HL Deb 09 July 1992 vol 538 cc1345-62

8.31 p.m.

The Earl of Arran rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 2nd June be approved [1st Report frotn the Joint Committee].

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this draft order renews the temporary provisions in the Northern Ireland Act 1974 under which government by direct rule continues in Northern Ireland. In presenting the draft order to the House I wish to give a brief account of the Government's stewardship in Northern Ireland over the past year, including some explanation of how we have taken forward the task of seeking to promote alternative and durable structures of government for Northern Ireland.

Your Lordships had the opportunity recently to discuss the security situation in Northern Ireland and will be aware that over the past year the campaign of violence by terrorists on both sides of the community has continued in all its malignancy and futility. Since last July 106 people have died and many more have been injured. Homes and livelihoods have been destroyed by bombs and incendiaries.

Our first priority is to bring this terrorism to a permanent end; the people of this country deserve no less. But this must be done within the rule of law. That principle cannot be set aside. So the Government will continue to support the vigorous and impartial actions of the police and the Army as they operate with seasoned professionalism.

On the economic front, during the course of the 1980s the Northern Ireland rate of economic growth broadly matched that achieved at national level. From then on, the local economy has been adversely affected by the national recession. Nevertheless, the Province's economic performance has proved to be remarkably resilient in the circumstances. Unemployment has risen by 5,600 over the year and now stands at 105,000, or 14.4 per cent. of the workforce. This rate of increase has, however, moderated in recent months and is substantially below that for the United Kingdom as a whole. Similarly, while output and employment levels in Northern Ireland are down by around 2 per cent. over the year, this compares with United Kingdom decreases of about 3.5 per cent. Moreover, recent business surveys point to an increase in business confidence in Northern Ireland and to a welcome revival in export performance. Taken overall, the past year has provided encouraging evidence of Northern Ireland's economic capabilities.

This trend has also been seen much closer to home in the growing interest of industry and commerce in exploiting the opportunities that exist for trade with the Republic of Ireland. The IDB has been working very effectively with the Irish Trade Board to develop exhibitions and roadshows, through which companies north or south can demonstrate their products and their capabilities to each other. We are seeking also to open up the public purchasing market in Northern Ireland and the Republic to small firms from all over the island. Good communications are obviously a vital factor in facilitating trade, and the recent decision on the upgrading of the Belfast-Dublin rail link is therefore particularly welcome. Work on that will start later this year.

The year 1991 was another encouraging one for the tourism industry, with Northern Ireland recording its highest ever number of visitors—1.19 million. Within the figure there was an increase of 18 per cent. over the previous year in the number of holiday visitors, which stood at more than a quarter of a million.

On the agricultural front, the major development has been the CAP reform agreement. This will remove the uncertainty over production levels and support and enable farmers to plan ahead on the basis of agreed production levels. A rural development initiative, assisted with funds from Europe, has also been established to tackle the social and economic problems of the Province's most deprived rural areas and, because we all recognise the need to ensure that agriculture is developed in an environmentally friendly way, a scheme of environmentally sensitive areas is being set up around the Province.

In health we have continued to make good progress towards implementation of our reforms which will enable our health and personal social services to meet the growing demand for treatment and care in the Province. Contracting out of services came into operation in April and one health and social services trust has been established—the Royal Group. Other applications are being considered. Significant numbers of general practitioners have also expressed interest in joining the GP fundholding scheme.

In education the Government are proceeding with the implementation of the programmes of study in the compulsory subjects of the school curriculum; by September this year 10 subjects will have been introduced into secondary schools and six into primary schools. The Government have also approved a common core syllabus in religious education for use in all grant-aided schools, and this will be phased in to primary and secondary schools from September 1993. Open enrolment has been introduced into both primary and secondary sectors and better and more timely information for parents about schools is being produced.

On the community relations front the Government remain firmly committed to the promotion of equality of opportunity and the elimination of all forms of unlawful discrimination in employment. Since the beginning of 1992 the registration and monitoring requirements on employers have been extended to include those with 11 to 25 employees, and the number of firms registered with the Fair Employment Commission has as a result increased from 1,900 to just over 4,000. The commission is currently investigating 47 firms where monitoring returns have indicated that there is a substantial under-representation of either Protestants or Roman Catholics in the workforce.

In general, however, the Fair Employment Commission has been most encouraged by the response of the vast majority of employers to the new duties placed upon them by the 1989 Act. The Government are committed to carrying out a formal review of the effectiveness of the Fair Employment Act after five years, and it is our intention to publish a detailed paper on the workings of the legislation later in the year.

I should now like to turn to the political talks. As your Lordships will be aware, a round of discussions took place last year under the previous Secretary of State and new talks were launched this year on 9th March. They resumed after the general election on 29th April. It will, I am sure, have given your Lordships very great satisfaction last week when the participants—the four main constitutional parties in Northern Ireland and the British and Irish Governments—agreed to move the discussions forward to the second and third strands. Up to that moment the talks had remained in the first strand, addressing the question of relationships within the community in Northern Ireland, including between any new institutions which might be created there and the Westminster Parliament. As a result of last week's agreement to move into strands II and III, when the Irish Government become directly involved, the talks are now concentrating on relationships throughout the island of Ireland and in due course between the two governments.

I am sure that all your Lordships will join me in wishing the participants well in this vital enterprise. On behalf of Her Majesty's Government I should also like to acknowledge the important part being played by Sir Ninian Stephen, the former Governor general of Australia. As the previous Secretary of State made clear before the talks began last year, the participants are, setting out to achieve a new beginning for relationships within Northern Ireland, within the island of Ireland and between the peoples of these islands".

The Government's objective is clear. They wish to return greater power, authority and responsibility to Northern Ireland's locally elected representatives, within a framework of new political agreements which would attract widespread support and would take account of Northern Ireland's wider relationships with the rest of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.

I cannot go into the detail of the discussions. As your Lordships will know, they are confidential. It will be clear to all of your Lordships, however, that although the continuing progress of the talks gives cause for optimism there are many difficult and sensitive issues yet to be addressed. I can assure the House that, for their part, Her Majesty's Government will continue to do everything possible to ensure that the talks realise their full potential. I am sure that that is what the overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland and the Republic would wish to see.

In conclusion, the Government will remain committed to striving, through action on the security front, the economic and social front and the political front, to promote a more just, prosperous and peaceful society in Northern Ireland and one in which its elected representatives can take their rightful share of responsibility for the direction and administration of the affairs of its people. However, until it proves possible to put in place workable and durable structures to that end, direct rule must continue. In those circumstances, I commend the present order to your Lordships' House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 2nd June be approved [1st Report of the Joint Committee].—(The Earl of Arran).

8.40 p.m.

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, I thank the Minister for the broad review of the industrial and social developments in Northern Ireland during the past 12 months. But, of course, that does not compensate for the loss of democratic control which is implied in direct rule. In fairness to the Minister, he did not make that suggestion. Indeed, it is a remarkable fact, and a sad one, that the House is being invited for the 18th successive year to renew the Northern Ireland Act 1974. I find it hard to believe that that was foreseeable in 1974.

Although we give our consent again this year to the renewal, we should never grow weary of repeating that the 1974 Act which imposed direct rule on Northern Ireland is an affront to a democratic society. That is not just my description; it is a description which has been used by the Secretary of State himself. He was quoted in last Saturday's Financial Times as saying: My job is to relieve the people of Northern Ireland of the indignity of having their local affairs governed for them by Westminster ministers. It is an indignity, it is an affront and I also think it is an absurdity". Part of our task, but in a very modest way, is to assist the Secretary of State in his job. Direct rule involves a huge and unhealthy concentration of power in the Northern Ireland Office, in its Ministers—with all respect to the noble Earl, Lord Arran—and in its appointed agencies which are unaccountable to the people of Northern Ireland. Of course, in theory the Secretary of State is accountable to Parliament, but in practice that accountability is plainly inadequate. Direct rule denies to the people of Northern Ireland control over the way in which government policies are determined, control over the legislation, such as the housing order that is enacted and control over the way that the services are run. We shall be dealing with those subjects later.

As we all know, Northern Ireland is a very small country with a small population of about 1.5 million. There is probably no other part of the United Kingdom where the sense of identity with a community and territory is as strong as it is in Northern Ireland. Yet, there is no other part of the UK where democratic government has been so effectively undermined at every level. Even at district level the elected council is a feeble creature, whereas at county level there is no means whereby the citizen can enjoin representative government.

Therefore, as one reflects upon that landscape and also recalls the grim and persistent campaign of violence and the pain and suffering of the past 18 years, it is easy to take a sombre view of the prospects. Yet, at long last, there are now hopeful signs that the climate is slowly improving. Throughout the country there is evidence of an overwhelming desire for peace. Men and women of different religious and political persuasions, and those of none, are co-operating in their own communities, and throughout Northern Ireland, to tackle and resolve issues of immediate concern to people. The evidence for that is to be found in the reports of the voluntary organisations; such as, the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action, the Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust, Bryson House, Corporation North, Shelter Northern Ireland and the Protestant and Catholic Encounter, to name but a few notable examples.

That activity involves the collating of proposals and then the resolution of different views for the greater good of the community, or in the interest of all potential beneficiaries, whether they be Protestant or Catholic, Unionist or Republican. All that involves a just regard for the views of others. I believe that to be a new factor which is emerging. By now there is also, in full measure, a desire that leaders of the constitutional parties should make a success of the present negotiations to which the Minister referred. I think that we all read with a sense of relief and anticipation the announcement early last week by the Secretary of State and the reports of the progress which appears to have been made. We very much welcome what the Minister told us this evening.

Of course, our hopes must not be exaggerated. Indeed, ever mindful of the gloom of Irish history, we are not under any illusion about the difficulties that lie ahead. As the representatives are getting away from generalities and getting down to detail and specifics, formidable difficulties have been identified and other formidable problems have yet to surface—of that we can be sure.

On the other hand, there is every incentive for the political leaders and the two governments to go the extra mile under the guidance of Sir Ninian Stephens to steer a successful course around the rocks and the shoals. If the political parties and the two governments could summon up the will to do just that then, for the first time since 1974, we could begin to anticipate the coming of the day when the Northern Ireland Act 1974 will no longer have to be renewed. It is on that note, which I hope is justified, that we give our consent to the passage of the renewal order.

8.48 p.m.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, if an illustration were needed of the manner in which Northern Ireland is governed and how remote and inappropriate it is, it would be the Licensing (Validation) (Northern Ireland) Order which we discussed a short time ago. That is not the sort of matter which should be discussed in Parliament; it should be discussed and resolved in Northern Ireland itself. The phrase, the "indignity" of direct rule, used by the Secretary of State and quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, is extremely appropriate. Indeed, in his cogent introduction of the order, the noble Earl made the point himself.

When the order was debated in another place, Mr. John Hume pointed out that it was very disappointing that the only people in the Chamber were Northern Ireland representatives. If one looks around this Chamber tonight, one sees a handful of us present, all very engaged with the subject. It must be apparent to the people of Northern Ireland that such matters, which mean so very much to them, are on the margin of Parliament's attention. That cannot be right. It is better that Northern Ireland be governed more directly by Northern Irish men and women.

It is for that reason that we on these Benches welcome the tentative steps which the Leader of the other place, Mr. Newton, has taken towards a reconsideration of the establishment of a Northern Ireland Select Committee. Liberal Democrats have long called for the proper scrutiny of Northern Ireland legislation. In the light of the agreement reached a fortnight ago to reinstate the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, it seems appropriate that there should be proper parliamentary monitoring of Northern Ireland Office business. Will the Minister give an assurance that the establishment of a Northern Ireland Select Committee is given priority in government business in the coming months?

As the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, said, there are some grounds for hope. We are discussing Northern Ireland affairs in a more promising atmosphere than has been possible for a long time. There is more cross-community action. There is a greater awareness of public opinion. I found it notable that in the recent general election at least the leaders of all the parties in Northern Ireland felt obliged to fight the election as men of peace and reconciliation. They felt obliged to respond to Northern Ireland public opinion. The fact that the talks have been reconvened has, I believe, something to do with the realisation that public opinion in Northern Ireland now wishes Northern Ireland politicians to get on with the process.

That is not in itself a reason for assuming that the talks will be successful. There are some in the Chamber with much more experience of the difficulties of reaching agreement in Northern Ireland. I am sure the Minister is right when he says that the fact that the talks are going well should not lead one to assume that they will reach a satisfactory conclusion. We cannot assume that. I, for one, should like to see a firmer Strand I before the leap is made to Strands II and III. Those of your Lordships who attempted to juggle with oranges when you were young will remember that you can just about do so with two, but that to juggle with three becomes rather difficult. I fear that in the desire to make progress a firm enough base—to change my metaphor—may not have been established at base camp one before the talks move on up the mountain. It would be ungracious of those outside the process to carp. We should congratulate Sir Patrick Mayhew and his predecessor most warmly on the progress they have made; Sir Ninian Stephens on his wise chairmanship; and all the participants on the fact that they seem to have managed—in a remarkable way for Northern Ireland politics—to maintain confidentiality. It is extraordinary that so little has come out. We must not tempt them too much in tonight's debate.

One of the reasons why it is so important for the talks to succeed is that success could harness so much frustrated energy within Northern Ireland society. At the moment we deny many good people real participation in the management of their own affairs. That in itself is a cause for sourness: even local government representatives have little left to them beyond emptying bins. That has created a political vacuum which the extremists and terrorists have been able to fill.

On these Benches we hope that there is a happy ending to the story. We hope that it takes the form of a devolved, power-sharing government in Northern Ireland. It is clear that the Government of the Republic of Ireland are willing to go a great deal further than they have been before, at least in contemporary times, to advance the process. Every advantage must be taken of that. But there is one thing that the British Government could contribute. I was most encouraged to see that the Secretary of State referred to this point the other day. It is the introduction of a Bill of Rights. From these Benches I would say that that should be for the whole of the United Kingdom. But if we cannot have it for the whole of the United Kingdom, then let us have it for Northern Ireland. The Minister will be aware that that is something which is supported by all the parties in Northern Ireland. A Bill of Rights could be a vital underpinning of any constitutional settlement. The Minister will recall that the excellent report of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, for 1991–92, which was laid before us last week, called for the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law as a whole, but especially in respect of Northern Ireland.

I should like to take advantage of this opportunity to say that Liberal Democrats endorse the conclusions on the use of emergency legislation in the terms of chapter 5 of the Standing Advisory Commission report. That is a subject to which I have referred previously in the House. It is disappointing that the Government have chosen not to implement the recommendations of the Standing Advisory Commission and of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, not to mention Amnesty International and Helsinki Watch, to introduce video tape recording of interviews held wholly in detention centres. I hope that at some point the Government will respond positively on that issue. I should be interested to hear the Minster's observations tonight.

Finally—and this is something to which I hope to return this evening—one of the great advantages of a successful conclusion to the talks would be the prospect of greater North-South co-operation in terms of economic development. It is preposterous that only 5 per cent. of Northern Ireland's trade is with the South and that an even lower percentage of the Republic of Ireland's trade is with the North. That makes no economic sense. The economic bonus that is potentially available from a peaceful settlement, which is so badly needed in terms of jobs, employment and inward investment, and of a greater infrastructural connection between the north and south of the island must be apparent to everyone.

As European borders come down and as the trade and money flows grow within Europe, and as the Channel Tunnel connects the British mainland to Europe, the danger is that the island of Ireland will be on the periphery. The transport links are not good enough. We on these Benches have been encouraged by the Government's recent announcement, and that of the Republic of Ireland, that the Belfast-Dublin rail link will be upgraded. I hope that that can be followed up constructively by the improvement of other lines and road connections. There should be better co-operation and telecommunications. I wonder whether there could not be better synergy between the two parts of the island; for example, by tapping the Dublin-Scotland interconnector. It would be nice to hope that with the lowering of tension the North-South gas link could also be reopened. All those questions of the North-South connection to which the Anglo-Irish Parliamentary Conference has also been devoting itself are important. If the Government are wise, they will continue to treat those economic matters and constitutional and human rights in parallel, because it is only by acting on both that the prospects for a peaceful and prosperous life for the people of Northern Ireland will he improved.

8.58 p.m.

Lord Blease

My Lords, I support the adoption of the order for the extension of the period until 16th July 1993. This may seen a little belated, but this is the first opportunity since the Minister was appointed to his position in the Northern Ireland Office—some three months ago, although it sounds much shorter when one says three months rather than 13 weeks —that I have had to congratulate him. We have met in the corridor and exchanged the normal salutations and greetings but I should like to have my congratulations on the record. I join with my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies and other noble Lords who have expressed their warm congratulations to the Minister on his appointment. I also offer him my goodwill and co-operation in those matters which are important to Northern Ireland.

I know that the noble Earl occupies an onerous and difficult position, sharing duties not only in his department but having to come to the House to deal with other matters. I hope that he will not think that the kid glove I offer him when I sit down has a horseshoe in it. I note that he seems to be enjoying his period of office in Northern Ireland, he appears on television, his photograph is in the press and he always seems to be in a joyous mood, with a smiling face, getting around to see people in Northern Ireland. In this House and on these Benches, we share a respect for his work in meeting the people of Northern Ireland.

I welcomed the remarks of my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies, who dealt thoroughly with various points, as did my noble friend Lord Holme. Both paid great attention to legislative and other matters in Northern Ireland.

I remind the House that, since the introduction of direct rule in 1972, there have been 10 Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland; 53 Ministers, Labour and Conservative, have held office during the past 20 years. There have been many attempts and honest efforts by both Labour and Conservative administrations to obtain agreement to what were considered to be more democratic, accountable, equitable or durable alternative procedures. However, these all failed to obtain a consensus.

Meanwhile, among other tragic features of death and destruction, sectarianism, hatred and bitterness are destroying the heart of the Northern Ireland community. The outlook for our children is being seriously impaired, their minds are being poisoned and their future blighted. I hope that an interest in the talks is very much a feature in the minds of those taking part. However, I am sure that all noble Lords can readily understand that those directly concerned in the current political talks, especially the elected representatives, are under considerable party political and other forms of extreme pressure.

While the issues being debated are largely taken up with historical, constitutional and practical administrative matters, I hope that the agenda will also include some of the vital matters which we shall shortly consider in the Appropriation Order. The Minister has already mentioned some of these in his opening remarks.

The scale of the United Kingdom subvention, the urgent need for an upturn in the economic prosperity of Northern Ireland and the full commitment of all people in positions of leadership and influence to ensuring equality of opportunity and equity of treatment for all must surely he enshrined in any agreed political accommodation. I feel sure that those who are in Strands I, II and III of the talks have their minds concentrated on the need of the people of Northern Ireland for social and economic uplift. It will certainly condition their minds as regards the kind of framework required to be established. However, that is a matter for them and I am sure that they will give it consideration.

I close in sharing with the noble Earl, as I am sure do all noble Lords, the wish for political success in the outcome of the talks in the interests of future community peace, prosperity and justice in all Ireland. I also hope that the renewal of the order may not be necessary in 1993. I support the order.

9.4 p.m.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, every year we have the ritual of passing this order and others. This one is by far the most important of all the yearly reviews that take place because without it there would be no need for an appropriation order. There would be no mechanism for the massive subventions which are given by the Government to the Northern Ireland economy. So this is by far the most important order.

I take the view that direct rule as now applied in Northern Ireland is cumbersome, undemocratic and certainly not the best political institution by which to govern the country. However, unlike most people in the House, I do not blame the Government, nor do I blame their predecessor, the Labour Government. In 1974, it was a Labour Government who, faced with the circumstances that existed in Northern Ireland, had to bring this legislation to the statute book. The reason is that the Northern Ireland Unionist Party had governed the country since 1920, since the setting up of the state. The party governed it in such a way as to create bitterness and resentment among the minority population until eventually in the late 1960s and early 1970s they withdrew their consent to be governed in the one-party state by the Unionist Government. Thus, the country was ungovernable.

Faced with that situation, in 1972 the Conservative Government abolished Stormont. It was obvious to the world that the minority population had withdrawn their consent to be governed. In 1973, the political parties held discussions at Sunningdale in which I took part. On 1st January 1974 we formed the Executive. At that time we thought that we were acting with majority consent to form an Executive in Northern Ireland to govern all the people. Then the Unionist majority withdrew its consent to be governed by the Executive. So again the responsibility went back to the British Government because the minority and the majority communities in Northern Ireland, for the same reason but at different times, withdrew their consent to be governed.

In 1975 a convention was set up by the then Secretary of State, who is now a Member of this House. I was a part of that convention and we could not find agreement in Northern Ireland to set up institutions by which we could govern ourselves. Then we had to keep renewing the legislation. As I stand here in 1992, I feel it is difficult to find something new to say. I spoke in 1974, 1975 and 1976. People have forgotten what I said then and it may be as well to take the opportunity to remind them of it. The noble Lords, Lord Holme and Lord Blease, have referred to it.

When I was a young boy in Northern Ireland I read nationalist political mythology. One of the good sayings I came across in my reading was, "The graveyards of English politicians have been dug in Ireland". I believe that saying means that English politicians had no political success in Northern Ireland and their political futures were therefore damned. But I am not too sure how true it really is because the nine Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland who have been appointed since 1972 are now all in your Lordships' House. I am not sure whether this House can be regarded as a political graveyard, but I do not see many skeletons sitting on either side of the House.

In 1982 the newly appointed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the noble Lord, Lord Prior, decided to establish rolling devolution. He set up an assembly, the members of which were to be elected through democratic elections under proportional representation. When the elections were over the nationalist population did what it had done in 1972, with less reason. The nationalist population decided it would not attend that assembly. Sinn Fein expressed exactly the same view. I am not sure whether Sinn Fein expressed that view first followed by the SDLP. However, I think it happened in that order. At that time an opportunity was given to the people of Northern Ireland and they refused to accept it. They refused to form a government for themselves. Incidentally the assembly staggered on under the Unionist community in Northern Ireland until it eventually fell apart because of course it did not obtain the co-operation of the nationalist minority. We reverted back to the terms of the 1974 Act.

I do not think there is any politician that I know in this country who wants to maintain direct rule for one minute longer than is absolutely necessary. Members of any political party and none all hope desperately that some agreement will be found as a result of the talks that are now taking place. If good wishes were to bring success in this matter, that success would be gained tomorrow morning in Lancaster House. The good wishes not only of the elected representatives but of all the people in the United Kingdom are given wholeheartedly to the people of Northern Ireland.

But let us not jump too quickly on this matter. The noble Lord, Lord Holme, made a point that should be drawn to the attention of the House. We were first told that the talks would comprise three strands, Strands I, II and III. Strand I was supposed to concern an internal solution to the Northern Ireland problem. The aim of that strand of talks was to try to find agreement between the Northern Ireland political parties in respect of governing Northern Ireland. I believe that that aim should have been taken much further down the road and a much greater degree of agreement should have been found before Strand II of the talks was embarked upon.

That situation takes me back to the Sunningdale Agreement. Under the chairmanship of the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, we agreed on an executive in Stormont, in Northern Ireland. When we discussed the matter at Sunningdale, the Republic of Ireland became involved. It was that tangent of the Sunningdale Agreement which eventually led to the downfall of the Sunningdale executive.

I am not party to the present talks but I still have a close involvement with many individuals in Northern Ireland. The Irish Government and the SDLP—we can take it that those bodies are acting in conjunction throughout the talks—have progressed 80 per cent. of the way down the road of the Strand I talks. Then they said to the Unionist majority, "We are not going to discuss that other 20 per cent. to find agreement because if we find agreement on 100 per cent. of the talks, you may not proceed to Strand II of the talks. We are not going to agree to the final 20 per cent. of the talks unless you get into Strand II". Strand II of the talks concerns the nationalists' position. The nationalists want to involve the Irish Government. The Unionists, however, do not want to involve the Irish Government. It was that situation that brought about the downfall of the Sunningdale executive.

It is alleged that Strand II of the talks will be concerned with Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution which lay claim to the territory of Northern Ireland. The Irish Government have also put up for discussion the 1920 Government of Ireland Act under which the Northern Ireland state came into being. Even the most moderate of the Unionists in Northern Ireland view Articles 2 and 3 and the discussion of the Government of Ireland Act 1920 as an attack on their territory. They see that two-pronged attack as an attack on the territorial integrity of Northern Ireland.

I switch on my television set and see what is happening in Northern Ireland and in many parts of Europe where the same motivation drives people to kill each other. I see that happening in Bosnia and in other parts of Europe where the nationalist genie has been let out of the bottle. That must be an awful hill to climb; it must be an awful obstacle in these talks which are taking place now in the week running up to 12th July.

Can agreement be found? Will the SDLP and the Irish Government insist on saying, "We must have an input into Northern Ireland or you do not get Strand I agreed to"? That is not agreement but an ultimatum, or at least that is the way that the people of Northern Ireland will see it. I am not sure what the answer is. I think that Strand II is by far the most important part of these talks.

Again, as we shall see in our appropriation debate later this evening, Northern Ireland exists by means of massive subventions from this House and, although one is not supposed to say it out loud if one is an Irishman—and sometimes I come under severe criticism for saying it—we saw what happened in the recent referendum in the Republic. The Republic's whole economic base would collapse were it not for massive subventions from the European Community. At the present time in the European Community the people who put the money in are Britain and Germany. It is Britain and Germany who are the sole creditors and who put the money in. Later this year, incidentally, France may begin to contribute just a little, but at the moment she is contributing nothing.

So we have Northern Ireland living on massive subventions from this House and we have the Republic of Ireland also living on subventions. During one Question Time this week my noble friend Lord Stoddart asked whether the Minister was aware that the Republic of Ireland received £1,800 million in subventions last year from the European Community. Therefore, it must be quite obvious to anyone who has any knowledge of affairs in Northern Ireland that financially, were it not for the subventions from this House and from the European Community to the Republic of Ireland, there would be very severe economic distress all over Ireland. In the next order we are to debate the sum involved will be £5,000 million —from this House billions—for the yearly Estimates in connection with Northern Ireland.

I do not believe that any British Government want to maintain domination over Northern Ireland in these circumstances. The Minister must be aware of that because even in the short space of time he has been in Northern Ireland he must have met people who would say things to him quietly, although they may not say them out loud. For example, the Catholics may say, "We do not like direct rule but we would rather have it than be dominated by a Unionist Assembly or a Unionist political institution in Northern Ireland. As it is, we can expect to get some form of fair treatment from the British Government, whereas if there were a Unionist-dominated Assembly we may revert to the old circumstances, and what guarantee would there be that the whole thing would not revert 1969 and 1970?" While direct rule is full of imperfections, there are many people in Northern Ireland who are prepared to put up with that and are not going to lose any sleep if there is not a dominant Unionist Party returned to Stormont.

Looking at the talks as they stand at present I should like to be optimistic but, knowing Northern Ireland and the bitterness, resentment, fear and suspicion that have been created there over many centuries, I think there is a very high hill to climb. I know that the Government and also the Opposition on this side of the House will do everything they can to ensure the success of the talks; but let us not be too optimistic. There is really very little ground at present for such optimism to be expressed in relation to these talks.

9.19 p.m.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, we are discussing these important matters in a thin House and at a late hour of the night. I regret that. Nevertheless, it is a pleasure to speak on this order and at a time when there is a certain amount of good news in the air from Ireland generally. I should like particularly to welcome the recent speech by the President of Ireland when addressing both Houses of Parliament in Dublin. I am sure that she spoke for many millions of people on both sides of the sea and indeed on the Continent of Europe when she mentioned the deep commitment to dialogue and friendship. That is something that we can all support.

I should like to welcome the fact that political negotiations are continuing. That they are doing so is due in considerable measure to the mixture of patience and determination shown not only by the present Secretary of State but also by his immediate predecessor. The fact that we are still negotiating may also have something to do with the power of prayer. We all know that there is a religious dimension to the conflicts of Northern Ireland. That has its divisive side, but it also has a better and more positive side. I believe that the prayers of many express the hopes of the majority that a political settlement will precede an end to violence and terrorism.

I know that there is no guarantee that the talks will succeed. Indeed, Strand I remains controversial. I therefore ask Her Majesty's Government to examine fall-back positions that would still improve on direct rule as we know it. For example, why not create two city regions for local administration and democratic accountability? They could be based on the cities of Belfast and Derry and would correspond to many of the known facts of economic and social reality.

I welcome also the talks that have been going on in recent months between the clergy of various persuasions and members of paramilitary organisations and their political stalking horses. In my opinion these talks are necessary at a time when government may be inhibited from having such conversations. They are necessary as something going on parallel with the political discussions and negotiations.

I should like to welcome very warmly indeed something that is known as Initiative 92. It may not be well known yet to your Lordships. It is a voluntary move to try to discover what political and other institutions the people of Northern Ireland in fact want at the present time. The process may also show —I hope it will—what kind of political settlement would be approved by the people. I believe that this work is essential because it has been shown over the years that political opinion on particular issues is often in advance of the stated positions in the constitutional political parties.

In a sense this piece of work is something like a private Royal Commission. I am glad that independent commissioners have been appointed and adequate funds secured so that evidence can be taken in a thorough and comprehensive way. I look forward to the findings and trust that they will be a positive help to an overall settlement.

I also applaud that degree of power sharing which now occurs on district councils. For example, I visited Dungannon in May this year. That is an outstanding example of what can be done in an elected body which is divided almost exactly 50/50. Derry City also has a system for rotation of the office of mayor, together with a most effective police and public liaison committee. I should like to salute the courage of Mr. Raymond Ferguson in resigning the leadership of the Official Unionists on Fermanagh District Council when his own party refused to accept the rotation of chairmanship.

I come now to the European dimension to Northern Ireland. We know that it is largely concerned with funds, but not exclusively so. It is now highly probable that much larger European Community funds will he available in the future for Ireland as a whole. Will Her Majesty's Government ensure that Northern Ireland receives its fair share of whatever funding is available? The chances of that occurring will be considerably improved if we can bring ourselves wholeheartedly to practise additionality. In this audience there is no need for me to spell out the meaning of that term of art.

As well as the European Community, the European dimension includes the Council of Europe and the overarching body, the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe. Both institutions are concerned with minority rights and with human rights. As the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, mentioned earlier, all political parties in Northern Ireland want a Bill of Rights. Why should they not have it? Most of them want an ever-improving application of the European Convention on Human Rights. Will the Government give ever-increasing priority to human rights in Northern Ireland? Perhaps they will consider using as a checklist a book published in 1988 entitled Human Rights and Responsibilities in Great Britain and Ireland, edited by Mr. Sidney Bailey, published by Macmillan. The Minister may know my concern over a long period with the handling and interrogation of suspects. On 10th June his right honourable friend the Secretary of State said that an independent commissioner would be appointed for the RUC holding centres. Has that appointment yet been made? If not, when will it become effective? Will the Minister say whether improvements have yet been started to the building of the Castlereagh holding centre?

As regards police complaints, the total rose by 25 per cent. in 1991. This may well be a tribute to the efforts and the greater independence of the Police Complaints Commission. It is significant that on 14th May the chief constable of the RUC said that he would not resist an entirely independent investigating body for police complaints. I believe that such a newly created body would transform the effectiveness of the commission and public confidence in it. There is bound to be scepticism when police officers investigate each other and especially so in Northern Ireland. What view do Her Majesty's Government take of that idea? Can they offer any timetable for action?

Prison policy is another difficult area in which I am interested personally and as president of NIACRO. The prime consideration has to be the safety of both prisoners and prison staff. I trust that there will always be available within the prison system a choice for paramilitary prisoners between integrated and segregated conditions, just as sex offenders can choose between association or segregation.

Fine defaulters constitute a high proportion of total prison admissions. It is highly desirable that they should be dealt with non-custodially. Both the Prison Service and the Probation Service favour that move. Will the Government give the green light to it? Will they press ahead with the experiment now under way on unit fines?

Will the Government also initiate a review of criminal justice in Northern Ireland comparable to that now being conducted in England and Wales by the Royal Commission? I ask that question because I know of some cases of miscarriage of justice. Constant vigilance and improvement are needed to avoid them. Meanwhile, I trust that the Government will study with the utmost care the report from the Committee on the Administration of Justice on the Casement Park trials. My belief is that the doctrine of common purpose was stretched to the utmost limit and probably beyond.

As regards security and intelligence, will the Government examine all the implications of the recent Brian Nelson trial? Will they insure that intelligence is effectively co-ordinated between the various security services and that the security forces act in as accountable a fashion as is humanly possible?

In conclusion, I welcome and express appreciation for the long, hard and patient work of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights. In particular, I urge the Government to accept its recommendation to abolish the 15 per cent. capital contribution which is still required on new or improved Roman Catholic schools. That is particularly inequitable in view of the need to improve the teaching of science in that sector. I congratulate the Government on the progress that has taken place in recent years as regards integrated schools and education for mutual understanding.

9.31 p.m.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, your Lordships have understandably shown special interest in the political talks which this week have entered a new and important phase. I was glad to hear the expressions of support that were forthcoming from all sides of the House. In particular, I was grateful for the kind words of the noble Lord, Lord Blease. It is certainly a most challenging job; one that I intend to carry out to the best of my ability and with dedication to all my responsibilities in Northern Ireland.

Your Lordships have displayed a clear understanding of the important opportunity now presented by the talks. In a joint statement read out to the opening session of this week's talks my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach spoke of: an historic opportunity to make lasting political progress". They went on to state that the two Governments and the four Northern Ireland parties have: together set out to achieve a new beginning for relationships within Northern Ireland, within the island of Ireland and between the people of these islands". It is a task of monumental proportions. Clearly, the way ahead will be difficult. At times the speed of progress appeared to be frustratingly slow. However, the participants are to be commended for the way in which they have stuck to their task and retained their commitment to the process. We are certain that they have been encouraged by the overwhelming sense of support which has been forthcoming in Northern Ireland, from each side of the community, in the Republic of Ireland and further afield. The support within your Lordships' House this evening is a further encouragement.

We all remain conscious of the fragility of the process. A great deal has been achieved since the first talks took place last year. But even more remains to be done. It is far too soon to start thinking about possible outcomes. The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, warned us of those particular matters. However, if your Lordships are looking for encouragement it can be found in the way in which Northern Ireland parties have shown remarkable resolution and dedication to the process. Whatever happens from now on the parties and the two Governments have sent a clear signal to the community in Northern Ireland. That signal is that the way forward for Northern Ireland is through political dialogue and constitutional politics.

The participants have been prepared to put aside their differences and to sit around the same table in the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland. I am sure that we all hope and pray that the full potential of the talks will be realised. That was an extremely clear point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. I assure your Lordships that, for their part, Her Majesty's Government will continue to do everything possible to ensure that maximum progress is made.

On the subject of direct rule, the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, said, in quoting the words of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, that direct rule is recognised as being far from ideal. As I explained in my opening remarks, the Government wish to return greater authority and responsibility to Northern Ireland's own political representatives. The present political talks have a vital role to play in that context. As I have said, the Government will do everything possible to ensure that the talks reach the best possible conclusion.

The noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, said that he wished that there could be a firmer base for Strand I. I take note of his view. However, as I said in my opening remarks, I shall resist the temptation to be drawn into the detail of the discussions. Those are very much matters for judgment of the participants but I am sure that, like Her Majesty's Government, the noble Lord, Lord Holme, is encouraged by the fact that the parties agreed to move on to the remaining strands.

The approach and speech of the noble Lord, Lord Holme, were extremely realistic. He asked about the possibility of a Select Committee for Northern Ireland. As the Government's response to the Procedure Committee's report on the working of the Select Committee system made clear, we see a need for further consideration of the desirability and practicability of a territorial Select Committee. We are keeping the matter under review. We believe that arrangements for the scrutiny of matters within the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland are best taken forward in the context of political talks.

The noble Lords, Lord Holme and Lord Hylton, asked about the possibility of a Bill of Rights. That possibility, or other forms of entrenched human rights provision for Northern Ireland, is to be considered in the talks which are currently proceeding. It would be premature, and against the basis of confidentiality on which the talks are being held, if I were to comment further on that matter this evening.

The noble Lord, Lord Holme, raised the subject of cross-border co-operation. As I said, a number of initiatives are being taken to improve cross-border trade. The upgrading of the Belfast-Dublin railway line is an example of that. I shall certainly write to the noble Lord, Lord Holme, about the other ideas he put forward this evening.

The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, gave us an erudite and interesting exposition of political initiatives over 20 years. I read the article by the noble Lord in the press earlier this week which covered some of the ground that he covered again this evening. He suggested that Strand I should have been taken further. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Holme, made the same observation. Obviously I shall not comment on those issues which must be for the participants of the talks; and certainly we wish them well.

On political talks, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked the Government to examine fall-backs, perhaps based on two city regions. I believe that the noble Lord has advanced that idea before. He referred also to Initiative '92. The Government are very much aware of its activities, which are well intentioned. I am sure that the noble Lord will understand if I reply to both of his points by saying that the Government's main focus of attention at present is and must remain on political talks.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked about future EC resources. The future financing for EC programmes overall has yet to he agreed following the signing of the Maastricht Treaty. Allocations for specific areas can only be decided once overall financing is resolved. The United Kingdom Government made clear that one of their aims is to retain Objective I status for Northern Ireland. On that basis the Government will be pressing for a maximum share for Northern Ireland of available allocations.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raised the topic of additionality of EC receipts. The Government fully accept the additionality requirement contained in the EC regulations and all receipts, including those of Northern Ireland, are handled in a way which fully satisfies that requirement.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, put forward a number of additional points. Perhaps he will allow me to write to him on those further points as there are a lot to answer this evening. I thank your Lordships for the support given on all sides of the House, particularly for the talks and your Lordships wish for them to progress in the future. On that basis I commend the order to your Lordships' House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.