HC Deb 22 April 1998 vol 310 cc930-40 11.24 pm
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Paul Murphy)

I beg to move, That the draft Northern Ireland Negotiations (Referendum) Order 1998, which was laid before this House on 20th April, be approved.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

I understand that with this it will be convenient to discuss the following motion: That the draft Northern Ireland (Entry to Negotiations, etc.) Act 1996 (Cessation of Section 3) Order 1998, which was laid before this House on 20th April, be approved.

Mr. Murphy

The first order provides for a referendum to be held in Northern Ireland on the outcome of the multi-party talks.

Peace in Northern Ireland has to be founded on a settlement, and this settlement is squarely based on the principle of consent. At the beginning of the talks, we made our commitment to the so-called triple lock. Consent was needed from the parties through the agreement; from the House of Commons and the House of Lords; and, of course, from the people of Northern Ireland through a vote in the referendum. It is through this triple lock that we can be sure that the agreement represents the future that everyone wants—that it is a way forward for the government of Northern Ireland that commands cross-community support.

Every home in Northern Ireland has been sent a copy of the agreement. Everyone will have the opportunity to scrutinise it. The order allows us to put a vital question to the people. Without it, the people of Northern Ireland could not make their voices heard on what was achieved by their representatives at Castle buildings. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said on Monday, the decisive judgment must come from the people whose daily lives will be directly affected by it.

The basis for the order was provided by section 4 of the Northern Ireland (Entry to Negotiations, etc) Act 1996. The legislation determining how and when the referendum will be held—this order—is straightforward and clear. Indeed, most of it is standard material.

Article 3 of the order provides that a referendum shall be held on Friday 22 May between the hours of 7 am and 10 pm. Article 4 sets out who is entitled to vote in the election—those who have been entered on the electoral register of parliamentary electors in Northern Ireland, excluding overseas voters but including peers.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already expressed her gratitude to all those who made the agreement possible. In reaching a decision on this key issue, we believe that the most straightforward and fair method of determining the will of the people is for the people in Northern Ireland to exercise their franchise and vote in the referendum.

The second order refers to the cessation of the forum. As the House will know, the forum was set up as part of the talks process. Indeed, the life of the forum coincided with the life of the talks. If the Belfast agreement wins support in the referendum planned for 22 May, we shall have elections to a new representative body in Northern Ireland, which will, once the transitional phase is over, at long last permit those who have been elected by the people of Northern Ireland to take those decisions that are currently taken by me, by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and by ministerial colleagues. I hope that, for some of those who participate in the New Northern Ireland Assembly, experience in the forum will prove to have been valuable preparation.

We might take a moment to look back on the record of the forum since it was set up in June 1996. It was established with the central objective of discussing issues relevant to the promotion of dialogue and understanding between the communities in Northern Ireland. It was unable to discharge that role fully because not all parties took part in it. However, many of the people who took part did try hard to take account of as wide a spectrum of opinion as possible on the various issues. I want to place on record my thanks to the forum's chairman, Mr. John Gorman, for the commitment he displayed in guiding discussion through some very testing debate and for his efforts to act fairly and honourably in the discharge of his duties.

I should also like to pay tribute to the chairmen of the various standing committees for serving the forum in those capacities and to the members of the Business Committee for the role they played in managing the forum's business and events.

I believe that, controversial as the forum at times has been, there have been positive aspects to its collective work and that of individual members, and that that positive work is capable of standing Northern Ireland in good stead as we move forward to the implementation of the Belfast agreement. I commend the orders to the House.

11.29 pm
Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell)

We have always maintained that any settlement in Northern Ireland is entirely dependent on the triple lock. The first part of the triple lock was achieved on Good Friday, when a majority of the parties in both communities signed the Belfast agreement. Now it is essential that we have the second part of the triple lock, which means the people of Northern Ireland expressing their view by way of a referendum. If the outcome is positive, the third part of the triple lock—a vote in both Houses of this Parliament—will be necessary. Therefore, we have absolutely no hesitation in supporting the orders.

11.30 pm
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)

The House should pause for a moment before taking a decision that I think it will regret.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)


Mr. Robinson

I shall tell the hon. Gentleman why. He can be sure that before I sit down, he will know why.

The Government are asking the people of Northern Ireland, who have faced a quarter of a century and more of terrorism, to watch while those who have oppressed them, those who have perpetrated violence against them, and those who have stopped them having a normal life are elevated and rewarded.

The agreement, which is to be put to the people of Northern Ireland in a referendum, is an agreement that puts into the very Government of Northern Ireland representatives of the Provisional IRA's army council—Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. Under the agreement, once they are in that Government, they will hold full ministerial portfolios which will be exercised in a more wide-ranging way than is the case in the rest of the United Kingdom.

All that the Cabinet—if it can be called that—does is to work out its annual policy programme, and, within that broad policy programme, Ministers can do almost what they want. So, we shall have two Sinn Fein-IRA Ministers, in an elevated position and gentrified by the agreement, running around Northern Ireland, exercising control over the very people whom they have oppressed for a generation.

Mr. Frank Cook

Many of us can understand why the hon. Gentleman is opposed to the orders, but I personally cannot understand why he is against the people of Northern Ireland expressing an opinion.

Mr. Robinson

The hon. Gentleman should have waited before intervening. I have not said that I am against the people of Northern Ireland expressing an opinion. Indeed, if he knew a bit more about the subject, he would be aware that it was my party which asked for a referendum. We want the people of Northern Ireland to have their say, but I am entitled to explain to the House what the House is asking the people of Northern Ireland to vote on. The only choice that the House is giving the people of Northern Ireland is to vote for or against the agreement—there are to be no alternatives on the ballot paper.

The first thing that the agreement will do is put into the Government IRA army council members and give them full executive authority to operate key Departments in Northern Ireland. Secondly, it gives a veto to nationalists within the assembly. I can remember campaigning with colleagues in the UUP and the then Vanguard Unionist party against the Sunningdale agreement back in the early 1970s. We were Unionists, and we saw the Sunningdale agreement as a process that led to a united Ireland.

What did the Sunningdale agreement do? It put Gerry Fitt, now Lord Fitt, in government in Northern Ireland. The people who stood shoulder to shoulder with us—people such as the leader of the Ulster Unionist party, Reginald Empey of the Ulster Unionist party and the deputy leader of the Ulster Unionist party—who opposed having Gerry Fitt in government are now saying, "Let's have Gerry Adams instead." I am not sure that the people of Northern Ireland will feel that their judgment has improved over the years.

At least the Sunningdale agreement allowed decisions to be taken by simple majority voting. Under the proposed system, as the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) pointed out, decisions will be taken by consensus. They require not a simple vote within the assembly, but a majority of one section of the community and at least 40 per cent. of the other. So there is a minority veto within the assembly.

The agreement sets up an all-Ireland body with full executive power and implementing bodies attached to it. They can take decisions and implement them—a process recognised by Sinn Fein-IRA as an advancement towards its goal of a united Ireland. Will Unionists recommend that to the people of Northern Ireland? If that were not bad enough—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Conversations are breaking out generally throughout the Chamber. I would be grateful if hon. Members would listen to the hon. Gentleman who is addressing the House.

Mr. Robinson

That is the very last thing that hon. Members want to do. To listen might lead to their being convinced and that might cause them considerable problems with their Whips, so they close their ears rather than hear the truth.

Apart from the structural issues contained within the agreement and the referendum, there is a prospect that, within two years, the worst criminals from both sections of the community will be released onto the streets. No one will remain in gaol if he belongs to a pro-agreement paramilitary organisation. The judge's recommendation might have been that such a criminal should be locked up for 35 years or should never see daylight again, but in two years' time he will be walking down the street again. Walking down the same street, perhaps in the other direction, might be a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary—the very man who put him in gaol—and he would laugh at him.

Although the agreement does not require paramilitary organisations to decommission, there are clear indications that the RUC will be required to disarm. Indeed, an international body of so-called experts is to be established to examine the future of the RUC, with the specific remit to consider a new policing structure and a new police service for Northern Ireland that has to be satisfactory to both sections of the community.

We know the view of the SDLP in respect of a new police service. They want a root and branch change. Sinn Fein goes a step further. It wants a completely new police service and has indicated that it would like a two-tier police service with a community input. That is a clear sign that the RUC will effectively be destroyed.

All the issues show that the winners in the process are the pan-nationalist front. As the SDLP said earlier this evening, it has been pushing for this agenda for 25 years and now it has it. The SDLP has admitted that it is a nationalist agenda—one which it has sought for 25 years. Is not it disgraceful that it should achieve its goal because Unionists signed up to it? I cannot understand how those who opposed Sunningdale and the Anglo-Irish Agreement can support something that is worse—not for nationalists, but for Unionists.

Mr. Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East)

What is the hon. Gentleman's alternative?

Mr. Robinson

The hon. Gentleman asks me what my alternative is—he has clearly not read Democratic Unionist party documents, which have offered alternative after alternative. If he wants to offer me an alternative, I will take what Scotland has—I should be happy for Northern Ireland to have the same structures that the House was content to give to Scotland. Scotland was not asked to give away its sovereignty and join some foreign country, so why should that be required of us?

Many alternatives would be satisfactory to the Unionist community. Democracy would be a nice alternative—democratic rule instead of Dublin rule. Indeed, I would rather have direct rule than Dublin rule. The Unionist community has plenty of alternatives, but we shall never accept a process that leads inevitably to a united Ireland.

I hope that, on 22 May, the people of Northern Ireland will not be sold the lie that the agreement will produce peace. It will not produce peace. It rewards terrorism. It says to the men of violence, "Your bombing and shooting have succeeded in getting you a place, not only at the negotiating table, but in government. Your shooting and bombing have succeeded in opening the prisons." The agreement is a charter for more terrorism. Terrorists learn that, if their terrorism brings success, more terrorism will lead to greater success. The agreement will not wipe away violence. The one certainty is that the Provisional IRA will pocket every concession that it is given and start to push for more.

The IRA sees the agreement as a transitional phase towards its goal, which it will not give up. Northern Ireland has been put in transit from its position in the United Kingdom; it has been moved into a different axis, which points it to the Republic of Ireland. Its day-to-day political life has to be in tandem with the Irish Republic, and we are less and less to look to the east-west axis.

Many hon. Members may think that that is good—from a nationalist point of view, they are entitled to believe that it is good. However, I will not allow the Unionist community in Northern Ireland to believe that the Union is more secure today than it was when the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) sat down at the table.

How can the Union be more secure with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness in government, with a nationalist veto in an assembly and with an all-Ireland body with full executive powers? How can the Union be more secure when terrorists are not required to decommission weapons, when our police force is to be destroyed and when the gates of the prisons are to be swung open so that terrorists can walk free?

I shall be asking people to vote no when they have the opportunity on 22 May, and I hope that the Government recognise that they need more than 50 per cent. plus one to support the agreement. By its nature, the agreement requires consensus. To give a veto to nationalists, the Government have, inadvertently but necessarily, given a veto to Unionists, as nothing can go through the assembly without the support of a majority of the Unionist community as well. Because a majority of nationalists and Unionists is required, the Government need more than 70 per cent. of the electorate to vote in favour of the agreement.

I have fought many elections—something like 26—and have a fair idea of the way the political wind blows in Northern Ireland.

If anyone believes the opinion polls that are tampered with and doctored by the Northern Ireland Office, they will have a big surprise. [Laughter.] Hon. Members laugh: perhaps they have not seen the document that was leaked from the Northern Ireland Office—it was written by Tom Kelly, previously of the BBC and now the director of communications in the Northern Ireland Office—expressly stating how the people of Northern Ireland were to be deceived about opinion polls.

The fact came out that the Government intended to line up all the movers and shakers, including Archbishop Eames, and to time all the press statements to come out one after the other to get the people of Northern Ireland to believe that there was a real bandwagon going for the agreement. It was all laid out in the leaked document, which mentioned how the opinion polls were to be made to bolster the Government's position.

I speak to people and get their opinions. Outside the leadership of the Ulster Unionist party, I am still looking for the first Unionist who supports the agreement. I have been in the streets and in my advice centres, which I attend much more often than do any Labour Members. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh !"] Oh, yes. I wonder how many days a week you sit in your advice centres and how many appointments you take every—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must use the correct parliamentary language, and I would be grateful if he would direct his remarks towards the draft orders.

Mr. Robinson

I am content to address the referendum issue, and the opinions of the people must be central to what the referendum is about. I am making it very clear that, although the Northern Ireland Office and its Ministers may attempt, as the leaked document said, to give the impression that the agreement has overwhelming support in Northern Ireland, a majority of the Unionist people will not vote yes to the agreement. If hon. Members do not believe it now, they may be prepared to change their minds after 22 May.

What are the circumstances for assistance to the two campaigns in the referendum? The Republic of Ireland Government funds the two campaigns equally. They do not count the number of parties in either section and give an allocation on that basis. The two camps get similar funding. That, I understand, is not the Government's intention. They intend to help the yes campaign on a 4:1 basis. Will the Minister make it clear that he will fund the two campaigns equally?

I join the Minister in expressing appreciation, both personally and on behalf of my party, to the chairman of the forum, John Gorman. He is in every sense of the word a gentleman. Anyone who chairs a political forum with elected representatives from Northern Ireland has a difficult task. Politicians from Northern Ireland can be very passionate about their politics. He has had a major task to perform, but he has done it without causing offence to any member of the forum, and he walks out of it with the respect of all the members. I am not sure that many others could have attained that.

John Gorman has done an excellent job, and so has the forum. It is often derided, especially by those who would not play a full part in it, but every week committees considered every aspect of government and produced reports that went to Ministers. Even this Friday, another Minister will come to the forum to speak to members and answer their questions. It has been a worthwhile exercise. I happen to believe in devolution. I would love to have seen a real devolved Government in Northern Ireland.

Regrettably, this agreement more than anything else has shattered that dream because it makes it clear that there is a price for devolution and it is that we have to link ourselves up to an all-Ireland process at the same time. As far as I am concerned, that is a price which is too high to pay. Therefore, the only alternative for the people of Northern Ireland is to have a completely United Kingdom settlement. It is not possible for the people of Northern Ireland to have devolution without its being tied into a united Ireland process.

Therefore, the forum has been a useful exercise. Regrettably, it will never have any powers and I do not believe that any real democratic assembly will ever replace it.

11.50 pm
Mr. William Thompson (West Tyrone)

We have come to the end of this debate, and it is time to go forward to the country to fight in the referendum and subsequently in the election for the assembly.

At the referendum, the people of Northern Ireland will be faced with two choices, whether to vote yes for the agreement or no. All the media will be for a yes, as will many of the great and good and also several Church leaders, because many believe that they should always follow the establishment, but there will be others, and I shall be one of them, who will unashamedly ask the people to vote no. If they vote yes, they will be voting to be second-class citizens within the United Kingdom. If they vote yes and accept the agreement, they will be accepting that this Parliament no longer wants them and that, in reality, it wishes to put them into a united Ireland.

If people vote yes in the referendum, they will be voting that those who have murdered their kinsmen and done the most foul deeds be released on to the streets. If they vote yes, they will be voting that the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which is the finest police force in the world, should be changed out of all recognition and be that great body no more. That is what will happen if they vote yes.

There are those who will say, "If you vote no, you're against peace," and, "If you vote no, the agreement will be imposed on you anyway." I say to them: if the British Government want to impose something on Northern Ireland against the wishes of the Northern Ireland people, let them do so, but we do not have to agree with it or be part of it.

Again, there are those who will say, "If you vote no, what is the alternative?" For the Ulster people, the alternative is to demand, as equal citizens of the United Kingdom, that they be treated the same—equally—and have parity with every other part of the United Kingdom.

The people of Northern Ireland, especially the Unionist people, demand no advantage. They do not demand anything greater than anyone else. All we demand is that we are treated as equal citizens within this kingdom and that the same rules and system of government apply in Northern Ireland as in every other part of the United Kingdom.

For far too long, we have been bedevilled by the idea that there are two, diverse, opposite communities in Northern Ireland—that every Roman Catholic is a nationalist and every Protestant a Unionist. The reality is different: more than 70 per cent. of the people of Northern Ireland are quite happy to live in the United Kingdom, abide by its laws and accept the police force of Northern Ireland. Only a small minority bent on violence is determined to split the people of Northern Ireland and eventually to take us out of the United Kingdom. It is only by voting no that the people of Northern Ireland can insist that they will not be second-class citizens, that they will not go into a united Ireland and that they wish to be equal to every other citizen of the United Kingdom.

Some Scottish Members have spoken tonight. You are getting a Parliament in Scotland. You would not accept in Scotland what you say we have to accept in Northern Ireland. You would not accept a power-sharing Executive.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. May I remind the hon. Gentleman, as I have just reminded another hon. Member, first to use the correct parliamentary language, and, secondly, to address the draft orders?

Mr. Thompson

I have almost finished. Hon. Members from Scotland and Wales are trying to force on Northern Ireland something that they would not have for themselves. That is rank hypocrisy.

11.56 pm
Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough)

What a sad litany we heard from the hon. Members for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) and for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson). They claim to be democrats, but seem to be frightened of the democratic process. That is the basic issue. They say that they regret asking the people whether they want lasting peace, a say in their future or to live in normality like the rest of the people of the United Kingdom. Regrets? We have no regrets. The people of Northern Ireland should have the chance, and on 22 May we hope that they will have it, to put aside those siren voices and vote yes overwhelmingly. We support the orders.

11.57 pm
Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim)

It is amusing to hear the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis). His sister party cannot even get people elected to this House, yet he tells us what the people of Northern Ireland think. How many times has Lord Alderdice fought Belfast, East and how many thumpings has my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) given him? The deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats' sister party could not even elected to the forum: he had to be a top-up candidate.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East spoke, people laughed about the document that I have here. That is why I have intervened. The document was approved by the Secretary of State and was drawn up by a fellow called Kelly, who has his own interests. He is a civil servant, but he has large interests in advertising and public relations firms. He says that advertising on its own will not convince the public to vote yes in the referendum, but, as part of an integrated campaign, it could play a crucial role in alerting the public to precisely what is at stake.

I notice from the document that has been given to us that the Government are going to spend £3 million on this election. What is that for? The document says that the cost of the election is not expected to exceed £3 million. Three million pounds is to be spent in the south of Ireland, but there is a difficulty because there the money must be halved: £1.5 million has to be set aside for the no campaign and £1.5 million for the yes campaign. That is not so in Northern Ireland.

I am leader of the second largest party in the forum. Hon. Members have spoken of the Democratic Unionist party as a rump party, like the Progressive Unionist or Ulster Democratic parties. The official Unionists have 30 members, my party has 24 members, the SDLP 21 and I think that Sinn Fein has 17. So here we have parties entering into the process. Can the Minister tell us tonight what he is going to do about the matters that I mentioned? Where is the £3 million to be spent? Of course, Mr. Kelly says that he has got a man closely associated with him personally. The document says that he has commissioned McCann Erickson to have both quantitative and qualitative research carried out without its being seen to be Government-inspired. This is the transparency of new Labour. Oh yes, whether we are doing any advertising or not.

We have a great advertisement in our papers saying, "The Choice is Yours". There is no signature on it. When we took the advertising and turned it round, an action was brought against us for copyright and we found out who was behind it. It was Kelly—he was doing it. Three million pounds.

The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough said, "We want to have a referendum." It was my party which fought for a referendum. My party disagreed with the official Unionist party on that very issue. I believe that we should have a referendum, but I want to say to the Government that they should be prepared to play on a level playing field and say, "All right, let the people of Ulster speak. We shall divide the money." I do not mind if no money comes from the Government.

The other day there was an £8,000 advertisement in the paper. Who was it from? There is not a politician in this House who knows. I have my ear fairly well to the ground and I do not know. I have questioned many and they do not know. It was from the silent majority. What was its heading? It was, "The agreement is suicidal to Ulster". It shocked Northern Ireland. Mr. Kelly had the rickets when he saw it. The Government have now called in a Mr. Tony McCusker to co-ordinate a database that will pick out key movers and shakers from all sections of the community. The spin doctors are at work all right. They are doing a good job.

Unfortunately, the name was let out—none other than the Archbishop of Armagh. The poor archbishop nearly had the rickets too because his telephone started to ring. People from the Church of Ireland called to say, "We do not like archbishops who are in politics. Politics is a dirty game and you should not be in it." Others said, "And you are going to try and sell us out in Northern Ireland." The poor archbishop was very angry and the Secretary of State had to apologise, and one apology was not enough. He had to give a further apology. One by one, the names of the shakers are coming out and people are now saying, "We do not want to be identified with this."

The Government should not think that the Northern Ireland people are stupid and that they are going to listen to people just because the Government employ them. Northern Ireland is a very small place; we know everything about everybody and everybody knows everything about us. So let me say to the House tonight that this is not the way to conduct politics. Let the people of Northern Ireland have their say, but let it be on a level playing field. I know what is happening. I know some of the dirty tricks played in the past by Departments and Governments on this side of the water. I know all about it and let me tell the House: truth will out.

I am looking forward to 22 May, but I have not heard the Government make any comment on what I said in the other debate, or on what my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East said about the consensus. The right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) said, "We shall certainly need well over the 70 per cent. mark," but he has now reduced that figure to over the 60 per cent. mark, and soon it will be down to just over the 50 per cent. mark. Let me tell the House that to have a clear statement that the majority of both nationalists and Unionists agree, the yes vote must be 70 per cent. We shall see.

Let the election take place, but let it take place in fairness and not with the taking of taxpayers' money and trying to make people believe as the Government believe, outlined in this document. They do not have to live there; they do not have to follow the coffins; they do not have to suffer. This past week, I have had with me a lady who lost her husband in a brutal attack by an IRA man. She said to me, "I am afraid that I'll not even have the courage to go out of my home when the man is released who killed my husband." What do we say to people like her—that we are sensitive to her troubles, but we have to let such men out?

The House should allow the election to take place in an honourable and decent manner, not with the sort of thing outlined in this document and the misuse of £3 million. I want to know what the £3 million is for.

12.6 am

Mr. Paul Murphy

It is easy to attack civil servants, who cannot answer back. It is important to realise that had the party of the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) taken part in the agreement, he might well have been able to influence the matters that he does not appear to like. It is also important to understand that nearly 1 million people are entitled to vote in Northern Ireland, so the expenditure to which the hon. Gentleman refers is hardly elaborate. When it is borne in mind that the parties that were members of the talks process represent 80 per cent. of the people of Northern Ireland, it seems fair that they should have 80 per cent. of the expenditure for leaflet distribution—four to one, because they were in the talks and because they represent 80 per cent. of the people in Northern Ireland.

The hon. Member for North Antrim accused me of being wrong earlier, but he was wrong about several matters. He was wrong about decommissioning: the agreement makes it absolutely clear that decommissioning is to happen within two years. He was wrong about the RUC and wrong about how the assembly works—in fact, he is generally wrong and one of the reasons he is wrong is that he did not stay in the talks and argue his corner. The only point on which I do agree with him is that we should let the people decide. Let us hope that, on 22 May, they give the settlement and the agreement a resounding yes.

Question put and agreed to.


That the draft Northern Ireland Negotiations (Referendum) Order 1998, which was laid before this House on 20th April, be approved.


That the draft Northern Ireland (Entry to Negotiations, etc.) Act 1996 (Cessation of Section 3) Order 1998, which was laid before this House on 20th April, be approved.—[Mr. Dowd.]