HC Deb 19 June 1996 vol 279 cc938-72 7.15 pm
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Sir Patrick Mayhew)

I beg to move, That the draft Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order 1996, which was laid before this House on 4th June, be approved. Once more I need to come to the House to seek authority for the renewal of the current provisions for the government of Northern Ireland by direct rule. I regret that this is needed. These arrangements are far from what is ideal in a democracy, but there is as yet in Northern Ireland no broad enough base of agreement for any other system, including any system founded on greater local responsibility, so we must renew direct rule.

At last, however, after long endeavour, a process of inclusive political negotiations has begun. It moves us closer to the goal of establishing a sufficiently agreed system for the future. In the House tonight there will be as strong a wish that these negotiations shall succeed as there will be recognition that direct rule must continue until they do.

No less strong, I reckon, will be a universal desire to express our outraged condemnation of what was perpetrated in Manchester on Saturday, which is directly relevant to this debate because it took place after the negotiations had begun. Those were negotiations that Sinn Fein could have entered, to sit with other political parties, for which the electorate had voted. They could have sat down with the rest on 10 June. But there was no renunciation of violence by the IRA, with whom they are so inextricably linked; no restoration of a ceasefire that should never have been abandoned, so they excluded themselves, just as they separately absented themselves—by their own decision—from the elected forum last Friday.

Instead, there was from the IRA a calculated declaration of their mind set. They declared on Saturday that their route to political change is the violent, not the democratic, route. The political process did not reject them: they rejected it. They showed that they have as yet no stomach for the disciplines of democracy. Therefore they tried to get what they want by denying random members of the public their most fundamental human rights. And, of course, they threaten more of the same, in Northern Ireland no less than in Great Britain.

That is exactly the kind of duress that this House and this Government, together with the Irish Government, have set our faces against.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

Does the Secretary of State, based on his experience, accept that the concessions gained after atrocities have been an incentive to Sinn Fein-IRA to continue along the same path as they have adopted in the past? Does he agree that the deliberate murder of a member of the Garda was, in effect, a Harvey Smith signal thrown at John Bruton in the Republic?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I agree, of course, with the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. It was a wicked and wholly unjustified action. I do not doubt that it was intended to convey the message that the hon. Gentleman has described.

I recognise no concessions to the IRA. Both Governments have made it clear that, through their political party, the IRA have to demonstrate that they are wholly committed to peaceful and democratic means. Until that comes about, there can be no participation for their political party in the negotiations. I acknowledge that the Government, in response to representations from numerous quarters, have changed their position on matters that have not concerned principle. We have done so in order—as we hoped—to demonstrate a sensible flexibility, not a willingness to move on points of principle.

I was saying that the IRA have tried to get their way by denying the most fundamental human rights to random members of the public—a kind of duress against which this House, the British Government and the Irish Government have made it clear that we will set our faces. We will not sit opposite people who imply there is more where the Manchester bomb came from unless we deliver across the table what they want.

That is why, after the South Quay attack on 9 February, we jointly declared that, for Sinn Fein, as an elected party, to enter negotiations, there had first to be an unequivocal restoration of the ceasefire of August 1994. After 9 February, numerous further attacks have been made, culminating last Saturday at Manchester. But our rejection of duress stands, and it is, if possible, fortified.

We are not going to be satisfied with some tactical remission of violence. A purported restoration of the ceasefire last Monday, for example, anticipated by many commentators, would have been seen across the world as a cynical and callous ploy.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

I am reassured to hear my right hon. and learned Friend suggest that an unequivocal ceasefire is necessary, but will he tell the House what exactly he means by unequivocal and, on this occasion, what exactly he means by ceasefire?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I offer my hon. Friend a definition that I offered in this House some time ago. Unequivocal means of no other interpretation. For our part, we endorse the words of Mr. Bruton, whose support we gratefully acknowledge. It is for Sinn Fein and the IRA to find the words and the deeds to convince us, and the world, that violence is over: not tactically, not temporarily, but totally, over. I reiterate what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in the House yesterday: If the IRA and Sinn Fein wish to have any future interest in this process, they will clearly need to declare an unequivocal ceasefire. They will need to declare it immediately. They will also have to show that that ceasefire is credible and lasting, and is not just a tactical device to enable them to enter the talks until such time as it is convenient for them to leave. It is now up to them to demonstrate their credibility; it is not up to us or anyone else. They must demonstrate their credibility—but the talks will continue."— [Official Report, 18 June 1996; Vol. 279, c. 680–81.] They have mightily increased the difficulty of that task, if indeed they really wish to set their hands to it.

The Government, however, are not going to give Sinn Fein the satisfaction of saying that in no foreseeable circumstances could they succeed. We still do not believe that to be the case. The position remains as it has been: Sinn Fein have not been excluded; they exclude themselves. They must find words and the deeds to let themselves in, to convince the rest of us that violence is over for good. It is for them to establish such confidence in any ceasefire statement that they may make.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

Are we not moving back to August 1994, and the arguments that told us that violence was over for good?

Would it not be more effective now to take a more political path? Twenty-one years have passed since this sort of legislation came into being. Twenty-one is usually regarded as the time when people come of age and take responsibility. Is it not time the House began to take responsibility for governing Northern Ireland in the same way as it governs the rest of the United Kingdom? We need not wait for the Scots to make up their minds how they want to be governed.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I said at the beginning that we have to renew direct rule because there is no sufficiently agreed basis for any other system, including any system involving greater local accountability. One possible foreseeable system is the type to which the hon. Gentleman has just alluded—sometimes called a wholly integrated system of government. That is not excluded from the ambit of the talks that are now commencing. But for any alternative to direct rule there needs to be a broad enough basis of agreement to make it stick.

Meanwhile, I wish to urge that it is of the highest importance that the old cycle of retaliation violence be not resumed. I pay tribute to the restraint and wisdom of those described as the combined loyalist military command for not allowing themselves to be provoked into abandoning their own ceasefire. In consequence, the loyalist parties have not excluded themselves from the negotiations, where they are now participating valuably and fully and thereby fulfilling the wishes of those who voted for them on 30 May.

I shall give a brief account of our stewardship in the past year. The first duty of any Government is the protection of their citizens, so I turn first to security policy. Since the ending of the ceasefire, a prudent guard was kept up, but security measures were adjusted to meet a reduced threat of violence. There is no doubt that this has improved the amenities of life for people in Northern Ireland enormously, but nothing was taken away that could not very soon be replaced.

Accordingly, yesterday, and again today, as a direct consequence of the IRA's terrorist threat, there was massive disruption of traffic in Northern Ireland and doubtless great inconvenience caused to the public. But I know that the people of Northern Ireland will always desire and expect the security forces to make whatever precautionary checks are needed, and to take all other steps within the law that the threat of terrorism may show to be needed.

For what my experience in Northern Ireland—four and a quarter years of it—is worth, I think nothing is going to induce any slackening of people's resolve within Northern Ireland to face down the obscene duress of terrorism. Therefore, so long as terrorism remains a threat to Northern Ireland's stability, the Government will meet it with a fully robust security policy. We shall base ourselves upon the excellent co-operation we enjoy in security matters with the Irish authorities, and where possible we shall seek with them to enhance it. As in Great Britain, so in Northern Ireland, we shall be ready to adopt all lawful measures that new circumstances may require.

I want to express our gratitude to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and to the other security forces who support them, for their work. It is demanding and incessant. Over the past year, terrorist units have remained intact. Targeting, training, researching weapons and violent intimidation have all continued. There is continuing evidence of paramilitary involvement in drug dealing and racketeering. Murders have been carried out by terrorist organisations under the veil of action against drugs. Punishment beatings have been carried out regularly, revolting in their nature and extent. They have been carried out by both sides, and the number of victims has risen during the year.

All that will continue to be resolutely countered. If I were so advised, the third battalion, which was relocated after the ceasefire, would be returned to duty in support of the RUC in the Province. There will be no let-up—instead, many discontinued measures may have to be restored. As hon. Members would expect, neither cost nor the financial stringency that may result in other quarters of the administration of Northern Ireland will be allowed to impede the effort against terrorism.

As for economic progress, there is clear evidence of a further improvement in the performance of the Northern Ireland economy over the past year, even in comparison with the excellent performance of Great Britain. Over the year, unemployment has fallen to its lowest level for more than 14 years, employment has reached an all-time high and manufacturing output has continued to rise. Exports by Northern Ireland manufacturing firms have out-performed the United Kingdom as a whole, and inward investment is rising steadily. Tourism has reached a record high.

There are good grounds for confidence in the economic future of Northern Ireland. Political progress offers the prospect of yet more attractive developments. There is enormous potential in Northern Ireland for economic growth and for broadly shared prosperity. In the past year, part of that potential has been realised—the best is yet to come.

Rev. Martin Smyth

I received a response from the Northern Ireland Office that there had been 30 objections to the possibility of the Europe Tool Company investing in Northern Ireland. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is rather strange that British companies that purchase from the parent company in South Korea object to British people manufacturing the equipment? It would be a wonderful investment for the United Kingdom economy, particularly in Northern Ireland.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

The hon. Member for Belfast, South is his usual charitable self in saying that it is rather strange.

I refer now to political progress. Intense efforts have been made to secure the beginning of political talks on an inclusive basis. As hon. Members know, the talks began, on schedule, on 10 June. The Government welcome Senator Mitchell's assumption of the chair at the opening plenary session, and the appointment of General de Chastelain and Mr. Holkeri as chairman of strand 2 and the business committee and alternate chairman respectively. I express our deep appreciation of the selfless willingness of these distinguished gentlemen to help.

All nine parties presently participating in this political process have formally affirmed their commitment to the six principles of democracy and non-violence set out in the report of the international body that had been chaired by Senator Mitchell. However well the participants' democratic credentials were already established, I believe that it was an important step for them to reaffirm those principles—and they have done so. We would require the same of Sinn Fein if it succeeds in lifting its self-imposed exclusion.

I believe that these talks can succeed. We have come a long way already, but we must go a great deal further. There have been significant shifts in thinking in recent years among many of those present in the negotiations. The participants arrive at the negotiations with a mandate from their electors to take part to the full in the process. There is clearly a deep wish among the population of Northern Ireland—and, indeed, among all the people of these islands—after years of conflict, for a lasting peace and for consolidation of all the advantages and opportunities of which we have had a foretaste since the ceasefires.

The process commands much international support—I believe that there is much to welcome and nothing to suspect in that. As we have repeatedly made clear, the way forward lies in the hands of the participants. However, it bodes well for Northern Ireland, in the context of any future settlement, that there is such a high degree of positive international understanding. In looking back to the enthusiasm and delight with which the visit of President Clinton was greeted, I believe that the people of Northern Ireland understand that.

An important complement to the talks will be the elected forum, which had its first meeting last Friday—14 June. As has been made clear, it has no authority over the negotiations—it is a purely deliberative body. We see its usefulness lying in its ability to debate ways forward in the development of dialogue and understanding between the communities in Northern Ireland, and more broadly. It can do this with the benefit of the views of a wide range of interests that might be invited to address it—many of whom may be outside the political sphere. I am most grateful to Mr. John Gorman for agreeing to take on the sensitive role of the forum's interim chairman, and I wish it well.

I have set out our hopes for the negotiations and for the future well-being of Northern Ireland, which in many ways turns on them. We are likely to have months of discussion ahead—indeed, I hope that we do. It is unlikely to be a rapid process, and it may often be a rough and uncomfortable one. The rewards of the process are potentially great for all sections of the community in Northern Ireland. Indeed, the welfare of people in both islands is intimately bound up with the settlement that we hope to reach and to put to the people in a referendum.

There is a great responsibility on all of us who are involved in the negotiations. Sinn Fein could have been a part of the negotiations, had the IRA not abandoned its ceasefire. Sinn Fein could have joined the negotiations last week, but the IRA chose not to restore the ceasefire and to bomb the people in Manchester instead. The talks will continue—with or without Sinn Fein. The IRA can destroy the prospects of Sinn Fein—the other side of its coin—being a part of the talks process, but the IRA cannot destroy the talks process.

I hope that we shall soon have a more satisfactory basis for administration in Northern Ireland. Until then, however, we must renew the current arrangements. I commend the draft order to the House.

7.37 pm
Ms Marjorie Mowlam (Redcar)

Tonight, we have come to the House to renew the Northern Ireland Act 1974 at a time when many of the Northern Ireland Members of Parliament are working in Belfast, trying to move the talks process forward. We have come here in an atmosphere of sadness and grave disappointment. Our thoughts must be with the victims, and their families, of Saturday's sickening terrorist attack in Manchester. We commend their courage, and the courage of all the people of that town, as they continue the huge task of clearing up after the devastation of the IRA bomb.

When the Secretary of State sums up this evening, it might be helpful if he would tell us about any special arrangements or compensation that might be available to those who live and work in and around the Arndale centre in Manchester.

The Labour party has nothing but outright condemnation and contempt for the callous individuals who mounted this attack and for the cowards who sanctioned it. Had it not been for the professionalism of the police in clearing the area and for sheer good fortune, dozens of people could have lost their lives.

Those who carried out this act must be brought to justice swiftly. We are delighted with the response from the public in support of the police in their investigations. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) said on Saturday: If the IRA think they can shift the resolve of any Government with this action they are cruelly mistaken. After the bombing in Manchester, it is up to Sinn Fein to convince us that it has a commitment to the peace process. It is up to Sinn Fein to say and do whatever is necessary to restore what confidence it can in its shattered credibility. It is a tribute to the determination of the leaders of the loyalist community that its ceasefire has been maintained.

When the bomb exploded at Canary Wharf on 9 February, killing Ivan Bashir and John Jeffries, the two Governments pledged their determination to continue the search for peace. Their concerted efforts produced the communiqué of 28 February, which detailed the route to the all-party talks on 10 June. Not everyone agreed with that route—we understand why—but everyone followed it.

The agreed stance adopted by the British and the Irish Governments demonstrated its worth once again this week. We welcome and fully support the two Governments' determination to continue the talks process. In view of the public anger about the appalling murder of Garda McCabe in the Republic of Ireland, we acknowledge the Irish Government's decision to keep under review their official level contacts with Sinn Fein. They are asking very important questions, to which we all want a response.

The optimum result is a peace process that is as inclusive as possible. Although that is impossible at the moment, we must keep alive the possibility of inclusive dialogue at some point in the future. Following the important and welcome progress today, I hope that the talks in Belfast will continue with those parties who demonstrate, day in and day out, their commitment to peace and democracy. If Sinn Fein cannot do that, as the Secretary of State said this evening, the process must continue without them.

This annual debate has often taken place in exceptional circumstances—as it does again this evening—but it is concerned primarily with the Secretary of State's stewardship of Northern Ireland affairs in the past 12 months. In the absence of a new agreed settlement, decisions continue to be taken at a distance from the people of Northern Ireland in a manner that is not accountable. The absence of an agreement in Northern Ireland means that the centralisation of decision making in Westminster persists. When a policy is mistaken or when the Government mishandle a situation, people and businesses in Northern Ireland suffer, but their influence is limited.

For an example, we need look no further than the chaos and confusion surrounding the current beef crisis. Northern Ireland farmers should compare favourably with their counterparts in Britain if the framework before the European Union is accepted. Some 90 per cent. of the herds in Northern Ireland are grass-fed, there is a low incidence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, and a traceability system is in place. I have not read the details of the agreement announced on the news this evening, but it appears to be very general. It seems as though reference must be made to the veterinary committee every time the process moves forward. I do not think that it will make a big difference to the beef farmers in Northern Ireland, many of whom face disaster.

The privatisation of Northern Ireland Electricity is another case in point. The current level of profits and prices are against consumer interests in Northern Ireland. A Monopolies and Mergers Commission referral is long overdue and the Government must account to the people of Northern Ireland for that delay. Furthermore, this year's Budget contained a nasty sting for training providers. Groups face cuts of between 25 and 40 per cent. after the adult community employment reductions. The Government pulled a further £2 million out of the hat, but only after sustained pressure.

Given the appalling level of unemployment in Northern Ireland—which costs taxpayers more than £300 million per year—it is economically and socially short-sighted to cut training schemes, especially when alternative plans, such as the community work programme, are struggling to get going. The Government's misplaced priorities are affecting key services in Northern Ireland.

Mismanagement has also proved a problem in the past year with the rise and rise of bureaucracy in the health service. Budget cuts are plunging the Northern Ireland health trusts into crisis only three months into the financial year. Northern Ireland's hospitals are gearing up for a summer of chaos. Hospitals such as the Royal Victoria in Belfast or Musgrave Park face theatre closures and cuts in the number of beds and jobs. Patient care will suffer and bureaucracy will escalate—that is the outcome of the Government's health policies.

When ideology triumphs over common sense, services suffer, money is wasted and the concerns of local people—citizens, consumers, business people and community representatives—are ignored. Sadly, that problem is not exclusive to the Government's stewardship in Northern Ireland—far from it. It is a symptom of a deeper malaise throughout the United Kingdom of a Government who are distant from and out of touch with the people.

Unless there is an agreement between the parties and consent is granted for a new settlement, the order will come before the House in the same form next year. A general election will intervene between now and then. If no agreement is reached and if a Labour Government are proposing the renewal of the order, we shall implement different policies from those that we are reviewing this year.

Labour has made it unequivocally clear that there can be no change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland without the consent of a majority of its people. It seems clear to me that an acceptance of that principle of consent means that Northern Ireland will continue as part of the United Kingdom for a long time into the future. There is clearly not consent among Unionists for a united Ireland and it is equally clear that Northern Ireland's existing status does not command the consent of nationalists. That is why we need new arrangements and structures that both communities can support. As we have said on previous occasions, Labour wants to see reconciliation between the two communities and between the two parts of Ireland—north and south—on the basis of consent.

Rev. Martin Smyth

I press the hon. Lady on that point. First, talk about two communities is often interpreted as division on the grounds of religion, but can people with opposing nationality claims share the same objectives? Secondly, the costs of generating electricity in Northern Ireland are a real problem and I understand that the contract will remain in place until 2002. Is the hon. Lady giving a commitment on behalf of her party that a Labour Government would reduce electricity generation costs in Northern Ireland?

Ms Mowlam

As to the hon. Gentleman's last point, the nature of those costs will be put before the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. The hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that the contract extends until 2002. However, we shall refer it to the MMC and, we hope, it will be dealt with. As to the hon. Gentleman's first point about the two communities and those with different national identities reaching some kind of agreement, he and I and the House should address that issue together. The hon. Gentleman's views and his ability to find ways to co-operate and to build consensus between the two communities are a crucial part of the equation.

Reconciliation between the two communities need not, as he suggests, be rooted in territory, in flags or in domination. It must be based on respect and therefore on an acceptance of each community's allegiances to Ireland or Britain and to Europe. That involves building agreement around institutions that all can share and that fully respect people's sense of allegiance to one nation or another.

That approach embraces the principles of the joint framework document which—together with the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the Downing Street declaration—Labour recognises is a milestone on the road to peace. They are a testament to the commitment of the two Governments to work closely together in order to make progress in the search for peace. Labour would continue that work with the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland parties in order to reach a balanced settlement through negotiation and agreement.

If any party believes that it will get a better deal from Labour in the negotiations—assuming that we will be prepared to bully or to pressure a particular community in order to reach a settlement—it is badly mistaken. We support and uphold the principle of consent. We repudiate and reject the politics of threat and coercion. We will continue the talks, given the chance, in pursuit of agreement. We will uphold Labour's principles, which are, in essence, about justice, fairness and common sense.

We will also apply those principles in other parts of policy, such as policing. Our proposals improve significantly on those from the Government. For example, we have suggested the election of representatives to the police authority; assigning responsibility for implementing change; and progress in changing the composition of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

Our principles of fairness and justice will apply to anti-discrimination and fair employment proposals. We have made a detailed submission to the review of fair employment being undertaken at present by the Standing Advisory Committee on Human Rights. There is also a clear Labour commitment on human rights. We have made clear our commitment to the incorporation of the European convention on human rights into law in Northern Ireland, as in Britain, and we will work with the parties—which I hope will be working together already—to develop and introduce a Bill of Rights.

We will complete our consultations and introduce policies that will have a real impact on the day-to-day lives of people in Northern Ireland in areas such as the economy, welfare changes and nursery provision. After the vote in another place earlier this week, we hope that the nursery vouchers scheme, which would destroy chances of nursery education, can be stopped in time to provide decent places for three and four-year-olds.

One sensitive subject, proposals on which should be considered and debated more fully, is that of marches and parades. I have spoken and written often to the Secretary of State on that matter. Obviously, there are no simple answers, but we believe that the Government could give their view on the proposals that have been made by ourselves and others in recent weeks. The proposals include the establishment of an independent advisory group to inform the Secretary of State—not to dictate to him—of possible steps to reduce tensions and meet community concerns; the possibility of prescribing guidelines for the conduct of parades in disputed areas; and a system of prior planning permission, as has been recently proposed. It would be interesting if the Government would respond to those suggestions this evening.

I have said clearly tonight that no one should wait for Labour to make a difference in the negotiations. I hope that I have shown, by our criticisms of the Secretary of State's stewardship in the past year and by our policy commitments, that, given the chance, our policies would make a difference to people's lives in Northern Ireland. We believe that the practical policies that I have outlined tonight would make a difference to all communities in their day-to-day lives. For now, we support and encourage the Government in continuing to try to take the talks process forward. We will do all that we can to help and support them in that task.

7.52 pm
Sir James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)

I owe it to the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam) to follow her on the key phrase she used—"the principle of consent". On the one word "consent", all else that we will consider tonight turns. It is the crucial term and, in some ways, is the only issue that should concern us in coming days.

My respectful advice to the hon. Lady would be that, if we seek consent in the political sense, we should not start with a high-wire act. The media of the world are orchestrated by Mr. Adams who has now become a television producer, given the way he managed and choreographed the photographs at the gate, which was not barred or locked, and the rehearsal that produced those magnificent pictures from the gullible news industry. I dismiss the mistaken idea that, when seeking to achieve consent, one should start with a blaze of glory and a tooting of trumpets on the high-wire act, because, instead of making progress, one falls off.

The fact that I am a modest man with much to be modest about teaches me that the only way to make progress is to go down the scale of options until we find the lowest level at which consent can be maintained. When we have done that, we can then start patiently building on the consent thus obtained, but right hon. and hon. Members should not imagine that we can do it the other way around.

Had this debate been held a week earlier, it would probably have been difficult for any hon. Member to express honestly held views about the farce of what my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) has termed the 21st annual interim period extension device, which we are debating tonight, and how it could be replaced by some practical, permanent method of governing one of the four components of the United Kingdom. We would have been told a week ago to hold our horses, not to stir the situation or to reach for the impossible because devolution is just around the corner. The events of the past seven days have swept away all the inhibitions of two decades. We cannot now be silenced by exhortations to give peace a chance; to win the battle for hearts and minds; or to turn a blind eye to perceived concessions to terrorists in the expectation that those terrorists would be placated by perceived instalments of their ultimate aim.

Over two decades, the majority of right hon. and hon. Members have had reservations, but understandably they have felt that perhaps experiments should be put to the test. We now know the result, and the rescue brigade should not come to the aid of terrorists by insulting our intelligence with suggestions that contacts should be maintained and doors should be kept open to enable Mr. Adams and his friends to regain credibility for an utterly dishonest campaign which is as transparent as that waged by Hitler in 1939 and 1940, when he trampled all over eastern Europe and, at the same time, proclaimed himself a man of peace. I suggest that no public figure will want to forfeit respect by allowing himself to be conned yet again.

Rev. Martin Smyth

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be wrong to follow the line of those in the media who misunderstood TUAS to mean a tactical use of the armed struggle instead of the total use of the armed struggle, which Hitler adopted and which Gerry Adams adopts?

Sir James Molyneaux

My hon. Friend knows the news industry well enough by now to know that, dedicated as it is to the ever-lasting search for soundbites as opposed to substance, it is not surprising that the news organisations fed off each other, brainwashed each other and came to a shallow conclusion without a shred of evidence. I hope that my hon. Friend will not feel that that is too harsh a stricture on the news industry, but I feel that it has a lot to answer for.

Another ceasefire or promise to disarm might spark some interest in the minds of some and might possibly provide material for chat shows, but would not be relevant now. The only real issue is the principle of consent, as the hon. Member for Redcar has said. It is not in the nature of terrorists anywhere to accept the democratic principle of consent. The rest of mankind takes it for granted, but consent exists in the terrorist vocabulary only for the purpose of calculating how a democratic people can be terrorised into consenting. For them, democracy will always have a low priority. The bomb and the gun have to be retained, not as a fall-back position, but as the driving force and the engine to extract concessions that will lead to surrender to ultimate terrorist demands.

Against that sober background, I appeal to the current Irish Government and any future Irish Government not to continue reiterating demands for concessions to republican requirements. That justification has disappeared now that the destruction of democracy is the asking price for a cessation of violence. No Irish Government should contemplate paying that price, even by instalments. Nor should a Dublin Government try to pressurise any British Government to consider such folly. The democratic structures of the United Kingdom must not be mutilated when it has been proved that such a course would achieve precisely nothing in return.

The main purpose of the recent election—the forum and the so-called peace talks—has been obliterated. The Secretary of State's curious requirement—as it is not original, I am not blaming the right hon. and learned Gentleman for inventing it—that there should be all-party support for any structure or option effectively rules out the possibility of devolved government in the foreseeable future. That being so, I shall stop beating my head against that brick wall.

Why does the Secretary imagine, or in what circumstances does he imagine, that the House would require all-party backing for arrangements for Scotland, for example, as my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South has said? Why does the right hon. and learned Gentleman imagine that in the current talks he is likely to achieve results, when he knows, as I know, that, despite our determined efforts when he chaired the strand 1 talks in 1992, we were unable—two Governments and four parties were involved—to achieve agreement? Why is it thought possible now, with two and a half Governments involved—the half being the Government across the Atlantic—and nine or 10 parties, that they will be any more successful in achieving results?

It is to be hoped that the Government, given that the purpose of the election—the forum and the talks—has been obliterated in its main purpose, or main published and alleged purpose, would consider it possible to come to the House for consultation on possible future roles for the structures so recently established.

Soon, I know, we shall have predictable bleatings about the imaginary vacuum, which would probably be not all that much greater than in Scotland and Wales or the regions of England; but I have a duty to counter any anxiety about a possible vacuum, and in doing so I enlist the aid of the business managers and other parties in both Houses of Parliament.

With Northern Ireland ministerial co-operation, we can make fuller use, for example, of Wednesday morning sittings. We must press on with the aim of expanding the role of the Northern Ireland Grand Committee with provisions for sittings in Northern Ireland, in line with its Scottish counterpart. We can encourage Northern Ireland Members, in addition to those who are nominated, to attend legislative Committees of the House and to participate in debates.

In Northern Ireland, we can make more effective the scrutiny of proposed legislation by providing councillors with specialist knowledge with opportunities to discuss all important legislation with Ministers or heads of Departments at post-consultative stage.

As you will remember, Mr. Deputy Speaker, a week ago we touched on ideas for an economic committee based on both Houses of Parliament to buttress the excellent work of the Under-Secretary of State, Baroness Denton, along with that of her Department and the Industrial Development Board. There may have been the usual objections from the vaults of the Northern Ireland Office, but the grounds for such rearguard action have now been conclusively removed. We must start making progress in streamlining the system of governing the United Kingdom, including the Northern Ireland component, which my colleagues and I represent.

The resumption of violence will become a deterrent to investors, and that must be countered. The creation of a new all-party committee, based on both Houses, will do much to give confidence to overseas investors, and I hope will be of great assistance and support to the Secretary of State and his colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office.

As the debate is focused on constitutional matters and not on security, I shall refrain from tendering in public my suggestions on security. It is, as the Secretary of State said this evening, for the Government to decide what new measures are required to defend the Queen's subjects wherever domiciled from terrorism from whatever quarter.

I trust that we have not entirely forgotten or dismissed the suggestion made by the Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), for a supremo without ministerial burdens to co-ordinate a counter-insurgency strategy within the United Kingdom and Crown territories. We should not underestimate the benefits to the IRA of its tactical lull in terms of training, targeting and re-equipping over the past two years of the so-called ceasefire.

I believe that there is an urgent need for the Government to consult other European Governments to discover how those Governments completely eliminated the scourge of terrorism from their territories. I do not doubt the capacity of the security forces and the police throughout the United Kingdom to meet the challenge, but the morale of the general public in Northern Ireland in the main and—I say this from experience of moving about this island—that of the general public here is in urgent need of repair. The public need to be convinced that the 20-year retreat is over and that the Government are convinced that any perceived concessions will merely prolong the agony and encourage murderers to do even more.

In conclusion, and in short, the Government must let it be seen that they now intend to take sides and support the 85 per cent. of people who flatly refused to vote for Sinn Fein-IRA on 30 May.

8.7 pm

Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke)

It is a privilege to take up the remarks of the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Sir J. Molyneaux). Not for the first time, and I am sure not for the last, I find that I substantially agree with the greater part of his speech. I detect, however, one area of disagreement, with which I shall deal later. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not take exception to what I shall say.

As for the substantial business of the evening, the issue is somewhat academic. There is no alternative. Indeed, there are no options. The Northern Ireland Act 1974 must be renewed. When we debate the other hardy annuals, the emergency provisions and prevention of terrorism legislation, hon. Members sometimes make the point that they wish different circumstances would prevail and that the day would come when renewal would no longer be necessary. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State said in his opening remarks, the same argument applies to the measure that is before us.

We look forward to the day when there need no longer be direct rule in Northern Ireland. We look forward, of course, to the time when the democratic deficit can be addressed positively by the establishment of acceptable forms of government in the Province. Whatever our analysis of the present situation in Northern Ireland, and whatever our personal future agendas on Northern Ireland, we can agree that, for the time being, there is no alternative but to renew the 1974 Act.

As for the present situation, from one point of view, as the saying goes, it is a case of "I think we'll have to think it out again"; it is time to go back to the drawing board. The bomb last Saturday certainly brought destruction to Manchester. It also blew apart many of the illusions that had dogged the so-called "peace" process for many months.

As I see things, we are, in a manner of speaking, back at base. In effect, we are starting out again. In that context, I shall make just three brief observations. I shall state them simply and then expand them. First, in prevailing or foreseeable circumstances, the Provisionals' participation in the process has come to an end. Secondly, the talks should continue without the Provisionals. Thirdly, we should revise our priorities; security issues should now share equal prominence with the search for political agreement between the constitutional parties.

First—regarding the Provisionals' participation in the process—it is, I contend, self-evident that the Manchester bomb has underlined and reinforced Sinn Fein-IRA's self-exclusion from the process. Both in prevailing and in foreseeable circumstances it seems that that self-exclusion is now absolute. The leader writer in The Independent on Monday made the point when he wrote: The whole point of this process as originally envisaged was that it included Sinn Fein and the IRA. It is very hard to see how they can be brought back for a long time. The leader writer in The Guardian on the same day made precisely the same point: There is no evidence that they Sinn Fein— can deliver peace, and plenty of evidence that they intend to continue with war. Unless and until that changes, there is no point in talking to them in the current process. After the Manchester bomb and after the shooting of the Garda officers in the Republic, there should be no illusions. There is no place in a civilised society for Sinn Fein-IRA, let alone in negotiations seeking to create in Northern Ireland new relations based exclusively on non-violence and democracy. It beggars belief. In Northern Ireland, they have threatened, intimidated, tortured and murdered. In England, they bomb shoppers on a Saturday morning. In the Republic of Ireland they shoot policemen. At the same time, they have the audacity to claim that they want peace and to take the gun out of Irish politics. There is no place for such people in negotiations, and there never can be while that mind set prevails.

Mr. Adams says that he will not be deflected from the search for peace. Of course, if he is serious, he can begin immediately. He can unequivocally and unreservedly condemn those who planted the bomb in Manchester and those who murdered Garda Officer McCabe. He can publicly renounce, denounce and repudiate the IRA, but he will not do that. Unless he does, talk of "unauthorised" IRA operations and divisions within the Republican movement count for nothing, and Sinn Fein-IRA's self-exclusion will remain absolute.

Moreover, the renewing of a so-called "ceasefire" at some point in the future as the key to entry into negotiations is surely now woefully inadequate. The first point is that the Provisionals are out; we can regard their self-exclusion as absolute. The second point is that the talks must go on. Faced with the Provisionals' self-exclusion, there is a choice for the two Governments and the other parties: either to call it a day, pack their bags and go home, or to continue without Sinn Fein.

I strongly reject the argument that talks without Sinn Fein are not worth the candle. I welcome the Government's decision to press on, and I understand that that is the decision of the other parties as well. First, the primacy of importance that some commentators and politicians have hitherto given to Sinn Fein's participation has been misplaced. It is highly questionable that an agreement involving Sinn Fein was ever achievable. It is even more questionable now.

I do not believe that the Provisionals have ever been interested in compromise, and they are not interested now. They are not prepared to accept anything short of what can be sold to their supporters as a transitional package leading clearly and inevitably to a united Ireland; an irreversible step on the road to that united Ireland, regardless of the wishes of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland. It is self-evident that such a transitional package would be unacceptable to all Unionists, both on the mainland and in Northern Ireland—and rightly so.

Secondly, talks without Sinn Fein are effectively a revival of the three-strand talks, the so-called Brooke initiative of 1991—I refer to my right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke)—which my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State resumed in 1992. On this, I have a slight difference of understanding from the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley, as I do not believe that the exercises were fruitless. He made a point about the breakdown on strand 1 issues. My understanding is that agreement was well and truly in sight but the Social Democratic and Labour party—I regret that no member of it is here to correct or answer me on this point—changed its position, to the surprise of others, at the last moment. I believe that it was possible during those talks—I believe that it is possible now—dimly to discern potentially promising areas of common ground and common thinking between Unionists and nationalists. I believe that it is worth exploring that ground again.

Sir James Molyneaux

I can set the hon. Gentleman's mind at rest. I was not implying that the talks were a complete failure, because, as he said, much ground work was done. The phrase used at the time, as the Secretary of State will remember, was that they were "banked". They are still there. The only difference between the hon. Gentleman and me is that I was far too delicate to apportion the blame to my neighbours from the SDLP, who are not here at the moment.

Mr. Hunter

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that clarification.

I was listing the reasons that I believe that negotiations, talks, without Sinn Fein should be pursued, and the last reason I have for holding that position is my belief that an agreement reached by the representatives of 85 per cent. of the people of Northern Ireland is better than no agreement at all. The resolution of Northern Ireland's "democratic deficit" is highly desirable. Moreover, an agreement by the 85 per cent. on the form of Government within the Province and on the structures for communication and co-operation with the Republic would further isolate the men of violence. I argue that it is not unreasonable to hope that Unionists and constitutional nationalists can find substantial areas for agreement through negotiations. My second point, then, is that negotiations should proceed with Sinn Fein.

My third and final point is this. I believe that we should revise our priorities in an important respect. That is not a thought that I have previously shared with my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, but I do not think that he will consider it heretical, because he alluded to much of what I believe in his opening remarks.

The reality is that the IRA is at war with the British and Irish people. Since 9 February, IRA active service units have planted no fewer than seven bombs on the mainland, and more can be expected. They have murdered two people, and they could have murdered many more. They have injured more than 300 people—I fear, scarring and psychologically traumatising some for life. The cost of repairing the damage by those bombs is in the region of half a billion pounds, and this campaign has not been as intensive as some in the past.

The IRA safely stores the greater part of its arsenal of weapons and explosives in the Republic of Ireland.

Mr. Thomas McAvoy (Glasgow, Rutherglen)

Will the hon. Gentleman explain what he means when he says that the IRA "safely stores" its arms in the Republic?

Mr. Hunter

We have reason to believe that the overwhelming majority of those arms remain undetected. Therefore, by definition, they are safely stored. The Garda have made a number of discoveries, and have caught IRA personnel in transit moving a minute proportion of the arms and explosives; but the greater part are safely stored, undetected.

There, in the Republic of Ireland, the IRA maintains various echelons of its command, or parts of them; it recruits and trains volunteers, as it does in Northern Ireland. Through robbery and other means, the IRA is raising funds in the Republic. It uses Irish ports to transport men and materials to this country. Most recently, it has murdered one Irish police officer and wounded a second. That state of affairs cannot be tolerated in either country, and it must not be tolerated. It calls for thought and action.

I stress that I do not advocate the proverbial emotive, knee-jerk response to terrorist activity or terrorist violence. That could be unwise, and could prove counter-productive. I do, however, advocate a fundamental review of security, which should receive as much detailed attention as is given to the search for political agreement between the constitutional parties. The review should be conducted jointly by the two Governments, because security measures are most effective if they are undertaken in that way. In the light of the common threat to the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland posed by the IRA, ideally we and the Irish Government would have a common security policy and a common security programme.

The right tone and tenor of such a security review would be assured if the two Prime Ministers led, as they have on political matters. In short, I believe that there is a case for a security summit, from which a common security policy and a common security programme could flow.

I certainly do not claim to be an expert on these matters, but I am aware of some areas in which, in the past, the Army, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and others have felt that improvements could be made. By that, I mean the conditions governing hot pursuit across the border from both sides; special operations within the Republic; cross-border communication between the respective police forces and armies at a tactical level; our use of Irish air space; and the gathering and exchange of intelligence, which is the ultimate weapon in the battle against terrorism. No doubt there are other areas of concern. I believe that they should be addressed as a matter of urgency. A fundamental review of our security could also consider that range of other measures that have been deployed against the IRA from time to time, such as the broadcasting ban, internment and a strategy for border crossing points.

The essential point, however, is that sovereign Governments must assure themselves, and must be able to assure their citizens, that everything possible is being done, first to protect people and property, and secondly to enforce the rule of law. In the prevailing circumstances, it must be restated that security is our equal highest priority—hence the argument for a security summit to achieve maximum co-operation and joint action with the Irish Government.

Let me summarise my argument. The situation has changed, but it should not cause total despair. We now know where we stand. In prevailing and foreseeable circumstances, the Provisionals' self-exclusion from the process is absolute. The talks must go on, and hopefully an agreement can be reached. An agreement reached by the representatives of 85 per cent. of the people of Northern Ireland is better than no agreement. We must revise our priorities, and refocus attention on security issues. In the context of an agreement between the constitutional parties, joint security measures could probably be implemented more effectively. Meanwhile, we must live with the Northern Ireland Act 1974 for a little longer.

8.26 pm
Mr. Thomas McAvoy (Glasgow, Rutherglen)

I speak as a Labour member of the Northern Ireland Select Committee.

The nature of what we are discussing, and the inevitability of it, have already been mentioned, but I feel that particularly in the aftermath of the Manchester bombing and the murder of Garda McCabe, it would be useful for a Labour Back Bencher to describe the fury that is felt about those events. We have never supported, sympathised with or even hinted that we see any justification for violence. These latest terrorist atrocities are just the latest in a long line, but the timing is especially unfortunate. Everyone had hoped that we were heading towards a constitutional settlement in Northern Ireland at last, and hon. Members are particularly angry for that reason.

Direct rule is not the answer, as all hon. Members know, but it will be inevitable for as long as the present situation continues. The IRA maintains that it is fighting for a united Ireland and that it holds out the hand of friendship to Northern Ireland's Unionist population, but, as has been pointed out, what it did in Manchester poses a particular threat to investment. The IRA's threats of violence endanger the future economic development of Northern Ireland.

How can the IRA pose as the arbiter of an all-Ireland arrangement when it is damaging the very country that it professes to wish to unite? Let me put it in a more human way. Each person that the IRA kills or maims in Northern Ireland creates a group of people who are then not prepared—understandably—to listen to overtures of so-called peace from it. The IRA has created pools of bitterness by attacking and murdering people in Northern Ireland: that is its legacy. It aims to create a united Ireland, yet its actions are creating deeper divisions and are turning people against its cause.

My hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam) and my right hon. Friend the leader of the Labour party have the complete support of Labour Back Benchers when they say that the threats, intimidation and violence of the IRA will make no difference to how we conduct ourselves, not only in opposition but, I hope, in a year's time when we are in government. That isthe message of not only Labour Front Benchers but Labour Back Benchers.

The loyalist paramilitaries are setting an example of maturity and discipline. Men of past violence are now committed to the democratic process and have signed up to the Mitchell commission's six principles.

The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Sir J. Molyneaux), in yet another thoughtful speech, mentioned the principle of consent. The majority in Northern Ireland do not favour leaving the United Kingdom. I must say to the right hon. Gentleman and to my other friends on the Unionist Benches that, too often when they make speeches about consent, they leave out another aspect of the matter: that, if we are to have a system in Northern Ireland that has the broad consent of the majority of the people, the Unionist community must have the broad consent of the nationalist community to institutions and organisations in Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend the Member for Redcar recognised that point in her speech.

The Unionist community has the strength of being in the majority, but I should like to see it take the high-profile position of being seen to offer the nationalist community consent and consensus, not just by rhetoric but by its actions. The Ulster Unionist party, the majority party representing the Unionist community, should be more open in extending the hand of friendship and negotiation to the nationalist community.

My hon. Friend the Member for Redcar made a point that I have made repeatedly in the past: the flashpoint of parades must be addressed. We broadly support the Government's stance, but I regret the fact that efforts have not been made to establish community consent for parades. The two communities in Northern Ireland recognise the desirability of parades, but it would help if there was a mechanism that allowed the communities to agree. I do not see the point of any organisation parading through an area where it knows that it is not welcome. The Secretary of State should establish some mechanism to secure consent in the communities for parades.

The position in Scotland has been mentioned, but it is different. Although there are differences of opinion on devolution or a Scottish assembly, there is no organised violence, and each side recognises that there are political differences. I agree with the principle of devolution.

I congratulate the Secretary of State and the Government on the co-operation and understanding that they have reached with the Irish Government. As my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar said, we make progress in the Northern Ireland-Ireland peace process when the British and Irish Governments take the same course, taking all political parties with them.

I have been mildly critical of the Ulster Unionist party, but I congratulate it on its professional and constructive attitude to the forum and the talks. Its example of being prepared not to surrender a point but to negotiate is a good one. It has reflected well the aspirations of the community it represents.

Another problem is the so-called punishment beatings, of which some loyalists are as guilty as the IRA. Who do these people think they are that they can be police, judge and executioner? They must be stopped.

The IRA's action in Manchester was a betrayal of the mandate it received in last month's elections. It sought a mandate on the basis of its participation in the peace process. As soon as it got that mandate, it betrayed it and returned to violence.

I do not agree that the IRA is a monolithic organisation with no nuances within it. There are differences of opinion; it is not quite as straightforward or simple as some folk say.

The House should send the message that violence and intimidation will not work, and will make no difference to the negotiations. If the IRA is genuinely seeking to represent its people—albeit only 15 per cent. of the population—it must declare a ceasefire and return to the peace process.

Everybody must know that the atmosphere in Northern Ireland during the ceasefire was first-class. People relaxed and felt that they could live a little without the fear of being killed. If the IRA wants a united Ireland, in the sense not of uniting bits of land but of two communities opposing violence and talking to each other, it should abandon violence, sign the six Mitchell principles and recognise that there is no future in its continued violence.

8.38 pm
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State said that the original legislation that gives rise to tonight's order imposed temporary direct rule on Northern Ireland while a new way forward was sorted out. More than 20 years later, we are marking the passing of yet another 12 months and being asked to approve a further extension. It is not putting too fine a point on the matter to say that that is extremely depressing.

Some of us, sadly, also find it extremely predictable. I have a sense that things are worse rather than better. If we are ever to break that apparently never-ending sequence, we must take stock of the peace process. I share the belief of my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) that things are fundamentally different since the Manchester bombing.

Where are we one year on, as we renew yet again this inevitable order? Direct rule is still with us, and I see no sign of it going away before we observe this ritual again next year. Local government in Northern Ireland is still virtually powerless, despite all-party co-operation being a daily fact of life in the council chambers of Northern Ireland.

If my right hon. and learned Friend cannot make progress with constitutional matters, he may find it worth while to examine local government powers as a one-off way of showing that democratic and peaceful co-operation between parties that believe in working with each other can deliver results. Progress in that direction need not be so controversial that it would bring the house down around us.

One year on, the peace process is still alive, but probably only just. In a strange way, that process may have been given a chance by the Canary Wharf and Manchester bombings rather than totally ruined, for one particular reason. Those two bombings, particularly Manchester, finally brought all democrats to their senses. Those two atrocities proved to me beyond doubt that one-sided concessions do not lead to permanent peace, and will never lead to justice. The bombings showed also that appeasing evil is not only degrading but achieves nothing.

We must compare the achievements of the British and Dublin Governments and Sinn Fein-IRA. That is an uncomfortable task, but essential if we are to understand our position and make progress. I regret having to say that the British Government's achievements over the past 12 months make the most dismal reading—although I do not blame them. The most noticeable features that come to mind are £100 million of damage and a death at Canary Wharf and at least £100 million of damage in Manchester.

The Dublin Government have made significant progress of the sort that is deeply damaging to UK interests. During the past year, Dublin has established an effective veto over what is left of the peace process, as shown in the discussions leading to the all-party talks, and in the wrangling over Senator Mitchell. Now, the UK must obtain the agreement of a foreign Government before we can make any progress with our peace process, which appals me.

Regrettably, the achievements of Sinn Fein-IRA over the past year have been huge and—in their eyes at least—impressive, but in my eyes they are a total affront to the people of Northern Ireland. Over the past 12 months, Sinn Fein-IRA have bombed a date for talks out of the British and Dublin Governments. They have retained every one of their guns and every ounce of their explosives—apart from those used for tactical reasons. Sinn Fein-IRA have managed to drag an American president into a UK domestic matter, which has always been their aim. They have managed by their pressure and menace to foist on the people of the UK a foreigner as the chairman of all-party talks.

That is not all—not by any stretch of the imagination is that half of it. The worst thing is that, during the past year, and the year before, Sinn Fein-IRA have been able to re-equip, train, recruit and target the innocent virtually unhindered. When we started the peace process two years ago, Sinn Fein-IRA were demoralised, well and truly infiltrated, and effectively contained by the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the British Army. As I read it, at that time they were suing for peace. Two years later, Sinn Fein-IRA are revitalised and have reorganised. I say clearly and simply that we should be ashamed of ourselves for having allowed that to happen.

We must first admit, if we are to make progress, that we have been conned by Sinn Fein-IRA. Somehow—for reasons that commentators have tried to explain—we managed to persuade ourselves that Sinn Fein-IRA were willing to accept democracy and to fool ourselves that they had halted their violence and called a ceasefire. I totally agree with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke in his brave and deeply impressive speech.

Where is the evidence that Sinn Fein-IRA have become democratic? Only yesterday, Adams refused to say whether he is pressing his co-terrorists for a ceasefire. Only yesterday, Adams refused to repudiate an armed struggle. Only yesterday, Adams refused yet again to condemn the murder of a policeman in the Republic or the Manchester bombing.

It is crystal clear that Sinn Fein-IRA hold democracy in contempt. They always have. They have continued to do so during the peace process, and they always will. Where is the evidence that Sinn Fein-IRA have ever halted their violence or called a real ceasefire? The grisly list of mutilations and murders has continued growing day by day throughout the past year. The Canary Wharf and Manchester bombings confirm that the so-called ceasefire was nothing but a cynical and tactical ploy. The British and Dublin Governments, never Sinn Fein-IRA, said that the ceasefire was permanent. We kidded ourselves into believing that, because we wanted to believe it.

Now that we know the Sinn Fein-IRA definition of a ceasefire, I sincerely hope that we finally understand that, if Sinn Fein-IRA were to reinstate their so-called "ceasefire", it would be nothing short of a sick joke. I sincerely hope that no one will ever again fall for that ploy. We must realise that another cynical declaration is far removed from what must happen if Sinn Fein-IRA are ever to be allowed to sit down with genuine democrats.

The second thing we must do when deciding where we go from here—in addition to being conned in the past year, and vowing that we will not let it happen again—is to realise that we are still trying to do the same thing. We are still trying to kid ourselves, to make ourselves feel a little more cheerful. I still hear people saying that they want to believe, and that they do believe, that Sinn Fein-IRA are made up of different organisations.

A few moments ago, I heard the hon. Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy) suggest that Sinn Fein-IRA are perhaps not as organised as they might be. I still hear people wishfully thinking that there is a split in the IRA. But those are very dangerous fallacies.

Mr. McAvoy

For the record, I did not say that the IRA was not organised; I said that it was not monolithic. There is a difference.

Mr. Wilshire

I accept that. I was trying very hard not to suggest that the hon. Gentleman was necessarily caught up in some of my criticisms, but he gave me an opportunity to say that there are people who think in that way. I entirely accept his correction.

If anyone still doubts that Sinn Fein-IRA are other than one and the same, I invite them to consider the list of Sinn Fein-IRA representatives on the forum. Let us consider just three of them.

Sinn Fein is represented on the forum by a Mr. Gerry Adams. He is none other than the man who was a member of the IRA delegation that met Viscount Whitelaw. Mr. Adams—the Sinn Fein member of the forum—is none other than the Mr. Adams who has twice been interned for membership of the IRA.

Then there is his crony, Mr. McGuinness, who is another member of the forum representing Sinn Fein. We would do well to remember that Martin McGuinness was imprisoned in the Republic for membership of the IRA, and that, at his trial, he very proudly told the court that he was indeed proud to be the commander of the IRA's Londonderry battalion.

The third person on the list is Mr. Kelly. A Sinn Fein representative on the forum, he is none other than the Mr. Kelly who has served two life sentences for IRA bombings. Mr. Kelly was involved in the bomb attacks on the Old Bailey and on Scotland yard, and played his part in killing one person and injuring 250 others.

Those are the representatives of the so-called "different organisation"—Sinn Fein. Those three people were and remain members of Sinn Fein-IRA; the facts, the evidence and the their actions prove it. I hope that no one remains in any doubt about the reality of that organisation.

Sinn Fein-IRA will continue to portray themselves as two different organisations, and one has to accept that that is a very clever tactic. During the past year that tactic has paid enormous dividends. As Sinn Fein, these killers have managed to obtain dozens of one-sided concessions from the peace process. Then, acting as real killers, these people—in the guise of the IRA—have obtained dozens more concessions by the tactical use of the bomb and the bullet. It is a clever tactic. It is a deliberate tactic. If we allow ourselves to be fooled, it will continue to work.

Where is the evidence for a split in the IRA? If anyone believes that there is a split, in my judgment, they base their belief on Sinn Fein-IRA propaganda, some of which we have recently heard. The callous murder of a policeman in Adare was by an IRA "rogue element", said the IRA. That is palpable nonsense. If the IRA murderers of that policeman were a rogue element, the police in the Republic would have found their corpses by now. They have not found any corpses because the murder was planned and executed properly, thoroughly and deliberately by the IRA. There is no split.

There are those who say that the Manchester bomb proved a split. The Manchester bomb was a tonne and a half of home-made explosives. It was not an impromptu expression of frustration by a few deranged people, and it was not done by breakaway people who are out of control. The Manchester bomb was carefully planned and part of a positive, deliberate and calculated policy. That policy has but a single objective: a united Ireland, on Sinn Fein-IRA's terms at any price.

The truth of Manchester is quite simply that, while Adams was posing for his propaganda photographs outside the gates of Stormont, his friends were busy putting a tonne and a half of fertiliser through a food mixer. That is not done in a few days; it takes a long time. While Adams was posing for his photographs, he knew that they had already planned to bomb on a Saturday morning in Manchester. It was callous, it was deliberate, and it proves that there is no split.

The third thing we must do when we decide where we go from here is to stop pandering to these evil people. The time really has come to call a halt to our dealings with Sinn Fein-IRA. That goes for the Dublin Government as well as for us. I must tell the Dublin Government that their rhetoric since the shooting of the policeman and the Manchester bomb has been fine. I applaud their rhetoric, but their decision to keep in touch with Sinn Fein-IRA is an affront to the bereaved and to the injured. I hope that the House deplores that decision.

The only message that Dublin should send to Sinn Fein-IRA, and the only message that we should send, is quite simple. It is: "No more talks; no more meetings; no more leaving doors open; no more keeping in touch, unless and until you in Sinn Fein-IRA renounce violence for ever, unless and until you show some remorse for your hideous crimes and unless and until you surrender—I say `surrender' not 'decommission': let us not mince our words—unless or until you surrender all your arms and explosives you, Sinn Fein-IRA, are outcasts, and the only contact you will now have with either of the two Governments, with any of us as politicians, or with the huge majority of decent ordinary people in Northern Ireland, is with our police and our armies as they track you down."

I agree wholeheartedly with the suggestions made by my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke. A crackdown is necessary. One can deal with evil only by confronting it.

Clearly my main argument is that we need to come to our senses with regard to Sinn Fein-IRA, and to exclude it. But that in itself is not enough. I know that some of my colleagues would go even so far as to say that members of Sinn Fein-IRA should be instantly locked up, but I would not support that. Even if I did, that in itself would not be enough, either.

As well as coming to our senses and cracking down on Sinn Fein-IRA, we must have a positive policy for the future. We must make it clear that we know where we are going. That is why I support all the calls from both sides of the House and from all the other people who say that the peace process must continue. We must press ahead with talks between all genuine democrats, and with good will we must thrash out an agreement to which the Unionist parties and the SDLP can both sign up.

While we do that, we must take care to avoid three dangers. While making that progress, we must understand that the framework documents are non-starters. They are wholly unacceptable to the majority in Northern Ireland, because they represent a green agenda; they will not be entertained.

Secondly, those who participate in the talks over the coming year must understand that, in Northern Ireland, there remains and will remain a big majority who want to remain within the United Kingdom, so a united Ireland must not be on the agenda.

The third thing that must be understood both by the British Government and by the Dublin Government is that, at the end of the talks process, no solution can ever be imposed either by IRA violence or by Government coercion. There is no way in which a solution can be imposed without the wholehearted consent of the people of Northern Ireland.

I accept that securing that agreement will not be easy or quick. In my judgment, it will not be helped by Senator Mitchell or other foreigners interfering in our internal affairs. I fear that it may be accompanied by more violence. To those who may be tempted to suggest that what I say might all too often encourage violence, I reply that whatever way forward is chosen—be it the way that I advocate or the way that anybody else advocates—if it is a way that does not give in to terrorism, it will surely produce more violence. That we must accept and confront—but we must and can reach an agreement.

When we do, we must put that agreement to the people of Northern Ireland in a referendum. I believe that, if the Unionist parties and the SDLP back such an agreement, it is sure to secure a huge majority in a referendum. When we have that, we can legislate to end tonight's annual ritual.

If, when we have done all that, Sinn Fein-IRA continue with their violence, Dublin as well as the British Government will have a justification for interning their members, and that is what will have to happen. Having gone through the process of agreement. referendum and legislation, we shall be able to demand and expect that world opinion support us.

I believe that the people of Northern Ireland deserve better than never-ending direct rule. They deserve to feel confident that we have ended our attempts to appease terrorists and to do deals with the devil. Above all else, they deserve to know that we in the House have a clear policy for giving them what they want above all else, which in my view is peace, justice and prosperity—three things that they have waited an enormous length of time to enjoy.

9.3 pm

Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster)

I am delighted to be able to follow the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire). Many of the things that have been brought to our attention tonight are worthy of our most earnest consideration.

I entered the House in 1983, and since then, we have undergone the annual ritual, as we are once again this evening, of debating the interim period extension of the Northern Ireland Act 1974. Since 1973, I have served in local government in Northern Ireland, and I am still a member of a local district council. Unfortunately, we realise that the powers of such councils are practically nil. Consultation in reality means very little. The word "consultation" should never be included in any agreement if anyone wants it to mean something, as we have seen from the reality of consultative processes in Northern Ireland over the past 24 years.

Since entering the House in 1983, I have had the privilege of representing the constituency of Mid-Ulster, which has endured much due to terrorism. In recent days I have been delighted at the good news of the creation of 300 new jobs in Cookstown. I therefore express once again my appreciation to Baroness Denton, who has responsibility in the other place for economic development in the Province. She has put herself out there at the front in trying to gain employment for the people of the Province and I respect her for so doing.

Unfortunately, yesterday evening, after the good news of the 300 jobs in Cookstown, the town was closed off due to the threat of terrorism. That is the tragic reality. The people of my constituency have been held to ransom for many years because of terrorist thugs who have no intention of being part of society—except they rule it. They have no intention of entering the democratic process. Those who represent IRA-Sinn Fein on district councils insult democracy. One of them sat in the chair of the council on which I have served for 23 years and of which I was chairman last year, yet, up to this moment, never once has he condemned one act of terrorist violence by the IRA. Never once did he condemn the blowing up of our main street and economic centre in our town and district. Yet he has the cheek and the brass neck to take the post of chairman and try to project an image. What is the image of? It is an image of carnage, destruction, murder and vile atrocity. That is not what I believe that our district or our Province have a right to expect.

We are gathered here under the shadow of the gun and the bomb. We must face the reality of a police officer in the Irish Republic paying the ultimate sacrifice simply for being a member of that state's police force. I have no doubt that he played his part in seeking to bring peace to his community with diligence and excellence. I certainly join those who have sympathised with his wife and family circle.

Once again the people of Manchester on the mainland have endured the vile atrocity of a bomb. While it is true that one can put back together the buildings, having come through such an experience with my family and in my home, I know that it will take longer to put back together the pieces of the people who have endured such a tragedy. On behalf of my constituents and the good people of Northern Ireland, I wish the people of Manchester godspeed in their recovery, and trust that not only the scars on their bodies will heal but the scars that are much deeper.

No one in the House can understand the devastation, heartache and heartbreak unless they have experienced the hurt and the pangs of suffering of those who have gone through the nightmare of terrorist violence. I thank God that most hon. Members have not known that experience, and I trust that they never will. The heartache being endured by those families is not diminished when they see representatives of murderers walking in the corridors of power across the world, accepted as if they were democrats.

I condemn and express my contempt for those who have carried out these dastardly deeds in the Irish Republic and, in recent days, in Manchester, but I wish also to commend the professionalism of the police. I trust that they know that their professionalism is deeply appreciated throughout the United Kingdom.

We must ask why the terrorists do this. It is difficult for anyone to enter the twisted mind of a terrorist or a terrorist organisation, but I do not believe that this could be called mindless terrorism. I do not believe that there is such a thing as mindless terrorism. There is a purpose behind their activity. There is an aim and an objective. We must ask what sort of objective there could be in the mind of anyone in a sane society for carrying out such dastardly, devilish and heinous deeds, whether at Canary Wharf or in Manchester?

I think that the Provisional IRA believes that it can shift the resolve of Governments to rule justly. I think that it believes that because it was a former Prime Minister who said of the Anglo-Irish agreement, that she signed it because she could not allow the violence to continue. Therefore, without the violence, there would have been no Anglo-Irish agreement.

Following that agreement we had the Downing street declaration and then the framework document. If ever any document gave cheer to the enemies of Ulster and the United Kingdom it was the framework document. They believed that they were progressing in a certain direction and that Governments listened to the bomb and the bullet. No matter how one tries to dress it up, it was a green and Republican document. It is resented by the vast majority of law-abiding and decent people in Northern Ireland. Anyone who does not believe that should ask the people and allow them to give their answer.

After 25 years of carnage, murder and destruction, what will the IRA have to do before it is dealt with effectively or told that there is no place in a civilised and democratic society for the bomb and the bullet? The IRA has received concession after concession. Despite that, the South Londonderry brigade of the IRA—it calls itself the South Derry brigade—made a statement at the weekend. It said: The British Government have failed to deliver and have palmed us off for 20 months with schoolboy concessions. I can assure the House that those who have watched those concessions being delivered to the provisionals on a silver plate do not believe that they were schoolboy concessions.

In fact, many in the republican movement jibed at the Unionist elected representatives and said—I quote one of them: When will your English overlords know that you can't buy us off? What was termed a peace process, and the announcement, and the glitter and media attention of a ceasefire, was nothing but a cynical farce—but of course it achieved much for Adams. It got him into the United States. Senator Mitchell was one of those who signed the document to get him there. It even got him into the White House. He sat down with the leader of the western world, and there was Adams—a terrorist, a representative of murderers—sitting, dining with Presidents.

Those who have dined with Adams and McGuinness should be ashamed of themselves, because, instead of their gaining peace, Adams gained a certain respectability and was taken in, walking the corridors of power, paraded across the world—and all the time it was a farce.

There were those who realised it—realised that the leopard had not changed its spots. Gerry Adams would never have been known of, if not for the power of the bombs and the bullets of the IRA. Who would have listened to Gerry Adams? What would he have been? It was not his authority in speech or his oratory in delivery; it was the power of the weaponry of terrorism. Because of it, Adams was received. Although he was carrying out a totally dishonest campaign, Adams and McGuinness and the republican hierarchy led democratic Governments a merry dance.

They are still doing it. Mr. Clinton is keeping his contacts open. The Prime Minister of the Irish Republic is keeping his contacts open. They must be maintained. That is an insult to democracy.

We are currently witnessing, on one hand, the pressure exerted by the terrorists, and, on the other, Adams working and using the media to project an image as though he were the dove. Some Members of the House may be gulled, and why not? Were they not conned when they walked him into this, the Palace of Westminster, stood on platforms with him and presented him as though he were some democrat who had fallen out of heaven, while he represented a cold-blooded murder machine that murdered many of my constituents?

Although we may con ourselves, the provisional IRA are recruiting, restocking and retraining at this moment. Yet we were told, "All it will take will be a ceasefire; the doors of Stormont buildings will magically open, and in, sweeping through the gates with his republican entourage, will be the acceptable Gerry Adams."

I say on behalf of my party that Gerry Adams was unacceptable last year, he was unacceptable last week, before the bomb, and he still is unacceptable after the bomb. Gerry Adams has not changed; Martin McGuinness has not changed, either. In a previous but similar debate, I mentioned the names of those who comprise the army council of the IRA. I should like to know what action has been taken against them. Since that debate, several television programmes have openly named them, too, and described the positions of authority on the army council that they hold. Are these people—whether in the Irish Republic or the United Kingdom—above the law? Are they beyond the law? Why cannot they be lifted and brought to justice? Many of them have carried out the most heinous crimes imaginable.

Now the talks have begun, and I have been elected both as a negotiator and as a member of the forum. Many people in Northern Ireland do not understand why representatives of a foreign Government parade up the steps to those buildings day by day. The elected representatives of the Province have in the past had much in common. During the previous set of talks a sub-committee was set up, comprising the SDLP, the Ulster Unionists, the Democratic Unionists and the Alliance party. It was charged with looking into a way of administering the Province by means of devolved government, to deal effectively, justly and fairly with the day-to-day affairs affecting all the people of Northern Ireland.

The papers describing those meetings have not yet been released, but I can tell the House that the parties reached an agreement—or nearly did. Many have applauded the leader of the SDLP in recent times, but it was he who prevented an agreement from being reached. He alone of all the delegated members would not allow that body to succeed. He should be condemned for that.

At the beginning of the current talks we were told that we had to accept Senator Mitchell—whether one likes it or not, he is a foreigner—as chair of the opening plenary. He was imposed on the elected representatives there because the SDLP and the Irish Government would not allow anyone else to chair the session. It appears that no one else in the world would be acceptable to them. The reason, of course, is that Senator Mitchell is Clinton's envoy. He signed the papers allowing Gerry Adams into the United States; now he is Clinton's man, sent to get Gerry Adams into the talks.

The principle of consent has been mentioned in the debate. On this occasion, no consent was sought and no consent was given by the elected representatives of the community to Senator Mitchell's acting as the supremo among the independent chairmen.

I believe it important that the talks succeed, but only if the outcome is freely negotiated among the parties.

When one looks at the documents that were presented as a basis for the inter-party talks, one notes that the Union was mentioned as a matter worthy of discussion, but that articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution were missing and not mentioned. The IRA has used the obnoxious and immoral articles 2 and 3 as one of its main planks and justifications for the murder and destruction of the people of the United Kingdom.

I make an appeal to Her Majesty's Government: the people of Northern Ireland want to see our Government championing the cause of the Union, of the United Kingdom, across the world. Northern Ireland is a vital part, and it ought to be a vital part, of the Union. The Government should fight tooth and nail to ensure that Northern Ireland remains a part of the United Kingdom—just as Scotland and Wales remain a part of the United Kingdom.

The hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam) mentioned a united representation in relation to the beef crisis. There was a special case for Northern Ireland in that crisis, and I regret that it was not presented as a special case in Europe. Northern Ireland could have led the United Kingdom out of the morass in relation to the BSE crisis. The hon. Lady referred to the bureaucracy in the health service. I inform the Secretary of State that the community is concerned about the 3 per cent. cash reduction in health service finances—and this reduction occurred after 14 years of cuts and cash reductions. Efficiency savings cannot continue without damaging the service to the people. Therefore, I appeal to Her Majesty's Government to reinstate the cash that has been taken away from the health service budget and to allow the health service to be an excellent service, as it has been in the past.

The hon. Lady said that a Labour Government would raise the issue of the police. I have talked to many members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. She said that we must deal with the make-up of the RUC. There is no reason why members of the minority communities are not represented in the RUC—it is a fair and efficient force. The door is open for all applicants, and it would serve the Church leaders and the politicians of the minority community better if they encouraged their people to join the RUC.

One thing concerns my constituents in relation to changing the make-up of the RUC. Those who have served in the RUC to this present moment may be from one community, but we must remember that they have faced 25 years of the most horrific violence. They have had courage when no one else has had courage—they stood in the gap when no one else had the courage to do so. They find it rather insulting that, after they have fought the battle, and after—God willing—the battle has been won, they are going to be told, "Thank you for your courage, thank you for your determination, thank you for your sacrifice, thank you for the lives of some of your colleagues, but it is thank you and goodbye." If a Labour Government were to pursue such a policy, I assure hon. Members that it would be opposed and resented by the vast majority of the good people who have been served by an excellent police force during very difficult times.

9.29 pm
Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie)

I shall deal immediately with the point raised by the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea). He addressed his comments about the police to my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam). If he had read our consultation paper, he would know that we do not say any such thing. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will admit that he has read the paper and that we do not make the remarks he alleges about the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

Rev. William McCrea

I have read the paper and listened to the debate tonight. I cannot understand how a Labour Government would dramatically change the make-up of the Royal Ulster Constabulary without sacking many of its serving members.

Mr. Worthington

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for acknowledging, in his own way, that we do not say what he alleged in our consultation paper. It is a pity that the hon. Gentleman could not have admitted it more graciously.

Sadly, tonight's debate has been dominated by the horror of the Manchester bombing. Many people have been scarred for life, both physically and mentally, because they made the simple mistake of being in Manchester city centre at the wrong time on Saturday. I extend our sympathy to those who were the innocent victims of zealots.

We must judge the events not just by their consequences, but by their intentions. It is simply miraculous that we are not today expressing anger and grief at the loss of dozens—perhaps hundreds—of lives in the past few months. The Canary wharf bombing could have resulted in many more deaths than two and the Hammersmith bridge and Manchester bombs were intended to kill and to cause disruption on a massive scale. The IRA must be judged by its intentions—to kill many hundreds of innocent people in the past few months.

I congratulate the police and other services on reducing the intended carnage. I congratulate them also on the early progress that they have made in detecting those responsible. In the days and months ahead, it is crucial that the British and Irish Governments present a united front in responding to the challenges posed by the bombings. The business of keeping the British and Irish Governments together will not be assisted by the disparaging use of words such as "foreigner".

The killing of an Irish policeman sent shock waves around the Republic of Ireland as people realised that those who claim to be fighting for Ireland have a horrible and different vision of what Ireland would be. The Labour party rejoiced in the recent visit of President Robinson—I cannot think of anyone less deserving of the description foreigner. Her response to the weekend's events had more force for me than any other. She said that the bombing had left her "shocked, sickened and numbed." She said that she felt angry that it had been done supposedly on behalf of an Irishness that has nothing to do with the Irishness that I stand for as President of Ireland". The hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) referred to the questions that have been put to the IRA. He should have added that those two brutal, straight questions have been put by the Irish Government. They asked, first, whether Gerry Adams had asked the IRA for a restoration of the ceasefire and, if not, why not. What politician for peace could not answer that question immediately? Secondly, the Irish Government asked whether Sinn Fein continues to support the "armed struggle" of the IRA.

It is totally unconvincing for Adams to say that he accepts the Mitchell principles on behalf of Sinn Fein while failing to condemn the Manchester bombing. As John Bruton has said, the hypocrisy must end and the straight talking must begin. If the two countries, the two Governments and the two Parliaments stand together, we may eventually solve the problems in a peaceful and democratic way.

I listened with respect to the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) when he talked about security. He talked sense about the necessity for the two Governments to take a joint view of security and to act jointly against terrorism, but we will not achieve what is in effect a cross-border institution, which is what the hon. Member urged upon us, unless we manage to keep the two Governments together. Such a cross-border institution would be of infinite value if it provided a joint attitude to the holding of arms and to terrorism.

If it had not been for the bomb, we would have debated more fully tonight the events at the all-party talks and the forum. Those taking part in those talks and in that forum have a huge duty to demonstrate to the people of Northern Ireland that democracy can and does work. Every time posturing and grandstanding is displayed before us, we know that the only beneficiaries are the enemies of democracy. I found it much more encouraging today to read in the Belfast Telegraph about the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) praising the recent contribution of the Democratic Unionist party to the talks. The hon. Member is quoted as saying: I think we are seeing a significant shift in the way things are being done. It is also encouraging to read the words of the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office—I fully understand why he is not in his place tonight—who said: We've had a most constructive engagement over the last few days. That engagement is producing results and I find progress that's being made encouraging. It is crucial that all the people involved in those talks encourage the thought that progress will be made by democratic means. The Opposition believe that a solution is attainable, but it requires good will and trust, and those who seek verbally to destroy good will and trust condemn Northern Ireland to a restless and disturbed future.

The Opposition want to end direct rule. Everybody who has spoken has said that we must end direct rule, and we are all uncomfortable with the present situation. The way in which legislation for Northern Ireland is processed in the House is an affront to democracy that we wish to end. At the moment, we simply do not do justice to the people of Northern Ireland who wish to live in a free and open society where major issues of public policy are debated and consulted upon and are subject to the democratic will of the people of Northern Ireland.

My hon. Friend the Member for Redcar mentioned issues such as agriculture, electricity and employment, and other hon. Members have mentioned health. I would add to that list the area that is my sphere of responsibility—education. Government policies for education are not being presented or examined coherently or fairly, and perhaps cannot be in the framework of direct rule. The people of Northern Ireland lose through that. First, the education and library boards face a funding crisis that is affecting the quality of the education of the children of Northern Ireland.

As a consequence of Government decisions and the allocation of resources, about 300 teachers were made redundant last year. I found that figure by ringing round the education and library boards and the trade unions. I should have been able to find that figure by asking the Government but, unbelievably, in response to a parliamentary question, the Minister could not tell me how many teachers were made redundant in a Province of 1.6 million people. We can imagine the anger in an English or Scottish local authority of similar size if the chair of the education authority did not know the consequences of his policies.

This year, the situation threatens to be even worse, as the Government try foolishly to cut education for tax cuts that may not be delivered. The Southern board forecasts that its schools cannot survive without further redundancies in the current year. It will seek to release 60 to 70 teachers through redundancies. The North Eastern board received an increase in its block grant of a mere 1.62 per cent., which is well below the rate of inflation. The consequences for 1996–97 will be 85 redundancies, of which 13 have already been made compulsory. In addition, much capital building work has had to be abandoned. Maintenance work has had to be curtailed to the extent that, in the board's words, it is "virtually non-existent". There are already larger class sizes and increases in the pupil-teacher ratio. Special needs services have been curtailed.

We must ask the Government why that has happened. It is a sign of the inadequacy of direct rule that we must use the Chamber as a forum for discussing such matters.

In the relatively small further education sector, 229 full-time lecturers' jobs have been made redundant since 1990. That is an average of 13 full-time staff per college. We should remember that the Government's skills audit of last week revealed that, in the FE sector, the entire nation was deficient. That, of course, includes Northern Ireland. Why do we continue to retrench and make cuts in an area where we are competitively at our weakest?

Another area in which the Government are not serving the needs of the people of Northern Ireland is nursery education. The Government, if time does not run out on them, will impose the voucher initiative. Northern Ireland desperately needs good-quality nursery education that can help boost a child's achievement throughout life, but that is not what is proposed through the voucher initiative. It will not buy good-quality education. The system will be of most use to a well-off person seeking a subsidy for private child care. It will be of least use in a deprived area where there is not enough money to provide extra spaces in the local primary school.

Extra resources should go first to those most in need, but the Government break that rule. The people of Northern Ireland, including teachers, have made it clear when talking to me that they want first-rate nursery education, not second-rate vouchers. There is no scope within direct rule to insist that Northern Ireland enjoys first-rate nursery education.

There is another area of education in which the Government are imposing dogma. The FE colleges of England, Wales and Scotland have been incorporated. Three years later, without any rationale to support the move, without any policy document and without any proposal setting out what the role of FE should be, the colleges in Northern Ireland are to be incorporated.

My experience of FE in Northern Ireland is that it is in a sad and leaderless state. At the same time, the Government's skills audit suggests that FE colleges should be playing a leadership role in Northern Ireland.

In England, Scotland and Wales, education and employment have been brought together. That has not happened in Northern Ireland. No rationale has been put forward to explain why it has not occurred. If colleges are to be incorporated, is there to be a funding council for FE, one for FE and higher education, or no funding council at all? Nothing has been said about that. What is to be the mission of FE in Northern Ireland? What is supposed to be the relationship between the Training and Employment Agency, FE and the Department of Education in Northern Ireland? Again, not a word has been said about that. That is not adequate.

We all hope for peace, and are perhaps willing to take a risk for peace, but in other respects we could be doing better. To do so, the Government must get on top of the issues that require attention. Direct rule will be continued today with a heavy heart. We are all aware of the quality of government and political life in Northern Ireland. I feel almost apologetic for raising issues such as education in this place. In terms of Northern Ireland, the House is dominated by talk of bombs and constitutional matters. Over about 20 years of direct rule, real politics have receded. People have stopped talking about education and health issues. They have stopped talking about the very matters that impact on people's everyday lives in Northern Ireland.

We must find a way forward. Over the next few months, and perhaps years, we have a duty to find a way in which the quality of public life in Northern Ireland can be improved so that we in this place do not have to meet in these regrettable circumstances every year. When I meet the people of Northern Ireland, I am convinced of their wish to live together under a mutually fair society. It is our duty as political leaders to make that possible for them.

9.44 pm
Sir Patrick Mayhew

The quality of the debate has justified its extension to three hours. Last year, we had only an hour and a half. The debate has been wide-ranging and has been both general and particular. The easiest way for me to attempt to do justice in summing up the debate in the 15 minutes or so that remain to me is to concentrate on general matters and then deal with particular matters. I shall try to deal with each of the speeches that we heard.

I take great encouragement from the fact that no right hon. or hon. Member who spoke did other than express support for the process of political talks. Everybody who spoke wished to see the process of political talks to be a success. It is true that some thought them more realistically ambitious than others. The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Sir J. Molyneaux) believes that it is right to begin at a low level, not on a high wire—a phrase with which those of us who count ourselves his friends are well familiar—and work upwards, and much can be said for that.

Nobody has said that the future can be determined other than by the process of talking and reaching an agreement.

Rev. McCrea

indicated assent.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I see the hon. Gentleman nodding in his place as I say that.

Again there has been—I suppose that it is a corollary of the same point—total agreement that a solution cannot be imposed. The record of British Governments, English Governments over the centuries seeking to impose solutions on the misguided affairs of Ireland and Irish people—as they seemed at that time—is not particularly encouraging. I take heart from the common position that emerges from the debate.

There was another common position: the total condemnation of what has occurred; of what happened in Manchester; and of the notion that a Government of a democracy can be made to change their policies by the threatened use of violence.

I listened with particular care to what my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) said and was sorry to hear him say that he looked back over the past two years and the attitude of the Government—who from time to time he has supported—with shame. I feel that he failed to recognise some of the facets of the problems that have faced us, which are important.

It is true that Sinn Fein-IRA are different sides of the same coin, as the Prime Minister said yesterday. It is true that our ambition to see Sinn Fein as an elected party with a substantial vote, able to be represented and taking a part in the talks process has been disappointed. It has not removed its self-exclusion, and that is disappointing. It was our hope that it would. But I do not think that there is any ground for shame at all in Her Majesty's Government having sought to help it to achieve that.

I acknowledged, in response to an intervention by the hon. Member for East Antrim (Mr. Beggs) at the beginning of the debate, that, in some respects, the Government's position had changed during the past 18 months, particularly on decommissioning. I acknowledged that, not on a point of principle but on a point of management. I realised that that would expose us to the charge of appeasement. That is not a charge that I believe to be justified, but I do not think that it is a ground for shame.

Let me say to my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne that, if we had to have a Manchester attack—of course, we did not—I would think it advantageous for that attack to result in Sinn Fein-IRA's being condemned without any qualification all around the world. I have heard no one say, "Of course it is reprehensible, but you must see that they have some legitimate grievances." We have all heard that in months and years gone by. It has been said time and again: "If only you had understood the difficulties—if only you had not been such wooden-headed English, so ignorant of Irish nationalist sensitivities." I ask right hon. and hon. Members who are present tonight if they can identify a single person anywhere who has said, "You have to understand it. The British Government could have avoided it."

That has been, as it were, the negative objective that Her Majesty's Government have had. We have, of course, had a positive objective: we have wanted the process of talks, which every hon. Member who has spoken supports, to be truly inclusive of all parties with a democratic vote or mandate. That has been the positive objective, for the obvious reason that, if we are to carry the process through to an agreement which, in turn, will be put by referendum to the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic respectively and separately, it will have a better chance of sticking if it has the support of all parties.

I have not, however, been so unrealistic as to underestimate the prospect of failure. Against that event, Her Majesty's Government have had the negative objective of peeling away from those who rely on violence to secure their political ends any support that they have previously had for violence in a democracy.

I welcome the support of the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam) for the two Governments' insistence on the restoration of the ceasefire. Manchester last Saturday showed the wisdom of that. I also welcome her recognition that, if the talks cannot be fully inclusive, they should at least retain the objective of inclusivity.

Let me diverge for a moment to the speech of the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley. He took us to task for supposing that it was necessary in all circumstances to have all-party support for any outcome of the talks. That is not our position. Of course such an outcome is desirable, but we have always taken the view, and take the view today, that in any talks process it is the participants who are the masters of the proceedings. If the participants in the process that has now begun conclude that there is a measure of agreement, or any proposal less than unanimity that shall be acceptable, it is well within their remit so to decide, and for agreement to be implemented.

I must exercise confidentiality, but I have good reason to suppose that parties who object to a particular policy within that process would, as good democrats, accept the outcome. It is not a question of saying that everything must be supported by everyone participating in the talks. That would be unrealistic, and would impose a virtually unsustainable condition in many instances.

I must be selective in choosing which parts of hon. Members' speeches I shall deal with. The hon. Member for Redcar mentioned marches. In a democracy, people have the right to parade, demonstrate or express views publicly and peacefully, and I know that she recognises that. In the same way, people have a right to show what they think if they disagree, provided they do so peacefully. The issue of parades is a difficult one, as are so many things in the contemporary scene in Northern Ireland.

We are constantly seeking ways of reducing the prospects of confrontation, but there must be a spirit of compromise. In many instances, what one might describe as the loyalist institutions have shown that willingness to compromise and take a different route. The willingness to compromise has not been evident in Sinn Fein, which organised opposition to the parades and marches. We must be careful not to undermine the Chief Constable's operational responsibility for maintaining law and order, which is why it is not quite the simple proposal that people suggest when they say, "Surely it would be better to have a nice advisory committee." There are many difficulties, but we keep the matter under review. I have it much under review with the Chief Constable and the Deputy Chief Constable, Mr. Flanagan.

The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley spoke of the principle of consent underlying everything. That must be right in our democracy; it must be central to the viability of any outcome to the process. I welcome what he said: that the principle of consent exists in terrorists' vocabulary only as the kind of consent that people can be terrorised into giving. We are not in the business of permitting terrorisation; genuine consent must be the basis of everything.

The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley spoke of a new all-party committee of both Houses of Parliament to bolster the work of my right hon. Friend Lady Denton, and I acknowledge that he has been urging this for a long time. He raised the matter in the House as recently as last week's appropriation debate. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State will write to him about it, but the Northern Ireland Grand Committee, which I wish to see extend its jurisdiction and capabilities, and the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs are available to discuss economic matters generally.

Although the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley made many enticing remarks on which I should like to comment, in the interests of time I must move on to speeches that followed. My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter), in a most interesting speech, said that it is time for a fundamental rethink and for a security summit. There is much to be said for a review of security co-operation by the two Governments. I said in opening that we shall base our position on the excellent security co-operation that we have at present.

My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke mentioned four matters: hot pursuit, co-operation, Irish air space and the sharing of intelligence, all of which should be addressed. There was much merit in his comments, which I shall refer to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and no doubt much will pass between the two Governments in seeking to improve the already excellent co-operation.

My hon. Friend said that the situation should not cause total despair. I do not want to be pedantic when I say that it should not cause any level of despair at all. It should cause renewed analysis, clarity of analysis and, if possible, greater resoluion.

I very much agree with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy) about the influence of terrorism on the economy because of the jobs that are damaged. The other side of the coin is that the more jobs there are, the less opportunity terrorists have to lure young people in particular into their toils.

I will move quickly over the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne, much of which I could agree with—but I have disagreed in particular with the analysis that he offered. I have also addressed the speech of the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster.

I will invite the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), who has responsibility for education in Northern Ireland, to write to the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) on some of the matters that he raised. We have five education and library boards in a Province that has a population of 1.6 million. When we propose reducing that number to four, our ears are beaten about by people who say, "How dare you do such a thing?" That is a little obstacle to saving some money. This has been a valuable debate—

It being 10 o'clock, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Order [7 June].

Question agreed to.


That the draft Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period) Order 1996, which was laid before this house on 4th June, be approved.