting that if there is peace, they should be there. But in this period of limbo between a ceasefire and permanent and enduring peace, we shall keep those soldiers in Northern Ireland. I ask the Minister to reassure me that those young men, most of them between 18 and 25, will not be confined, day in and day out and night in and night out, to barracks. That is a recipe for disaster. They are active and energetic young men, and must be cared for. I do not want a gesture to be made to the community that victimises those who have given so much to the people of Northern Ireland.

As I said in the previous debate in which I spoke, this party is committed to peace. It is committed to helping everyone, including former terrorists, to move across the spectrum to the peace process. I hope that that offer of help, that gesture that we have made to people—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sorry to tell the hon. Gentleman that his time is up.

8.35 pm
Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)

Today has been another enormously successful day in Northern Ireland. Families have been out shopping, the streets have been full of bustle and we expect that there will be a bumper build-up to Christmas. This is an enormous tribute to the Prime Minister. I have no doubt that if it had not been for his absolute determination, working closely and harmoniously with Mr. Albert Reynolds, we should never have seen the situation today in Northern Ireland.

The only thing I feel rather sorry about is that this week, the newspapers have been swamped by allegations and they have totally turned aside from the real issues—the lives of people about whom really serious debate is warranted. That is a pity and I hope that we can return to more important matters as time goes by.

I welcome the remarks of the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam), although I felt that she focused a little too much on economic regeneration. I say that because it is tempting, when one sees success in the air, to start to leap ahead and to plan how suddenly to have a much better world. How tempting it is to see jobs being created and to see people being more settled. I totally understand that, but I believe that the trouble is that if we spend too much time planning that economic regeneration, tempting though it is, we shall turn our minds away from the infinitely more painful task of how to get Sinn Fein-IRA to knuckle down and to lay down its weapons. That is the big test.

I totally endorse the view of hon. Members who have recognised that this process will be stumbling. It could take months and our patience will be sorely tried. One thing I know for certain is that this is not the time for us to make any more concessions. We have already gone far enough. I am fearful that if we start to discuss, for instance, amnesties, we shall go down the wrong route and pass out the wrong message. What we should be doing is listening carefully to the Prime Minister who is rightly cautious—and I endorse that approach.

Today's announcements over the airwaves by the IRA spokesmen are indications that although there is a so-called "ceasefire", it will not necessarily be permanent. The word "ceasefire" means only a cessation of military operations. It does not mean permanence. Although there is a great debate in which people have said that we should not go down the road of semantics, we should listen carefully to the things people are saying. I do not find it very comforting to hear IRA spokesmen say that there will be no handing in of weapons until we have seen progress in talks. They have said that this is "a pause" and that there is a difference between ceasefire and permanent peace. All of that could indicate blackmail, which i[...] why we must be extremely careful and determined. By all means, when we enter the stage of talks about talks, let them continue and let us keep the IRA talking. But we may reach a point where we find ourselves being dragged up avenues because the IRA-Sinn Fein may hope that, if they spin out talks about disarmament until a general election, they will achieve better favours. On that point, I was grateful that the hon. Member for Redcar said that that organisation should expect no favours from her party. That was important.

None the less, it is essential to establish the vital role of trust. It would be unrealistic to expect parties to sit down together at the same table knowing that they could be blackmailed and that a smoking gun could go off if negotiations went wrong. For a lasting peace, the IRA-Sinn Fein must pass the Semtex test. That also applies to the loyalist paramilitary groups and their weaponry, which is significant and can inflict appalling damage.

I welcome the Dublin Government's whole-hearted support of our endeavours in that particular area. It will be the most difficult stage of the entire peace process. In any case, it will be messy and probably not that satisfactory. The global trade in guns is so free that the IRA could hand over its 650 AK47 rifles, a dozen general purpose machine guns, 20 heavy calibre machine guns, 100 Webley revolvers and 40 RPG rocket grenade launchers and then replace them within weeks. After all, it is wealthy enough to be able to do so.

The litmus test will be the Semtex, which is not so easy to replace. It is calculated that the IRA took delivery of some 3 tonnes from Libya during the 1980s—more than enough to keep it in explosives until the end of the century. I understand that the bulk of that stockpile is thought to be in bunkers in the Irish Republic.

The omens, therefore, are not that encouraging. Only recently, Martin McGuinness said in an interview that he would be laughed out of the room if he asked the IRA to hand over its weapons. That may be so, but the Prime Minister is absolutely right to insist that he try. After all, if the paramilitaries are serious about peace, what possible use can they have for them? I support the remarks from this side of the House to the effect that it is absolutely fallacious to talk about weapons being "offensive" or "defensive", as though there is a right for one weapon as against another.

The Sinn Fein-IRA has entered the unarmed phase of the armed struggle". I remind the House that there is no evidence that its runners have been stood down. I understand that they are still on active duty both in Ulster and on the mainland. At a moment's call, they could return to the use of fire power, so we need to be alert. If we can get through until the spring without a return to violence, it will be a watershed and we can then look more optimistically to the future.

However, matters are not helped when Mr. McGuinness is reported to have said that the whole process will be reviewed by Sinn Fein-IRA in March. If that is not a threat, I do not know what is. It is no use seeking so-called "British demilitarisation" if it cannot match such a move.

We should take great heart in our improved relations with Dublin. They have been significant in the progress that we have made today, especially with regard to security operations. It is an encouraging sign that the Gardai raided more than 50 homes of members of either the Republican Sinn Fein or the new hard-line military grouping, the Irish National Republican Army, or INRA. INRA is believed to have carried out extensive fund raising both in the Republic and the US over the past couple of months. The fear is that it is planning a series of terror attacks aimed at disrupting the peace process. Undoubtedly, it is the main threat, seeking to attract dissident IRA supporters who do not support the peace initiative.

Previous Gardai raids had sparked off the seizure of seven hand grenades, three pistols and 3,000 rounds of ammunition. A hand gun, ammunition and two walkie-talkie sets were found on another occasion. Also confiscated in the nationwide swoops were videos, policy documents, speeches and copies of the Republican Sinn Fein internal magazine.

The Gardai's intelligence has since reported that the raids have recently and seriously disrupted a number of terrorist strikes planned by INRA, a small splinter group of the IRA. All that work by the Gardai is an excellent start. After all, it is just as much in the Republic's interest as ours to have peace. That pincer movement is vital to the success of future peace, to show that the IRA-Sinn Fein will have nowhere to run and hide. I therefore congratulate the Taoiseach on his efforts to support our Prime Minister in his important work.

8.45 pm
Ms Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

I wanted to participate in this debate because we have had so many debates on Northern Ireland in which we have denounced injustice and talked about catastrophe that it is a great moment for the House that we can celebrate an optimistic moment in Irish history.

I hope that the House will forgive me if I begin on a personal note. I am proud to represent a constituency in which I was born and grew up, but I am also proud of the fact that I am one of 8 million people of Irish origin who live in Britain. My father came from Crossmaglen in Northern Ireland, a fact with which I am constantly taunted as though I should be ashamed of it—I am not. My mother's great-grandfather came from Ireland during the famine, married a woman whom he met during that journey, and settled in Birmingham. So both sides of my family come out of the pain and tragedy of Irish history and its entanglement with Britain. That is part of what produces me and my politics and my place in my city.

Although I am typical of 8 million people who live in Britain, when we have tried to speak about our experience of the inter-relationship between Ireland and Britain, we have been denounced as fellow travellers of those who use violence in the nationalist cause. That has caused enormous anger among people of Irish descent. Those who know little of Irish history ignorantly tar everyone who simply seeks justice in Ireland with the same brush, imagining that we support terrorism. That has happened in the tabloid press and too often in this House.

The truth is that people of Irish origin in Britain have felt the pain of the violence more; have felt more angry at the IRA's use of violence because they are people who claim to speak on the side of the argument from which we come. So we feel it personally and hate it more. It is absolutely wrong that people should attempt to tar us with those views.

Many people criticise the Irish people's obsession with history. I agree that it is wrong to be obsessed with history, but it is also important to learn from history. In these days of instant politics, instant communication and too much television, too few people now read books and learn from history. This is an optimistic moment in the history of Ireland in Britain. But there have been other historical opportunities before and we have lost them. The success of this opportunity is not inevitable.

I shall not go through a long list, but we all remember the arguments in this House about home rule and how they divided the great parties. H[...]me rule was never achieved and Ireland never had democracy. The history of the relationship between the two Irelands would have been utterly different had Ireland had democracy. That was a great failure of British history, yet there were moments when home rule was nearly achieved.

One can think back to 1916, the war against Britain and then the civil war. Talks took place between Britain and Ireland. Michael Collins came to London to talk to Lloyd George about a settlement. What a tragedy for Ireland that it came so early in the process of British decolonisation. Had India been decolonised earlier, and had Ireland been seen in the context of democratic settlements of countries that had been colonised, Britain would have been more generous towards Ireland, and the partition and bloodshed that followed might have been avoided.

The most recent drastic failure—the last time that a historic opportunity was missed—was after the time of the civil rights movement. People in Northern Ireland were determined to follow the example of the American civil rights movement and march peacefully to demand justice and equality in Northern Ireland. Those marches were beaten into ditches by the forces of so-called law and order in Northern Ireland, and the IRA was recreated as a result of the events that flowed from that. The IRA had ceased to exist in the 1960s. It was the call of people in west Belfast, who were being burnt out of their homes, for the young men of their communities to come and protect them that recreated the IRA. I say that only so that we learn the lessons, and do not miss the moment. We must ensure that, whatever happens to the current leaders of the IRA, there is not another period in history when those awful forces are recreated and more bloodshed is generated.

It is obvious to me that, although this is a precious and optimistic time, success is not inevitable. There are forces who would prefer failure. I am sorry to say that the speech that we heard from the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), a member of the Democratic Unionist party, showed that an extremist force prefers to have another extremist enemy to hate and protest against. Forces of extremism live on one another. There was no celebration of the peace, or any wish to nurture the peace, which benefits both sides in Northern Ireland.

There has been an over-obsession with the IRA in the debate. It is, of course, a creation of the disasters of the history of Ireland, but we should not be obsessed with it. It is wrong to say that everything that it demands must be opposed. We should do what is right because it is right. We should not be obsessed with what one of the IRA's extremist spokespeople might have said on one programme. History is bigger than that. Merely reacting to those small people who have used violence in an intolerable way as a trajectory of historic development will create great errors.

Many tributes have been paid to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister did not create the opportunity; history created the opportunity. As the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) said, the people of Northern Ireland were tired of violence and determined to demand a better future. I think that then the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) worked hardest and underwent the greatest vilification to try to turn that historic opportunity into a process of peace. More than once, he entered talks with the IRA to try to achieve that end.

The previous Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke), made an enormous contribution when he was Secretary of State. His successor, the present Secretary of State, has continued that good work. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara)—as might be thought unusual for an Opposition spokesperson—has helped the process along. The Irish Government have made an important contribution. Then the Prime Minister was big enough to take the historic opportunity and move the process forward.

During the Maastricht debate, when the Tory party needed Unionist votes to pass the European legislation, I believed that we would lose the historic opportunity because of the arithmetic of the House of Commons. Thankfully, we did not, and the Prime Minister was big enough to take the historic opportunity. [HON. MEMBERS: "You were wrong."] Obviously I was wrong; that is what I am saying. There is no need to heckle. I am trying, in a very short time, to make a serious speech. The House rarely rises to the seriousness of the moment. It deteriorates as time goes on.

The basis of peace is not only democracy and not only consent. The move that everyone makes to say, "We shall accept there will be no change in the status of Northern Ireland without the consent of a majority in Northern Ireland," requires an extra dimension. It requires justice for the people of Northern Ireland.

Theoretically, there was the consent of a majority in the past, but grave injustice ensured that there was—to put it crudely—a greater rate of emigration from one community to the other, to entrench a majority that would never allow change. If there is justice, if both communities can live in peace and justice, if both can have jobs and both can prosper, I am content that, whatever decision is made, Ireland will be united or not united because the people who live there wish it.

However, I do not think that many hon. Members from the Government side of the House who have spoken are part of that settlement. They are really saying, "We are on one side; we are the Conservative and Unionist party; we cannot tolerate that the other side has a case. We must react to everything that the IRA ever says because that will lead our agenda."

We must not react in that way. We can, in our generation—in the next 10 or 15 years —secure a historic peace in Ireland that will bring to an end the conflict between these two islands and constant recurrence of violence and bloodshed. It is a precious moment in history; it is the duty of all of us to rise to it. It can be achieved, but it is not inevitable.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. Before I call the next Member to speak, may I point out that we have only a short time left, and I hope that those Members who next catch my eye will exercise considerable self-restraint.

8.54 pm
Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster)

This is an important debate for me, especially as it is one that the IRA intended and planned that I would never attend.

I say that because, in the month of July, while many hon. Members were in safety and in the quietness of their home, on the Sabbath evening, my wife, my family and I were to be slaughtered by the IRA murder machine. Forty bullets from an Armalite sprayed our home. My wife and my daughters escaped death by seconds. The IRA gunmen deliberately riddled my 13-year-old daughter's bedroom, having seen her standing at the window after changing for bed. I was, in the providence of God, delayed at church, and once again survived a republican murder bid on my life.

On behalf of my wife and my family, I want earnestly to thank those people who took the time to express their genuine concern, and those who made it known to me that they genuinely cared about that IRA murder attack.

In the light of that, and in the light of other murders of members of my family circle and some of my best friends, peace is something that I desire with all my heart for my beloved Province. Having, in my constituency, walked behind so many coffins, along blood-soaked and stained streets and highways of Ulster and, as a pastor, having sought to show genuine Christian love and comfort to the broken-hearted widows and children of innocent victims of violence, I know that peace—real, lasting and genuine peace—is something wonderful. I have earnestly prayed on bended knees for such a day to dawn.

I have represented the constituency of Mid-Ulster for the past 12 years. Without apology, I say that, during those years, I have wept with numerous families whose lives have been shattered by murder and disability, unparalleled in any part of the United Kingdom.

Every conceivable weapon of evil and destruction has been used in an endeavour to force people of Ulster to surrender to terrorism. In the House tonight I salute the fortitude of the people of Ulster in the face of such merciless republican slaughter. The British Ulster majority has proved beyond doubt that no one can defeat a people firmly rooted on the solid rock of truth, justice and democracy. My mind turns to the many households tonight who have suffered the pain and anguish of a father, mother, son or daughter who has been mercilessly slaughtered by terrorists. Many others sit in wheelchairs or lie totally unconscious, not knowing what the House is debating.

Tonight's debate is important as it permits those with a democratic mandate to express their genuinely held views and place them on the record of the House. I appreciate that there is a desire in some circles to frown on those who dare to challenge what is thought to be the common approach adopted by the Government and several Opposition parties. But my mandate did not come from any such people; it came from the people of Mid-Ulster. As an elected representative for the Province, and my constituency in particular, I shall endeavour to give my honest assessment of our present position, whether or not it is applauded. Much play has been made of the present ceasefire and the peace process. I wonder what evidence hon. Members are examining. Can I examine the evidence and confirm that a lasting, permanent peace is under way?

Eight weeks ago the IRA declared a ceasefire. The Prime Minister stated that he had to be sure that the ceasefire was permanent before civil servants could enter into exploratory talks with Sinn Fein. Our Prime Minister rightly requested those engaged in terrorist activity to express openly the permanency of the end of such violence. Due to the unwillingness of Provisional Sinn Fein to make such a commitment, the Prime Minister weakened the demand to any group of words that would mean that violence was over for all time under all circumstances. The Provisional Sinn Fein did not necessarily have to say the word "permanent". Again, silence was the order of the day. Dublin and America continued to pressurise London and, finally, that demand was dropped. Last week the Prime Minister came to Ulster to announce that he has a working assumption that violence has ended.

I have listened carefully to what right hon. and hon. Members, especially Conservative Members, have said. I have yet to hear many of them suggesting that they believe that there is an end to violence or that the IRA has repudiated violence. I should like to be directed to any statement from Provisional Sinn Fein which has made it abundantly clear that that so-called political party has renounced and repudiated violence. I have yet to hear that from Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness or any other Sinn Fein spokesperson. When the ceasefire was announced, rather than repudiating violence, the organisation applauded the heroes of the IRA who carried out the murderous activities and the slaughter of innocent policemen, soldiers and people throughout the Province.

Now we are told that actions will speak louder than words. What actions have there been since the ceasefire? It has become evident since the ceasefire that the IRA has not repudiated violence. Five hours after the ceasefire, gunfire was heard in my constituency outside Pomeroy, but it was not reported by the press. Some days later into the ceasefire, shots were fired at a Protestant home outside Keady—again, that was not reported in the press. Six masked men from the Provisionals entered a home in the Ballygawley road estate in Dungannon looking for a particular person. They knocked his wife to the ground. The incident was never reported in the press. Numerous brutal attacks against the Roman Catholic community have been continued by the IRA. Can one suggest that that is a repudiation of or an end to violence? For example, a grandmother in Armagh was beaten by the IRA as she shielded her grandchild. Is that an act of violence or not? In recent weeks two ordinary loyalist constituents of mine were interviewed by the security forces and were told that the IRA was targeting them for murder—the same grouping as is supposed to be holding a ceasefire. I wish to make a categorical statement that cannot be denied: no IRA unit in Mid-Ulster has been stood down by the IRA. These active service units continue to identify and openly target members of the security forces and of the loyalist community for future attack.

Such activity is known to the security forces, and in certain parts of Mid-Ulster the threat is viewed—I use yesterday's security term—as "very high" by those in intelligence circles. In the light of this evidence, how can the Prime Minister, who has all the intelligence reports that he needs, state his "working assumption" that the IRA has drawn its campaign to a close? Does the Secretary of State know that training camps for republican terrorists are still operating in Donegal? That fact is known to the security forces in Northern Ireland and in the south—yet we are told that there is a permanent ceasefire. Does the Minister possess those security reports?

Before the IRA ceasefire IRA weapons were permitted to be moved to the Irish Republic. Since the ceasefire began, the whereabouts of these arms dumps has become known—to the security forces in Northern Ireland, to the Prime Minister and the British Government— and the information has been passed to Mr. Reynolds. Although the actual position of the dumps is known and can be exactly described, they have not been raided. Why not? The dumps contain more than 200 AK47 rifles, sniper rifles and M60s. They have not been raided because, when it comes to talk about handing in weapons, it will be the dumps that are already compromised and hence lost to the IRA which will be regarded as having been found by the Irish establishment and then taken away from the IRA.

Given the will to do it, those arms could be lifted tomorrow. They are compromised weapons, lost to the terrorists, and they should form no part of any equation. It is known, however, that Reynolds wants to use them as a bargaining counter instead of lifting them now.

Last weekend certain republican Sinn Fein representatives were rounded up for questioning. My constituents and I wonder why so many well-known murderous terrorists were permitted to roam the Irish Republic for the past 25 years and have only now been lifted. Is that being done in response to the unease in the community?

As has been said, the cessation of violence is a cessation of military operations. It is to be reviewed by the IRA on 27 December, and if concessions have been made the IRA will put back a final decision until Easter. I warn the House that the IRA is currently targeting not only people in Ulster but people in London, and that is known to the security services and the security forces.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary has stood against slaughter and against much that has been thrown at it by the IRA. Will the Government give a categorical assurance that the RUC will not lose its revered title because of republican pressure but will be completely backed by the Government? For 25 long years that police force has stood between the people of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom and the terrorist onslaught.

The Minister spoke about the safety of the Union. Will the Government of Ireland Act 1920 be placed upon the table? If, as is acknowledged by so many, it poses no threat, it should not be up for negotiation. Is it correct that Gerry Adams's bodyguards are to be given the right to carry guns? He will have bodyguards because he would not accept the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The names of those people and a history of their terrorist activity, especially those who killed the British Army corporals in west Belfast, could be given.

These matters worry the people of Northern Ireland. There is a great deal of double talk and tongue in cheek, but these are serious matters. Martin McGuinness was and still is a known terrorist. He has been engaged in IRA activity and has not only been part of the gangs but has led gangs and has pulled the trigger. Why cannot Martin McGuinness be touched by the law? He has never been brought in to be interviewed, although two important television programmes were transmitted for everyone in the United Kingdom to see. Brave people from the Roman Catholic community risked their necks to give vital information. I have been told that a file on Martin McGuinness was recently sent to the DPP and that it is so detailed that if he were made amenable to the law, there is no doubt that he would have to be imprisoned.

In the name of justice, which my constituents and the people of the United Kingdom have a right to expect, why is Martin McGuinness the untouchable member of this society? Instead of going to prison he parades in the streets of England and elsewhere in the world as some kind of hero of peace. But no matter what jacket, coat or tie he Puts on instead of the Jumper, he is still the murderer that he always was. Justice must be done for everyone, and no one has a right to stand beyond the law.

I desire with all my heart to see a genuine, lasting peace. I do not want the people of Ulster deluded or deceived. I do not want the people of the United Kingdom deluded or deceived. There is a real longing for peace. I have that in my heart and I know that other hon. Members who may disagree with me also have it in their hearts, but I have to say that peace, freedom and justice must walk side by side.

9.15 pm
Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford)

I want immediately to welcome the appointment of the new shadow Front-Bench spokesman for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam), and her assistant spokesman, the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy). I wish them well in their positions and hope that their appointment will lead to the normalisation of relations between two of the main Opposition parties in the House.

On entering my 30th year as a elected Member of Parliament for Northern Ireland–10 years in Strasbourg, almost 10 years in the House of Commons in Stormont and the balance here in our national Parliament of the United Kingdom—I have never felt so optimistic about the future of Northern Ireland as I do tonight.

I have had personal experience in meeting IRA terrorists and I know the trauma and the hurt that thousands of families have suffered in Northern Ireland over the past 25 years. My family experienced it, and I know how so many others have felt in similar circumstances.

We now have a ceasefire. A ceasefire is only a halt to atrocities; it is not a permanent peace. However, one's gut reaction is that it is for real. The IRA commenced its campaign in order to bring about a united Ireland by force. It has failed because both the Conservative Government and the Labour Government, when required, provided the necessary security forces to ensure that terrorism did not triumph in Northern Ireland.

Likewise, the IRA thought that it would browbeat the Ulster people into accepting a united Ireland; yet today, 25 years later, the spirit of the Ulster people is more opposed to a united Ireland than at any time in the past 25 years.

In all that, we have to thank the security forces. Certainly the IRA has not been defeated, but as a former member of the Northern Ireland Security Council and a Minister of State at Stormont, on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland I thank all the regiments of the Army that have served in Northern Ireland over the past 25 years. We thank the Royal Ulster Constabulary, many of whom we know personally, and many who lost their lives. We thank them and their families for their service to Northern Ireland and, of course, we thank the Ulster Defence Regiment and its successor the Royal Irish Regiment because, having served in Northern Ireland, those men had to return to their isolated homes where they were in greater danger than anyone else. As a former Minister I have also to mention, the Ulster Special Constabulary, which took the brunt of the campaign at the beginning of the 1970s.

We have also to thank the Prime Minister. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) said two years ago that it was time that the Prime Minister recognised that one of the most serious issues facing the United Kingdom was the present campaign of terrorism in Northern Ireland and that it should be the No. 1 issue for 10 Downing street. It certainly is today. We thank the Prime Minister for taking on board the problem of Northern Ireland and give him every encouragement in the way in which he is trying to resolve this terrible problem within the United Kingdom, which affects relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic and between the Republic and the United Kingdom.

We also should say, in passing, that we recognise the role that Mr. Reynolds has played in this matter, although as Unionists we obviously feel that he is too anxious to speed up the momentum. These things must be taken slowly and cautiously and at times he shows too much enthusiasm and could go overboard and damage the whole process.

There are two other people we must thank. One is, of course, the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party, who has made such a positive contribution. We cannot ignore that. He encouraged the process forward and we must recognise the role that he played. The other person we must thank is a silent little man who avoids publicity, who certainly does not have a loud mouth and who does not even like to be praised. I refer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), the leader of the Ulster Unionist party.

Two main issues are before us today. One is, of course, the question of the arms retained by the terrorist organisations. There must obviously be preliminary talks with those who now say that they want to enter the political process, but in no way can there be meaningful talks with Sinn Fein while it retains Semtex and firearms under the table. That must be understood by everyone, including Conservative Back Benchers. We cannot negotiate under blackmail or under threat from any political party representing terrorism. Those firearms and Semtex must be decommissioned in some way or other before meaningful all-party talks can proceed in Northern Ireland.

Of course we look forward to a form of limited devolution in Northern Ireland, of responsibility sharing, in which those who are elected to the body share in the administration and good government of the state. If members of Sinn Fein eventually get elected, they must of course play their part in that system of administration. But Mr. Gerry Adams is not an elected person at the moment. He was rejected by the electorate, who elected the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Dr. Hendron) in his place. Until Mr. Adams is elected, he cannot be treated as a normal constitutional political party representative.

I should like to conclude on the issue of north-south co-operation, which will be a major issue as we look to the future. Reference has been made to it during the debate. As Ulster Unionists, we want to see meaningful co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Of that there is no doubt. In fairness, it was the Ulster Unionist party, when it formed the Government of Stormont, which created one of the first joint operations in the island of Ireland—the Foyle Fisheries Commission, which survives to this day and is successful. That is a good example of co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic. The whole issue of co-operation, however, can be exaggerated. We have heard a certain claim by Dr. George Quigley that 75,000 jobs might be created if a new Belfast-Dublin economic corridor were created. Those of us involved in business in Northern Ireland look upon that suggestion as pie in the sky and consider it to be totally unrealistic. When the new Ireland forum discussed the subject, the then chairman of the Northern Ireland Economic Council, Sir Charles Carter, said: their effects [of greater North-South economic links] on unemployment would be equivalent to the products of nine bean rows on the Isle of Innisfree, when set against a requirement for new jobs in the North". Queen's university's economics department produced an economic report this year entitled "The Road to Prosperity or a Road to Nowhere?" On page 65 the report says: gains from greater co-operation … are likely to be much smaller than those which could be expected from a higher level of competitiveness in the two economies … Scott and O'Reilly"— two economists— projected total gains to manufacturing employment throughout the island of only 5,700 jobs."— and not 75,000. As I have said, we look forward to co-operation. But co-operation must not be a political means of bringing about a united Ireland. When Dublin talks about co-operation, it must not see it as a mechanism to create a republic of united Ireland. We want meaningful co-operation. There is co-operation right throughout the European Community now. We see co-operation among the regions—regions in various states such as in Germany, in Italy and in Switzerland—but the co-operation since 1972 right up to 1994 is limited to regions within sovereign states. It is never the case that there is co-operation between a sovereign nation and a region of another nation.

We must follow the European example and we can do it. If we agree to do it, it will mean certain things—such as Northern Ireland Electricity, which is a private company now, taking over part of the electricity system in the northern region of the Republic of Ireland. It will mean, perhaps, BT taking over a major part of the Irish telecom system, which is failing economically at the moment. More importantly, in matters of tourism and of transport, it should not be simply co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic; it should be the regions north of Dublin and Northern Ireland co-operating with the regions in the west of Scotland. That is the main economic route for Northern Ireland and parts of the Republic of Ireland. There can be regional co-operation, but not on the basis of a united Ireland, to which people with other political motives restrict their vision. Instead, co-operation must be between regions of Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Time has cut my speech short, but I want to conclude as I commenced. This is a time of great opportunity in Northern Ireland. It is the responsibility of politicians of all parties to build on it, but if Dublin pushes too hard, the whole thing will collapse in tears. Let us ensure that the IRA does not gain in peace negotiations what it has failed to win through terrorism.

9.26 pm
Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles)

In the few minutes available, I shall make two points that I do not think have been made in the debate so far. The first is to urge the Government to use their imagination to try actively to include representatives of the Progressive Unionist party and of the Ulster Democratic party in the peace process as it develops—with, of course, all the caveats which have been already added in the debate about the involvement of, for example, Sinn Fein.

Of course, those two small parties do not have the electoral mandate enjoyed by the two larger Unionist parties, but there is no doubt that they give a voice to an important sector of the Northern Ireland people, and one that has to be included and consulted if a settlement is to succeed in the longer term. Moreover, those two parties have shown themselves to be committed to making democratic, peaceful politics work. I do not think that anybody could fail to be struck by the expression of abject and true remorse in the loyalist statement read out by Mr. Gusty Spence of the Progressive Unionists. The history of Mr. Spence was also referred to by the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott).

The Progressive Unionists and the Ulster Democrats articulate a new mood in part of the loyalist community. They have made it clear that they envisage no return to the old days of Stormont and they look positively at power sharing in Northern Ireland and at cross-border arrangements. They represent a unionism which now appears in some respects to be more flexible than that of the major parties, and certainly than what we have heard from the other side of the Chamber today. The two parties also enjoy a good deal of what one might call street credibility in parts of Northern Ireland. I urge the Government to take advantage of the new mood by involving those smaller parties actively in the peace process.

My second point is probably much less controversial. It relates to the content of the talks once they begin and it takes up where the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) left off. Of course north-south co-operation and arrangements are important, but what about east-west arrangements to link and build on the common interests of the British mainland and the island of Ireland?

The arguments for east-west co-operation are the same as those for north-south co-operation. There are obvious areas which cry out for that kind of enhanced co-operation. An example would be the management of the Irish sea, which could include pollution, fisheries management, shipping traffic, submarine activity and the threat that such activity sometimes poses to local fishermen, and creating new marine nature reserves. Such issues could be tackled jointly by the Governments of the United Kingdom and of Ireland in exactly the same way as it is envisaged that tourism could be handled jointly between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

There are many other examples of such co-operation. The virtue of east-west co-operation in parallel with north-south co-operation is not just that it makes practical sense, but that it sends a useful message that cross-border co-operation of that kind is not a slippery slope to a different constitutional relationship between north and south any more than east-west co-operation is a slippery slope towards a reunion between Britain and Ireland. Co-operation is simply a matter of mature voluntary engagement between different Governments and different Parliaments of a kind that we are going to need if we are to develop and build on the existing peace process.

9.31 pm
Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

The hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) referred in his impressive speech to the paramilitary disloyalists who apologise for what they have done in the past. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State said in Coleraine, I believe that we should have intervened more than 25 years ago in respect of employment, housing and political discrimination.

I hope that Sinn Fein-IRA can apologise for what they have been doing over the past 25 years because that would, in effect, sweep the board.

I should like to see various developments. I should like to see the currencies of the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom realigned so that they are not different across the border. I should like to see the Republic of Ireland apply to join the Commonwealth. Many people would welcome that.

More controversially, I look forward to a day when every police service in the United Kingdom has the same kind of title. It is noticeable that the only one of the 50-odd police forces which has the word "royal" in its title is in Northern Ireland, which is where that makes a difference. It is better that that sort of remark should come from me than from someone in Dublin. The point about Dublin pushing too hard is a serious one to which Dublin should pay attention.

I hope that people will accept that the border will not change very quickly, if at all in my lifetime, and that it becomes unimportant for most practical purposes. That is one of the aims of the New Consensus group in respect of which hon. Members in all parts of the House and I have shared an approach.

I hope that we shall recognise that we are going to allow people who are Irish to be within the United Kingdom but also to feel Irish. In that regard, I agree with Enoch Powell who, at a fringe meeting at the Tory party conference, said that people are of the nation of which they believe themselves to be part.

We cannot pretend that all 1.5 million people in the north of Ireland believe themselves to be British. One of the effects of the Sinn Fein-IRA campaign has been to persuade 1 million people in the north that they are not Irish at all. That is not something that is in my family's tradition.

I make this plea to those who care about Northern Ireland: let them visit it. If 45 million Americans could obtain passports and visit Northern Ireland in the same way as those of the Jewish faith or of Jewish origin go to Israel, or as those who follow Islam go to Mecca; if 45 million Americans went to Ireland—north and south—once in their lives to visit the border country, Rathlin island and the rest, it would transform the economy. It would also transform some of the ignorance that the American President has helped to overcome. We do not want ignorance or apathy—we want involvement. If all those people cannot visit, they should sleep in Irish linen sheets and drink Irish whiskey.

I look forward to two things. The first is to find political activists in Northern Ireland who are officers in constituency associations whose political parties do not indicate their denominations. That applies to my political association in Eltham, and I look forward to the day when it applies to the 17 Northern Ireland constituencies. I also look forward to the day when, after a gap of 22 years, a Northern Ireland Member is again a Minister in a United Kingdom Government. For too long, Northern Ireland Members have been excluded and, one way or another, I should like that to be changed.

9.34 pm
Mr. Paul Murphy (Torfaen)

The debate over the past six or seven hours causes me to think that, if we are to reform the way in which the House of Commons works, we should have more such Adjournment debates. It has been informed, extremely interesting, and, for someone such as myself who has had just 48 hours in a new job, it has been useful and educative. We have heard contributions from many former Northern Ireland Office Ministers, such as the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) and the hon. Members for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw), for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) and for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson). All made excellent contributions.

I pay special tribute to my hon. Friends who have served as Opposition spokesmen on Northern Irish matters. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) has had deserved tributes from both sides—indeed, from all parties represented in Northern Ireland—for the assiduous way in which he has fought his case over the years. It is important to record the House's appreciation for his deputies, my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott), who has spent many years dealing with Northern Ireland matters, and my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien), who brought his considerable experience of local government to the Opposition Front Bench.

My own Front-Bench experience has been limited to Wales, not Northern Ireland, but there are similarities. The economy of Wales—certainly that of south Wales—has suffered because of the decline of basic and staple industries. The same applies to Northern Ireland. South Wales and Northern Ireland have similar youth unemployment problems. Of course, there is also a strong cultural identity.

My name would suggest that my background is not Welsh but Irish. My great-grandfather emigrated from Ballincollig in County Cork in 1865 to work in the iron industry. Interestingly, he came across not just to find work but to flee what was happening in Ireland. In the 1860s, there were people who believed that they were oppressed by the British Government, and there were those who knew that they were outraged by Fenian bombs. My great-grandparents came across because they wanted to live ordinary lives. I rather suspect that the world has not changed and that the people who now live in the south and in Northern Ireland want to live ordinary lives, free from the disasters and the miseries that meant that my great-grandparents had to go to Wales.

My adult and political life over the past quarter of a century has been overshadowed by the misery, killings and constitutional and political failures in Northern Ireland, and people are wearied of it all. That explains the astonishing events of the past few months. Who would have thought a few years ago that both groups of paramilitaries would have initiated ceasefires, as the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) pointed out? Who would have thought that proper and real reconciliation, north and south, would start? My hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam) admirably put the Labour party's view. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has said that the problems of Northern Ireland and the peace process will be right at the top of his personal and party political agenda in years to come. That applies to all hon. Members.

The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady), the right hon. Member for Chelsea and the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) talked about a commitment based on respect for all traditions. That has been recognised by the British and Irish Governments and by all hon. Members. To that end, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) for all the work that they have done over the past few months to start the reconciliation.

I also thank the Irish Government and, of course, the British Government. As my hon. Friends the Members for Hammersmith and for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short) pointed out, the work of the British Government, in particular the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, has been exemplary. Without their efforts in respect of the settlement, today's debate would not have been as good or as sensible as it has been. All of us, whatever our party views, express our thanks to the Prime Minister and to those responsible.

It is easy for those of us who live in Great Britain to talk; it is difficult for those who represent Northern Ireland to talk because it is a different world altogether. I appreciate the misgivings of the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross), although the hon. Members for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) and for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) perhaps demonstrated extreme pessimism, if I can put it as strongly as that.

At the Labour party conference this year, we emphasised the need for agreement and reconciliation, leading to a new political framework founded on consent. We entirely agreed with the Secretary of State when he referred to the three strands in his speech today. There must be arrangements that encompass relations between Ireland and Britain, between the north and the south and between the two traditions in Northern Ireland.

It is for the people of Ireland alone to exercise the right of self-determination. We welcome the Irish Government's recognition that agreement on constitutional status is possible only with the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland. That has been emphasised strongly today by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh and by my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith.

How do we find out what consent is? Who measures it? What measures it? The opinion polls referred to by the hon. Member for Belfast, East might not be as reliable as he thought. Any opinion poll that says that one out of 10 supporters of Sinn Fein does not support a united Ireland must be suspect. A referendum, which the Government are proposing, is obviously the answer to find out what the consent is, and the feelings of the people of Northern Ireland.

Labour supports the referendum proposal. Generally, I am sceptical about referendums, but on certain constitutional matters, they are helpful, and indeed, in this case, vital. We had them on the Common Market and on devolution for Wales and Scotland in the late 1970s. On the question of devolution, the hon. Members for North Down (Sir J. Kilfedder) and for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) referred to the need to emphasise devolution in Northern Ireland much more than has occurred in the past.

It is certainly Labour's view that devolution should occur in Scotland, in Wales, in the regions of England and, of course, in the Province of Northern Ireland. That is especially important when we see it as part of Europe of the regions, which is fast becoming a reality. The right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith talked about the need to emphasise the European dimension. The Republic of Ireland has benefited considerably, both financially and in other ways, from its membership of the European Union, and that will be important to the north in the years to come.

One staggering figure that I read in the past two days is that more than 3,000 people have been killed in political violence in Northern Ireland since 1969. If, proportionately, we were to bring that figure into a British context, the equivalent carnage in Britain would mean that every man, woman and child in my south Wales constituency had been murdered. That is the extent of the problem, and it is something that hon. Members must bring to the attention of everyone of good will in Britain.

The right hon. Member for Strangford told us that he is more optimistic about the future of Northern Ireland now than he has ever been in 30 years' experience of government in Northern Ireland and in Britain. It is the duty of all who are involved in public affairs in this country and in Ireland, certainly to acknowledge the past, but to concentrate on the future and guarantee a better world for the children who are now growing up in Northern Ireland. The past quarter of a century has been characterised by despair. We have a responsibility to ensure that the next 25 years are characterised by renewal but, above all, by hope.

9.44 pm
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Michael Ancram)

I welcome the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) to his new responsibilities. Having heard him speak tonight after such a short time in the job, we look forward to hearing many more speeches from him in the future. If he finds his responsibilities as fulfilling as I find mine, he will end his time in the job a very fulfilled man.

I think we would all agree that this has been an extraordinary debate: there has been an enormous amount of unanimity throughout the House. Since I began my period of service in Northern Ireland some 17 months ago, many significant steps have been taken—although I make no connection between those two facts—each of which has increased the chance of creating a new beginning for the people of Northern Ireland. The pace of events has quickened even further in recent months, and it is only right that we have had the opportunity to discuss those developments.

We have had a very good debate. I know that not every hon. Member who wished to speak was able to do so. I pay particular tribute to the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady), who has been present throughout the debate: I know that he will give me his views, although he was not able to give us all the benefit of his wisdom. I especially welcomed the speeches of hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies. I salute hon. Members who have continued to uphold the principles of democracy throughout the past 25 years, despite the actions of those from both sides of the community who sought to achieve their political objective by violent means. I also salute the courage of their constituents, many of whom have either suffered themselves or shared the suffering of others.

As the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) said on another occasion, The will of the greater number of solid, law-abiding citizens has prevailed … democracy has finally won". He and his fellow Northern Ireland Members have all played their part in the search for peace. Of course, I also welcomed all the speeches made today by hon. Members representing other parts of the United Kingdom.

Numerous points have been raised; I shall try to deal with as many as possible. Let me begin generally by thanking all hon. Members on both sides of the House who congratulated my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State on bringing the process this far. I know that those words of encouragement are very welcome, and will help to ensure that we continue the process in the future.

It was important for us to hear the speech of the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor), who speaks with a great depth of experience not only of politics in the Province but of the direct results of terrorism. His statement that he had never felt so optimistic sent an important message to the House: I hope that it is heard by many more than those who were able to attend today's debate. His is a genuine voice of hope, and I know that it will encourage perhaps even those whose speeches were less than hopeful.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam) on her new appointment. We listened to her speech with great interest, and will want to study it in detail. The hon. Lady raised the question of finance—as did a number of hon. Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott), the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) and the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Dr. Hendron). Let me quote to them what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in Belfast on Friday: So let me assure you that the Government will take full account of Northern Ireland's special needs in setting future levels of public spending for the Province. We want to help the Province to enjoy higher levels of economic growth and much greater prosperity throughout the community in the years that lie ahead. I hope that that demonstrates—not only to the hon. Member for Redcar, but to other hon. Members who raised the issue—that the Government are committed to ensuring that one of the benefits of peace is an increase in the economic prosperity of all who live and work in Northern Ireland.

As always, the hon. Member for North Down (Sir J. Kilfedder) made an interesting and encouraging speech. I was grateful for his words of support. He, and a number of other hon. Members—so many, indeed, that it would take a long time to read out the, list— mentioned the important question of the surrender of weapons. I appreciate and share the concern that has been expressed during the debate in relation to arms, but our position is well known. It is quite simply that no one should hold illegal weapons, and that we shall continue to uphold the rule of law.

In that context, we intend to consult the Irish Government on a considered approach to the depositing and decommissioning of guns and explosives, and officials from both Governments have been asked to draw up a strategy setting out the logistics and mechanics of a surrender of arms to underpin the peace process. In any event, one purpose of the preliminary exploratory dialogue which we may enter into with Sinn Fein within three months is to examine the practical consequences of the ending of violence, and the surrender of illegal weapons would provide some of the most convincing evidence of good faith in that regard.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) mentioned punishment beatings and intimidation, and I associate myself with his remarks about the tactics indulged in by certain paramilitaries in recent weeks. Such attacks are, of course, wholly unacceptable. The policing role is for the proper policing authority. That authority is the RUC—not self-appointed vigilante groups—and I hope that we can make that patently clear.

The hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) raised a number of interesting points once again. He referred to the "working assumption" which the Government have announced to begin the process by which we can, I hope, in the end bring Sinn Fein to the negotiating table. The whole purpose of having a working assumption is that one cannot make an assumption based on certainty, and that assumption by definition is contingent on the assumption proving to be true over a period.

That is why the process has certain stages. There was the declaration of the working assumption by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister last Friday in Belfast. Then there must be a period to be gone through, which we have said is there to allow us to confirm the commitment to peace of Sinn Fein and the IRA. If we have gone through that successfully, we shall get to the exploratory dialogue.

That dialogue is dealing not with political matters but with the consequences of the cessation of violence, and with how Sinn Fein can be brought back into the democratic process and, ultimately, to the negotiating table to talk about the political future of Northern Ireland. We did not need certainty, because we have adopted a system which, if we are proved wrong anywhere on that road, allows us to reverse the situation and go back to where we were before.

My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) voiced his real fears, as I know he has done previously, in relation to an amnesty for prisoners. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said previously, there will be no secret deals for peace. Criminal law will continue to be applied vigorously with the intention of bringing those responsible for terrorist crimes before the court, and those who are convicted of crimes must expect to serve their sentences in accordance with the law.

The hon. Member for Hammersmith asked towards the end of his speech whether I could assure him that the strand 1 paper and the joint framework document would be taken together. I would like to take the opportunity to make it clear that that has always been the intention. The reason why the strand 1 document is to be published at the same time as the framework is that, if one were published without the other, the overall package would be unbalanced and the chances of it achieving its purposes would be very much minimised. I like to describe it as a three-legged stool, in which one of the legs is being manufactured separately. Unless it is attached to the stool when it is completed, the stool will be unbalanced.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea made an important speech. He was right to remind the House that, although a lot has happened recently, this has been a long process and goes back a long way. Tribute should be paid to many other people who have not had tribute paid to them tonight, including those involved in the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the processes following that. From my experience, I certainly know that many of the advances which we are making now have been built on the back of work that was done by my predecessors. I pay tribute to all those who have been so involved.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea also cautioned us against moving too fast. It is the Government's purpose to move at the pace that is most likely to achieve success. Negotiations of this sort tend to have their own momentum. If one tries to force them to go too fast, they derail. If one moves them too slowly, they lose momentum. I can assure my right hon. Friend that we shall look at matters as we go along, with a careful eye to trying to ensure ultimate success.

Mr. McGrady

In the euphoria and the joy that are evident among the people of Northern Ireland because of the ceasefire and the absence of killing and atrocities, there is an urgent expectancy of a new beginning, of new structures and of new political dialogue. The Minister has used careful phraseology, and has said that he will hasten slowly. Will he take on board the fact that the people expect the political parties to get together to work out mutually satisfactory institutions?

Mr. Ancram

I very much accept that. I believe that much of the momentum has been created precisely because people are asking their political representatives to move. We certainly want to build on that. Equally, I am sure that the hon. Member appreciates that, if one moves too fast, one sometimes loses out of the train the people one needs on board if one is to have a successful conclusion.

I found the remarks of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) and his colleague the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) distinctly depressing. They took a negative approach. They know that we are not seeking peace at any price and that we have to have a peace that is broadly acceptable in its form and in its structures to the people of Northern Ireland. That is why, as I said, we have a working assumption at present in terms of negotiations with Sinn Fein. That is why we have a process of dialogue which must be gone through, followed by a referendum, before any solution can be achieved in Northern Ireland.

I find the litany of unmitigated despair very discouraging. I hope that, one day, the hon. Members for Belfast, East and for Mid-Ulster will raise their eyes a little. I hope that they will begin to look forward, and that they will try to take a constructive approach. I assure them that, if they do, they will be welcomed by me and by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State back into the process, where I believe they should be.

I am sorry that I shall not be able to deal with all the other points raised in the debate. A number of suggestions have been made by hon. Members on both sides, which the Government will wish to consider. We meet today in a mood of cautious hope. It is cautious because history, especially the history of Northern Ireland, teaches us to be cautious.

There is hope because we now have a chance to achieve what many of us thought impossible —peace and political stability in Northern Ireland. We have a chance to achieve a society in which women and men from all parts of the community are able to play a role in the public life of the Province, taking responsibility for their own decisions, a society in which everyone, whatever his political persuasion, is treated with respect and a society in which all have equality of opportunity, equity of treatment and parity of esteem. I hope that those remarks will be heard by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), who particularly asked that that should be the case.

Already, the atmosphere in Northern Ireland is different. There is now a real feeling of peace abroad, and we are determined to build on what has already been achieved. We now need to move forward with the aim of resuming negotiations with the various parties, with the object, in turn, of achieving an overall settlement which is widely acceptable in Northern Ireland. No one will be asked to forgo his fundamental principles, but there will need to be flexibility, as there always is in negotiations. At the end of the day, we have made it clear that there is no slippery slope in what we are about, and that the Government will continue to uphold the principles of democracy and consent.

It is worth remembering that, just one year ago, Northern Ireland was coming to the end of a week of unmitigated horror. It was a week that had begun with the horrific carnage of the Shankill bomb, which continued through vicious sectarian killings, and which ended with the terrible massacre at Greysteel. It was one of the darkest times in Northern Ireland's recent history, and it was hard to see any light to relieve that darkness. Yet here we are tonight, a year later, talking of hope in an atmosphere in which the guns and bombs are silent.

The two periods are not unrelated. Out of that horror was born an even stronger desire for peace, an even more insistent call that enough was enough, and an even greater demand that an answer had to be found. In turn, that gave greater impetus to the process that has led to where we are today, not least in the courage and vision of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, which has played such a central part.

The way ahead is not easy. It will need further courage and vision, not just from the Government but from everyone who must be involved in this vital process. The people of Northern Ireland are looking to us all to provide it, and we must not fail them now.

Mr. Michael Bates (Langbaurgh)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.