I beg to move,
That the draft Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order 1985, which was laid before this House on 4th June, be approved.
I ask the House this evening to renew the provisions by which a number of Governments have administered Northern Ireland for more than a decade. These powers are unusually wide compared with those of other Ministers. I do not mean to rehearse how and why direct rule was imposed because that might be to blow on embers which are perhaps best left to cool. But I need to answer the reasonable question why today for the eleventh time a Secretary of State comes to this Dispatch Box to ask the House that direct rule be continued. It is certainly not because the Government wish to retain the full powers which my colleagues and I now exercise. The record shows otherwise. All my predecessors have tried to find ways of divesting themselves of many of those powers to elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland. Neither they nor I desire to continue to take those decisions, many of which are detailed, which are better taken within the Province about, for example, education, housing and industrial development.
The reason why these almost continuous efforts to devolve power have not so far succeeded are familiar to the House. They are essentially the same reasons for which on other occasions we have asked the House to make special provisions for special efforts to establish the security and maintain the economy of the Province. We are wholly and rightly committed to maintaining the status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom so long as a majority of the people there so wish. I see no prospect of the majority changing their views on that matter, but the majority community live city by city, town by town, county by county alongside a minority community, and the future of the two communities is inextricably linked. There is no new line to be drawn, and no ingenious new arrangement which could be devised to separate their futures.
In many aspects of life that causes few problems. Recently, I visited a thriving factory in an area which has been deeply troubled. There members of the two communities work side by side in complete harmony, so far as I can see. Any Member of the House who visits Northern Ireland for more than an hour or two with a reasonably open mind will know that that is a commonplace experience. In many aspects of human activity there is no difficulty whatever. No one who saw the people of Belfast welcome Barry McGuigan can doubt that fact. But that harmony does not extend into political life or into the search among politicians for institutions which would enable the two communities to form some kind of partnership in the formation or administration of policy.
In the Northern Ireland Act 1982 Parliament laid down that any system for the devolution of powers must command "widespread acceptance". That was defined in the preceding White Paper as meaning acceptability to both sides of the community. That must be right, and not merely as an expression of political philosophy or idealism. Simple majority rule, as in the past, would leave the minority in perpetual opposition and would not in practice lead to a stable society. A system which did not command such widespread acceptance would simply not survive. Let us make a practical test. If I were to come to the House and propose a new constitutional system for Northern Ireland, and if I then had to add, "By the way, I have to tell the House that this new system will be boycotted or otherwise rejected by the constitutional representatives of one or the other community," I would be laughed out of court, and rightly so. The common sense of hon. Members would lead them to ask, "What on earth is the point of that?" The search for acceptance must continue, and I shall say more about that in a minute. Meanwhile, direct rule must continue.
The Parliament of the United Kingdom cannot shirk its duty to provide good government for Northern Ireland. Direct rule is a firm and fair framework, and in many ways we should be proud of it. However, it is right that hon. Members should have a regular opportunity to reflect their views on the state of affairs in Northern Ireland, which is far from satisfactory, and to suggest how it might be improved. Therefore, I should give the House a brief but wide-ranging account of our stewardship. The House does not have many opportunities to debate Northern Ireland in general terms, and this is an occasion which we should seize.
I make no apology for saying again that for the Government security policy must come first. Certainly there is a link, as I have often been told, between security and politics, but no accommodation is possible with the killers. We must drain the support on which the killers depend, but the terrorist paramilitary organisations must be defeated by a robust security policy. I shall say more about that policy when we debate the renewal of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 later this evening, but the essence is simple. We want people in Northern Ireland to be able to go about their everyday pursuits free from the fear of violence.
The security forces have made substantial progress in recent years in bringing that about. Their skill, patience and bravery call for our gratitude and, more important to them, for our help and co-operation. All of us, especially those of us in public life, have a duty to help in that way. Neither the Government nor the House can be satisfied while terrorists are able to carry out brutal murders such as those of recent years and, indeed, of recent weeks. We must continue to speak out and bring to justice those who have committed these crimes, and to do all that we can to deny them money, weapons, recruits and explosives. That means doing many things, including intensifying co-operation with the Republic of Ireland. No one who knows the facts about security in the Province and who is serious about improving the present position can deny the need for intensified co-operation. The security forces will continue to work impartially within the law to prevent violence. Meanwhile, it is important that a bomb in Newry or in a village in Fermanagh should be regarded by the House as being as important as a bomb in the Rubens hotel because the suffering which can result from it is as great.
Violence flaws Ireland's image abroad. It deters investors whose talents and resources are needed to complement the inventiveness and skilled application of our people in Northern Ireland. Unemployment, as I come across it week by week, is just under 21 per cent. across the Province and much higher in some areas, and it is a tragic problem. We must understand the personal
frustration and waste of talent which it causes. But output, investment and the number of people in employment are rising. A record number of new jobs is being created in small businesses as the business climate improves. Shorts, our largest manufacturing employer, has won important orders recently from the Royal Air Force, the United States air force and China. The shipyard Harland and Wolff has a full immediate order book, although much work is needed to improve its finances. There is a battery of special employment training measures for adults and young people. Since 1982 Northern Ireland has had a two-year youth training programme—well ahead of Great Britain.
Regarding the economy, it is necessary, but not enough, to spend money to mitigate our difficulties. It is not in Northern Ireland's interests to become increasingly dependent on public funds any more than it is in the nation's interests as a whole. That dependence today is somewhat too high. We must therefore work to encourage wealth-creating enterprise and industry. I should like to see an expanding private sector in Northern Ireland because I do not believe that Northern Ireland is exempt from the lessons and experiences of other democratic countries. I am sure that an expanding private sector is the best foundation for prosperity.
If Northern Ireland is to improve its security and prosper, it must develop links with our closest neighbours and further afield.
The Republic of Ireland is a member, with us, of the European Community. It is a country with which Northern Ireland shares the same island, and with which it shares many common interests and a common security threat. A significant part of the community in Northern Ireland wishes to see fuller recognition of its Irish identity and to see it reflected in the conduct of relations between the United Kingdom and the Republic. This, as the two Heads of Government agreed at Chequers, must be respected, as must the wish of the majority in Northern Ireland to retain its British identity and to remain a part of the United Kingdom.
We have maintained a dialogue with the Irish Government. Its basis was clearly spelt out in a communiqué issued after the Chequers summit last November. In particular, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach agreed that the identities of the majority and the minority communities in Northern Ireland should be recognised, respected and reflected in the structures and processes of Northern Ireland in ways acceptable to both communities. They reaffirmed that the constitutional position of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom would not be changed without the consent of the majority in Northern Ireland. That was a reaffirmation by both Governments, not just by ours.
There has been speculation recently — I make no complaint about that—about the talks which are going on between the British and Irish Governments. Hon. Members would not expect me to reveal details of discussions which, by their nature, must for the time being remain confidential. The talks are a serious attempt by the two Governments to develop relations within the framework set out in the summit communiqué. The Irish Government have a legitimate interest in what goes on in Northern Ireland, especially in those matters which affect the minority community. We do not know the outcome of the present discussions, or whether they will succeed. If an acceptable basis can be found within the terms of last November's communiqué and within the terms of what was then said by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for deepening our relationship with the Irish Republic, it will benefit both communities in Northern Ireland and relations between the two Governments, but it will not be a substitute for developing a sense of partnership within Northern Ireland or for seeking arrangements, in consultation with our political parties, for the better administration of the province.
It is natural that Ministers in the south should, as they do from time to time, feel and express views about what happens in the north. My predecessors and I have differed from other hon. Members and some elected representatives in the Province on that point. However, I have already stated the conclusions that the Government have reached on it.
I have said that, whatever happens to the discussions between London and Dublin about the external track, it will not be a substitute for the search for political and constitutional progress inside Northern Ireland.
Before the Secretary of State leaves the external track, will he tell us what progress has been made with the United States Administration in recent months, in particular within the context of the treaty arrangements, and to what extent they can contribute to a reduction in threats to security?
They have, and I have no complaints to make about the degree of co-operation that we have from the present United States Administration; the supplementary treaty to which the hon. Gentleman referred is the latest valuable example of that. It is not just a matter for the Administration. It is a matter for those people in the United States who feel an obligation to do something to help in Northern Ireland. They have too often in the past been tempted to discharge what they see as that obligation by making contributions which go into IRA funds.
I hope that we have made some progress—during my visit there a few months ago I tried to urge this forward—towards showing that that is a thoroughly dangerous and wicked way of proceeding, and that there are plenty of legitimate ways in which Americans with ties in Ireland can help the progress of the economies and societies of both parts of the island.
Will the Secretary of State spell out in detail how he feels the southern Government should make representations on behalf of Northern Ireland citizens who find themselves in a minority in the north of Ireland, on the political, constitutional issue? Does he believe that the Ministers of the Dublin Republican Government should have access to him to represent those people and make representations on their behalf? Have they not political representatives elected to this House and elsewhere to make those representations on their behalf? Why should Ministers of a foreign Government have that opportunity over and above that available to other citizens of the United Kingdom?
Those Ministers have that opportunity now. They will continue to have it unless I were to take a line which I believe most people would regard as strange—that neither the Foreign Secretary nor the Prime Minister should meet representatives of the Irish Republic. Such meetings occur and we read about one another's remarks in the newspapers. Those opportunities exist and are taken. The question is whether the present system is satisfactory and whether it can be improved. That is what the discussions are about.
I shall now deal with political developments in Northern Ireland. Since taking up office in September last year, I have taken on the task which my predecessor had of trying to determine which form of government would command the widest level of acceptance and respect in Northern Ireland.
I began to explore with the leaders of the main constitutional political parties the more tolerant tone and recognition of the interests of others which was clearly evident in policy documents published earlier last year. I encouraged them to consider among themselves how they might build on these expressions of intent in a practical way. Recognising the difficulties of negotiating in public, I favoured private, informal discussions without commitment. I am grateful for the way in which the party leaders responded to that and for the frankness which they showed. There were some indications, although tentative, I must confess, first from one then another, that they might be prepared to inch forward. Early this year, the prospect of the May district council elections froze even that slight willingness to move.
Before the campaigning started in earnest, I asked my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Patten), the Under-Secretary, to talk to each of the parties away from the glare of publicity to establish more precisely the extent of any common ground and their differences. The results of his conversations redefined and clarified the positions. I am now better placed to decide how to take matters forward.
In considering how best we can make progress, I have to take account of the results of the district council elections on 15 May and to assess their impact and long-term effect on Northern Ireland's political life. As in previous elections, about 60 per cent. of the electorate voted for parties supporting the Union. They used the free elections system which are traditional in the Province to reaffirm support for the Union without ambiguity.
Within the minority the media have tended to gloss over the steadiness of support for constitutional nationalism shown by the 17·8 per cent. of the electorate which voted for the SDLP. The immediate reaction of commentators emphasised the fact that 11·8 per cent. gave their vote to Sinn Fein—a party which openly supports the use of violence for political ends. Its total vote was lower than in the 1983 general election and in the 1984 European elections. That was partly because our new anti-personation legislation was becoming effective, although many people will not agree with me about that.
It is a sad but not new fact that between 80,000 and 100,000 people in Northern Ireland over the years, when given the chance, have voted and will continue to vote for a republicanism which espouses violence.
I have been urged by the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) and others to proscribe Sinn Fein before the elections. I have thought hard about it. I decided not to because such a step would have impaired the freedom of elections in Northern Ireland and the whole basis on which Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. It is not as a result of some colonial system but through the free choice of the majority of the people who live there, repeatedly asserted in wholly free elections.
If I had proscribed before the elections, Sinn Fein and others would certainly have tried to claim that violence was the only course open to them and that they represented the bulk of nationalist voters. We now know that they do not. The 11·8 per cent. does not form a winning hand, unless opponents play into it.
I repudiate Sinn Fein's undisguised support for the use of violence. As I have said, we shall use every means within the law to distinguish between those in Northern Ireland who believe in and practise constitutional methods to achieve their objectives and those who connive in violence, from whichever part of the community they come. I add that we shall keep under review the effectiveness of the law in these respects.
Before the elections we knew that a large number of Sinn Fein councillors would create problems for the Government and for other elected councillors. The Government have to sort out such difficulties within the law. Likewise, we expect district councils to act lawfully.
I understand that feelings inside and outside councils run particularly high in the wake of attacks which murder and injure. If I did not understand that, it would have been pointed out to me many times since May. Elected representatives have every right, and have a duty, to express the revulsion which all decent people feel. They also have a responsibility to defuse tension and to prevent retaliation. The language and behaviour which have marred some council meetings serve only to damage the democratic process and give welcome publicity to Sinn Fein.
I am surprised at the way in which some opponents of Sinn Fein feel compelled to build up that organisation by their choice of tactics. We should not lose sight of those many councils which have made equitable, sensible arrangements to conduct their business. I read in The Guardian this morning that the presence of Sinn Fein had reduced local government in the Province to a shambles. That is wholly inaccurate. Such a conclusion can be reached only by people who look at the councils in which there has been trouble and ignore the councils in which there has been none. The right way to deal with a repugnant minority within a minority is to outmanoeuvre, outvote and outwit them.
Faced with the facts that I have outlined, we must continue to search for better political arrangements for the government of Northern Ireland. I have explained the basis on which we wish to do that. Ultimately Parliament must determine the arrangements. We could continue to work through direct rule. I am considering closely a number of measures—as the House has been told—which could be used to remove old irritants to the minority community. I am anxious to ensure the effectiveness of arrangements which underpin equality of opportunity, particularly in employment.
I know that the present Order in Council procedures of legislation are criticised, particularly on the Unionist Benches. There is, for example, a case for making adjustments to the transferred category by removing matters such as banking, building societies and financial services, where efficiency points to the desirability of United Kingdom-wide legislation and administration by United Kingdom Departments and where the scope for separate legislation or policy initiative by any future devolved administration would be more apparent than real. I am certainly open to argument on adjustments in that direction.
We should recognise that nearly three quarters of recent Orders in Council cover legislation which, for some reason, is different in substance as between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. On many matters Northern Ireland Members are among the first to stress the need for such differences. One has only to think of the wide range of social legislation to understand that.
Whatever their differences, Northern Ireland politicians—and Northern Ireland Ministers—cannot escape their responsibility to those who vote for them and to this Parliament to see common ground. I am much clearer about the difficulties than I was some months ago. There are always problems of timing. The atmosphere might be right for one party, but another will produce an insurmountable obstacle to dialogue. People may say that it is better to wait until after the district elections, until after the marching season, until after the outcome of the Anglo-Irish talks—and so on and so on.
The Government have been and will continue to 5e patient because we recognise the difficulties. However, never-ending excuses to avoid reasoning wear thin after a time, particularly when one considers how Northern Ireland could benefit from an agreement, however modest, between the constitutional representatives of the two parts of the community. I do not think that it is in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland, and I am sure that it is not in the interests of the people of the rest of the United Kingdom, that we should be patient for ever. People cannot claim to want political progress if they refuse to co-operate with, or even to talk to, each other.
The Northern Ireland Assembly still has a part to play. The Assembly's scrutiny of proposed legislation and policy changes has helped my ministerial colleagues, myself and the officials who advise us to tune our policies and proposals more accurately to particular local sensitivities.
I hope that the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) will accept that that is our experience. I wish that I could say that some of the Assembly's plenary debates have been as constructive as the work by some of its committees. Some of the speeches in the plenary Assembly, if read outside the Province, would confirm the worst fears of Northern Ireland's friends.
This was not the role which Parliament intended. The Assembly was established primarily as a framework in which acceptable arrangements for the return of greater responsibility to locally elected representatives could be developed by those representatives. So far, the Assembly has not met Parliament's intentions, despite the useful work which it has done. We shall have to decide—not now, but early next year—in the light of what happens whether fresh Assembly elections should be held in the autumn of 1986.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the experience of the Assembly confirms the view of the SDLP—the only party which has had the integrity to take that view publicly—that the Assembly could not provide a framework for agreement? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that that view is based on hard experience, not only of what has happened in Northern Ireland but of what the political parties have said in statements, that in no circumstances do they wish to share responsibility with SDLP representatives? That experience has been confirmed and reconfirmed by the attitudes that have been adopted in local councils since the elections. There is no way in which the Assembly will provide a framework for agreement. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that that is the position?
All the constitutional party leaders and many of their supporters have told me from time to time of their hard experience, which convinces them that it is no good entering into dicussion with their colleagues—
I am coming to Assemblymen. They say that hard experience has taught them that the other parties are not to be trusted and will not make any real concessions. I have heard this over and over again but I do not believe that that provides an adequate reason for not trying again.
The disappointment which many of us feel at the way that the Assembly has not so far met the main purpose for which it was created should not blind us to the fact that one of the difficulties has been the decision taken by the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues not to have any part in it. It would have been very much easier for the Report Committee of the Assembly in making the progress that I and many others would like to see it make if the hon. Gentleman had at least authorised discussions with it, if not joining it. My conclusion is not the same as that which the hon. Gentleman has drawn.
The search for agreement, for mutual accommodations, in Northern Ireland must continue whatever the outcome of the Anglo-Irish talks. I am taking stock with the political leaders at present. The scheme of legislative and executive devolution that is in the Northern Ireland Act 1982 is practical and coherent. I am prepared to consider other forms of devolution if their advocates can show that they meet the criterion of widespread acceptance throughout the community. I could imagine, for example, a scheme in which executive power only was devolved in some areas of policy. If new arrangements are to be stable and to benefit the people of Northern Ireland and of Great Britain, the constitutional political parties which represent both parts of the community must be prepared to work these arrangements together. During the coming months we shall have to encourage the parties to address these matters actively and seriously.
Meanwhile, direct rule must continue. It is often denigrated and receives scant praise. Too little attention is paid to what has been achieved over a decade by successive Governments and the people of Northern Ireland. I pay tribute especially to the public servants. Many tributes are rightly paid to the security forces, but the Northern Ireland civil servants and other civilian public servants of the Province deserve a tribute during the debate. They and the people as a whole have kept cool heads amidst all the tragedy of the terrorism and the hardship in recent years of a severe worldwide economic recession.
This shows in the combined effort that has been made in the form of resources from the United Kingdom as a whole, the understanding of the House and the performance of the people of Northern Ireland. This shows as we go about the cities and the counties. This shows in the roads, schools, leisure centres, health centres, hospitals and the very high standard of new housing. We shall continue to invest in Northern Ireland for the present and in future. We want the people of Northern Ireland to live in greater safety and prosperity. We are prepared to continue the present substantial effort by the whole country to make this possible. We are not satisfied with the results of that effort so far. We shall continue to do all that we can to eradicate terrorism. We shall continue the search for partnership between the communities.
Meanwhile, the government of the Province must be carried on efficiently, firmly and fairly. I therefore invite the House to agree to extend the life of the Northern Ireland Act 1974 for a further 12 months.
We are discussing the extension of arrangements for the government of Northern Ireland which, as the Secretary of State recognises, no one would have sought as a first option. Like so many aspects of the history of Ireland, they exist, not because anyone wanted them, or planned them but simply as a consequence of what has gone before, each chapter unfolding with the predestined inevitability of a Shakespearian tragedy.
The arrangements entail that the people of Northern Ireland can influence only marginally the electoral fortunes of the party which controls the machinery of government, which formulates the policies, and takes the decisions on which their fortunes depend. That is not a healthy situation. Representative government and the politics of electoral choice do not operate for the people of Northern Ireland.
This morning in Committee the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) observed that the gas industry is the latest example of the casualties which flow from direct rule. It is not the case that the British Government want to run the affairs of Northern Ireland. Those who insist that the Government are clinging to Northern Ireland as a miser clings to his gold are simply wrong. It is not an example of a colonial power reluctant to let go. Indeed, the reverse is true; the British Government do not want to rule Northern Ireland, because it entails finding parliamentary time for matters which they would prefer to be discussed elsewhere. There is no electoral advantage for the Government. Frankly, they do not care about it. Northern Ireland is simply an additional problem, a complicating factor in their work.
Decisions which, if they concerned any other part of the United Kingdom, would take the form of primary legislation — Second Reading, Committee and Report, with amendments and concessions, all the circumstances and safeguards of parliamentary democracy — are replaced for the people of Northern Ireland by non-amendable orders debated for such time as is available, often an hour and a half at some period in the week which has not been pre-empted for more important business. That may be inevitable until we find an alternative which secures a measure of agreement, but we might have hoped that, understanding the situation, the Government would have shown some sensitivity, some sympathy for the needs of the people of Northern Ireland.
We are discussing two orders of great importance to the people of Northern Ireland, involving matters on which feelings run high and which evoke strong emotions. If they related to any other part of the United Kingdom, each would have been accorded at least a full day's debate. The Government believe that in the case of Northern Ireland they can crowd both into the same day. I confess at once that when we, the Opposition, were told of this arrangement, we accepted it. Perhaps that was because we are conditioned to accept that Northern Ireland is not accorded the same priorities as other regions. Having achieved that, the Government decided to push matters further. They decided that not only should the two orders share a day, but that they should not even have a day, and they should be discussed after other business.
The Government gave an undertaking that at least the other business would not proceed beyond 6 o'clock. They said that if it seemed likely to proceed beyond that hour they would report progress. I understand that unforeseen difficulties arise, but the point of a promise is that it is kept even when it is inconvenient.
The Government's business managers do not normally disregard their promises. What I resent is the attitude that promises on Northern Ireland business do not really matter. No issue of comparable importance relating to other regions would have received such insulting treatment. We have a Government whose business managers simply do not care a tinker's cuss for Northern Ireland or its people.
We must draw one of two conclusions. Either the Government are not capable of controlling their business managers and the Whips Office tail wags the policy dog, or the importance that the business managers attach to Northern Ireland reflects the importance attached to it by the Government. I absolve the Secretary of State from that allegation and I do not call on him to comment on his colleagues. I believe that their attitude to Northern Ireland business is a cross that he, too, has to bear.
But two comments have to be made. The business of the House is about the rights of minorities, and part of their sanction is that no party is in a majority for ever. I say to the present Government, as I ventured to say to political leaders on both sides in Northern Ireland, that one good reason for respecting the rights of those with whom we disagree is that those who in one context and at one time are in a majority, in a different situation and a different year are appealing for the rights of minorities. History has a habit of turning every situation on its head. There is no instance in the history books of a dominating group which stayed dominant for ever, and we know that for the Government time is running out.
Secondly, if daily life in Northern Ireland is to improve and there is to be any redress of its real problems—unemployment, financial hardship and bad living conditions, the problems that we were discussing in Committee this morning—something has to be changed. We all hope for a solution to the constitutional questions which beset Northern Ireland. The solution may come about through a process rather than a single event, but that will be next year or the year after, or some other time in the future. It is now that people are despairing-like the people I visited last week, in the Divis flats, whose afflictions the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten) was kind enough to discuss with me today, or the people I hope to visit shortly in some districts of east Belfast.
If the people of Northern Ireland are to feel confident in constitutional, democratic politics, and if they are to have any expectation from the ballot box, one of two things must happen. Either the Government's managers must take the affairs of Northern Ireland more seriously, even though their electoral fortunes are not dependent on Northern Ireland electors, or if there is no future in that, we must find a way to return a greater share of executive power to elected bodies in Northern Ireland. I take the point by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) that that has to be on the basis that there is some sharing of power.
We had hoped to hear from the Secretary of State what progress had been made. I appreciate that these things are always difficult, but whatever differences there may be about ultimate objectives, interim solutions or simply the way forward, no one wants to retain the status quo. That is unloved because it is unlovable. It is axiomatic that we all want to find a way forward—however we may differ as to the solution that we favour, no one would choose the status quo as the ideal form of government. No one is enamoured of the economic opportunities lost or the waste of resources following the troubles. So far as I know, there is no one who has not tired of the posturing and the sloganising, and, above all, everyone is sick of the violence and the fear.
We discovered last year that people on both sides of the sectarian political divide, as the Secretary of State said, were prepared to explore ways of walking together in peace. There are groups who are working assiduously and positively to build bridges, although we do not pay tribute often enough to people such as the Corrymeela community, Women Together, the Ulster People's college, or Lagan college. I hope that one day, history will accord them greater recognition than their own generation has done. But they reflect what many people are saying, although sometimes understandably they hesitate to say it aloud in their own community: "Let us try to live together in harmony, even with those from whom we differ. Let the two traditions not only tolerate each other but enrich each other, and let us offer the next generation of children a better inheritance as a result."
We had hoped to hear from the Government about the progress of their conversations with the Government of the Republic. Shortly after the summit last year, when the Government were trying to mend the gaping tear in their fences made by the brick that the Prime Minister had let fall at her press conference, we heard of a possible further summit in February and then heard that it might be in April and then probably in September. We heard that the talks were ranging over some practical issues such as a possible Anglo-Irish parliamentary tier and a possible office for officials from the Republic in Belfast to make representations on behalf of those who wanted to seek their aid, although I understand that that is not necessarily welcome to people such as the hon. Member for Antrim North (Rev. Ian Paisley).
There was talk of a jurisdiction to try terrorist offences on the basis of a common judiciary, and leaks have it that the separation of powers had extended so far that the judiciary was hardly on speaking terms with the Executive. There was talk of a closer liaison between the police, repairing the bridges at the highest level and with a kind of common recruitment policy on a less exalted level, so that, in a phrase I heard the Foreign Minister of the Republic use some months ago, a young Nationalist could join the police without being any the less a Nationalist.
I understand that we cannot ask the Secretary of State to offer details on such questions while discussions on them are proceeding. I wish not to embarrass the Government but rather to encourage them to pursue those talks in detail, in private rather than public, provided that we are given a progress report when the time is opportune.
So I am grateful for what the Secretary of State has said, but how long is the time scale likely to be? As he said, this cannot be allowed to drag on for ever. I am grateful, too, for what he said about discussions within Northern Ireland between the Government and the political leaders of the various groups, and I agree that a few months ago there was an atmosphere of tolerance that would not have been possible two or three years earlier. But I should be grateful for a little more information as to whether those talks are still proceeding, because that was not clear from what the Secretary of State said, although I understand what he said about their progress being interrupted by the local elections. Can we expect a report in due course?
But there is no prospect of agreement unless people are ready to talk together. There can be no resolution of differences unless political leaders will discuss matters with those whom they differ. And if there is one thing which men of violence are anxious to achieve, it is to ensure that that does not happen.
I hope that the House will forgive me if I repeat what I have said many times before. It may be felt that it does not require repeating, but for the avoidance of misunderstanding, I repeat that we have no sympathy for violence as a means to achieve political ends. Not only do we not believe that the ends justify the means, but we do not believe that worthwhile ends can be achieved by violent means. Murder, and fear and intimidation, cannot give rise to a peaceful and just society. We do not believe that peace and justice can grow in soil that has been soaked with blood.
We would tell that message to men of violence on both sides of the sectarian divide and we, like the Secretary of State, repudiate Sinn Fein's undisguised support for the use of violence. So if there was a plan to spread injury and death indiscriminately in holiday resorts, and if that plan was frustrated by the vigilance of the police, we all share in the rejoicing. But if it leads to the consequence that people refuse to continue talking together, and if it brings political discussion to a standstill, then the men of violence will have achieved their objective after all.
Violence in Northern Ireland feeds on three factors. They have all to be tackled simultaneously, because when they are resolved, the men of violence on both sides will be isolated. Until they are resolved, there will always be a reservoir of potential recruits for the paramilitaries, particularly among the young. First, there are the economic and social conditions in which people are living. Unless they believe that the ballot box can offer some redress for their grievances, we must not be surprised if those who speak of alternatives to the ballot box find someone to listen. Secondly, there is the danger that the methods we use to combat violence may be seen as unfair and oppressive, and they may actually contribute to the problem. I will say no more about that as it will be discussed in the next debate.
In this debate I simply want to make an appeal for a willingness to meet and talk. If that sounds naive, we have no babes or sucklings to say it, and I am convinced that someone has to say it. The Labour party does not believe that meeting people entails agreeing with them, or indicating approval or endorsing their claim to respectability. It means simply what it says, meeting them and listening. If in Northern Ireland I met only those with whom I was already in complete agreement, I would spend a very solitary existence.
I hesitate to endanger our new alliance with the Ulster Unionist parties which was launched so successfully this morning, but I hope that they will receive my comment in the spirit in which it is intended. I believe that we can differ without rancour, and by ventilating our differences we may go some way towards resolving them.
A fortnight ago a working group from the National Executive Committee of the Labour party and of the parliamentary Labour party visited Northern Ireland. We wanted to talk to people from as many different view points as possible. There had to be some criterion of whom we invited to meet us, so we invited every party which had a representative elected to a public body. We did not expect to agree with them all.
In fact, that was impossible because we knew they would be saying inconsistent things, but we believed that if we listened to what they had to say that might help us to understand their point of view and perhaps might even allow us to act as a catalyst in pointing out where the common ground lay. Sinn Fein was within that criterion because it had elected councillors. Sinn Fein agreed to meet us. We did not make it a condition that it modified its views before we met, and Sinn Fein did not impose a condition that we express any sympathy with its position. It was our judgment that we should make no distinction between the parties that fell within our criterion.
The Unionist parties did not agree with our judgment. That is strange because they are so anxious to see nationalists pursuing their objectives by taking part in constitutional democratic politics, fighting elections, representing their constituents and taking their place in committees that when they do, they will not talk to them.
If the nationalist parties are not serious about representing their constituents, and if they do not want to promote the work of the councils, why not call their bluff? Why not offer them the opportunity and see whether they take it?
If terrorists in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's constituency who had murdered people stood for election and were successful, would he talk to them? Would his party enter into talks with such people?
If anyone in my constituency was known to have committed murder, I would press the authorities to bring him to justice. The law should take its course. That would be the proper way to deal with such people. If there were people who said they believed in murder, I would disagree with them very strongly and would understand those who felt indignant about it, but I would not say that I was not prepared to talk to them, because something may emerge from such talks. Certainly, if they represented the people who had elected them, I would not expect that support to terminate if they were in a position to say that they were not given the chance to carry out their mandate.
But I understand what the hon. Gentleman says. It is a matter of judgment, and we could have been wrong. We shall have to agree to disagree about it, and in democratic politics there are a number of questions like that. But delegates from the Ulster Unionist party said that they were going further than that. Not only would they not talk to Sinn Fein, they said that they would not talk to anyone who talked to it.
Because they disagreed with our judgment, they would not talk to us either. So they went off in a sulk and would not meet us. I do not know how far they are prepared to extend this. Perhaps they will not talk to anyone who has talked to anyone who has talked to Sinn Fein, and it will end with no one speaking to anyone else. They would not talk to our working group. That was our misfortune, because the purpose of the whole exercise was to hear what everyone had to say. We may have to reach our conclusions as best we can without hearing the views of the Ulster Unionist party and the people they represent.
Happily, they do not seem to speak for the whole of the party, which does not uniformly adopt quite so rigid an attitude. Last week, after Mr. Golden, the comptroller of the New York city pension fund—a fair and open-minded man whom I had the pleasure of meeting—had met representatives of Sinn Fein, the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) did not think it right to refuse to meet him. I applaud the hon. Gentleman. I think he showed greater vision and wisdom than some of his colleagues.
If the Government want to see a resolution of the political differences, they too can set the kind of example on which the Secretary of State touched this evening. I appreciate the difficulties which confront the Government, but they seem to recognise that when members of a political party seek election to public office and are returned as councillors at the polls, it is absurd to say that central Government will not discuss council business with them or listen to them when they wish to speak about environmental health, clean food and the prevention of epidemics. The Government recognise that if we condemn people—and rightly so—for putting their trust in the gun rather then the ballot box, it is inconsistent, when such people use the ballot box, to refuse them access to the machinery of constitutional politics.
But Ministers will not front that operation themselves, although they recognise all that. They leave it to their officials to talk to them. It is neither courageous nor honest to leave officials to do what for any reason they are not prepared to do themselves.
I do not believe that Lord Whitelaw or the Secretary of State, when a junior Minister, were signifying their agreement with Sinn Fein or with anything it said when they met representatives in July 1972, nor were they endorsing Sinn Fein's view on violence. Possibly they were wiser in their generation than some of their successors.
If there is ever to be an end to divisions in Northern Ireland, if people are ever to live in peace with their neighbours, and if there is to be any end of the tribalism, the violence, the waste and the tragedy of it all, there must be some arrangement about how people can live together in one island and manage their business and administer their affairs. There is no hope of that unless they can seek agreement through conversations and constitutional processes with those with whom they do not already agree.
This morning we all urged on the Government the virtues of an open mind. Hon. Members on the Unionist Benches added their voices to ours, and that was greatly appreciated. They did it extremely effectively.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. We were grateful, because the Government's record on consultation leaves much to be desired. But in fairness I must accept that if an open mind is a virtue in the Government, it is no less a virtue in the rest of us. So I urge right hon. and hon. Members on other Benches to reflect on a truth of which I must constantly remind myself—that it is not a sign of weakness for any of us to consider it possible that we may be wrong.
I do not propose to expound the Opposition's views on the ultimate solution to the problems of Northern Ireland. I shall even abstain from enlarging on our interim solutions. I have spoken of them in detail on other occasions, and no doubt some of my hon. Friends will wish to speak about them tonight. I simply want to appeal to all those who for various reasons are tempted to practise the politics of abstention to recognise that, if there is to be a stable settelement, they should be part of it, and that one does not achieve a settlement by refusing to talk and listen.
We shall not seek to deny the Government their order tonight. For the moment there is no alternative to direct rule, but that is something we should all be seeking to change. I have avoided saying anything which should divide us substantially or dramatically from the Government, because to do so would not be helpful at this stage, but the Government cannot simply wait on events. It is their responsibility to take the lead in seeking a better way of administering the affairs of Northern Ireland.
The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) made a plea for talks and appealed to us all to resolve the problems of Northern Ireland by engaging in talks. He seemed to equate that with what we in the House of Commons regard as consultation and co-operation between different parties and groupings of parties. I must tell him that there is really no true parallel.
There is no problem in this House in getting Members and groupings to come together. We who represent parties and constituencies in Northern Ireland wish to come together when we consider it to be in the best interests of our people to do so. However, it is a very different matter to expect us to get together around a table and arrive at some improbable constitutional structure. To do that would be utterly unthinkable in this House, even within the normal context of parliamentary democracy as it is generally understood, not only in Britain but in most of the civilised world—including the bits that were formerly civilised—to which we have bequeathed our system of parliamentary democracy.
The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West and the Secretary of State should accept that it is rather unfair to expect party leaders to get together and find an alternative to direct rule. We complain about direct rule. Indeed, the Secretary of Sate came near to chiding us for so complaining. But he is generous enough to take account of the fact that we did not bring about direct rule. That was brought about by a former Conservative Government. Admittedly, the Secretary of State was not a member of that Government, but he was not without influence in that Administration, and I say that in the kindest possible way.
When the right hon. Gentleman is reflecting on that period, he might let us into a secret. Perhaps he would tell us what alternatives were considered. Surely no Government in their right mind would abolish a system of devolved government, in Northern Ireland or anywhere else, without having a clear idea of what would be put in its place. I do not believe that at that time they addressed their minds to that. However, shortly afterwards they presented what they knew in their heart of hearts was unworkable. I refer to the 1973 Act and all that flowed from it.
The House of Commons is in danger of making itself look ludicrous, or of permitting the Government to make it look ridiculous, by referring to the words "interim period extension" in the order. That form of words implies that we are dealing with a temporary measure. "Interim" is the sort of word one uses if one's house is being demolished and reconstructed. The occupant may have to live in a caravan as an interim arrangement. The caravan dweller will tolerate such conditions for a month or two. Indeed, he may be able to survive an entire winter under such conditions, as many people are obliged to do.
Thereafter, he would become extremely impatient, and I fear that his patience would snap totally if, towards the end of the first year, the clerk of works in charge of the building tapped on the aluminium door of the caravan and said, "Sorry, old chap, but we shall have to defer everything for another 12 months." That, incidentally, is the type of well-worn phrase that has been used annually, in June, by successive Secretaries of State of Governments of various complexions in this House in the context of tonight's order.
One Oxford dictionary defines "interim" as "meanwhile" and gives, as a secondary interpretation,
during the time that comes between.
We are entitled to ask, between what? Is it between one Stormont Government and another? As a description, I suppose that was reasonably accurate from 1972 to 1973 and from 1974 to 1975. However, the phrase was wearing more than a little thin by 1982, which was a watershed year for Northern Ireland. In 1982–10 years after the abolition of Stormont—the Government Made the word "interim" inapplicable, for they introduced the 1982 Act, even though the House of Commons regarded it as unworkable.
It was an item of legislation which so bewildered the majority of right hon. and hon. Members that they reacted in two different ways. The Opposition could neither speak nor vote, and Government Members excused their support for the measure on the ground—I repeat a comment made to me at the time by many hon. Members—that it would not work anyway. Despite the pleas of those of us who were directed to make it work, the unworkable Act is still with us, and I am afraid that I see no inclination, particularly following the Secretary of State's speech tonight, on the part of the Government to amend it.
The Secretary of State rightly said that so far we have not applied the test which he thought should be applied to any proposal that might come forward within the meaning of the word "proposal" under the 1982 Act. He suggested as a test that for any structure to be acceptable it would need—I refer to the proposal for the formation of a Government—widespread acceptance. In other words, whether it had widespread acceptance would be the test.
I am afraid that if the right hon. Gentleman attempted to apply that test here, he would never have a Government, for there could never be a Government with widespread acceptance in this House. If I am told that Northern Ireland is different and that the same sort of problems do not exist in this part of the kingdom, then I must ask, without becoming involved in monetarist arguments, whether the 3 million-plus unemployed in this island do not warrant an experiment in power-sharing, with a coming together of the leaders of the two main parties. In saying that, I do not entirely exclude the Members on the alliance Bench. Surely the 3 million-plus unemployed are entitled to expect the party leaders in this House to get together to try to work out a solution to the serious problem that affects them all.
Reference is often made to the way in which this island is developing into two nations. What is being done to bridge that gap? Is there not a case for a coalition, or at least an exploration to see how far it is possible to get with the formation of a coalition, to prevent that gulf between the north and south in this island becoming unbridgable?
Meanwhile, the Report Committee of the Assembly has entered on the second year of its deliberations, frustrated and shackled with a near-impossible task. Nevertheless, the Government insist on the use of the word "interim"—or perhaps they are using it to mean
during the time that comes between.
It is true that Ministers and those who advise them have not been helped by misguided thinking inside and outside the House, because for 15 years there has been a mistaken belief that all political movement has to be designed to placate the terrorists. It is a mistaken belief that terrorism sprang from social, economic or other alleged defects in the democratic system but, in fact, it was the other way round. That is not my opinion; it is proved in an extract from the IRA's manual dated 1968—two years before the IRA was supposed to come into existence as a reaction to majority oppression in Northern Ireland. Who are we to disbelieve the manual, because at least the IRA meant what it said. It stated:
Our strategy if it is to succeed must be the perfect blending of Politics and violence … at the most opportune time and under the most favourable circumstances … We will not succeed in winning support for our policy and ideas by mere propaganda publicity. We must at every possible occasion involve ourselves in any agitation or issue that is part of Republican policy, and it should be made known to the public at large that Republicans are involved and helping in the particular cause at issue.
Some time later, when I was elected to the House, I drew attention in my maiden speech on 15 February 1971 to the real nature and intention of terrorists. My natural modesty prevents me from quoting from the Official Report, but it so happens that afterwards I was furnished with a copy of the Press Association report, giving an indication of what that association made of my remarks. I shall quote a few sentences which sound not so strange in 1985. The report states:
The first demonstration of urban guerrilla warfare in Western Europe was being seen in Ulster, the Commons were told tonight. 'Our Army is meeting the onslaught with great courage' said Mr. James Molyneaux. But it had been given 'an impossible task and would be engaged on it for many years to come.' The troops endured a 'deluge of abuse' after every incident. The first page of the Anarchist's textbook apparently said charges of brutality should be made after every incident. It would be futile to get the three governments round a table because the IRA and their anarchist friends were utterly opposed to all governments. Nor could direct rule from Westminster make a scrap of difference to 'the gunmen'. Mr. Molyneaux said the questions of reforms were not relevant to the problem. IRA leaders had said they did not want reforms.
Such views were not fashionable in 1971, and they have remained largely unfashionable during the intervening 14 years. That is why successive Governments have wrongly believed that any modification of the interim period arrangements had to be considered with one eye on the terrorists in the hope that the terrorists might give tacit approval or in the hope that the changes and concessions might at least take the heat out of the terrorist campaign and somehow, in a magical way, isolate them from the community from which they sprang.
Today, in 1985, the terrorist mask has been ripped away. What concessions and administrative changes could influence the evil brotherhood of international terrorists? What softening influence would political considerations exert on minds that planned the hijacking of the American airliner, the bomb at Frankfurt airport, the mass murder on the Indian jumbo jet, the explosion in the baggage section at Tokyo airport or, more recently, the planned slaughter of holidaymakers in England's seaside towns?
We need not, after the events of the past two weeks, waste any more time on analysing the so-called causes and motivations of this murderous worldwide league. Other debates will be more appropriate for a consideration of how the civilised world can snuff out the terrorist menace, but in this debate we need only resolve that this democratically elected body—the House of Commons—should not be distracted or diverted by terrorist action or threats which conveniently coincide with occasions when decisions are in the offing. In this case, the IRA clearly intends invervening to turn the screw to force the British Government to deliver what is desired by the IRA and those who share its objective of dismantling the United Kingdom.
How the so-called IRA army council must have cheered when it yesterday heard the leader of the Liberal party unwittingly transmit the signal that it most wanted to hear when he asked the Home Secretary to agree
that this would be a good time for the Government to underline yet again their intention to continue the constructive dialogue with the Government of Ireland".—[Official Report, 25 June 1985; Vol. 81, c. 776.]
The idea was that we should attempt to break the impasse. I believe that those words originated in Paul Johnson's article in The Guardian the day before when he said that blatant efforts were being made to breathe some form of life into the negotiations between London and Dublin. He referred to breaking the "impasse". It is not the impasse in negotiations about many of those worthy items of co-operation to which the Secretary of State and the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West referred. It is not the impasse in negotiations about co-operation on fishing rights, animal health, tourism and all the matters that one would normally expect to be dealt with between two neighbouring friendly nations. It is very different—it is an impasse in the negotiations about starting the process of ending Northern Ireland's existence as part of the United Kingdom. It is that process which the IRA seeks to hasten. That is why the IRA considers this to be a good time for it to underline, in its rather indelicate way, the need for the British negotiators to be given another kick.
The Secretary of State conceded earlier that in his view the Government of the Irish Republic had a legitimate interest in the affairs of the minority community in Northern Ireland. One would assume that that claim was based in turn on that Government's claim that the minority in Northern Ireland—for all I know, all the citizens in Northern Ireland—are Irish subjects. If so, why do not Dublin Ministers make representations to the Secretary of State or his Cabinet colleagues about the plight of Irish citizens who reside in England, living under the same Government and having to endure the decisions made by the Cabinet of which the right hon. Gentleman is a member? Why is there such a difference in the treatment of—to be blunt about it—Irish Roman Catholics who reside in Belfast and Irish Roman Catholics who reside in Birmingham? I have addressed that question indirectly to members of the Dublin Government and there has been no answer. But as the Secretary of State attaches such great importance to the right to interfere, the right to advise and the right for the Government to concern themselves, perhaps he would attempt to seek clarification and say whether perhaps there ought to be a Minister for Irish affairs sitting in the British Cabinet because that would seem to be logical.
Coming back to the central point that all of them in Birmingham and Belfast are governed by one and the same Government, it is important to emphasise that in Northern Ireland they are being governed not by a coalition of Unionist parties but by a Government elected by the people of the United Kingdom and a Government who in the final analysis are accountable and responsible for all their actions, be it in Great Britain or Northern Ireland, to the House of Commons. The Dublin Government, before they continue to reassert that claim, must substantiate that claim and they must tell us and the Secretary of State why they seek to interfere, intervene and interest themselves in only one part of the United Kingdom.
I want to make a point about the discussions going on between London and Dublin which have caused a great deal of suspicion, I think quite unnecessarily, because there should be no problem in Her Majesty's Government taking the House of Commons into their confidence and telling them what it is all about. Because of all this suspicion, because of all the kite-flying and because of all the projections, all the rumour-mongering and all the deliberate leaks, they can hardly blame Loyalists for being a bit suspicious and, if it comes to that, they can hardly blame the IRA for imagining that, if it gets in on the act, it will expedite affairs along the road that it would wish to choose.
Hundreds of men, women and children with their buckets and spades will die because of the IRA's intention to break the impasse to which I referred earlier. Now that the eyes of all have at least been opened, let us here in this House of Commons, where we have consultation and co-operation and where we can talk to each other, devote our energies to making democracy work. After 13 years in the political trenches, do not expect that all can be put right in a single day. But today at least we can give an indication of our intention to start dismantling the colonial apparatus of direct rule.
Let no one be deterred by the mistaken notion that our efforts will be resented or resisted by anyone in Northern Ireland who believes in democracy. Who in Northern Ireland would be prepared to defend insensitive legislation by Order in Council and ministerial decree? Who in Northern Ireland can condone a regime which contemplates the passage of legislation for Great Britain only with absolutely identical legislation for Northern Ireland following on anything up to two years later?
The Secretary of State referred to the high percentage of Orders in Council which come before the House dealing especially with Northern Ireland because of Northern Ireland's special legislative background, but I think that he knows that it would not be too difficult to adapt Great Britain's legislation as it comes forward to suit the needs of Northern Ireland and to fit in with Northern Ireland's existing legislative background. Perhaps he would be good enough to enter into consultations with those who have given a great deal of thought to this process. That process is designed to make direct rule more sensitive, more acceptable, and more efficient, and to operate in the best interests of all the people of Northern Ireland, given that the present Government and the present House of Commons, in positive ways and sometimes in negative ways, have put on the statute book the Northern Ireland Act 1982 which prevents the restoration of devolved government as long as it remains unamended. We are saying that no time should be lost in making direct rule more acceptable and more efficient in all its workings.
I hope that the Government and the House will now conclude that 13 years of interim temporary arrangements have been at least 10 years too long and that within the next 12 months we will have introduced arrangements more in line with British democracy as it is understood and admired the world over.
It has already been said that for the 13th year we are discussing direct rule in Northern Ireland, and we do so with a depleted attendance in the Chamber. We in Northern Ireland have been told repeatedly how British we are. We have been told by no less a person than the Prime Minister that we are as British as Finchley. I would venture to suggest that if what is happening on the streets of Northern Ireland were happening in Finchley, if 2,500 people had lost their lives in political violence, 20,000 had been maimed and there were unemployment of 20 per cent. concentrated in the areas from which the violence was emanating, there might be one or two more Members of Parliament present to discuss the matter this evening. It is difficult for me to take seriously the political parties in this island when they tell me that they think we are as British as they are and when there is this sort of attendance in the Chamber to debate what is the most serious human problem facing the peoples of these islands.
It is difficult for me also, therefore, to take seriously the views expressed by the Government this evening when it is quite clear that the party that supports them does not have any great concern, interest or, indeed, care—I think that is a fair charge to make—bout what is happening in Northern Ireland. There are 12 Members representing Britain and present in the Chamber. Five of them have to be present. I think that is a sufficient commentary on their attitude towards and concern for the problems that we face.
The Secretary of State's remarks tended to repeat what we have heard so often. The more things change the more they remain the same. The Secretary of State indicated that successive Governments have tried repeatedly to put forward proposals for a solution to the problems of Northern Ireland, again with the implication that they are the harassed arbiters between the warring factions that inhabit the north of Ireland. There was no sign of what I feel would be necessary after 13 years of failure to provide peace and stability. There was no sign of a radical reassessment of attitudes or of approaches.
The forces that make political progress almost impossible in Northern Ireland today have not changed. They have not changed throughout the 13 years; they have not changed throughout this century; they are identical. The democratic process was interrupted in Ireland, as I have often said in the House, in 1912 when the House, which opposed the rule of law—a rule of law based on the sovereignty of this Parliament—surrendered to threats of Ulster Unionists against the decision to grant home rule to the island of Ireland. Unionists learned from that and they have never forgotten, and they have been repeating in the past week to the Secretary of State that, if one threatens a British Government with the dire consequences of their action, the British Government will back off. Others too learned that if one succeeds by democratic methods the name of the game is changed and physical force is the only answer to our problems.
Those two forces—those who threaten force and those who use force—had their positions reinforced by the experience of 1974 which still dominates much of the thinking in Northern Ireland today. Those two forces are still the forces that prevent the development of the political and democratic process in Northern Ireland. They feed off one another. In a recent election we witnessed them feeding off one another. We had the spectacle of Members opposite holding an election press conference with sledgehammers over their shoulders saying, "We will smash Sinn Fein." One does not need two political thoughts to rub together in one's head to realise that that kind of approach breeds support for the people that one alleges will be smashed. Extremism breeds extremism. The killing by the Provisional IRA, which is part of Sinn Fein, feeds the fears and the centre tends to fall apart.
After the elections we found that the same extremists were breeding the same extremism. The recent local government elections results were not unusual. They demonstrated that nothing ever changes in Northern Ireland elections. The election results in my city were identical with the election results in 1933. In 1981 the local government election results showed that 21 per cent. of the people in Northern Ireland voted for candidates who were described as "others" and that 17·5 per cent. voted for SDLP candidates. In 1985, 11·8 per cent. of the people voted for Sinn Fein and 9·2 per cent voted for others. The total is exactly 21 per cent. A total of 17·8 per cent. of the people voted for my party. The Sinn Fein vote was slightly less than in recent elections. There is nothing new about the results; have reached the ceiling and we know what it is. It is good to know exactly where one stands.
The reaction was a propaganda victory. It appeared that Sinn Fein had won the election. Those people say that they speak and act in the name of the people of Ireland, but 11 per cent. of the vote does not give one the right to speak and act in the name of the people of Ireland. And 3 per cent. of the vote this week in the Republic does not give them the right to speak and act in the name of the people of Ireland, particularly when they kill fellow Irishmen in Northern Ireland. Every democrat should stand up and say that, instead of behaving at local council meetings in a way that gives credibility to and provides propaganda for those one claims one wants to smash.
What do councillors say at local council meetings? They say that they will not recognise the presence of Sinn Fein councillors. There is nothing new about that. Everybody thinks that they say that just because it is Sinn Fein, but they have been saying that to the representatives of the SDLP for years. The Unionists in Northern Ireland have conceded not one iota to SDLP representatives. The deputy leader of my party has been a member of Armagh council for 12 years. During that period he has not even been nominated for membership of a committee; nor has any SDLP councillor held senior office in any council in which the Unionists have a major say. That has to be contrasted with the performance of my party when it had a majority on the council. Not a single committee place on Belfast city council has been given to any representative of the non-Unionist community. Craigavon decided that it would give complete council powers to a council committee. The membership of that committee excludes everybody who is not a Unionist. Talk about democracy!
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that many of these instances followed in the wake of council meetings in other districts where a genuine effort was made to bring the SDLP into the work of the council by giving senior posts to them? Will he acknowledge that when the SDLP was told that it would be given the vice-chairmanship of my council it declined to nominate anybody? Does he also acknowledge that we said that one of two posts on a council committee would be filled by the SDLP? The SDLP nominated somebody but when Sinn Fein nominated somebody else the SDLP withdrew, in an effort to force a Sinn Fein nomination upon us. Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that because of decisions like that by the SDLP, as happened when it decided not to fight Fermanagh and South Tyrone, other councils behave in what appears to be an irresponsible manner?
I intend to deal with the position of the SDLP on all these councils. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's chronology, but I shall deal with that later. Cookstown council acts in the same way as Craigavon council, except that it does it more legally; it delegates its powers to different committees but makes sure that nobody serves on the committees who disagrees with the Unionists. Lisburn council made a mistake. It allowed one member of the SDLP to serve on a committee. Later its leader apologised to the electorate for having allowed an SDLP member to serve on the committee.
I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will ensure that the imbalance on area education boards is corrected. Not a single representative of the minority communities has been nominated to serve on the area education boards of Armagh, Dungannon, Cookstown and Craigavon councils.
The SDLP approach was set out before, during and after the election. We fought all corners. In particular, we fought the men of violence. It did not go unnoticed by anybody observing the political scene in Northern Ireland that the party most targeted by the political wing of the IRA was the party that I lead. Mine is the party that it wants to destroy. We fought the political wing of the IRA in every part of Northern Ireland. We fought their violence and their violent actions. We also fought the bigotry that lies at the heart of most of our divisions. We said that because we fight elections under the system of proportional representation we would do as we had done before: once the election was over we would try to ensure that, in every area where we had a major say, proportionality, in terms of membership of committees, would be the order of the day. We carried out that policy. In Northern Ireland, the SDLP has five chairmanships and Sinn Fein two. That is almost identical with their proportional vote. Furthermore, in those areas where we have a major say we have offered positions to representatives of other parties.
Before somebody tells me that the fact that one supports somebody from a party that one opposes and does not like for the chairmanship of a council or a committee where there is not an overall majority means that one supports what that party stands for, let me say that in that case no local government would work. We put into office in Newry as chairman Mr. Graham. The Secretary of State no doubt recognises the name because yesterday he refused to talk to Mr. Graham.
Hold on a minute; I am talking about what we do as a political party. We supported for office a member of the party of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. I. Paisley) in an area where we had an overwhelming majority, in pursuit of our policy of partnership, to try to break down the barriers between us—a man whom the Secretary of State will not talk to because he makes his views clear about the sort of violence he would use to achieve his political objectives.
I do not like what Sinn Fein stands for, any more than I like what the parties that differ from me in the House stand for. I particularly dislike the fact that it decides that the way to unite my country is to kill fellow citizens with whom it disagrees. I do not think that it requires great political intelligence to recognise that that only causes far deeper bitterness and division.
The nub of the question—this is where the Government come in—is that if we agree that a political poarty has a legal right to stand for election, and that election takes place, we must treat everybody elected in exactly the same way, whether we like them or not.
If people want to engage in undemocratic practices in the House or anywhere else, it is no good asking me to defend them. The Government have said and the House has said that it is perfectly legal for members of this political party to stand and—whether one likes it or not, and most people do not—if they are elected they are entitled to be treated exactly the same as everybody else, because if they are not treated the same as everybody else they are given propaganda victories right, left and centre. That is giving one's own definition of democracy, by excluding people who are elected by the people. That is far more dangerous because the erosion of democracy is what gives justification to men of violence.
The Government have said that they will not talk to these people. How many times in a year is it likely that a deputation from a council that includes members of Sinn Fein would want to talk to a Minster? It would certainly not be very many. What has happened because of all this hullabaloo is that Sinn Fein has been let off the hook of its own contradictions. It is pretending to be working for the welfare of people, jobs and better living conditions, while its military wing is blowing up factories. Everything that intelligent politicians who want to oppose it are trying to do is thwarted by people trying to make political martyrs out of Sinn Fein by refusing to talk to its members. The Government will not talk to Sinn Fein, but their agents will talk to an IRA man or a UVF man who has been guilty of serious offences and they will bribe him to uphold the legal system. It is a policy designed to give propaganda victories to the people whom they claim to want to smash.
The marching season is upon us again—a time when in Northern Ireland the temperature always seems to rise. If people in Northern Ireland want to keep marching back towards 1690, I do not have any great quarrel with them. They are entitled to march when and where they like provided that their marching is not triumphalist and is not designed to give offence and to go through areas where it gives positive offence. There are some areas in Northern Ireland where the marching is a simple coat-trailing exercise, which is likely to lead to violence. I have raised these matters with the Secretary of State and the Minister and some indications have recently been given that a more common-sense approach to the routes of these marches might be adopted in order to prevent community conflict and to avoid giving the opportunity for men of violence to take advantage of tense situation.
We hear Opposition Members saying that they will resist with every means at their disposal any decision to re-route, for example, a march at Portadown where the other routes on offer are more direct to their ultimate destination than the coat-trailing one, which goes through a small Catholic area.
I have gone on at length about recent events, but what is the lesson that we draw from all this? This is very clear to anybody who thinks about it. The political parties in Northern Ireland cannot and will not agree in the context of Northern Ireland. That is the lesson. Nothing has changed electorally during the past 60 years. They cannot possibly agree in that context because the problem is not about relations within Northern Ireland.
The Secretary of State referred to the fact that my party does not sit in the Northern Ireland Assembly. We have given reasons for that time and time again. Recent events have underlined the integrity of my party's position. This House, through the Government, indicated that it wanted, yet again, to pursue devolution based on cross-community agreement — understood by most people to mean the sharing of power and responsibility between the two communities. My party has never had any objection to that as a form of government. We believe that working together is the only way to break down barriers between people who are deeply divided. The experience of working together for the common good is the only long-term, slow process that will break down the barriers. We have said that repeatedly.
However, as we know from our experience and the experience of local councils and the Assembly, the two parties in this House which are supposed to share power with us have repeatedly said publicly, honestly, forthrightly and without equivocation that there are no circumstances in which they will share responsibility with My minute intelligence draws a conclusion from that—that I should be wasting my time and a great deal of public money in the Northern Ireland Assembly trying to prove that those parties do not mean what they say. If they want to tell me now—and I will happily give way—that they will share power with the SDLP, I would welcome that; but they will not. Therefore, the conclusion can be only that the Northern Ireland Assembly will not reach agreement. It is costing a great deal of taxpayers' money to keep the Assembly in being. My party could do a smash-and-grab raid tomorrow. It could pop into the Assembly, sign on, collect £750,000 in salaries and allowances and then give it to charity. We do not do that.
We have said from the beginning that there have been a series of attempts to solve the Irish problem, but they have all been British initiatives. We have had majority rule. If I had been the leader of a party that ruled a piece of earth for 60 years, and ended up in the mess in which Northern Ireland is today, I would not be standing in this House giving anybody advice on how to rule it in future. There have been power-sharing attempts, and the House has heard my comments on that. There has also been direct rule. They have all been British initiatives, and none of them has provided peace and stability in Northern Ireland.
When we said that the Northern Ireland Assembly would not work, we asked why. Our answer—I invite anyone to challenge it—is that the relationship of conflict is not a relationship between people in an artificial entity called Northern Ireland; it is a relationship of conflict between the people of Ireland and between the people of both islands. It is only in the framework of the problem that we can provide a solution. It involves interlocking relationships.
Britain and Ireland have failed to sort out their relationships. They pushed them into a corner called Northern Ireland and left them to fester. We are now facing the consequences of that. Until we go back into the wider framework and get fresh air into the situation we will not break down the barriers and build the structures that will allow us to grow together at our own speed.
The New Ireland Forum was an attempt by one of the parties to reassess its attitude [Laughter.] I say to the laughing hon. Member for Antrim, North that the position in Northern Ireland today obtains because our attitudes have brought us here—his, mine, the IRA's, the British Government's, the Irish Government's and everyone else's. If we do not have the good sense to ask ourselves what in our attitudes has brought us here, and be prepared to reassess those attitudes, we are going nowhere other than to total conflict.
The hon. Gentleman may sneer at the efforts of the New Ireland Forum, but at least it was an effort by the representatives of 80 per cent. of the people of Ireland. It was the first Irish initiative since partition and it laid on the table our analysis of the problem. We invited people round the table to discuss that analysis with us, but we are still waiting for them to accept. We welcome the fact that the Government took up the offer of the Irish Government to discuss that document. The discussions are continuing. I wish them success, and I believe that that wish would be shared by the vast majority of the people of both Islands. I hear many pessimistic noises these days, but I wish to end with one thought: a series of British initiatives has failed to solve the Irish problem. It is about time that we listened to an Irish initiative.
I comment first on the New Irish Forum, which was so eulogised by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume). Unionists and Protestants had every right to examine the report. It told us of the magnanimity of southern Irish Governments to the Protestant population there, and said how well Protestants were treated in the south of Ireland. But where are they? At partition, 10 per cent. of the population was Protestant, but that figure has fallen to less than 3 per cent. In contrast, the Roman Catholic population in the north of Ireland is increasing all the time. There is a great difference between the two forms of rule that were suggested in the New Ireland Forum report.
The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) accused the Government of going back on the Prime Minister's "Out, out out" statement. He said that the damage caused by the brick that she had thrown was now being repaired by the Government. That is not what the Secretary of State told me and the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) only a few days ago. He said that the Government stand by the Prime Minister's "Out, out out" speech. The story told to the right hon. and learned Gentleman is different from the one told to the Unionist representatives who meet the Secretary of State. I hope that when the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) replies, he will comment on the matter, because such mistakes do not help confidence in Northen Ireland.
The Secretary of State has clarified the matter. I do not know what is said behind the Chair, or what little whispers the hon. Member for Foyle has heard, but I know what is said to me. I am expected to believe that and to convey it to my people, but when I come to the House I hear a different story. No wonder there is little confidence in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Gentleman is obviously trying to tempt me to my feet. I said that the Prime Minister had dropped a brick. I do not resile from that statement, because it is important to consider not only what is said but the timing and the manner in which it is said. It is difficult to imagine anything having been said less graciously than that.
I shall leave it to the two Front Benches to sort that out. I know what the people of Northern Ireland think, and how the statements from the two Front Benches will be interpreted by them.
From listening to the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) one would think that the SDLP is characterised by a sweet reasonableness. It is strange that in his city his party excluded every Democratic Unionist member from every committee when it first took office in the Londonderry city council. [Interruption.] I am talking not about the present position, but about the position when Democratic Unionists were first elected to that city council. They were excluded by the SDLP from every office in their first term.
The hon. Gentleman tells us that we should all be talking. The Secretary of State glided or, perhaps, skated over why the talks between the Unionists and the SDLP did not come about. It was a careful bit of scheming. He talked about the elections to come, but it has nothing to do with that. Let me put the record straight. For nine months the Democratic Unionists asked the SDLP to talk. The Official Unionists and the Alliance party asked the SDLP to talk. What happened? We were put off and told that the matter would have to be decided at an executive meeting. We were told this, that and the other. Then, strangely, on a radio interview the hon. Gentleman said that he would like to speak to the IRA army council. He knew perfectly well that if he spoke to it, the people whom I and the Official Unionists represent would not expect us to speak to him.
I told the hon. Gentleman face to face on Ulster television that if he spoke to the IRA army council, he would close the door to the Unionists. Yet the hon. Gentleman was happy about that. He was glad to close the door, slot the bolt, put on the chains and padlock them because he did not want to talk to the Unionists. Now the hon. Gentleman says that we should all be talking and that we should re-assess the position. He read a homily to me that I should reassess my position.
The hon. Gentleman was invited to send representatives to the Report Committee. Did he go? If he is invited to Dublin, he can go immediately. If he gets an invitation from the IRA army council, he can make himself conspicuously low key. He can disappear, get some man to drive up in a car, take him here, change cars and so on, and he can tell the Government that if they question him, they will get no information from him about where die army council men are. Yet he could not come to the Report Committee. Nor could Bishop Daley. He makes wonderful statements about us all re-assessing our position. He was invited to the Report Committee but not even he could come to put his point of view. Therefore, for the hon. Gentleman to hold forth in the House and to condemn Unionist representatives for not talking is a fraud and a deceit. We have said that we will talk, and we have asked for talks, but the door has been closed.
I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West that the Government's attitude is ambivalent on this issue. If Ministers refuse to talk to Sinn Fein, their officials should not be asked to do the dirty work. I want to make that clear in the House. But what has happened? The Government will not talk to Sinn Fein, but we are asked—the Loyalist people of Northern Ireland—to talk to Sinn Fein. I find it strange to hear the hon. Member for Foyle talk about targeting. I do not know of any SDLP councillors who have been shot dead by the IRA. I do not know where the list is. It is the Unionist people who are targeted by the IRA. They are shot dead, but what do we find? We find that the Government refuse to accept the recommendation of the Baker report or to ban Sinn Fein, which is the IRA.
The idea that the members of Sinn Fein are different from members of the IRA is an atrocious lie. They are one and the same. What is more, the godfathers are now identified. The IRA leaders are now councillors. We know who they are, and what they stand for. They have come out into the open. They have the cheek to say to us, "Recognise us. We are democrats. We want to do the decent thing." Those people have records of crime. They have been engaged in activities against the kith and kin of Unionist Members. We are forced to sit with such people They are out to plan more murders.
I was in the House when the Birmingham bombing took place. I know what the strong Left-wing Labour Members said. It was all right while the IRA was killing Protestants in Ulster. That did not matter. When they came home and started to kill their kith and kin here, those hon. Members denounced them strongly. They realised what they were.
The House has asked us to sit down with those people and treat them as councillors, enter into negotiations with them and to sit with them on committees. My party will not do that. What is more, an Act passed by this House gives us the opportunity to set up a committee. If it wants to exclude someone from that committee the council has the right, under the legislation, so to do. Does the hon. Member for Foyle think that we are fools and that we shall not take advantage of the legislation when those murderers are pushed down our throat by a Government who will not talk to them? If he thinks that the Unionist people will have them pushed down our throats he has another think coming. We shall not co-operate with them and we are doing what we can within the law passed by this House to exclude them, and we shall continue to do so.
I have never listened to such utter nonsense. If one reads the newspapers one will see that the attack now is upon the Democratic Unionist party and upon me. Sinn Fein's best friends are the people who voted it into office—the SDLP men in Enniskillen and Omagh. The hon. Gentleman's party has entered into an agreement with Sinn Fein to put it into office. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. W. McCrea) will be able to explain to the House what has happened in Magherafelt.
Is it not strange that the only councils where the SDLP and Sinn Fein did not enter into an agreement about high office was in the two councils in the constituency of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume)? That was in case Sinn Fein demanded his seat in the next election. Any other part of the country could go to Sinn Fein.
My hon. Friend knows all about it. He is targeted. He has to sit on a council with the men who are planning his destruction and who have told him publicly in the council, "We will get you." The Opposition Front Bench say that we must tolerate that and talk to those people. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) was not part of the Labour party deputation which met Sinn Fein and which was asked whether it rebuked Sinn Fein and denounced its violence. Its answer was that it did not have time to talk about that.
I presume that the hon. Gentleman saw the story on the front page of the Belfast Telegraph which said that I had not met Sinn Fein but that if I had I should have told it to put aside the Armalite and concentrate on the ballot box, and that violence did no service to any of the people of Northern Ireland.
I am not suggesting that the hon. Member for Middlesbrough was the person interviewed after the meeting with Sinn Fein. If the person who was interviewed wants to withdraw, I should be happy.
Northern Ireland is in a very serious state. Some people say that they are always hearing that. If anyone is so blinkered as to think that Northern Ireland is not in a serious state he knows nothing about what is happening. The House had better realise the seriousness of the situation.
I shall dwell in a moment on the seriousness of the state of morale in the Royal Ulster Constabulary. That is an important issue and the House had better consider it. Why is the situation so serious? The Secretary of State does not like the plenary sessions in the Assembly. He seemed to give the impression that he would like to gag the Assembly. I wonder why, because some matters of great import are revealed in that Assembly.
The House is saying to us tonight "You should all talk. The Protestants should all be happy. Everything is well". Some might say that the Democratic Unionists are bigoted. I find it strange that the Secretary of State could have a meal yesterday with a person to whom he said he would not talk. I find that amusing. I shall return to that and defend Mr. George Graham. The statement in The Irish News had to be withdrawn and The Irish News had to apologise. Perhaps we shall now have the proper statement.
Mr. Raymond Ferguson is not known to be on the extreme Right wing of the Official Unionist party. He spelt out in the Assembly why there was such a problem among the Protestants of Fermanagh. He said that people thought that Fermanagh had an overwhelming Republican community, but that it had not because the community there is split almost 50:50. At the election the Republican groups gained their majority by only 4 per cent.
What has happened? In the last 15 years, 74 murders have been committed in County Fermanagh. That is what Mr. Raymond Ferguson told the Assembly. He said:
Seven of those murders were carried out by Loyalist organisations"—
one was carried out by a member of the British Army—
and of five out of seven of those seven murders, the culprits have been punished by the courts and are now in gaol. Of the other 67 some people have been apprehended … offences such as conspiracy or involvement at some insignificant level. But I am not aware of one case in which any of the perpetrators of those 67 murders have been brought before the courts, sentenced, and put in gaol for their crimes.
That was said by a person representing the area. What can he say? I ask hon. Members what, if they represented that area, they would say when a person in their constituency was murdered. Everyone says "Keep calm. Don't do anything. Don't say anything." A constituent who is a member of my party has some strong words to say about Sinn Fein and the IRA but the Secretary of State has said that he can not meet him. Next week he will have to meet him as a member of the Home Affairs and Security Committee of the Assembly. I find that interesting.
I do not shed any tears when an IRA man is given his just desserts. I shed tears for the people he murdered, for the orphans and the widows. I shed no tears for IRA murderers. Evidently that is a crime. It seems that we are not supposed to say that. I advise hon. Members to read in the Library the report of what the Rev. Ivan Foster said in the Assembly and then to decide whether the Secretary of State should take such a stand.
I represent Fermanagh in another forum. What do I say to the people of Fermanagh when I visit them? Do I tell them that everything is all right and that the security forces are taking care of everything? What do they say to me? They draw my attention to the murders of Protestants and tell me that no one has been arrested for committing them. They ask, "Are we to sit peacefully by and allow ourselves to be murdered?" That is one issue that is causing serious concern among the people of the border areas and the House needs to think about it and to meditate upon it. If the murderers are not being captured and are not being brought to court, there is no hope for the people living in the border areas. Indeed, a deep hopelessness has set in.
Three outrageous atrocities have taken place in Mr. Graham's constituency of Newry. What are we to say to the people of Newry? Are we to tell them, "Everything is all right. Everything is wonderful. It is better than it ever was before."? It would be extremely difficult to enter the homes which I have visited to spell out that message. The Secretary of State and his Ministers do not go to the homes of the families who have suffered as a result of the atrocities. They do not face these people. They might send a letter to them, but that is all. They do not hear the message that we receive from them. The hard-pressed Protestants of Northern Ireland are facing atrocities day in and day out.
I was present when the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) spoke in a debate on Northern Ireland about having an inquiry into what happened at Killeen. It is time that an inquiry was put in train by the Secretary of State. I have had conversations with police officers and they feel that the Killeen incident could have been prevented. They have told me that such events were happening regularly and that there should have been a proper Army cover and presence. We are talking about police officers who went to their deaths. That is the factor that is troubling and worrying the people of Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member for Foyle said that people should be allowed to walk when and where they like. Having said that, he expressed certain considerations. He should remember that it is councillors and Assembly Members of his party who are saying that people will not walk when and where they like. There are Roman Catholic traditional parades in North Antrim and they include areas that are predominantly Protestant. The parades have taken place for years and no one says anything to those who participate in them. The paraders have always walked through these predominantly Protestant areas and they will continue to do so. That will happen because it has always been the recognised and accepted practice. They walk through Portglenone and other areas in North Antrim that are predominantly Protestant. That is true of the Hibernian parades on 15 August and nothing is said about them. The hon. Member for Foyle spoke about the parade in the Tunnel area. Does he know the Tunnel area? Does he know how many houses are in that area? There are 70 houses in the road that faces the Tunnel area and 26 of them are boarded up. Does he know that? Is he aware that that is an area that Orangemen have processed along for over 100 years?
Because they have walked along that road. That is why. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that they must be stopped after 100 years of processing along that road? Is that his message to the House? Why are they to be stopped? However loud and powerful is the hon. Gentleman's voice, it is not his voice to which members of the Government Front Bench will listen. Instead they will listen to the voice of Peter Barry, who has been highly exalted by the Government and has the right to speak on behalf of the minority and to make representations on its behalf. I wonder what part of the minority Peter Barry has the right to speak for. He is not speaking for the people of Sinn Fein because they will have nothing to do with him. They would like to bring down his Government as quickly as they would like to bring down this Government. He is putting on the pressure with this procedure.
The hon. Member for Foyle tells us that the New Irish Forum would give us all peace in Ireland, but the influence in Dublin wants to stop an Orange parade that has been going on for years. I have a straight question to put to the Government: are they going to stop traditional Loyalist parades? If they are, they must stop traditional national and Republican parades. Will they do that? No, they do not want to hear about it. Some of them do not even know that there is such a thing. They think that we are so bigoted in Ulster that we would not allow such a parade to happen.
What has happened in the areas where there is so much confrontation and talk? Houses have been built and Republicans and Roman Catholics have been housed there. Immediately they get into those areas they say that they will change what happens there. Therefore, Unionist public representatives know that if these people are housed in these areas they will want to change the procedures there. The hon. Member for Foyle must know that that puts public representatives into an impossible position. They must take a stand on this issue.
There is no need for any talk about re-routing this parade. There is no need to cancel the parade at the Tunnel. There was no need to cancel the parade in Castlewellan. It was cancelled because a Roman Catholic mass was to be held on Saturday night because the Pope had said that the mass could be held then so that they could have a free Sunday. The hon. Member for Foyle should know more about this than I do. As a result, more people were going to mass on Saturday.
What would have happened if the parade had gone on Friday instead? The people were just told not to go at all. Now they have said that they want to go because it is a traditional parade ground and they have always gone this way. Will the Government listen to Peter Barry or say that they will let the traditional parade go through because they must acknowledge that there are traditional parades in other areas and they must do what is fair for all traditional parades? That is the important issue, and the hon. Member for Foyle must realise how the Loyalists feel about this.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that any parade in any part of Northern Ireland that is a coat-trailing exercise and gives offence to the people in the area through which it goes should be re-routed?
I do not know how the hon. Gentleman can say that people going to their church service is a coat-trailing exercise. I do not understand his mentality. He mentioned the Tunnel, which is a parade that goes to a local church every year. The hon. Gentleman is saying that it cannot go the way that it has gone for a 100 years, and must be banned.
I have told the Secretary of State that he cannot do this to traditional parades. I am talking not about protest parades or instantaneous parades to deal with some matter but about a parade that has gone on for 100 years. The parade in Castlewellan is a traditional one, and we should leave well alone.
We are told that the police will have difficulties, which is true. However, they have more difficulties when parades are banned. Far more police were brought into Castlewellan when the parade was banned—three times the usual number—than when it was carried out. I must speak up for the police of Northern Ireland. The police cannot live in the areas in which the voters of the hon. Member for Foyle are predominant. They can live only in Protestant and Unionist areas. In fact, at Rasharkin, in my own constituency, they have been driven out by the IRA.
Every policeman has been driven out of that area and must live among Protestants, yet how can those men live at peace among Protestant people when by a foolish Government act, dictated by Peter Barry, they get involved in confrontation with people who want to walk in traditional parades? This House had better take note of that message, because members of every section of the Northern Ireland community depend upon the police—in fact, they send for them—to protect them.
The police are being placed in an impossible position. That is unfair, and the Government should have second thoughts about this. It is not as easy as they may think. Traditional parades must be allowed to use the same routes as they have always done. Those who say that they will stop a traditional parade by force must be dealt with. If the Protestants said that they intended to stop the Hibernian march, the police would be sent to deal with them. Let us be fair and even-handed. That is all I ask, and the police deserve it.
I shall not go into detail about the state of some of the police stations on the border. They are a disgrace. A police representative told me, "We take young men and women from the best homes of Ulster who have volunteered to do the most difficult job that an Ulsterman can do, and we put them into pigsties." It is time that the Government did something about the state of border stations. They should get rid of the portakabins, and should give the policemen something to go home to after a hard day defending the people of Northern Ireland.
We have not had much joy from the Secretary of State. He told us that there will be no accommodation with killers, yet some of them are sitting in the council chambers of the Province. When we do something about it, he says that he believes that eventually "we will all act normally." One would be abnormal if one sat in a council chamber with a known murderer who says, "I want to kill you."
The hon. Member for Foyle said that Sinn Fein had a council chairman in Omagh. The Opposition Front Bench tell us that we should talk to that person, yet he said that if any Omagh council employee was shot by the IRA for wearing a police or UDR uniform such an employee was a legitimate target for IRA assassination. Am I being told that I or my party members must sit with that person, work with him in council committees and look up to him as chairman of that council? This House had better get the message — we shall never do it. If we cannot do it lawfully, as I believe we can, it will be up to the Government to take their own action, because the councils will become unworkable.
I smiled when the Secretary of State told us about councils working normally. Those councils are predominantly controlled by constitutionalists. That is why they are working normally. They are working normally in Ballymena, Ballymoney, Ards, Castlereagh and elsewhere. I support what was done by the Cookstown council. The matter cannot be discussed now as it is in the courts, but we shall see what the court decision is. Let all the councils be taken to court and let the law be tested. Let us see how strong the law is. If we fail, it will be up to the Government either to change the law or to put in commissioners if the councils become unworkable.
They have been dilly-dallying about that in Londonderry. It is surprising how people can be hoist by their own petard. When the Unionists walked out of Londonderry, Ministers told us that everything was working normally and that we did not need any commissioners. Then, when there was a rumpus, with other councillors causing trouble, the cry was, "We must have commissioners."
I am wondering whether the Minister will appoint Sinn Fein members to health boards. After all, he has under the Act a way out, and I hope that when the Minister replies we shall be told whether the Government intend to appoint them to health boards. That question should be answered tonight.
We have heard talk of speculation, but on one aspect there is no speculation. It is clear that the destiny of the people of Northern Ireland has been discussed between Dublin and Northern Ireland. A minority representative in this House knows all about it—because he goes there to be briefed — while the majority of people, including those I represent, know nothing about it. We are left out, yet they expect us, at the end of the day, to accept what they are doing.
I assure the Government that it will not be accepted. Nor need they tell me that they believe in the sovereignty of this House. Sovereignty involves not only legislating but applying laws. When there is a proposal to dilute the courts of Northern Ireland and to put on the bench there a judge appointed by Dublin, that is the beginning of the end of proper sovereignty over Northern Ireland. We shall have to wait and see what the proposals are, and the sooner we see them, the better.
If the talks continue in the way that they have been proceeding, if the speculation continues and the killings go on, and if the Government ban traditional parades, we shall be heading for a very serious crisis indeed. The sooner that this House wakes up to that, the better for all concerned.
When the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) was talking about policemen being driven out of a village in his constituency, I was surprised that he did not attract the attention of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) to the fact that not one policeman now lives in the west bank area of Londonderry city. I believe that the last policeman to live there, Inspector Duddy, was murdered. When the troubles first exploded, there were nearly 100 members of the RUC living on that side of the river. That says a lot about the area which the hon. Member for Foyle represents.
With every passing year, we seem to go through tonight's operation more mechanically, even to the extent of hearing much the same words from the Front Benches. As the leader of my party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) pointed out, we seem to have the impression each year that a massive change will take place in the system of governing Northern Ireland before we reach the same point om a similar date the following year.
We know perfectly well, of course, that we shall return next year because the Northern Ireland Unionist population will not accept the power-sharing that is being assiduously demanded tonight by the hon. Member for Foyle and the Secretary of State, and as has been demanded over the years.
The Secretary of State appears before us tonight as "Honest Hurd" because he, more than any Secretary of State in recent years, has stood up and demanded bluntly that the Unionist population should accept a power-sharing set-up in Ulster. Apparently that is the right hon. Gentleman's conception of what constitutes political and constitutional progress. Indeed, he was "Sunningdale Man" in person. We were surprised to note how clearly he revealed himself, because that attitude was carefully concealed by his predecessors and others for many years and was cloaked around with many fair words. Not that that mattered much, for most of us are used to tearing away the veil of nonsense that so often surrounds reality in this House. We are not surprised that unbending demands are being made again.
The hon. Member for Foyle told us that he wanted political and democratic development. It is a queer concept of democratic development to give a veto to a minority. That is what we are really asked for. No one has yet managed to explain exactly how that development follows any democratic principle. I have puzzled over this matter for many years, and I look forward to the possibility of it being explained to me this evening.
We are always told that if we accepted power-sharing and gave the SDLP a place in government, the IRA would melt away. I think the Secretary of State said that the support would drain away. That is utter nonsense. If a place is given to the SDLP, the IRA will simply say, "We imposed sufficient pressure to extract that measure from the Unionists." That measure will not be extracted from the Unionists by those means. The Unionist population will not have anything extracted from them by murderers or political pressure, because we are not going down that road. The sooner the Secretary of State and the House recognise that, the sooner political progress will become possible.
The Government continue trying to buy off people with titbits. That only whets the appetite and makes the position much worse. The sooner the Government realise the truth—perhaps they already do—and act upon it, the better.
I have always feared giving concessions in the face of violence, because concessions tend to increase the violence and the pressure to strengthen the position of the nationalist population in Ulster. It is not yet generally recognised that the SDLP has managed to get itself into a position where it is driven by the IRA. The hon. Member for Antrim, North drew our attention to what has happened in some councils in Northern Ireland. That certainly should be brought to the attention of hon. Members. The SDLP has simply given a place to Sinn Fein, which has been described not only by itself but by others as the political wing of the IRA—the group that articulates the IRA's political objectives. Sinn Fein has managed to get itself into a position where the SDLP gives support for council posts. The SDLP is so frightened of offending those who support Sinn Fein that it supports the representatives of the gunmen before it supports representatives of democratic, constitutional parties and even before it supports its own SDLP members who, we are told, are members of a constitutional party.
This is an unusual, damaging and dangerous position for any political party. I see no particular need for me to weep if the hon. Member for Foyle and his party wish to clasp the rattlesnake of the IRA to their breasts. If that means the end of them, I would not regret it. I clearly recall their beginnings and their willingness to lead violent mobs in the streets of Londonderry and elsewhere. I hold no brief for them.
The hon. Member for Foyle said that all elected representatives should be treated the same.
I should like to raise one point before my hon. Friend leaves the subject of the role of the SDLP and its relationship with Sinn Fein, which he has rightly analysed as being the political supporter of the campaign of murder and violence in Northern Ireland. Is my hon. Friend aware that in county Fermanagh the SDLP, whose leader is, of course, the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), rather than accept the nomination for chairmanship of that council or the proposal of the British community represented by the Ulster Unionist party, declined that nomination and preferred to commend, propose and then support a Sinn Fein chairman of that council?
Yes, of course, and I hoped to return to that point later.
In fact, the Unionists proposed the four members of the SDLP one after the other, and each and every one of them declined to allow his name to go forward and then supported the Sinn Fein — the representative of the murderers—for the post.
The hon. Member for Foyle lamented that members of his party did not get much of a showing, and I will come back to that. One of the reasons perhaps is that most members of the Unionist population in Northern Ireland would find it difficult now to get even a razor blade between the attitude displayed by many of the SDLP council and that of the Sinn Fein councillors who sit beside them.
Is it not a fact that recently in a council committee in the city of Londonderry, an SDLP councillor proposed and an SDLP councillor seconded a motion that the tenancy for the Royal Ulster Constabulary in its premises in the Waterside should be brought to an end, and when Sinn Fein came out of the council meeting, it said, "This is our policy, the SDLP is going our way and this is the way it is going to go"?
I apologise again, Mr. Speaker, I am so engrossed in the interruptions that I tend to forget that we are honoured by your presence and that the House is under your control again. I am sorry, Sir, I do go on putting my foot in it.
We have had explained to us by the hon. Member for Antrim, North the consequences of power-sharing between the SDLP and Sinn Fein, but that should cause us no surprise whatever, because the SDLP has consistently refused to give clear support to members of the security forces in the difficult task that they have.
The hon. Member for Foyle said that all elected representatives should be treated exactly the same. If elected members demand that they be treated the same, they must also be prepared to operate within the same civilised framework that all other constitutional parties accept. We do not support those who murder those with whom they disagree.
The plain truth of the matter is that the IRA and Sinn Fein are not two separate organisations. They are exactly the same organisation. If one of my hon. Friends should catch your eye in this or a later debate, Mr. Speaker, I think that he will give a clear instance which will illustrate the truth of what I have just said. Sinn Fein is the political arm of murder. Therefore, it cannot be seen or treated as a normal political party, because it is not a normal political party at all.
Sinn Fein referred to the cutting edge. Its cutting edge is murder, arson and violence, perpetuated by the IRA not only in Armagh but elsewhere. We are dealing with the renewal of the direct rule legislation for Northern Ireland, a system that has been operating for many years. It has not worked very well. Nobody is willing to say that the Government have made a very good job of it. Let me examine a few of the things that have happened during the last year. I deal first with the legislation governing the attempts to stop personation, carried out primarily by the Sinn Fein electorate at the local government elections and the wonderful claims that have been made since then about its success.
When the Bill was debated one might have thought that about half of the Sinn Fein vote was personation. I remember pointing out that it would be impossible for any party to organise personation on such a large scale as to personate more than 10,000 or 12,000 people at the maximum in Northern Ireland. I still believe that my assessment was correct. It was also pointed out during the debates that, historically, the Sein Fein vote had varied from 70,000 to 155,000 since the end of the last war. Its vote has now settled at around 100,000. If Sinn Fein had fought in all areas during the local government elections, I have no doubt that its vote would have been 15,000 to 20,000 higher than it was. There has been no drop in the Sinn Fein vote and the Government's claim has been proved to be false. My estimate that the Sinn Fein vote amounted to about 100,000 has been proved to be correct.
The matter was made worse by, among other things, insistence upon a medical card. The House will recall the long debate on medical cards. My hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) pointed out that his medical card was about 30 years old and had been signed by a doctor who is now dead. He had also moved house about four times. During the debate he asked whether his medical card was still in order or whether he ought to get a new one. He was told that either would do.
I have read all the letters that have been sent to me on this subject. I have also read everything that has been said in the House. Both the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Under-Secretary of State, who piloted the Bill through the House, must have a dictionary that is different from mine. The meaning of many words seems to have changed. I should like to have a copy of that dictionary before the introduction of the next Bill so that we on this Bench will be able to understand what the Government's words mean. We should not like to get it wrong again. We should like to know exactly what the words mean.
During his speech the Secretary of State referred to the meetings between the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and pointed out that they had said that the identities of both communities in Northern Ireland had to be recognised. He also said that it would be necessary to remove some of the problems that irritate the minority. I did not hear him talking about removing irritants to the Protestant majority. Perhaps if he had said that, he could also have been called even-handed in the debate this evening.
The debate has already attracted some comment on the banning of various Orange parades in Northern Ireland. Of course, the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) will be perfectly well aware that the net was originally cast very much wider than Castle Wellan and the Tunnel. A number of other places were looked at, but wiser counsels have prevailed in the vast majority of cases, because 99 per cent. of the parades, by both factions, that take place every year in Northern Ireland pass without incident and in most of the cases where there are incidents they are created by a very small number of people.
It is equally true, as has already been said, that it is far more difficult to stop a traditonal parade than it is to keep it moving through the area. I have had some experience of controversial processions and parades over the years and I think that I know rather more about such things as far as Northern Ireland is concerned than any hon. Member on the Government Front Bench. My advice is similar to that of the hon. Member for Antrim, North—that a traditional parade should not be stopped. It should be brought together in as orderly and disciplined a fashion as possible and taken as quickly as possible through the area in question. Occasionally there are jams, but they do not happen very often, and it is very much easier to recognise people's right to continue to do what they have been doing for many years than to cause confrontation, which is desire by no one but which will almost certainly result in certain areas.
I can recall very clearly some difficulties in my own constituency last year. There was a problem, but it was largely overcome by the police keeping things moving in difficult circumstances. I do not believe that even that parade, which does not enjoy a high reputation, could easily be stopped. It is better in the long run to get these things over and done with and everyone away home as soon as possible.
I read with interest the comments of the Home Secretary yesterday, when he told the House that he was going to get the police to brief hon. Members on the difficulties in their constituencies as a result of IRA activities. I have been a member of the House since 1974 and I do not recall the Home Secretary or the Secretary of State ever asking me and my hon. Friends to come along and be given a detailed brief on the terrorist situation in our constituencies. Of course, I have my own means of finding these things out when I want to, but we have to do our own digging. Perhaps we could be told what is so peculiar about the present situation caused by the IRA bombing campaign in England that makes it necessary that all hon. Members who might possible have an involvement should be given a detailed briefing when it has not been found necessary to do this, in far more difficult circumstances, in Northern Ireland.
I certainly agree with the comparison that the hon. Member draws. It is especially relevant to the opening speech by the Secretary of State, when he emphasised that a terrorist bomb in a village in Northern Ireland is as important as a bomb in the Rubens hotel in London or a hotel in Brighton or elsewhere.
Of course, that is not so, as is emphasised by the point being brought out by the hon. Member for Londonderry, East, (Mr. Ross), because the minute we have a bomb, defused as it was, in the Rubens hotel in London the Secretary of State brings in hon. Members for consultations. That has never happened with regard to Northern Ireland after 15 years of bombing. That shows that there is a difference of approach by the Government to terrorist bombs in Northern Ireland compared with their approach to bombs here in Great Britain. None the less, one can understand that, perhaps, the principle that has applied in Northern Ireland would be the better one to apply here in Great Britain because, after all, there are hon. Members, including Front Bench Opposition Members, who enter into private discussions with the political representatives of the terrorists.
I wonder where the Government obtain their advice. They are certainly not taking advice from hon. Members on these Benches. The advice that they took on electoral law has proved to be wrong. It did not achieve the results that the Government wanted. They are leaving themselves open to pressure from the SDLP, the IRA and Dublin. Instead of listening to advice from those quarters, they should listen to advice from these Benches—they might then find that they have better legislation.
If we are to improve the governance of Northern Ireland, what advice can we give the Government? They should stop trying to buy off the IRA by giving it concessions. They should stop trying to buy off Dublin. They should stop trying to buy off the SDLP. At the end of the day, they all want the same political and constitutional things. What is given, regardless of reason, will be claimed by each and every one of them for his own purposes.
The only way to undermine any claims is to ensure that there is no victory to claim. The Government and the Opposition talked at the beginning of the debate — as they have done for many years—as though the people and the politicians in Northern Ireland did not know what each other wanted. The truth is that we do know. On the fundamental points we are poles apart.
The Government are trying to drive us together and have a power-sharing set-up in Northern Ireland, which simply could not work, and that is leading us into difficulty. If only the Government would realise that we do not have to sit holding hands all the time trying to find out what each other thinks because we already know, we might then get somewhere rather than waste our time in endless jaw-jaw and no action.
The time is long overdue for Governments of both parties to begin returning power to the people of Northern Ireland. We formerly enjoyed three levels of government—local councils, county councils and Stormont. None of them remain, but a large part could be recreated, without any difficulty and to the great advantage of everyone in Northern Ireland., in a relatively short time.
If we are to get anywhere, if we are to start down the road that will lead back to control by the people over their own affairs, we should start now — indeed, we should have started long ago. The Secretary of State said that there must be power-sharing. He is trying to get the Assembly to go on talking until there is a power-sharing structure. He will be disappointed because it will not happen. He has said that the Assembly will continue at least until the end of the year, and will probably let it run out its life in October 1986 and not have another election.
The Secretary of State has managed to keep the Assembly going for two and a half years but, in that time, it has not done the job that it was set up to do — to produce a power-sharing executive. It will clearly not do so, and as long as it remains, he can use it as an excuse for doing nothing. On the evidence that has been presented to us by the events of the past two and a half years, and the words of the Secretary of State tonight, it appears that the sooner he winds it up, the better. Then he can start to make proper decisions. There is no point in continuing the Assembly if he knows that it will not produce the goods that he wants it to produce. Indeed, it will produce the one thing that he says he will not accept.
The Secretary of State talked about excuses. Although he is not present now, I must say that his excuses for reducing democracy and tougher security have worn right through. The sooner he forgets about making excuses and starts doing something about the problems, the better it will be for all of us.
The job of parliamentary private secretary to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland — I can say this because the present PPS is not in his seat—is rather like playing the part of the fool in Shakespeare's "King Lear". One must do one's best to keep the Secretary of State happy while the complexities, problems and vagaries of Ireland slowly drive him mad. However, a PPS has one unrivalled advantage over Ministers in Northern Ireland, in that he has the opportunity to get to know the parties and their supporters without being surrounded by security.
As well as making many friends during my time in Northern Ireland, I was left with two certainties. The first was that the Unionist people will not give up their link with the United Kingdom without a fight. I cannot believe that coercion from Britain, the pressure of world opinion, and least of all the terror perpetrated by the IRA will alter that fact. In any event, it is impossible to coerce more than 1 million people against their will and, as the Secretary of State said, it is not an option for the foreseeable future.
The second certainty was that the vast majority of the Republican people of the North will not give up their dream of a united Ireland in the foreseeable future, and that no amount of civil rights legislation or arguments about the right of the majority to decide who rules will change their minds. It is surprising that members of the Unionist party, including the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), who came to the problem as fresh as I did, do not appear to see the self-evident truth of this determination among the Catholic community.
The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) made an astonishing speech. He spent most of his time attacking the Government's business managers and the rest of the time explaining that he would not talk about Labour party policy because he had discussed it somewhere else on another occasion. Indeed, he was so effective that neither the right hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason) nor the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) stayed to hear him. However, it is evident that, whatever the Labour party might be, it is not integrationist. I repeat that the Irish nationalism that exists in the community will not wither or die. As the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) said, it has been there for the past 60 years and it is likely to remain there for the next 60 years unless we can find a way of providing some form of expression of the Irish identity for that community. I also accept that there will be Catholics who will vote for the right hon. Member for South Down. I know some of them. I also accept that there will be Protestants who will vote for the SDLP. But there will not be many in either case, and they will not matter.
Although I accept the right hon. Gentleman's point, the fact remains that the vast majority of the Catholic community will stay true to its dream of a united Ireland, whatever the right hon. Gentleman may do in looking after his constituents. I met one of the right hon. Gentleman's constituents only the other day at the Cambridge Union. He was singing the praises of the right hon. Gentleman, but also said that his English student friends did not dare to go into the shops at Warren Point because he could not advise them of their safety. "[HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] It is not rubbish.
There is a great danger—it often happens in the press and the media in England—of confusing the term "Catholic" with the term "Republican". Thirty eight per cent. of the voters in Northern Ireland adhere to the Catholic religion, but only 30 per cent. are Irish Republicans. I object to the way in which the hon. Gentleman implies that all Catholics are Republicans. The Alliance party has Catholic leadership, a Catholic Chief Whip and many Catholic members. The Ulster Unionists also have Catholic supporters—they are not all Irish Republicans. That must be emphasised time and again.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that 30 per cent. — the vast majority of the nationalist community—are members of the Catholic Church and the Alliance party make up slightly less than 10 per cent. of the total vote. Obviously I accept that some Catholics vote for the Unionist party. However, I repeat that the numbers are incidental. If the hon. Member for Foyle were present, he would tell the House that considerable numbers of people who are not of his faith or background also support him. Whatever the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) may say, that will not alter the basic truth that the nationalist community in the North will remain, as the right hon. Gentleman well knows.
My point is that Northern Ireland is one of those situations, not entirely unique but nearly unique, in which
it is perfectly possible for both sides to argue their legitimacy and to say that God and justice are at their backs. But, as Dean Swift remarked 300 years ago,
We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.
That has been evident in tonight's debate.
The real question is, is there any way forward, or must Secretary of State after Secretary of State be driven to madness in his quest for a solution? I still believe that there are grounds for at least believing that the position in the Province need not go on endlessly, as it has.
The Forum report was not one of the least biased documents that I have read, in terms of its analysis or description of the problem. However, for the first time a fundamental tenet was accepted on behalf of the constitutional parties of the South which is necessary if there is ever to be a solution: the people of the South and their representatives accepted that without the support of the majority of the people of the North there would be no solution of any sort.
It has surprised me for a long time that the Irish, who are renowned for their charm, wit and powers of seduction, have never made any serious attempt to use those attributes on their northern cousins. Why they believe that the heavy-handed English would be more adept in persuading Unionists to reach agreement with the South is beyond me.
If it is accepted that the constitutional parties of the South are prepared to look towards an agreement through compromise rather than through threat or fear, in the long-term—not in the short-term—there may be some hope. Hon. Members on the Unionist side have accepted through fair employment and civil rights legislation and through that admirable booklet "The Way Forward" that there is, and must be movement towards an agreement.
The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) asked why there was no coalition in Britain in view of the unemployment here. That is not the parallel. The parallel is to compare the problems of society in Northern Ireland with what happened here during the last war. If one multiplied the number of deaths, murders and the amount of mayhem that exist in Northern Ireland, the position is very different from the one that exists here. All party political leaders would have to consider carefully whether they should join together to find a solution to an unconstitutional party, such as Sinn Fein-IRA, if it threatened to destroy us. I thought that the right hon. Member made a case for the type of discussions that the Secretary of State said were so important.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that recently there was some turmoil in England, Scotland and Wales arising from the miners' strike? There was violence and mayhem, but there was no clear coming together of the Opposition with the Government to try to resolve civil strife. Is it not utterly ludicrous to suggest that when people are killing us we should join hands with them, especially when Sinn Fein now has the open backing of the SDLP, as we thought it had?
To draw a parallel between Mr. Scargill and the miners's strike and the number of murders in Northern Ireland is as ridiculous as it is to suggest that the parties should not come together.
I was not trying to go too far. I was saying that the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley cannot compare unemployment here with the problems of Northern Ireland. That is not a fair comparison.
It is clear that, however well direct rule may have worked—I can understand that in some ways it has—it must be the second-best option for the British Government. I should have hoped that all those who represent the people of Northern Ireland in the House would have had their minds concentrated by the threat of the Provisional IRA and would have tried to find methods of working more closely together than they have in the past.
I do not believe that that will happen overnight. This evening's debate has clearly shown the difficulties in achieving that. I would sound a note of caution to the hon. Member for Foyle were he here, and to the Irish Government. There is a great deal of talk in southern Ireland at the moment about the possibility of what I might call a great leap forward—a fast move towards a final solution. The problem with exaggerating leaps forward is that they often end up in the dark.
The hon. Member for Foyle must explain what will happen to the initiative in which he puts so much faith if reasonable men after a reasonable time for good and understandable reasons do not agree that major steps can be taken at the moment which are saleable to both communities. To build up hopes only for them to be shattered plays to the wishes of Sinn Fein as much as have the activities of some councils in the last few weeks. I agree with the hon. Member for Foyle about that.
The chances of working toward better co-operation between the two sides is more likely to be successful with a step-by-step approach than by pinning too many hopes on some great solution from the two Governments.
I hope that agreement can be reached by the two Governments, but an arrangement will stick only if it takes into account the two certainties which I mentioned earlier. Those two self-evident truths are that the Unionists will never break their links, and that Irish nationalism in the North will not disappear.
There is no cross-community support for an agreed solution, but that does not mean that the British Government can fall back on the assumption that direct rule will solve the problem. The Government must continue to do everything that they can to bring about devolution. It is difficult to see how the politicians of the North can exercise power if they are not given responsibility. They do not now have responsibility. It is not possible for British politicians, who are remote from the problems, to appreciate, as Northern Ireland politicians can appreciate, what it is necessary to do.
The British Government must push equal opportunity into every aspect of life in Northern Ireland. The rules on flags and emblems which cover Northern Ireland, and the regulations on street names and all the other paraphernalia, would be laughed at if they applied to Wales. I appreciate the problems for the Province, but changes must be made. I was unconvinced by what the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) said about the need for marches to go down particular roads. Just because something has happened for 100 years does not mean that it must continue for another 100 years. In Britain the routes of marches are decided by the chief constable, taking into account the effects on residents. That should not be impossible in Northern Ireland, particularly amongst people who are proud of their British links.
I firmly believe also that it is important to build on the ties between the Irish and British Parliaments. The hon. Member for Foyle said that the problems were not about relations within Northern Ireland. What are they about if not about relations within Northern Ireland? A million or more Irish people have lived in Britain and have not needed great assistance from Government about what they do. Unfortunately, that is not the case in Northern Ireland. Equally, many English people have made their homes and lived happily in Eire. The problems of the North will not be solved by some great leap, but they can be solved in time if both communities work together. I was much heartened earlier this year to hear a group of Members from all the constitutional parties of Northern Ireland singing "We shall overcome". I am sure that that can happen, but my message to the House, to the Irish Government and to the hon. Member for Foyle is that we should not expect it to happen all at once.
The occupants of the Front Benches hope to catch my eye at 11 o'clock. The time is shown by the clock over the Door and not on the digital clocks, which seem to have gone wrong.
I emerge from these debates feeling more depressed than ever. If we are left with the two major groupings in Northern Ireland, it seems that there is no hope. We shall continue discussing the issue endlessly unless the British people intrude at some stage. Speaking from this side of the water, I feel that I am intruding on a recital of private grief. Listening to those who represent the two major groupings in the House is rather like being transported to Ulster. I should love the British people to listen to these debates. There is a sense of hopelessness and the two sides which have struggled this evening seem to feel that the struggle will continue for ever. They do not produce any plans that are designed to solve the problem.
I have considerable respect for the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux). He delivers his speeches with immense moderation, but his grave underestimate of the forces ranged against Unionists emanated from almost his opening sentence. He suggested that events in Northern Ireland reflect a desire on the part of those engaging in shooting and bombing to be wicked. That implies that they have no cause to do so. Those who are using the bomb and the gun are deeply convinced politicos, and to fail to understand that is to fail to understand their motivation. They will continue to fight because the Ulster Unionists want to return to the old Stormont regime.
Hon. Members talk about the past and the marching season. They talk about marching through an area—I do not know whether this is true—in the knowledge that it will be an act of sheer provocation for those against whom they are ranged. The marches continue year in and year out. One can visualise the rolled umbrella and the sash which father wore, which was worn by Willy and so on. They parade up and down with the pipes in the obscenity of the marches, but no solution of any kind is forthcoming from them.
When I used to speak to my constituency party it never wished to discuss the Irish problem, but for the past two years the local party has asked for a report on Northern Ireland. The subject has been asked for. The Northern Irish Members talk to us as if we are foreigners and the Ulster tail wags the Westminster dog. It is time that the British people began to intervene or it is clear that no hope is emanating from the Northern Ireland Unionist parties.
The political struggle that takes place seems alien to many, and there are those in this place who want to re-enact it all over again. The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley told us that the Unionists had never done anything wrong. He knows that they drew a line around an area of Northern Ireland and proceeded to suppress the minority from whom they had taken land. Yet they contend that they did nothing wrong and that all the trouble came from nothing. Hon. Members laugh, but I ask those who do so to offer a solution to the problem. The barreness and the sterility of their argument means that debates such as this will go on eternally. There is never any admission of error.
If a referendum were held, we would have to come out of Northern Ireland straight away. At least 70 per cent. of the British people would say that it was time that we came out. The British people were ready to intervene, but time has gone on, and a sense of helplessness pervades us.
The hon. Gentleman has only just come into the, Chamber, so I shall not give way to him.
No solutions are supplied, and bigotry is triumphant. The attitude to the minority cannot be accepted easily. More and more people are beginning to see this.
Recently, I went to Northern Ireland with an official delegation of my party. We went because we have to talk. A childish attitude is shown by those who say that they will never speak to Sinn Fein. I am not new like the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames). I have been here a long time, and I have heard it all. Endlessly it was said that Sinn Fein would never go to the people because nobody would vote for it. Somebody has voted for Sinn Fein now, but nobody will speak to Sinn Fein members, and they are not to be allowed in the councils, although large numbers of people have voted for them—what childish nonsense that is. In one breath, it is said that nobody will vote for Sinn Fein, and therefore it is encouraged to enter the elections, but with the other, when people have voted for it, it is said that it will not play any role in the councils and its members should go away and not darken their doorsteps again. That is childish, and the British people will not accept such childishness.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the armed wing of the party to which he is referring has murdered a colleague of mine in the House, an Assembly Member colleague of mine, and three elected councillors in my constituency, and that members of that armed wing are in prison for conspiring to murder me and another member of my family? What advantage would there be for me in speaking to these people?
The hon. Gentleman, as usual, overlooks the fact that on every occasion on which I have spoken on this subject, I have always admitted that I live here where it is reasonably safe, while the hon. Gentlman and his colleagues live in terrible danger. My heart goes out to them, and I respect them, and anybody else in that position. I know that the killings go in, but terrorists come over here and we know about them. However, we want to end the whole business instead of allowing it to go on for ever more, as it will if it is left to the hon. Members who have been arguing in the debate tonight.
I do not often quote Churchill, but I am doing so now. He said:
To jaw-jaw is better than to war-war.
Was the great idol speaking rubbish? What he said will have to happen at some time.
Labour Members have gone across the water and spoken to people there. Unionists Members will not speak to anybody, but at some stage all parties will have to talk to one another because the British people will demand it. There must be a plan that will result in hands reaching across the borders, and the two sides coming nearer together. There is not the slightest sign of that happening, and therefore, our people will try to intervene to see that it does.
Many people who have witnessed this debate for several years now feel that this exercise is annual repetition and mere ritual. Yet, on behalf of those who sent me to this House, it is important to remind the Government that many people do not accept that direct rule is an acceptable form of Government for Northern Ireland.
Indeed, this House would do better if it listened to reality rather than to speeches such as that from the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery). I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman has visited one Loyalist home that has suffered loss, followed one Loyalist coffin or stood at one Loyalist grave, as I have done. Since I last spoke in this House, I have stood beside the coffin of a man from my district council area. He was simply a part-time member of the RUC—a sound, solid, honest, hard-working farmer who in the evenings sought to help his country in Her Majesty's forces.
As Willis Agnew was sitting in his car last weekend dropping off his intended wife at her home, the IRA shot him in the chest. Not satisfied with that his head was then battered in, and although he was dead, the trigger was pulled again. That gunman is the type of person with whom the hon. Member for Hillsborough wants us to enter a courtship.
On behalf of my constituents and the Loyalists of Ulster, I must tell the hon. Gentleman, "Whatever you demand, the Loyalists of Ulster will never soil the memory of those who have stood between us and the enemy by parleying with that enemy." The British Government faced Hitler and defeated those who stood against freedom. Until the day I die, I shall make no apology for fighting Sinn Fein and the murderers of my people on every corner. I shall never betray the trust of those people, whether or not it is demanded by the hon. Member for Hillsborough.
The hon. Gentleman can parley with Sinn Fein if he wishes—[Interruption.]] The hon. Gentleman has clearly demonstrated that his sympathy for those hon. Members who face the IRA is nothing more than crocodile tears. He would do far better if he kept his thoughts to himself instead of soiling this House with such hypocritical statements.
As a representative of this House, which believes in democracy, it is my right to defend those who believe in the right to live, and I defend that right whether my constituents are Roman Catholic or Protestant. I remind the House that many Roman Catholics joined the Protestants of Ulster and went over the top to defend the right of a free people. They faced Hitler and all those who challenged freedom.
Hon. Members should not speak as though every Roman Catholic is a Republican. Many Catholics in Northern Ireland are committed Ulster British sons and daughters, are proud of their British heritage and have stood shoulder to shoulder with Britain in time of war. The history as described by the hon. Member for Hillsborough was the biggest load of rubbish that I have ever heard. Instead of coming out with Republican propaganda, he should see the reality and tell the true story of the situation in our Province.
Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham) is not now in his place. He spoke of two discoveries that he had made on visiting Northern Ireland. The first was that the Loyalists would not give up their British identity. I am delighted that he learned that, even though he thought the knowledge might result in him losing his head, so to speak.
The hon. Gentleman said, secondly, that the Republicans in Northern Ireland had a dream. I wish to make it clear that nobody is suggesting that a person in Northern Ireland cannot have a dream. But nobody who dreams of a united Ireland has the right to turn the country into a nightmare and make everybody else go through the mightmare of one coffin after another. Such a Republican dream for the future is not shared by the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland.
I have found it strange that it should seem a sin to claim to be British when making speeches in this House. It seems a crime that I should say that I am a British Ulsterman. Crime or not, I am one. I was born into a strong Unionist family, a staunch British home, and I make no apology to anyone, here or across the water, for my Unionism or British standards and principles.
We are told by the hon. Member for Hillsborough that the people who commit murder are political folk. They are not. They are psychopathic killers. They are whole-hearted murderers with murder in their hearts. They wish to destroy not only Protestants, because the sacrifice made recently in Newry — including one person from my constituency who happened to be in the station when the bombs went off — included several honourable and decent Roman Catholics who had joined the RUC to do their bit to defend the people of Northern Ireland. Let us not have statements that have no foundation.
I listened carefully to the remarks of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), whose every word seemed to be swallowed by the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), who appeared to glance at the hon. Gentleman several times during his speech, as though hoping for an indication of approval. Let us be clear that the SDLP's hand is far from white in the troubles of Northern Ireland.
I wish that the hon. Member for Foyle was still in his place, because he misled the House. He said that wherever the SDLP was in control in local government, positions were given to members of all die other parties. The SDLP joined Sinn Fein in taking control of Magherafelt, and not one position—not even one of the simplest positions—was given to a Unionist.
The Unionists offered the SDLP the position of chairman and vice-chairman of the council, but the offer was not accepted. The SDLP had made an agreement with the friends of murderers and would-be murderers and was only too happy to give the vice-chairmanship to a Sinn Feiner who has clearly shown his colours since then. The chairman of Omagh council said that council workmen were legitimate targets. The vice-chairman of Magherafelt district council is on record as having said in the Chamber that he would back to the hilt the IRA when it declared certain people to be legitimate targets for murder.
The SDLP put the Sinn Fein member into power and joined with Sinn Fein for all other appointments. The only two councils in the Province where the SDLP did not join Sinn Fein were in the constituency of the hon. Member for Foyle. He knows as well as anyone that he wants to keep his seat safe and ensure the dominance of the SDLP in Foyle. It does not matter what happens in the rest of the Province — let Sinn Fein take the lead. The SDLP's hands are soiled.
A motion was tabled condemning the vice-chairman of the council for stating that council workers who donned the Queen's uniform were legitimate targets for murder, but the SDLP abstained. It would not condemn its Sinn Fein partners. One can easily prove from the council's records that SDLP members abstained from a vote condemning the murderous intent of the Sinn Feiners on that council.
SDLP members join the murderers when it suits them, but when it does not, they stand aside. They were offered the position of chairman and vice-chairman on the Fermanagh council, but they would not take those positions because they had entered into an agreement with their Sinn Fein partners.
The people whom I represent are sick and tired of Ministers trying to paint the SDLP members as constitutionalists. Left, right and centre we are told that the SDLP is a constitutional party. The SDLP's hand is far from clean in these troubles. As the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) said, it was the SDLP that led the parades and the civil unrest at the beginning of the troubles.
The people of Northern Ireland will not sell their birthright to anyone. We are British and British we shall remain. The hon. Member for Hillsborough said that he would threaten us with a referendum if the rest of the people of the United Kingdom said that they did not want this measure. That does not stop me from being British. By the grace of God, I shall be British until the day I die.
My constituents want to live in peace and in a place that provides prosperity for their children and to everyone, irrespective of who he is. They do not want to live with the murdering thugs who destroyed their kith and kin. I have carried to the grave two coffins bearing members of my own family circle—a 16-year-old lad, who was not a member of any organisation, and a 21-year-old lassie, who was blown to bits by the IRA. As I said in my maiden speech, I assure the House that I shall never soil their memory or that of any other innocent victim of the troubles by putting my hand to any deal that will be detrimental to our position in the United Kingdom. Direct rule must end. The Northern Ireland people must be given devolved government. The British Government owe it to the long-suffering, patient people of the Province to stop dillydallying and to give properly devolved government to the Northern Ireland people.
We are drawing to a close a stimulating and long debate on a subject which does not take up a great deal of time in the House, yet repeats a familiar pattern, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) said.
In a speech which he made in an identical debate on the matter last year, my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) accepted the need for this continuing legislation, and described direct rule as everyone's second favourite option. The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster has indicated his favourite option, which is full devolution. Earlier this evening, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) described it as not everyone's first option. He also used the words "a Shakespearean tragedy". Of course, there are many tragic aspects to life in Northern Ireland, and it is with that that all politicians in the House and elsewhere seek to cope in a very genuine fashion.
We on this side of the House have noted—and I think that the Secretary of State also referred to this—the work of the Assembly in Northern Ireland and the degree of accountability to that Assembly. The Secretary of State said earlier that the Northern Ireland Assembly still has a role to play in the affairs of Northern Ireland. He also said that its deliberations had helped him and his ministerial colleagues. I have read most of the reports on the Northern Ireland Assembly that have come to the House, and the various Committees have shown some diligence in their treatment of a number of complex issues, including those dealing with wildlife and historic churches—not perhaps esoteric subjects, but ones which have been duly analysed and pronounced upon.
I was saddened, therefore, to note the rather pusillanimous approach that the Assembly took to a proposed draft Gas (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 which came before the Northern Ireland Committee of the House today. That Committee, I am glad to say, took a more robust stance, if I may borrow a phrase of the Secretary of State which he uses in another connection, on the town gas industry of Northern Ireland: the failure of the Government properly to consult; the failure of the Government to involve employers and employees alike in what is after all a participatory democracy; the failure to exercise vision into the future of a gas industry when there is natural gas round these islands and natural gas available from the Republic; and the failure to rise above the nonsense of a monetarist policy and, for a paltry £12 million a year, to retain the gas industry. It is the withdrawal of that £12 million subsidy which will lead to the loss of 1,000 jobs.
These matters were brought up at the Economic Development Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly, but in effect, notwithstanding an interesting cross-examination by members of the Committee of the Minister of State, they came to the conclusion,
The Committee, having considered the arguments and discussed them with the Minister, is forced to accept that the Government's decision on the matter of closure is irrevocable.
Nothing is irrevocable in this life except perhaps death and taxes, and certainly not the closure of the town gas industry in Northern Ireland.
I sincerely hope that the Minister of State, who is not present tonight, for I know that he is in Northern Ireland, will wish to consider carefully the decision of the Northern Ireland Committee not to put the motion on the proposed closure to the House.
The right hon. Gentleman says that the Minister might resign. I am not going to offer that invitation to the Minister of State. I wish simply that he would reconsider the proposal and keep alive the gas industry and the 1,000 jobs in Northern Ireland.
Last year's debate immediately followed the debate on the All Ireland Forum report, to which the hon. Members for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham) have referred. During the past few months we have not heard a great deal about the All Ireland Forum report. In one sense, this was the result of the press conference that followed the Chequers summit when the Prime Minister made swift and sweeping remarks about the various proposals. But a certain amount of obfuscation surrounds the recommendations of the All Ireland Forum report, because talks have since been held with the Dublin Government. We are not privy to those talks. We are lot sure whether they are talks about talks, or substantive talks, or talks about security, or talks about joint authority—or simply talks.
As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West said earlier, we were promised a further summit meeting in February 1985 but it was postponed. We had expected a summit conference in June between the Irish Taoiseach and the Prime Minister, but it has not taken place. I do not now believe that there will be a summit until November when the party conference season is over. There are to be talks between the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach at the European summit meeting in Milan, but that is not the same as substantive talks with the Republic of Ireland.
In last year's debate, the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior), categorised the positive aspects of the report. He described them as a serious examination of nationalist aspiration; emphasis on the importance of consent; unequivocal condemnation of violence; an attempt to understand the Unionist identity; and openness to discuss other views. It was also clear from the former Secretary of State's speech that there had to be firmness in the recognition of the Unionist cause; firmness in the acceptance of minority sensibilities; and firmness in the view that the road to terrorism or the rejection of law and order were no way forward.
It is in the light of these comments—one year on, so to speak—that we wonder out loud about further cross-border co-operation in the battle against terrorism. We wonder out loud about the creation of a security commission with the aim of enhancing co-operation between the two Governments in their mutual fight against terrorism. We wonder out loud about a British-Irish Parliamentary Council to be established by way of agreement or treaty between the Governments of the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic. We wonder out loud why there should not be an increase in the secretariat to be provided for the Anglo-Irish Council.
It is conceivable that all these measures are on the table in the discussions between the Governments of the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic. It may be that we shall not have long to wait to find out, but it is right that this House should tell the Government — and the official Opposition certainly tell the Government — not to slumber on these issues, not to sleep away an opportunity to reach accommodations with the Government of the Republic of Ireland, a Government who are reaching out in order to make substantive settlements to longstanding problems.
I listened carefully to the remarks of the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North. He asked what would be the policy of the official Opposition. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West has enunciated on several occasions what our policy would be. If it would interest the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North and the House, I shall briefly repeat it. We believe that it must be in the national interest to have on our western flank an Ireland that is united in peace and prosperity but, like the Republic of Ireland, we also accept that without the support of the majority of the north there can be no unity. The question is, how does one achieve this support? What is the strategy that clothes the policy? How does one resolve what the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North has described as two self-evident truths; that Unionism never breaks its links with this country and that nationalism in the north will not disappear?
We believe, however, that a positive approach, closeness to the Dublin Government — which was acknowledged earlier this evening by the Secretary of State—with time, patience, care and understanding will help to bring the communities together and achieve that peace and prosperity that we all wish to have in that part of our country and of the British Isles.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough, who came in for a great deal of undue, unthought-out criticism from the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster, has played a long part in the debates in the House. He has consistently and realistically spoken not only to the country through this House but to party conference and has taken a very sensible approach to the problem of Northern Ireland. He referred briefly tonight to the awakening of conscience within the Labour party and to barrenness and sterility in dealing with the issues that confront us all. He gets from me and from the Opposition the homage that he deserves for facing fully and without fear the issues that are before us.
Since the hon. Member is speaking for the official Opposition, will he make clear to the House the views of his party on two specific matters? First, does he share the view of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) that we should get out of Northern Ireland? Is that the view of the Labour party? Secondly, does he believe that the Government. Should negotiate with the political representatives of the IRA?
I thought that I had answered fully the first part of the first question, and I answered the second part earlier when I said that we believe that it is in the national interest to have on our western flank a nation that is at peace with itself, prosperous and a friend of our country, and that we should seek to achieve that unity through consultation with all the people in Ireland.
In relation to the second question, on negotiating with representatives of the IRA, I made the statement earlier that I had been on the front page of the Belfast Telegraph saying that we would talk with Sinn Fein, and talks mean talks. Talks, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough said, mean full and frank discussion. Had I been at those talks, my full and frank discussion would have involved telling them to set aside the Armalite and concentrate on the ballot box and the ballot paper.
I reiterate to the House, as we shall continue to do, notwithstanding barbs and asides, our total abhorrence of terrorism and all its works. To be sure, as the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley said earlier, we have seen the brotherhood of international terrorism recently in various events throughout the world. But terrorism is anathema to the very concepts of democracy in which we believe. Terrorism leaves widows and orphans, but does not find political solutions. It is very right and proper that in the debate that is to follow we shall draw proper attention to that. It must be stated very clearly that no members of the Opposition have accepted or accept violence.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North mentioned earlier 74 murders in County Fermanagh in 15 years. That situation is to be deplored whoever was the cause or the source of the murder.
The Opposition supports fully the continuation of direct rule. We accept that direct rule is the only option that we have before us tonight. It is essential for the governance of Northern Ireland. But direct rule cannot, nor should it be, used as a constitutional measure through which to discuss all matters which concern the citizens of the north and equally concern the citizens of the south.
I should like to end with a few lines of poetry:
And not by eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light,
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly,
But westward, look, the land is bright.
We hope to see the day when the lands to the west of us are indeed bright—bright in prosperity, with peace in the hearts of the people who live there; we hope that that peace will bring about prosperity and the partnership between the communities to which the Secretary of State referred earlier.
The debate has been wide ranging in subject and, at times, in decibel levels, but neither of those matters should be thought to be a ground for complaint. Any part of the United Kingdom that has suffered as grievously as Northern Ireland in recent years, whose system of government we are discussing today, is bound to arouse strong passions, and it is right that they should be expressed in this forum.
I have listened carefully to virtually the whole of the debate. After nearly four years as what I might call a creature of direct rule, I am as aware as most of the strengths and weaknesses of the system of direct rule, I believe that, with all the limitations that that system imposes on Ministers, Governments of both parties have sought to ensure that direct rule is as fair, even-handed and efficient as possible in the way that it has sought to bring about improvements in the technical machinery of government over those years.
Since 1982, as has been mentioned during the debate on more than one occasion, those Ministers who have been part of the system of direct rule have had the benefit of an Assembly in Northern Ireland of locally elected representatives of the people of the Province. They have been able to consult that Assembly on legislation and receive directly the views of the locally elected representatives. That may have made direct rule rather less comfortable than it was before, but it has made it more efficient and responsive to the views of the people of the Province.
Yet I am aware that, however hard Ministers may have tried, however much the Assembly may have contributed to improving the system of direct rule, it is flawed. That people from this side of the water should be moved across to Northern Ireland and asked to take on responsibility for many of the matters affecting the day-to-day lives of the men, women and children of Northern Ireland is far from the ideal position. As the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) said, no one has it as his first choice; but many people — perhaps virtually everyone in Northern Ireland — have it as their second choice. Until it is possible to arrive at a position in which the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland can agree on a first choice that is acceptable, I am afraid that we are lumbered with direct rule. What we must seek is to make that system work in the meantime, while looking all the time for a way of devolving responsibility for day-to-day matters to a locally elected Government in Northern Ireland.
In asking the House to renew direct rule in this order tonight, I am also committing the Government to search for a better way of governing Northern Ireland — something that will restore to the political representatives of the people of the Province responsibility for those day-to-day decisions that affect the lives of people. That is not hedged around necessarily in total by the 1982 Act, about which I shall say a word or two in a moment. There is only one principle that is immutable—that there should be widespread acceptance of whatever alternative is undertaken. That is not something that is being stubbornly insisted upon by the British Government in any sense from pride of authorship; it is the only basis upon which any stable Government of Northern Ireland can be created.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman raised a number of points. The first one that I should like to nail is the suggestion that the Government are uncaring and give too low a priority to social programmes in Northern Ireland. Anyone who has seen the progress in housing in Northern Ireland in recent years, and seen the quality and number of houses being built, will recognise that that is one of the major features in Northern Ireland today.
In education, the expenditure per pupil has been steadily rising in recent years. We introduced the youth training programme a year ahead of its introduction in Great Britain.
Employment is increasing in Northern Ireland, although, alas, for demographic reasons, unemployment is also increasing. We must run very fast just to stand still. But there is no lack of effort in seeking to overcome the problems of unemployment that bedevil so many towns and cities in Northern Ireland. There is certainly no lack of will and commitment to social programmes. I wish only that the security position would improve to such an extent that some of the resources which, for the time being, must be devoted to the battle against terrorism could be devoted to those social programmes. The hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) demonstrated the hypocrisy of the men of violence and their supporters, who condemn social deprivation when, to a large extent, their activities are responsible for that deprivation.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about the status of the talks between my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the political parties in Northern Ireland. Those talks were pursued first by my right hon. Friend and then by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. They were interrupted by the council elections. Recently my right hon. Friend had a stock-taking round of talks with each of the parties in Northern Ireland, and is now considering how best to take the matter forward in the months ahead. However, as I said earlier, we are determined to keep up the momentum in our search for an internal political solution that commands widespread acceptance in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) asked the Government not to stumble in their pursuit of that aim or of an agreement between the sovereign Governments of London and Dublin. Our first priority in Northern Ireland is the eradication—I emphasise that word—of terrorism. In pursuing our talks with the Government of the Republic, a priority is to ensure that the border between the two parts of Ireland is not a help to the men of terror. We shall be pursuing those talks vigorously to bring about that result in the immediate future.
The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) said that the 1982 Act is unworkable. The reason why it is unworkable is that people in Northern Ireland are not prepared to work it. He accused the Government of being unwilling to amend the Act. That is not true. If it became clear from the talks with the parties in Northern Ireland that amendments to the 1982 Act were necessary to provide Northern Ireland with a system of internal, devolved Government, there would be no bar to that as long as the principle of widespread acceptance across the community was an inherent part of that agreed way forward.
The right hon. Gentleman tried to use the analogy of the House of Commons and Government here, but the fact is that the nature of politics in Northern Ireland makes a change of the party in power almost impossible. That is the difference between the system of parliamentary democracy that we enjoy in this House and any system that could endure in Northern Ireland. A system of devolved government that can obtain widespread acceptance is the only stable alternative to direct rule, and the Government will continue to pursue that objective.
The right hon. Gentleman implied, if I understood him correctly, that the search for social and political progress in Northern Ireland was being undertaken to placate the IRA and its political supporters and advocates. That is a perversion of the truth. The people of Northern Ireland deserve those programmes in their own right. We know that the motive of the IRA is to destroy democracy in the North of Ireland and then to do the same in the Republic. We shall not falter in our determination to defeat those aims. We shall not weary of the task of defeating the IRA, and we must co-operate with our neighbours in the South in achieving our aims.
The right hon. Gentleman picked out the remarks of the leader of the Liberal party after the Home Secretary's statement about the arrests in Great Britain. Again, I must say that the right hon. Gentleman turns truth on its head. In pursuing the talks for either an internal settlement or agreement between the sovereign Governments in London and Dublin, we are not doing the work of the IRA. Every time there has been a chance of progress, either internally or internationally, the IRA has sought to prevent it and to destroy it. We are not doing their work but seeking to destroy and prevent them from doing their work.
I hope that my later points will be dealt with in the next debate. I am sure that the Minister will accept that what I said about social and economic problems was the sort of thing that was said 10 years ago, which was that the IRA were in being simply because of economic and social conditions. With regard to the present, I was saying that Governments should not keep one eye on the IRA so that they relate political progress to the IRA's efforts.
We are certainly determined not to do that. The whole thrust of our policies is to defeat the IRA's aims and to eradicate terrorism from Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member for Foyle criticised the Government for our policy towards Sinn Fein. I freely accept that this is a matter for political judgment. It would be possible to move from the Government's present position in one of two directions: either towards the prescription of Sinn Fein, which is urged upon us by some people in Northern Ireland, or to give Sinn Fein equality of treatment as elected representatives. For the moment we believe that the policy enunciated by my right hon. Friend—that within the law we seek to draw as firm a distinction as possible between those who advocate constitutional politics and those who advocate violence—is the best way forward. However, I freely accept that it is a matter for political judgment, and that judgment could change from time to time according to the circumstances that prevail.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) raised a number of points. My right hon. Friend will address himself to the question of parades and marches in his opening speech on the next order. If there are any outstanding points, I shall deal with them when I reply to that debate.
It is utterly clear that Ministers will have no dealings with Sinn Fein unless and until it renounces violence. The present balance is obviously kept under review; it is a matter which could change as circumstances change. Certainly it is rock firm that so long as Sinn Fein advocates violence Ministers will have no dealings with it.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North spoke about police stations. I know that the position in many of the small police stations by the border is unsatisfactory, but it is unfair of him to castigate the police authority or the Government for not giving a firm commitment to improving those conditions as rapidly as possible. The size of the RUC has trebled during the past 10 years. It would be surprising if that had not created some accommodation problems, but we are determined to provide the resources in coming years to ensure that in all the police stations we have both the right living accommodation and the proper protection for the policemen who must work there.
As I said at the beginning, direct rule has brought many advances to Northern Ireland. In many ways, as a result of direct rule, Northern Ireland is more efficient, stable and fair now than when direct rule was introduced. Successive Governments have sought to be even-handed and to serve the whole community, despite some of the strictures uttered by the hon. Member for Foyle. However, there is still more to do if we are to live up to our target to ensure that the people of both traditions see that their tradition is fully respected. Direct rule is a fallback situation. We cannot be complacent, and we shall certainly continue to be committed in our search for a better way.
We shall seek to persuade the parties in Northern Ireland to put aside the old ways and to seek to co-operate together. There is potentially a new situation in Northern Ireland. There are new opportunities there for internal progress. I urge local parties to take them.
|Division No. 249]||[11.29 pm|
|Alexander, Richard||Hunt, David (Wirral)|
|Arnold, Tom||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)|
|Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.||Hunter, Andrew|
|Baldry, Tony||Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Jackson, Robert|
|Beith, A. J.||Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)|
|Best, Keith||Jones, Robert (W Herts)|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Kennedy, Charles|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Key, Robert|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Knight, Greg (Derby N)|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)|
|Burt, Alistair||Knowles, Michael|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)||Lang, Ian|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Lee, John (Pendle)|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)||Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)|
|Chapman, Sydney||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Lester, Jim|
|Clegg, Sir Walter||Lightbown, David|
|Conway, Derek||Lloyd, Ian (Havant)|
|Cope, John||Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)|
|Couchman, James||Lord, Michael|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Luce, Richard|
|Durant, Tony||Lyell, Nicholas|
|Farr, Sir John||MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)|
|Fenner, Mrs Peggy||Maclean, David John|
|Forman, Nigel||Maclennan, Robert|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||Major, John|
|Forth, Eric||Malins, Humfrey|
|Franks, Cecil||Maples, John|
|Freeman, Roger||Marland, Paul|
|Galley, Roy||Mather, Carol|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Meadowcroft, Michael|
|Gow, Ian||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Gregory, Conal||Mills, Iain (Meriden)|
|Griffiths, Sir Eldon||Mitchell, David (NW Hants)|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)||Moate, Roger|
|Ground, Patrick||Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)|
|Gummer, John Selwyn||Moynihan, Hon C.|
|Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)||Neale, Gerrard|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Needham, Richard|
|Hanley, Jeremy||Nelson, Anthony|
|Hargreaves, Kenneth||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Harris, David||Norris, Steven|
|Harvey, Robert||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Osborn, Sir John|
|Hayward, Robert||Page, Sir John (Harrow W)|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Page, Richard (Herts SW)|
|Hickmet, Richard||Pawsey, James|
|Hind, Kenneth||Porter, Barry|
|Holt, Richard||Portillo, Michael|
|Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)||Powley, John|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Rathbone, Tim||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|Rhodes James, Robert||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Thorne,(Neil afford S)|
|Robinson, Mark (N'port W)||Thornton, Malcolm|
|Sackville, Hon Thomas||Thurnham, Peter|
|Sayeed, Jonathan||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Scott, Nicholas||Tracey, Richard|
|Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)||Trippier, David|
|Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Shelton, William (Streatham)||Waddington, David|
|Silvester, Fred||Walden, George|
|Skeet, T. H. H.||Wallace, James|
|Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)||Waller, Gary|
|Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)||Ward, John|
|Soames, Hon Nicholas||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Speed, Keith||Warren, Kenneth|
|Spencer, Derek||Watts, John|
|Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)||Wheeler, John|
|Stanbrook, lvor||Wilkinson, John|
|Stern, Michael||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Stevens, Martin (Fulham)||Wolfson, Mark|
|Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)||Wood, Timothy|
|Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)||Woodcock, Michael|
|Taylor, John (Solihull)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Temple-Morris, Peter||Mr. Tim Sainsbury and|
|Thomas, Rt Hon Peter||Mr. Michael Neubert.|
|Beggs, Roy||Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)|
|Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)||Smyth, Rev W. M. (Belfast S)|
|Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim)||Taylor, Rt Hon John David|
|Kilfedder, James A.||Walker, Cecil (Belfast N)|
|McCrea, Rev William|
|McCusker, Harold||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Molyneaux, Rt Hon James||Mr. William Ross and|
|Nicholson, J.||Mr. Ken Maginnis.|
|Paisley, Rev Ian|