HL Deb 13 July 1995 vol 565 cc1914-38

8.23 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Baroness Denton of Wakefield) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 12th June be approved [22nd Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this draft order renews the temporary provisions of the Northern Ireland Act 1974 under which government by direct rule continues in Northern Ireland. In presenting this draft order to the House I wish, as is customary, to give your Lordships a brief account of the Government's stewardship in Northern Ireland over the past year.

This has unquestionably been a milestone year in Northern Ireland's history, a year in which for the first time in many years the people have begun to savour the fruits of peace. The ceasefires announced by the IRA and the combined Loyalist military command broke the long cycle of violence and have created a new climate of hope and opportunity. The first priority for all of us with an interest in Northern Ireland must be to work to ensure that the peace endures and that this is done in a manner which commands the confidence of all sections of the community. I say that bearing in mind the evidence of the disruptive behaviour in the past few days. I believe that we have seen confirmation that the majority of the people in the Province want peace.

The advent of the ceasefires has allowed the security commanders on the ground to make a number of welcome and significant changes. Over 1,000 soldiers have been withdrawn from the Province. Nearly 100 Border roads have been reopened, and the presence of army patrols in support of the police is very much the exception rather than the rule. Exclusion orders and broadcasting restrictions have also been lifted. The RUC is able to concentrate more closely on the demands of civilian policing, at least outside this month.

The fact that these ceasefires came about reflects the unshakeable fortitude of the Northern Ireland people over the past two decades. They have held fast to the values of our constitutional democracy and they deserve the warmest tribute for having done so. We are also indebted to the professional and steadfast work of the men and women of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, especially this week, and of the Armed Forces who have supported them. Despite the ceasefires, recent events and continuing paramilitary involvement in drug dealing, racketeering and so-called "punishment beatings" demonstrate that more still needs to be done before all violence is brought to an end. But I give your Lordships the strongest assurance that the Government will continue to give their full support to the security forces as they go on tackling the serious problems still posed by paramilitary groups.

I hope that recent events will not deflect all those involved in the peace process. Certainly the Government will not be deterred. We will continue to promote inclusive dialogue on a wide agenda, with a view to reaching widespread agreement on a comprehensive political settlement. Dialogue is the only way forward.

For terrorism to be defeated, it has to be tackled not only directly through a resolute security policy, but by other measures too. To this end, the Government continue to pursue a co-ordinated approach in Northern Ireland which recognises that the fundamental political, security and economic and social problems of Northern Ireland are closely interrelated. We are striving to promote a buoyant economy, with increased job opportunities across the whole community and to achieve a sound political settlement to ensure that any attempt to return to orchestrated violence by both Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries becomes increasingly impossible.

I am pleased to say that there is indeed much good news to report on the economic front. The Northern Ireland economy has come through the international recession well and is performing strongly in the recovery. Unemployment in Northern Ireland is now at its lowest for almost 14 years. Seasonally adjusted unemployment in May was 88,100 or 11.7 per cent. of the working population. Employment too has risen significantly: in the year up to March 1995 by 2.1 per cent. Over 560,000 people are now in work. I can also report strong growth in manufacturing output with an increase in 1994 of 6.8 per cent. compared with 5.2 per cent. in the United Kingdom as a whole for the same period. We can be very proud of Northern Ireland.

I am also glad to report that the latest annual monitoring reports of the Fair Employment Commission show a significant increase of 2.3 per cent. in the Catholic share of the monitored workforce between 1990 and 1994. The Government, I hasten to assure your Lordships, are not complacent about any of those statistics and we are working hard to improve them further.

Strengthening the Northern Ireland economy remains one of the Government's most important objectives, and we are continuing to pursue this in a number of ways. It is, of course, my own particular job, and one that I treasure. In the past year the cessation of violence has brought intense media interest and has put Northern Ireland into the world's spotlight. There has been a threefold increase in the number of investment inquiries since the ceasefires and a marked rise in the number of first-time visits by potential investors to Northern Ireland. The challenge now is to convert this increased interest into new investments and new jobs.

The Industrial Development Board had a successful year, promoting just under 2,000 jobs from inward investment in 1994–95. These investments included Seagate's £60 million expansion in Derry, expected to create 300 jobs; the £18 million investment by the Korean company Dae Ryung, which is to employ 500 people at Craigavon; and Daewoo's further £11 million investment, which will make electronic tuners for televisions and video cassette recorders and employ 255 people at Carrickfergus. Examples of recent new investment by indigenous companies include a £3.1 million investment by Bass Ireland in a new brew house and packaging equipment in West Belfast; and a £2 million investment by Whites Speedicook at Tandragee in its oat processing factory; while Shorts announced orders of £40 million at the Paris Air Show for two military support contracts from the Middle East, and today can celebrate its involvement in the announcement by the Ministry of Defence on helicopters; and Harland and Wolff, as part of a consortium, has won the initial contract from BP Exploration for a floating production, storage and offloading vessel. We are well served by our companies in Northern Ireland.

The IDB is striving hard to build on the Prime Minister's conference in Belfast last December and the White House conference in May, both of which raised enormously Northern Ireland's profile as an attractive investment location for overseas companies. We are grateful to the American Administration for giving its own and other international markets such a strong lead. The IDB has set itself a challenging target for this year of 20 inward investment projects, attracting over 4,500 jobs. We have ensured that the targets for tourism are similarly stretching; for instance, to increase visitor tourism revenue by 94 per cent. by 1997–98 (from £180 million in 1994 to £350 million in 1997). That will certainly make a significant difference to Northern Ireland's economy.

Turning now to community relations, I can report that the Government are placing an even greater emphasis on the pursuit of policies which directly address existing divisions and differentials within the community. When fighting terrorism can be removed from the top of the agenda, it is certainly possible to accelerate the pace of targeting social need. We have been pleased to do so. Community relations remains an important programme in the rebuilding of inter-communal trust, which is essential for sustainable political development. Targeting social need principles is reflected in the Northern Ireland single programming document, and in the EC special support programme for peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. This special programme announced in December is due to run for three years from 1995 to 1997, and funding of £233 million is proposed for the first three years. This is one occasion when a British government Minister can express wholehearted thanks to M. Delors.

I should now like to turn to the political talks. As noble Lords will recall, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and Mr. John Bruton, the Taoiscach, launched Frameworks for the Future in Belfast on 22nd February. Those documents outlined what an overall settlement might look like, with the aim of facilitating the resumption of further multilateral talks.

Noble Lords will be well familiar with the contents of these documents. But there remain many doubts and anxieties on both sides of the community in Northern Ireland as to what the talks process in general, and these documents in particular, might produce. I should therefore like to repeat what my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said in another place recently about what these documents do not do. First, they are not a blueprint; the ideas they contain are not set in concrete; and they will not be imposed without the consent of both the Northern Ireland parties and the Northern Ireland people. They do not affect Northern Ireland's constitutional guarantee; they do not contain any proposals for joint authority and there is no slippery slope to a united Ireland.

The Government's objective is clear. We wish to restore greater power and responsibility to Northern Ireland's locally elected representatives, within a framework of new political agreements which would attract widespread support and take account of Northern Ireland's wider relationships with the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. The documents were produced with this overall aim in mind as a basis for discussion and negotiation. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is currently carrying this process forward with separate bilateral discussions with the main Northern Ireland constitutional parties. These meetings, of which two have already taken place, are aimed at discussing the issues on which agreement is to be based, if there is to be a widely acceptable settlement.

The Northern Ireland Office is also engaged in exploratory dialogue with Sinn Fein and the loyalists. There have now been 13 meetings with the Progressive Unionist Party and the Ulster Democratic Party and seven with Sinn Fein. The purpose of these dialogues has been set out publicly; I will not go into detail here. But I must reiterate the crucial point that if any party closely associated with paramilitaries wishes to move on to inclusive all-party talks, there must first be substantial progress on the decommissioning of illegal arms.

In conclusion, the Government will continue to pursue a co-ordinated and coherent approach to all aspects of Government policy in Northern Ireland which recognises that the basic security, economic, social and political problems of Northern Ireland are inextricably intertwined. It will steadfastly seek peace, stability, reconciliation and prosperity for the people of Northern Ireland within a framework of harmonious relations with the rest of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Such an approach acknowledges that a final solution to the problems of Northern Ireland will come only through discussion and negotiation. We need collectively to establish institutions which have widespread support across the whole community and remove all incentives from those who might seek once again to achieve political change by violence. Such change can come only through the political dialogue engendered by the talks process. But until the time comes when we can put in place workable and durable political structures to that end, it is essential that direct rule continues. I commend the order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 12th June be approved. [22nd Report from the Joint Committee.]—(Baroness Denton of Wakefield.)

8.39 p.m.

Lord Cooke of Islandreagh

My Lords, it was a pleasure to listen to the noble Baroness the Minister review the situation in Northern Ireland during the past year. There has been a quite dramatic change following the ceasefire last August. The Minister accurately and properly described the great advances that have been made; the increasingly developing economy; and the steps forward that have been taken. It is very good news, and we hope that it will continue.

This order is an opportunity to review direct rule during the past year, and also perhaps to be rash enough to offer advice for the coming year. I would not question or alter very much the noble Baroness's review, and I shall not spend time on that. I can certainly confirm that the atmosphere has so changed. I want to acknowledge the Minister's part in the development of the economy. As Minister for the economy, as well as agriculture, she has two very substantial jobs. She works very hard. She gets out and listens to what is going on and what people want to do. I shall comment on that later. She has played a large part in the way in which the economy is moving forward.

One must acknowledge what all the Ministers involved in direct rule give up in terms of time, together with inconvenience and travel. Not only do they have to attend to duties in Northern Ireland but they also have duties in Parliament and perhaps their constituencies. It is only right to acknowledge that they give up a good deal to work with us in Northern Ireland. Perhaps we are unduly critical, but we look very closely at the performance of Ministers and how they are getting on. We are anxious that their departments carry out what we regard as a good job.

Certainly I support this order to extend direct rule in Northern Ireland for another year; but I have a few reservations. Of course, there is no alternative and that has been the case for many years. But I must say that with each passing year the defects in direct rule become more apparent. They are seen mostly in the absence of democracy, which is becoming increasingly obvious. For instance, there has suddenly been an announcement from the Department of the Environment that the roads division and planning are to be converted to agencies. That came out of the blue. It is certainly not what people want. It will remove further from democratic input both those departments, which are of great interest to many people. The Department of Education has made changes in the education boards, changes which are not welcome and not thought necessary. Changes have been made also in the syllabus which have upset the churches. That kind of thing need not happen. We simply do not have a mechanism for feeding in what people think.

I do not believe that there is any other part of the European Union where people have less input to government. We have the feeling that in Northern Ireland the views of the electorate are neither sought nor listened to. There is a grand plan, as the Minister said; namely, that all this will change when there is an agreed settlement of all the important issues by all parties and with agreed arrangements between the parties in Northern Ireland and with Dublin. That has been the position for 10 years or so, but we are still not near to a settlement.

The plan now is to include Sinn Fein in the all-party talks as soon as a little problem about intentions to decommission arms has been resolved. But it is fairly obvious that no agreement can be reached so long as the objective of Sinn Fein remains unchanged. That is quite simple. It is to get the Brits out and force the Unionists either to leave or submit to Dublin's rule. It is difficult to see how including Sinn Fein will lead to a settlement.

Why do the Government insist on working from the top down when everything must be agreed before anything is done? Why do they not start from the bottom and work up, as has so often been suggested? One could develop democracy first and start off by giving district councils greater powers. Generally, they are acting responsibly and working together. The nomination of an SDLP councillor to be Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast is an example. Why do the Government not move in that direction? That question is often asked. Why not, my Lords? The reason appears to be because Dublin says no. Therein lies the problem with direct rule. A foreign government has greater say in the arrangements for Northern Ireland than have the citizens of the Province.

I am sorry to say that the majority—by that I mean the substantial majority who support the union with the United Kingdom—have little confidence that the Government will respect their wish to remain an integral part of the United Kingdom. That is not good. It leads to tension and resentment. It is time that the Government faced up to that. I am sorry to say that that resentment has been growing in the past year. The framework document published in February is widely seen as the highway to a United Ireland. The obscure language is seen as an attempt to deceive.

Turning to another matter, people wonder how the Government can be so insensitive as to hand to Sinn Fein the perfect excuse to organise street protests and riots immediately before the July commemorations. It has been Sinn Fein's published intention to hear the sound of their marching feet and their angry voices in the coming months. I refer to the timing of the release of Private Clegg. It will cost the taxpayer between £8 million and £10 million to repair property destroyed or damaged by the Republican riots that followed his release.

The stand-off in Portadown earlier this week was the result of Unionist lack of faith in British intentions. Credit is due to the police and many on both sides for working out a compromise and avoiding a potentially nasty situation. But it was not so much the stand-off that was significant. What was remarkable was the feeling of support for the Lodge which spread like lightning across the Province, with support from all classes and people who would not normally be thought to vote Unionist. The temperature of feeling in the majority is much warmer than it should be.

I say to the Government: Wake up! Come out of the smoke-filled rooms; look and see what is happening with the people. It is unthinkable that further thoughtless decisions or devious words could build up more resentment and tension to an extent which might make peace more difficult. Talk plainly and openly to the Ulster Unionists, which is the largest party. Talk plainly and openly to the other constitutional parties; and, please, trim the framework document so that it can be a basis for reasonable discussion.

Political thinking has moved forward in Northern Ireland. It is one of the many benefits arising from the months free from paramilitary attacks. All but a tiny minority want the communities to come together. We are fed up hearing about divided communities. We want to be able to work together. I ask the Government please to govern us openly and fairly in the coming year. Listen to what we say and help us to come together.

8.48 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, I welcome this order, presented as always most constructively by my noble friend the Minister. It is only a month since we last discussed in this House the affairs of Northern Ireland. I argued then that we urgently needed to put our own very positive record before the world to forestall the old, old IRA tactic of disinformation.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State did so in the other place last week. But it is the world forum, and above all United States' opinion which concerns me. According to the Sunday Times we are to be taken to the United Nations Sub-Commission for Human Rights in Geneva in the context of the release of Private Clegg. According to today's Times, "dramatic concessions" to Sinn Fein and the Loyalists are to he made, evidently with the effect of releasing early a number of convicted terrorists. The paper adds: Mr. Gerry Adams said he was expecting an announcement". I do not know whether the decision, if it has been taken, is a wise one. But I do know that Gerry Adams has been allowed virtually to claim the credit for exacting yet another major concession from the British Government a hare week after Sinn Fein deliberately orchestrated a campaign of destruction on the streets of Belfast which will cost up to £10 million to the British taxpayer.

The Washington Post of 4th July, reporting on this, wrote, Angry marchers paraded along Falls Road—the main street of the city's Catholic working class section—accusing the Government of double standards in the treatment of prisoners in Northern Ireland, and of demeaning the Catholic community, a 40 per cent. kid minority here". The article also reported that the British Government refused to acquaint his case, as a serving soldier doing his duty, with convicted terrorists. How is it that we do not seem to have been successful in publicising the fact that Private Clegg was only one of quite a large number of prisoners released on the same review?

In the context of Geneva, we should long ago have gone on the offensive by taking evidence in the Select Committee on Northern Ireland both from the families of the disappeared, whom the IRA have treated with such utter and callous contempt, and from Families against Intimidation and Terror. Had such a report, based on the depositions of the victims and perhaps evidence from the hospitals which have, in the past year, treated some truly appalling injuries, rather than official statements been available now it could have had a real impact. I urge my noble friend the Minister to raise this matter so that, at the least, such a report may be available for publication on the eve of President Clinton's planned visit in December.

If the difficulty lies in expecting vulnerable and poor victims of the IRA and, indeed, of the Protestant paramilitaries, to come to London—That may be both politically and practically impossible—then a way can surely be found for a small commission to sit in Belfast, possibly reinforced by a Scandinavian judge. If the victims are too frightened to testify, then that in itself is a telling commentary on the continuing threat to the citizens from the IRA and a demonstration of why Sinn Fein is determined both to preserve Republican no-go areas in a free society and to abolish or exclude the RUC.

Incidentally, it is a great pity that little effort seems to have been made to take up the practical proposals to enable illegal arms to be handed in which the loyalist paramilitaries made in February and which distinguishes them from Sinn Fein and the IRA, who now openly state that they will give up no arms before a political settlement. It is interesting that Gerry Adams, Albert Reynolds, and John Hume, speaking separately, as the Irish Times said, remarkably coincide in saying that decommissioning weapons was not feasible at this stage and should not be a prerequisite of inclusive dialogue.

The IRA leaders should he forced to say to President Clinton's face in December that they will give up no arms, as they never did publicly in May in Philadelphia. It is, however, sadly only too probable that once they win the battle for the release of IRA prisoners there will be left only two major objectives which would make it worth their while to maintain the ceasefire and political phase of the struggle, as they call it: that is, the abolition of the RUC and the total withdrawal of the British Army; though not, of course, British financed public services for Northern Ireland.

The steady stream of concessions from us, never matched by any response from the IRA and the triumphalist mood encouraged in its supporters by Sinn Fein, goes far to explain, though not excuse, the need for the Protestant community to assert itself and its traditions even to the point of the threat to law and order which we saw this week. I add my own heartfelt tribute to the wisdom, the professionalism and the absolute non-partisan behaviour of the RUC in the Portadown confrontation. Nothing could have more clearly demonstrated their qualities and their value to the Northern Ireland community. I hope that that too will be well publicised in the world at large.

Finally, I am glad that no decision is to made on the issue of decommissioning and that a way has been found to enable those who are prepared to give the necessary commitment among the constitutional parties to get on throughout the summer with discussion of the alternatives to those parts of the framework document which have indeed been judged unnecessary and unacceptable by many.

I was reassured to hear from my noble friend the Minister that they are no more than a basis for discussion. It will be reassuring for many to see whether the two governments can accept that the existing mechanisms for increasing cross border co-operation rather than fixed joint mechanisms are working quite well enough to make such formal structures unnecessary. I am glad that we have not forgotten that it is at least as important to reassure the peaceful majority as to placate the violent minority.

8.55 p.m.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, it will be the unanimous view of your Lordships' House this evening to support the order. To do otherwise would be to bring absolute chaos to Northern Ireland. Without the order, all the other legislation and orders that come before your Lordships' House would prove to be of no avail. I had intended to make only a few brief remarks this evening and previous speakers have made my decision much easier.

We must renew this order. The noble Baroness gave us a review of this past year since the onset of the ceasefire. I am sure that she will agree that this past month has been a very dangerous time for Northern Ireland. There were times when I saw the street rioting in my own constituency of West Belfast, again in Portadown and again yesterday, that I began to despair that the ceasefire was going to break down. I am delighted that it has not. But I can only repeat what I said here less than one month ago on 15th June: the Government must be extremely careful to let the people in Northern Ireland see that it is they, and their wishes, which are paramount and not the wishes and demands of paramilitary organisations, be they Loyalist or Sinn Fein. Unfortunately, that does not seem to he the perception of some of the decisions which the Government have taken over a period of months, but let us take just one month.

I know that the decision to release Private Clegg will have its emotive aspects both for people in England and certainly for people in Northern Ireland. I mentioned during the course of the debate on emergency provisions that there were many aspects of the Clegg trial which were supported by all the judges in Northern Ireland, by the judges in the Appeal Court and by the judges in the House of Lords. They found that he was guilty of the capital offence of murder. A young girl lost her life because of his actions. Circumstances existed of which I am certain the vast majority of people in England, Wales and Scotland, have not been made aware. I do not want to go into that in great detail. But since the onset of this order in 1973–74—the direct rule order—there must have been nine Secretaries of State and, with the Ministers of State and Under-Secretaries of State, around 40 British Ministers must have dealt with affairs in Northern Ireland since 1972 and the abolition of Stormont. One would have thought that all those Ministers would have gained an insight into the passions, fears and suspicions that are endemic to Northern Ireland in both communities. But it seems to me that they have not learnt of the terrible passions that run riot in Northern Ireland.

I have to say—and I am certainly no supporter of the IRA or Catholic extremism—that it was a disastrous decision to release Private Clegg at that time, in the run-up to the 12th July processions. It was perceived by the Nationalists, and indeed some people outside the Nationalist community, that here was a decision that could not be treated in isolation. During the course of my remarks on the emergency provisions I said that I hoped that the release of Private Clegg could not be used as linkage with the IRA demands for the release of their prisoners.

If that decision had not been taken at that time; if it had been taken today in conformity with the other reports that we have heard about the increased remissions that are going to be given to paramilitary prisoners, then we would not have had £5 million, £6 million or £7 million worth of damage done on the streets of Belfast. From a purely economic point of view, it would have been in the Government's interest to delay that decision. Northern Ireland cannot afford millions of pounds worth of damage in relation to this.

It has been said quite recently that the Government appear to make a decision and say that they are standing steadfastly by it but that within two or three weeks they change their mind. The leaked report in the Daily Telegraph today about increased remission for prisoners will be seen in Northern Ireland as a payback for the release of Private Clegg. It should not be seen that way because the IRA and its supporters will say, "Look, we have got something out of it". There is a linkage. When the Government make a stand they should not back away, however strong the opposition may be.

People may not realise why there is so much trouble at these Orange Order marches. I think it is true to say that the Catholic population in Northern Ireland never had any great feeling for the Orange marches, particularly when they were told time after time that the marches were to commemorate the defeat by the Protestant King William of the Catholic King James. There is no reason in that regard for the Catholics to love the victory of William. In 1969 and 1970 Northern Ireland had its own Srebrenica. There was ethnic cleansing during those tumultuous years at the outset of the present troubles. The Catholics were all put out of the Rathcoole estate. The Protestants were all put out of the Cavehill Road estate. The left hand side of the Ormeau Road, where the trouble took place yesterday, was a totally Protestant estate. But when the ethnic cleansing came about the Protestants left that estate—they were forced out of it—and it was taken over by the Catholics. They have taken the decision that it is their territory now. There has been a change in the ownership of the territory. But the Orange Order says, "We have marched this territory for hundreds of years", and so there one sees all the seeds of conflict.

One thing annoyed me yesterday, although I was not present. I had lots of telephone calls from people in Belfast about something that did not appear on national television here. A lot of convicted murderers are now having ongoing discussions with the Northern Ireland Office. I feel bitterly resentful about that because one of them murdered my closest friend and he can be seen frequently at the 12 meetings that have been held with the Loyalists. It appears that yesterday, at the Orange demonstrations taking place in Belfast, a gang of people had a banner saying "Release Loyalist Prisoners". The gang was led by a man called John White, who murdered my closest friend. He took up his place within the ranks of the Orange Order demonstration yesterday and said that he had been given permission by Martin Smyth, the Grand Master of the Orange Lodge, to march in that demonstration. All I can say is that it does not redound to the credit of the Orange Order that it is prepared to let convicted murderers take part in demonstrations which it says are to commemorate the stand of King William for justice to all men.

Is it right that there is to be remission? If there is to be remission it could mean, as the papers predict, that 100 men will be released immediately. Among those 100 men there will be people who have been serving life sentences for murder. I know that it is the intention of the Government to do everything they can to ensure the continuation of the peace process. That is why they are having these exploratory talks with the Loyalists and with Sinn Fein and the Republicans. When the Secretary of State announced it in Parliament he said that he had been having talks with the Popular Unionist Party. I think he meant the Progressive Unionist Party because the Popular Unionist Party unfortunately died with Jim Kilfedder, the former representative of the North Down seat.

I know it is the Government's intention to try to prevent these extreme organisations—Loyalist and Republican—from going back to the gun but I would advise and warn them that when these prisoners are released—if they are released—they should not take them on board so that we can see them, every time we switch on our television sets, marching up and down to the Northern Ireland Office to give their opinion on what the future of Northern Ireland should be. In his maiden speech only last week, the newly elected Member for the North Down constituency said: If there is one allegation or complaint made by the ordinary and decent people of Northern Ireland, it is an expression of disgust at seeing men and women, their hands still stained with the blood of innocents, being given an honoured place in discussions with representatives of Her Majesty's Government".— [Official Report, Commons, 5/7/95; col. 484.] That is very, very true. I would urge the Government, in whatever political discussions they may have, to make certain that they are not seen to be paying little regard to the bereaved relatives of those who were so appallingly murdered over a period of 25 years and that their murderers are not given an honoured place in discussions about the future of Northern Ireland.

9.5 p.m.

Viscount Brookeborough

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for the way in which she introduced the renewal order and for the very upbeat report we have had on the economics of Northern Ireland. That has saved me from saying quite a lot.

I have a question on the straightforward government of Northern Ireland. In the light of the amalgamation of the Department for Education and the Department of Employment in Great Britain, will that happen in Northern Ireland? If there are good reasons for doing it in Great Britain and if it is not happening in Northern Ireland, why not?

Annually in this debate we have addressed the problem of the democratic deficit, especially in local government. Luckily for me, the noble Lord, Lord Cooke, in particular, addressed that subject very well. I heartily agree with the noble Lord and also with the questions he asked. I hope that the Minister will be able to answer them.

I make one specific comment on the economic side. I personally congratulate the Minister on the amount of energy, enthusiasm and effort, and a certain sense of humour as well, that she has put into the recovery of industry in Northern Ireland. An example of her attention to detail was recently, speaking to the tourist board, when she highlighted cleanliness and the opening times of shops and tourist attractions. I am sure that we shall see an improvement.

However, it has not yet had quite the effect she might have hoped for. Perhaps I may bring to her notice an example of what she was talking about which occurred today. The 12th holiday, which was basically yesterday, continued today, with no post, many shops closed and, in addition, even by lunchtime today the main street of our local village, Fivemiletown, was still strewn with the most unbelievable amount of rubbish: cans, bottles, chip bags and half-eaten food. As one of the main tourist routes, is this not an absolute disgrace? I ask my noble friend to make the appropriate noises in the right direction—and perhaps not let them know who told him about it!

Obviously, the ceasefire is crucial in terms of the overall political progress and the future of this Act we are discussing tonight. The immediate question for any change in what we might be discussing next year is this: will the ceasefire hold and if not, why not? Assuming that it does, where does it get us in six months' or one year's time? There is no point in looking any further ahead since it would all be purely speculation and we would probably be here all night.

There is a feeling at present that the ceasefire is on a knife edge and that every event such as Orange Order marches, or a nationalist riot in West Belfast, is taking us over the edge and back to violence. I do not believe that this is true: it is not on a knife edge. It may be true to say that the ceasefire might be slightly fragile, but not on a knife edge. This is a media-led impression and they should reflect the true facts and stop talking the situation down and stop giving maximum attention to those who inflame the situation at present.

The first point is this: the Orangemen and the nationalist rioters are not the gunmen, nor are they the people who control them. The second point is that the Portadown and Ormeau Road problems, although orchestrated to some extent by Sinn Fein, were not the disaster that the media portrayed. At the most significant tlashpoints, at the most crucial time of the whole year, sectarian violence on a large scale was avoided by cross-community negotiation. This is a highly significant advance and should be talked up by the media, not down. The situation was also very largely helped by the RUC. I spoke to them today and they said that the credit goes to the two communities. The RUC merely kept the situation stable while the negotiations went on.

It is worth saying that there were hundreds of other Orange Order marches throughout the Province and, please note, in the Irish Republic, where there was no trouble at all. It is rather like football rioters in England—small criminal bands who choose the places where they think that they have the greatest chance of getting away with their criminal deeds of stirring up trouble.

In my opinion, the IRA itself holds the key to the ceasefire. It is working to its own agenda and timetable. Logically, there can be only two real reasons for a resumption of violence. Either the conditions have changed since it called the ceasefire, or it is failing to achieve what it wished to. If the first reason is true, it must mean that the conditions prevailing 10 months ago, which dictated that it went for a ceasefire, have changed. We have to understand, however, how it occurred.

Without going into detail, the reasons were, first, that the IRA was not winning. Secondly, with the arrest of the "agent Nelson" and the resulting lack of information on Protestant paramilitaries, there was an enormous increase in sectarian murders by that group. The net result was that tit-for-tat murders ran to an all-time high and the urban population affected most by them increased the pressure for a ceasefire. Lastly, the Downing Street Declaration left the IRA without a leg to stand on in the United Kingdom, Ireland and, thankfully, in the United States of America. Since none of those conditions has changed, there would be no foundation for calling off the ceasefire.

The second reason for a return to violence would be that the IRA is failing to achieve anything through peace. However, one has only to listen and watch Sinn Fein and IRA spokesmen to see that although they are pretending that they are getting very little, there is a certain smugness and satisfaction. Remember that they represent real killers and murderers—not the vast majority of nationalist voters; that is SDLP ground. For no sacrifice at all—except, meanwhile, they have said that they will not shoot anyone—Sinn Fein and the IRA believe that they have achieved quite a lot. They get more attention from the Government and the media than all the constitutional parties put together.

The Government issued a framework document that far exceeded nationalist expectations as a starting point and was well over to its side in the view of many people. The IRA is not going to hand in its weapons at the moment. If it eventually does, the quantity which will be deemed as substantial, in Government and USA terms, will not significantly affect the ability of the IRA to go back to violence in Northern Ireland and in Great Britain. I would counter those people who say, "Why should it hand them in when it can go and buy more?" with the comment, "Why on earth does it not hand them in if it can buy more because that would show that the IRA means something even in the shortest term?"

To the benefit of the IRA, Army patrols have virtually disappeared so there is an almost total lack of the high quality, low level intelligence which can monitor its activities and which has saved so many lives in the past. I am not objecting to that. I am merely stating what the IRA has had and what it has not given. As a result, the IRA is at present targeting like mad. That has been proved by the police and the military. That is going on. It is not a figment of my imagination. The IRA is also updating its files.

The remission of sentence for prisoners with scheduled offences will be increased, but before the Government decide the dates I ask them to think of us and not to do so in such an ill-timed manner as happened with the release of Private Clegg. That was incredibly badly timed. It was then capped with such bad taste with the organisation of photocalls for the media that I simply could not believe it. It was amazing. I say that, although I am on the side of the security forces. However, I live in Northern Ireland—perhaps that is the difference—unlike half the media which produced all those photographs.

The Government have already told us their answer to that. They have said that it was the "due process of law" that Private Clegg was released. However, after that due process had taken place and when people were wondering when the release would happen we were told quite clearly that the Secretary of State had the papers in his hand and that he would decide when to release him. Therefore, the decision on the timing of the release was taken personally by the Secretary of State. We have heard about the damage caused, and I do not think that anyone in Northern Ireland or elsewhere can expect anything other than an apology for making the release at that time. My question is: why do we keep on doing that sort of thing?

To sum up: stop treating the IRA and Sinn Fein with kid gloves. The ceasefire will cease when the IRA decides. It is being given far too much freedom at present. If the Government do not demand more, if they do not take the initiative and keep the IRA and Sinn Fein under much more pressure, we shall cease to keep track of what they are really up to, which is following their own agenda and quietly achieving it.

My message to the Government is this: patience is running out on both sides of the law-abiding community in Northern Ireland. The price is too high. Many feel insulted and let down by what Sinn Fein and the IRA are achieving while giving up absolutely nothing.

9.16 p.m.

Lord McConnell

My Lords, I start by saying how pleased I am that the noble Baroness, Lady Denton of Wakefield, is still with us as the representative of the Northern Ireland Office in this House. The Minister has done a great deal of hard work in Northern Ireland. She has done a great deal for the economy and she has gained a great deal of respect. I join other noble Lords in expressing our delight that she is still with us as Minister. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, said, there have been far too many changes in the personnel of the Northern Ireland Office over the past 21 years or however long it has been. The principle that used to he enunciated was that when a Minister had learnt the job, he or she should be moved to another Ministry to start over again. I am glad that the experience of the noble Baroness is to be retained for us at the Northern Ireland Office.

As noble Lords have said, we have no alternative but to approve the order. However, I look back to the election manifesto of 1979 on which the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, won that election. Section 22 states: In the absence of devolved Government, we shall seek to establish one or more elected regional councils with a wide range of powers over local services". Unfortunately, the foul murder of Airey Neave appeared to make the Government change their course and to abandon the common sense which came from him before being included in that manifesto. Not only was a local assembly removed from us, but also most of the powers of our local authorities were removed. That is something that would not be tolerated in any other part of the United Kingdom.

We are now left in the hands of bureaucracy; a paradise for bureaucrats. It has been said that 96 quangos are unelected and are merely appointed. Perhaps the Minister will be able to say whether that is correct. It is certainly a dismal way in which to try to govern any part of this country.

We must look to the future with optimism. We must move away from the sterile proposals of the framework document which were put in as a sop to the Republican government of another country. The idea that there should be joint bodies between Northern Ireland and the Republic is repugnant to most of us. There is co-operation between the two tourist boards. There is co-operation on agriculture in many different aspects. To say that that should be institutionalised is a departure from common sense, or rather just a sop to the Republican government in the south.

Noble Lords have mentioned the talk of agencies for planning roads and eventually water. That is a further move from democracy. Those duties should he given back to local authorities as a first step forward. If we are to have a workable means of government in Northern Ireland, we must take gradual moves such as that. I suggest that that move could be made pretty quickly. I agree with other noble Lords that the views of the ordinary people in Northern Ireland are important. Far too much attention is given to the views of terrorists.

Finally, perhaps I may suggest one proposal: the establishment of a committee of both Houses of Parliament to advise and assist the Secretary of State in carrying out his functions in Northern Ireland. I support the continuance of the order and repeat the fact that we are pleased to see that the noble Baroness is still with us.

9.23 p.m.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, I too thank the Minister for the way in which she introduced the order and pay tribute for the work that she is doing in Northern Ireland. She has put so much into inward investment and economic development in the Province. I can only imagine how dismayed she must have been when having discussions with the delegation from Fujitsu the violence broke out in West Belfast at that time. It is not easy and we know that a background of peace is essential to the inward investment that the Province so badly needs.

The noble Lord, Lord Cooke, in his interesting speech said as regards the renewal of the order that, of course, there is no alternative. The point of the peace process and of the juncture that we have now reached in the affairs of Northern Ireland is that for the first time in a long time it seems that there could be an alternative, and an alternative which Northern Ireland so desperately needs. I refer to the proposition that the two communities of Northern Ireland who share the Province should co-operate together in government; should be deciding their own policies for their roads, hospitals, health and economic development; and that they should take a greater level of responsibility for their own government. instead of us sitting here late in the evening pontificating—some with greater knowledge than others—upon the affairs of Northern Ireland. It is right that we should aim to have effective, devolved and shared power in Northern Ireland so that people have a much greater degree of responsibility for their own affairs. We must retreat from the politics of rhetoric, fantasy and tribalism into the real politics of decisions which affect people's welfare and the health of the economy and society of Northern Ireland. Therefore, there is a very precious prize. There is a potential alternative within our grasp.

The question that I should like to address this evening is: what is standing in the way of grasping that prize? One problem is the running together of two twin-tracks: first, the track of the ceasefire, making it permanent and consolidating it; and secondly, the political progress which is necessary to produce secure institutions in Northern Ireland of the kind which I have described. Those two questions become entangled together.

The danger is that it is seen that the negotiation that matters is between the Government of this country and Sinn Fein. That is not the negotiation that matters. It is not the point of the exercise. Perhaps I may say to some noble Lords who come from the Unionist tradition that there is only one negotiation which matters, and that is the negotiation between the Unionist and Nationalist people of Northern Ireland. That is the negotiation which matters. Everything else is what psychologists call displacement activity. That is the negotiation which must be faced up to.

How can we promote that? Perhaps I may say that I was extremely struck by the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough. I sometimes wish that the elected Unionist politicians of Northern Ireland would share the same clarity of leadership as he has just shown this evening. It was an example to us all of how to approach some of the problems. It was a most impressive speech. It was particularly impressive in relation to what he said about the durability of the ceasefire. Like the noble Viscount, I do not believe that the ceasefire has a week-by-week or month-by-month prospect of breaking down. That is not the case. In the longer term, it is related to political progress but in the short term, it will not break down.

Therefore, the British media have most onerous responsibility not to treat that sensitive issue of peace and progress in Northern Ireland as yet another piece of sensation fodder on which to base headlines—to go from the heady rhetoric of "Peace eternal" to "Peace is fragile" to "Northern Ireland is in flames again". We do not need that. We need a much greater degree of deep understanding and everyone involved in the process needs to show patience. A great deal of patience will be needed.

If we move from the ceasefire and the key necessity for the British Government not to be seen as having as their primary preoccupation Mr. Adams and his colleagues but rather political progress, there are a few things which must be said. First, I ask the noble Baroness, who has played such a positive role in this, whether we are now absolutely clear that the doctrine that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed has been abandoned. Are we absolutely clear about that? That must be a recipe for deadlock. It is essential that progress is incremental rather than looking for a big bang.

The second matter is one about which I have had occasion to question the noble Baroness previously. Are we absolutely clear—because something that she said in her introductory remarks worried me a great deal—that we are not saying that all parties in Northern Ireland must agree to the resolution? If we are saying that all parties must agree, on the basis that the former paramilitary-associated parties will come into the talks at some point, I must tell the noble Baroness that that is a recipe for never being able to put to the people of Northern Ireland in a referendum a settlement which commands the support of the great majority. It is an intrinsic recipe for deadlock.

I am not at all opposed—indeed, far from it—to having Sinn Fein and the former Loyalist paramilitary associated parties involved in the talks if they show some real commitment towards the decommissioning of weapons. I have no problem with that. But if the Government are saying that, at the end of the day, the successor to the framework document (the settlement that will be put to a referendum) has to be agreed by all parties, then we will not get there. We must have something that the main Unionist and Nationalist leadership can agree on. The British Government must play a positive and enabling role in that process.

Perhaps I may briefly raise one other issue which concerns the economy. I have two specific questions to ask the Minister. First, can the noble Baroness confirm that there are proposed changes in the way that the Government calculate the subvention to Northern Ireland? I am afraid that I have not given the Minister notice of that question. However, if that is the case, can the noble Baroness let me know how that will he effected?

My second question is one that I asked on a previous occasion, but I should like to widen it slightly. I know that the Treasury is very opposed to giving only Northern Ireland a 10 per cent. corporation tax rate. I can understand why, although I believe that the Minister would concede that, relative to the Republic of Ireland, it would make the prospects of inward investment significantly more attractive. If that is the case and the Treasury oppose it for Northern Ireland. would the Government consider extending such a tax incentive to all Objective I areas of the United Kingdom which would, therefore, include Merseyside, the Highlands and Islands and Northern Ireland? There would then be some logic and consistency about it.

I believe that the Minister has shown—and we all agree—that we must do more about inward investment. The noble Baroness gave us the unemployment figures. Of course, there is progress in that respect, but we must remind ourselves that the long-term unemployed in Northern Ireland account for 57 per cent. of the unemployment total, whereas in the United Kingdom the average is 38 per cent. Therefore, we have a problem of chronic, endemic long-term unemployment in Northern Ireland. We need to do everything that we can to revitalise the economy. That requires peace, on the one hand, but, on the other, it requires as much positive government action as possible.

9.32 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for the introduction that she gave to the House. In particular, I am happy from my own personal knowledge to endorse all the words of congratulation about the work that she does. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, will forgive me if I do not repeat his phrase; namely, "we are glad that you are still with us". I am afraid that that has inevitable echoes of a funeral tea in North Wales. I think, perhaps, that I would rather put it somewhat differently.

It is lamentable that 21 years on we are in the position of renewing legislation which, by definition, treats over 1.5 million people on the basis that they are not to rule themselves. I believe that all noble Lords who have spoken look forward to a time when this annual round will be no more than history and memory. As the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, rightly said, the democratic deficit in Northern Ireland is very serious indeed. Local authorities have so little effective power that there is a very strong disincentive to the talented and the able as regards offering themselves for election to local government. That is very bad for government, and it is extremely dangerous for democracy. I well recognise that the order must be past tonight for the reasons mentioned by my noble friend Lord Fitt.

If government are neither accountable nor transparent, they lose respect; and, having lost respect, they lose the moral authority and component which ought to be their basis. I believe that the figure given by the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, is correct in that there are 96 quangos, the work of which is directly related to what ought to be within the province of local authorities—such matters as health, education and so on. As a matter of principle, I believe that that is wrong. It is extremely wasteful of the potential contribution of many hundreds of committed and devoted public servants—that is, those who ought to be locally-elected representatives.

Perhaps I can deal shortly with some specific questions, notice of which I have given to the Minister. The first is the question of water. It is, I believe, the position that the overwhelming majority of those who live in Northern Ireland are opposed to water privatisation. Will the Minister absolutely rule out water privatisation during the lifetime of this Parliament?

I wish to deal with prisoners, if I may. I shall not refer to the matters that the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, mentioned as regards economic progress and other matters as that would be repetitive. However, on the question of prisoners, it seems to me to be of fundamental importance that there should be a known, a publicly-explained and a long-term approach to the question of those who are serving in many cases very long sentences. I respectfully endorse what the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, said. It has to be looked at on a single, simple basis which is equitable—equal treatment for all under the rule of law. Short-term expedients, as he demonstrated quite clearly, will not do. They are not even expedient.

The first question which I would invite the Minister to deal with is the question of prisoners who are from Northern Ireland but who are serving their sentences in mainland prisons. I have found general unanimity in talking to many people with different views from different sections of communities in Northern Ireland that there is a strong case on humanitarian grounds, basically in line with the recommendations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, that prisoners should, where possible, serve their sentences close to home and family, bearing in mind that they will all be out one day. I suggest there should be a presumption that custody should be served close to home. It should not be required that relatives should travel long distances, sometimes at crippling expense, to visit relatives in prison far away.

I suggest that this matter is important. I understand that there are fewer than 40 such prisoners in gaol in England and Wales. Is it true that six of those prisoners have been notified of early transfer in August of this year? If it is true, who are they? What is the position as regards the remaining 32? What is the general justification at this time for further delay in transfer of prisoners? I stress that I am dealing with transfer and not release. We are obliged, in our duty to this House, to press the Minister as regards what truth there is in the widespread press publicity this morning that the remission rate for scheduled offenders is to be reduced from one-third to one-half. I am not myself a great proponent of the conspiracy theory of life history and civilisation, but it is extraordinary that every newspaper this morning carried the same reports. How many will be affected by this change? What is the Government's thinking on it? I suggest that we must have a definitive answer before Parliament rises for the Summer Recess. It will be extremely foolish to dribble it out when it is not capable of debate or question in this House or in another place.

Where did these press stories come from? It is said that they were initiated at a very senior level in the Northern Ireland Office. For the avoidance of doubt, I should say that I do not point the finger at any official; I am speaking of political seniority in the Northern Ireland Office. I am sorry to repeat this, but I find it quite impossible to accept that all these stories in all these different newspapers on the very same morning arose by chance or coincidence. Is it right that the Prime Minister has overruled such a scheme for the present time? I am asking these questions on behalf of those who have no opportunity to have the questions put except by an assembly hundreds of miles from where they live.

It is of great importance that any release of any prisoner, whatever the claimed motive for the offence and whatever the particular nature of the scheduled offence, must be on the basis of a quasi-judicial—I think it is much preferable that it should be judicial—act. It must not be or seem to be the product of expediency or bargaining. If we go down the route of bargaining and expediency that will do the rule of law, and ultimately everyone who lives in Northern Ireland, very serious harm indeed.

I should welcome from the Minister the Government's present definitive view on the question of compassionate leave. What is the Government's view about the remarks attributed to Mr. Molyneaux and Mr. Ken Maginnis that the IRA has decided that the ceasefire is at an end? I revert to our discussions of 5th June. Are we to have a prompt, wide-ranging and informed review of all terrorist legislation?

The Government will recognise that our general position on these Benches has been one of non-partisan support for their general policy. However, on occasion—and I echo what has been said by everyone who has spoken this evening - one has the impression that that policy is stumbling and is not based on an overall long-term strategic, considered approach.

I know that the Minister will accept from me that we fully recognise the difficulties and the dangers. But there are difficulties and dangers in short-termism. Sometimes recently the Government seem to have stumbled.

Otherwise, I congratulate the Minister on her sterling work. It is not most Ministers of whom one can say that everyone who deals with her gives her affection as well as support.

9.42 p.m.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords for their significant contributions this evening. Northern Ireland can be grateful for the support, interest and commitment it receives from your Lordships in this House. Some of us were not born in the Province, but that does not by any means exclude us from feeling a depth of concern and hope for the future of the Province. Tonight's contributions were of particular value because at this moment there is hope for the Province and it is a crucial time for the Province. So I thank your Lordships. I always learn so much from listening to these debates and I am grateful.

I am also grateful for the many kind remarks. Perhaps it is because I love the job and enjoy it so much. For the most part the job is in Northern Ireland. The one thing it does is to make one appreciate meals that do not come on plastic trays!

There is a big learning curve on joining the Northern Ireland Office. The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, asked whether British Ministers understand Northern Ireland. I assure your Lordships that on occasion understanding comes with some difficulty. One begins to add value after a while. I am delighted to say to the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, that it is my determination to try to beat Richard Needham's record for the length of stay in the Northern Ireland Office.

We have had an in-depth debate and I cannot possibly hope to answer every single point that your Lordships have put to me and, through me, to my colleagues. I shall endeavour to cover most areas and I promise that I shall read the Official Report extremely carefully to ensure that noble Lords receive answers to the points that I miss.

The noble Lord, Lord Cooke of Islandreagh, opened with a comprehensive speech. I can assure him that we intend to work up the economic strategy and to build. However, I stress what I said in opening the debate. We are indeed well served by our companies in Northern Ireland, and upskilling and increasing the number of employees will see us through future economic growth.

A particularly important remark was made. It is indeed valuable and satisfying to see that the Lord Mayor of Belfast is a member of the DUP, and the Deputy Mayor is a member of the SDLP. To see decisions being made at that level—with some crisis, but fortunately that would appear temporary—is tremendously valuable for the future.

I suggest with some hesitation that the noble Lord overestimates the influence of Dublin. Of course Dublin comments on everything. It comments frequently on its own internal discussions. However, I assure the noble Lord that we take our responsibilities extremely seriously and we make our own decisions.

In the same way I stress, too, that we try to talk plainly—sometimes, I fear, in repetition. However, we try to stress time and again that it is this Government's desire—and nowhere has it been shown in greater detail than by the commitment of the Prime Minister—to work constantly and totally towards peace in the Province.

I share with the noble Lord his nervousness about "boxing" people and measuring one community against the other. I treasure Martin Luther King's request that his children be measured by their character not by their colour. I should like to see the people of the Province measured by their abilities, skills and warmth, and not by their religion. I hope that one day that will be possible.

Several noble Lords regard the establishment of agencies as a move from democracy. It is not an exclusive Northern Ireland activity. "Agentisation" is a process which is taking place across the Civil Service in the whole of Great Britain as well as Northern Ireland. That process is an attempt to ensure that civil servants are responsible, that there can be more flexibility, and that they can take decisions for which they can be held accountable. However, I assure noble Lords that that is only a different way of administering and managing functions within departments. Ministers remain totally politically accountable for the function.

We hope—there is evidence from some of the agencies—that that process achieves better value for money, improves service for customers, and provides better motivation for the people involved. That is very important in the Civil Service.

Perhaps I may say this to the noble Lord, Lord Cooke. The Government have been consulting on a number of proposals to change present arrangements for educational administration in Northern Ireland. We are considering all the comments that we received on the educational and political implications of the proposals before we reach any final decision.

We always welcome the very straightforward advice that we receive from my noble friend Lady Park. She is absolutely right that the images which go across the world forum are not the true images of Northern Ireland as it now is. Those perceptions have not caught up with the facts. I believe that we can all be well criticised on that point. If Gerry Adams manages to attract the media and the cameras, could that be because many of us are not going out there equally aggressively to tell our side of the story? I would ask the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland to have high on their agenda that they go out and share the news of what is happening. It is important for us to do that. I wish the noble Baroness well with her aim of involving the Select Committee in areas of great anxiety and of relevance to what is happening at this time in Northern Ireland, with the focus of outside views on punishment beatings and the return of bodies. It must be possible to achieve that without difficulty and with great comfort to the people involved.

I also stress to my noble friend that cross-Border activity must be of mutual benefit. It must bring value to the Province and better value for our spend. If by sharing a budget, as we do in tourism, we can get better value for Northern Ireland, then let us do it. I like doing it most of all because on the whole the South puts in more money than we do and we get increased value. That is important.

I was pleased this morning at Aldergrove Airport in Belfast to launch the first Aer Lingus flight from Belfast to Shannon and New York. We need direct access to the United States for our leisure travel inward and for our business travel outward. That is a great step forward, it is a pilot service and I hope that it will be made permanent.

As always, the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, goes right to the point. What we have seen in the past week could have been terrible. It could have escalated into a major tragedy yet again in Northern Ireland, but the noble Lord and my noble friend Lord Brookeborough brought to the debate tonight a positive input. I was delighted to hear how upbeat my noble friend was about the future. People have stood on the brink of the abyss, looked in and moved away again. I firmly believe that we saw evidence of absolutely stupid and unacceptable violence but we also saw the majority of people making it quite clear that it was not acceptable to them. That was important.

I assure the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, that we do not back away from decisions, but we do recognise change. He himself said that there was change: change in residents and in the nature of areas. We must recognise that there is change and measure all the time the strength of the paramilitary threat and the acceptance by other parties of what is happening. Above all, I assure the noble Lord that we recognise the pain of people in Northern Ireland and that such pain can only be eased at a speed which the victim is prepared to allow. Forgiveness must come from the person involved and it can take a long time. We accept and understand that.

The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, quoted the Conservative manifesto. It seems to be an evening for Opposition spokesmen in the House to read Central Office missives and for our Conservative manifesto to be in other hands. Regional councils require agreement. There are a number of models of government which might be applied to Northern Ireland but there must be agreement. I would issue a small word of warning. It is important that we recognise the size of Northern Ireland. There are some areas of activity—infrastructure in particular—where breaking up into 26 parts will not be to the benefit of Northern Ireland. We must recognise that we are altogether 1.6 million people and we must not divide too much.

However, great progress is being made and I pay an enormous tribute to the work that the councils are now doing in the economic field. It started when the Prime Minister increased the amount of the rate that could be committed, which was then matched with European funds. I have launched several economic strategies which are excellent. The councils have shown enormous commitment and consulted widely in drawing up these strategies. I think that we can satisfy noble Lords that much that is happening is coming from the grass roots. The award of the single programme money from Europe was made in rocognising the benefit to the community that these strategies would bring. I believe that we are seeing much progress. It is progress that needs to be made.

I understand, and I hear very strongly, your Lordships' attitude to quangos. But there have been times when leaving the control in the council would have been very much to the detriment of one section or other of the community. I hope that that is now changing. Certainly it is my intention that public appointments to bodies that are involved should he to allow people in Northern Ireland to get experience in what these responsibilities mean and what the problems are. It is important to get the point through in Northern Ireland that there is not a bottomless pit of financial support for Northern Ireland. We have seen, and continue to see, enormous support for Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom Government. But we have to ensure that people recognise that they have to become self-sufficient and have to make things happen for themselves. I hope that we arc giving people experience of that. In particular, I am trying to ensure that we give young people that experience. There is a great need, in expanding the economy in Northern Ireland, to let more young people take responsibility.

As to the question of prisoners, as reported in many newspapers this morning, I perhaps share the views of the noble Lord. Lord Williams, that it is amazingly coincidental that all those reports appeared at the same time. I assure noble Lords that the speculation in today's press that a change is about to he announced is inaccurate. However, we have to keep under review the remission rates that were introduced in Northern Ireland in 1989, when the terrorist campaign was at its height. The rates were introduced because of the circumstances at the time. We have not reached any decision on that question. I also confirm to the noble Lord that any changes in remission rates would require legislation, and therefore the approval of this House. They would not be brought forward; nor would they be regarded as a bargaining card. Prison issues must be considered in their own right and on their merits. We recognise that the issue of prisoners is of concern to both sides of the community in Northern Ireland. I would endorse—

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, before the Minister turns from the question of newspaper stories, it was not my view that it was an amazing coincidence. I do not believe in amazing coincidences. My specific question was: did that material get into all those newspapers in virtually identical form as the result of briefing at a senior level in the Northern Ireland Office?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I do not know how that story got into the newspapers, and there is much variation in the reporting of it. I am afraid that I am unable to answer the noble Lord. I wanted to say that we share the noble Lord's concern that when prisoners are located at some distance from home, those who suffer are their families. The situation at the moment on transfer is that the Home Secretary has jurisdiction over 43 prisoners under terrorist crime: eight have been granted temporary transfer and six have been granted permanent transfer, to be moved as soon as possible; five have varying reasons for being refused; but 24 have insufficient links with Northern Ireland. We are fully aware of the issues in that area.

I turn to the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Holme. On subvention, I will write to the noble Lord. I thank him for recognising what a difficult task I had in persuading Fujitsu to continue with its investment in West Belfast while we were finding it difficult to get the man who was bringing us 100 jobs onto his site. We have to be very grateful to the people of Antrim, with whom he had worked for six years, who had shown the value of Northern Ireland. I found myself talking about terrorist attacks on Tokyo tubes for quite a long time that evening. Someone said that I had a great sense of humour. It was wearing thin when I saw that those people whom we were most trying to help were the people who were bringing this damage to the Province and not only damage to themselves but to the future of other families' children. I hope that people will realise that if they are looking to us for help, they also have to help themselves. It is very important that that goes home.

The noble Lord is looking to the Treasury to help Northern Ireland on the matter of 10 per cent. corporation tax. I know how strong that card is when played by the South. We talk the whole time about how we can bring strength to the economic package that we offer. There is a lot of strength in it. The fact that we have attracted investment to Northern Ireland when the images are of pavement slabs flying through the air and people suffering greatly shows how strong are the people.

But there is much to be done. We have been asked about the Objective 1 solution, which the noble Lord brought forward, and are discussing it. We are looking at other ways of ensuring that our package is attractive and we constantly keep things under review. It depends very much on the nature of the company looking to invest as to whether that particular one is a strength. We work continually and recognise that we need to do so on the question of the long-term unemployed in Northern Ireland. That is now our major unemployment issue.

The noble Lord asked whether I would comment on the argument that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed". As he well knows, the Government are committed to the search for an agreed outcome and seek a resumption of multilateral talks on the basis of the statement made in 1991. But the maxim that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed was, we believe, a sensible one at that time. But whether it will apply to further talks will be a matter for those who participate in them. I can assure him that we do not believe that progress will be made in any area by setting anything in absolute concrete and not recognising changing circumstances and changing values.

My noble friend Lord Brookeborough asked me specifically whether we were planning to amalgamate employment and education in Northern Ireland. I can assure him that this is not a change that is on the horizon in Northern Ireland for many reasons, one of which is that change for change's sake is not the best value. We must do what we do better and bringing change into that does not always allow us to do that. Also, we have a very high standard of education, and the training needs are for adult long-term adult unemployed people. We have a different scenario from that in England and Wales.

I hear what the noble Lord said about the state of Fivemiletown after the 12th July and the situation on opening hours. There is a lot of work to do and I thank him in particular for his involvement in tourism.

Noble Lords brought many points to the table today. I shall read carefully all the issues. I emphasise that we should like to see substantial power devolved to locally elected representatives. For the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, I stress that new institutions will only work if they command the widespread support of the people of Northern Ireland and much can he achieved by just pragmatically doing it.

What is clear is that political momentum means that we must move forward; that the status quo is not acceptable. I can assure your Lordships that the Government will do their utmost to find a way to achieve the peace, stability, reconciliation and prosperity that is needed in Northern Ireland and look for the durable political accommodation which will enable the ending of direct rule and the return of substantial powers to locally elected representatives of Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, until that happens I regret to say that direct rule must continue and I therefore commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.