I beg to move,
That the draft Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order 1991, which was laid before this House on 3rd June, be approved.
The draft order renews the temporary provisions in the Northern Ireland Act 1974 under which government by direct rule continues in Northern Ireland. In presenting the draft order to the House, I owe the House an account of the Government's stewardship in Northern Ireland over the past year and, in particular, of the progress made in preparing the ground for the political talks on Northern Ireland which are now under way.
I shall first report on the security situation in Northern Ireland and on what Her Majesty's Government and the security forces are doing to bring terrorism to an end. Tragically, the security situation continues to bring death and suffering to the Province. Last year, 76 people were killed and this year to date the figure is 38. The terrorism which is the motor of this continuing misery is anathema and runs counter to everything that we value. Terrorists fail—or refuse—to comprehend that they will achieve nothing by their brutal methods of coercion and that they are an undemocratic and unrepresentative anachronism in a world where people increasingly settle their political differences by peaceful democratic means. They will not succeed because of the resolve of all decent people in Northern Ireland and because of the Government's determination to maintain the rule of law.
I must pay a special tribute to the security forces, whose courage and professionalism in the face of unremitting threat to their lives is exemplary and who strive to protect the people of Northern Ireland. The efforts of the security forces are all the more vital because it is the present intention of the terrorists to prevent any political progress. The security forces deserve the support of everyone in Northern Ireland.
The Government will do all in their power to assist and support the security forces. The House will be aware that the current Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill brings together, in one piece of legislation, all the anti-terrorism provisions which apply uniquely to Northern Ireland. In addition to re-enacting the main emergency powers, as Lord Colville recommended, the Bill creates a number of new offences and additional powers which will materially assist in the defeat of terrorism. It is also important to strike the right balance between providing the legal means needed to protect the community effectively while at the same time providing appropriate safeguards for individuals. For that reason, the Bill provides for statutory codes of practice on the exercise of its powers, and creates the new office of Independent Assessor of Armed Forces Complaints Procedures in Northern Ireland to help enhance public confidence in the way in which non-criminal complaints against soldiers are dealt with.
The Government's determination to build on the progress that has been achieved with the Irish Government on security co-operation remains no less strong. Much has been achieved since 1985, but more needs to be done if both Governments are to defeat the terrorist threat to the entire island of Ireland.
The Government have of course been active over the whole range of their responsibilites.
I understand the hon. Gentleman's question and his reason for asking it, but I do not think that it would be in the interests of joint security efforts if I shared those details with the House because to do so would be to afford intelligence to others.
The Government remain strongly committed to strengthening Northern Ireland's economy. Northern Ireland's economic performance is closely bound up with that of the national economy and inevitably the Province has recently begun to feel the effects of the national recession. But the local economy has so far held up comparatively well. For example, the output of Northern Ireland's manufacturing industries in the fourth quarter of 1990 remained at the same level as in the fourth quarter of 1989 despite a fall in output within the United Kingdom as a whole of 3 per cent. during that same period. Unemployment has risen over the past six months and most recently available figures show that it stands at 99,400, or 13·7 per cent. of the work force. But that is still about 26,000 below the peak rate in October 1986, and the figure has risen significantly more slowly than in Great Britain.
There are encouraging signs of continuing interest in Northern Ireland as an industrial location. An increasing number of jobs—almost 1,400—will be created by organisations which are transferring or are in the process of locating "back office" work to Northern Ireland. These include Government Departments and private bodies such as British Airways, Prudential Assurance and BIS Beecom.
If the Northern Ireland economy is to grow stronger and take advantage of the opportunities that the 1990s offer—not least through the coming of the single European market—the competitiveness of its industry will be a key factor. Last year, we launched a strategy to assist the development of competitiveness in Northern Ireland. It is particularly directed at helping industry to overcome barriers to competitiveness and growth which stem from inefficiencies in the markets for capital, labour and information and which companies cannot surmount by their own efforts.
On the basis of that strategy, the Industrial Development Board will work with the private sector to maximise growth. Training will be an important component. Northern Ireland already has a strong asset in its work force. Educational standards are high. But we need to improve the job-related training and the skills and versatility of the Northern Ireland work force if productivity levels are to become competitive in a wider range of international markets. The Training and Employment Agency addressed these problems as its priority and launched its strategy last January.
Prosperity must be shared by all, and the Government are committed to eradicating inequality and disadvantage wherever they exist in Northern Ireland. Earlier this year, I announced that targeting social need would become one of our principal priorities for Government expenditure in Northern Ireland. That effort will play a significant role in removing the community divisions which are one of the obstacles to establishing a peaceful and stable environment in Northern Ireland.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I am glad to say that, although the campaign in relation to the MacBride principles, which has been going for some years, has been endorsed by the legislatures of a number of states, it has been prevented in others. The serious feature of these principles is their deterrent effect on investment in the Province, given that it is the creation of extra jobs which is likely to lead to the securing of a balance in employment between the two sides of the community.
I do not think that the decisions relating to Lummus Mackies relate to the New York decision. They arise essentially from a trading matter affecting the business itself.
In practical terms, last April I announced that the level of funding for "Making Belfast Work"—a major initiative that we launched in 1988—has been increased by 22 per cent. to £27·5 million in this financial year. The total allocated to the project over six years will be £123·6 million. That funding is addititional to the extensive resources that Northern Ireland Departments continue to put into these areas through their normal main line programmes such as economic development, health and education. Results so far are encouraging. For example, during the past two years the Local Enterprise Development Unit has promoted more than 2,000 new jobs in the areas covered by the initiative. That represents a trebling of its performance in the areas concerned before the initiative.
Financial support from Government is only one aspect of the road to recovery in disadvantaged areas. I am encouraged by the examples that I have seen of local groups working closely together and in partnership with Government. Communities are assuming direct responsibility over the important areas of employment, enterprise generation and training.
I should mention a recent report, commissioned by the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, on the financing of schools in Northern Ireland, because of the concern it raises that Catholic schools may not be so favourably treated as others. The report recommends that the capital grant rates of 85 per cent. for voluntary school building should be reviewed. Voluntary schools include all Catholic schools. They differ from fully financed or controlled schools, which are largely Protestant, in that trustees have majority representation on school boards of governors. The basis for a review of those financial arrangements is under discussion with the Catholic Church authorities. The report also recommends that the Department of Education should monitor the impact of its policies on the different sections of the education system. I am fully committed, within the "Targeting Social Need" initiative, to the task of monitoring the impact of the Government's policies and programmes, including the funding of capital grants for schools.
The programme of community relations work undertaken by the Central Community Relations Unit and the Department of Education is another example of our commitment to tackle Northern Ireland's problems. I have increased support for community relations from £4 million last year to £5·5 million in this financial year for projects designed to create equality of opportunity and equity of treatment for all parts of the community, to promote cross-community contact and to increase mutual respect and understanding of the different cultures and traditions in Northern Ireland.
This is an appropriate moment for me to express my regret at not having been at the Dorchester hotel last night, largely because I was not invited. It would be appropriate if the Secretary of State were to accept the House's view—whatever one believes the ultimate outcome will be—that he was a proper recipient of the award in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the spirit of reconciliation and harmony between the two countries. I do not know how it will all end, but however it ends it will be in no small part due to my right hon. Friend's efforts, and it is appropriate to say so.
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. My only regret is that any hon. Member should have been excluded from an event that took place in my constituency.
These policies and many other practical measures will, over time, I believe, help to ensure Northern Ireland's prosperity and to reduce community divisions.
I come now to the issue of political development over the past 12 months. As the House will be aware, matters have now progressed to the point where plenary meetings between the Government and the four main constitutional parties in Northern Ireland began on Monday of this week. This is the first time since the constitutional convention met in 1976 that the main parties have come together around the same table to discuss their common future. I am sure the House will join me in acknowledging that this can only be regarded as a positive step forward. It represents the culmination of some 18 months of careful negotiation between the British and Irish Governments and the four Northern Ireland parties, and we must all hope that—now that round table talks have become a reality—further, substantial progress will be possible.
Although it is right to acknowledge the positive progress that has been made, the House will not be surprised if I continue to counsel caution, as I have since this process began. It is still early days and there are many major issues yet to be addressed. Much hard work remains to be done. In that context, I am sure that the House will understand that I would not regard it as appropriate to go into detail about the issues that are currently under consideration. Hon. Members will appreciate that if the talks are to make orderly and substantive progress, that is best done by avoiding the glare of publicity. I can tell the House, however, that serious business is being conducted on the basis set out in my statement of 26 March. All the participants are continuing to display a purposive and committed attitude, and during this first week of plenary sessions much valuable progress has been made in explaining our respective positions to one another. It remains my intention, of course, to report on these matters to the House as and when a fuller disclosure would be possible.
In the meantime, I should like to extend the warm appreciation of Her Majesty's Government to Sir Ninian Stephen for agreeing to take on the role of chairing the discussions in strand two. As the House will know, Sir Ninian has a distinguished record of public service in Australia and we are fortunate indeed that he has agreed to take up this appointment. It was always understood that whoever was appointed to this job would be a person of special qualities, and it is a tribute to Sir Ninian that his appointment has been so warmly and widely welcomed.
I have explained that I would not regard it as appropriate to dwell on the detailed content of the discussions. It may be helpful, however, if I say something about how I would like matters to progress in the short term. The 26 March statement announced that there would he a gap in meetings of the IGC to provide an opportunity for political dialogue. It was announced subsequently that the gap would run between 26 April and 16 July. The political talks have started, and useful exchanges are taking place. However, because delay arose from the need to resolve a number of difficult and sensitive procedural and other issues, it seems very unlikely that all issues can be resolved before 16 July. The agreement between Her Majesty's Government and the Irish Government is that a meeting of the intergovernmental conference should he held on that date. However, the Government believe that a basis for a resumption of the talks should be found, and intend to initiate discussions with all the participants—including the Irish Government —to bring this about.
Will the Secretary of State interpret the word "resumption"? Is he suggesting that the talks cease and then resume in order to have an Anglo-Irish conference meeting?
I said that I thought it unlikely that we would have concluded matters before 16 July when we are due to have an intergovernmental conference. I implied that it was my understanding that the parties participating in the talks would wish the talks to be continued and that I would therefore be initiating discussions with the parties as to how that might be.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the issue was resolved before the negotiations started, that the date for the next Anglo-Irish conference meeting was decided and announced, and that he gave an assurance that that date would be honoured even if—I believe that these were his words—the meeting had to take place in Lagos? Will he confirm on record in the Houses of Parliament that, in effect, it is not a matter for discussion with the Irish Government or with the parties, but a matter on which agreement has already been reached?
I confirm what I said before, which was that there was agreement between Her Majesty's Government and the Irish Government that a meeting of the intergovernmental conference would be held on 16 July. I went on to say, when I responded to the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), that it was my impression that the parties would wish to find a way of continuing the talks and that we should need to initiate discussions as to how that could be done.
As the talks process takes its course, the Government will continue to pursue their aim of seeking to identify institutions and arrangements which will reflect and promote the further development of good relations within Northern Ireland, among the people of Ireland, and between the two Governments.
Does the Secretary of State not realise that the voice of reason and sanity suggests that it would be wrong for him to play around with the possibility of future stability in Northern Ireland by having a meeting of the Anglo-Irish conference in the face of substantial talks which are taking place in the Province?
I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. However, I said—and it was the basis on which I made my statement on 26 March and which I reiterated after the intergovernmental conference on 26 April—that the time that we were setting aside was the period between 26 April and 16 July.
In pursuing our aim, we shall seek to ensure that the constitutional rights of both sides of the community continue to be protected. We shall also stand ready to give serious consideration to any proposals which might emerge from the talks and which would involve new political arrangements in Northern Ireland, provided that they were workable, stable and durable, would command widespread support, and would provide an appropriate and fair role for both sides of the community.
My right hon. Friend is dealing with what he calls the resumption of talks after the meeting on 16 July. There must be some confusion in the minds of others besides myself. I thought that there was an understanding that the meetings of the Anglo-Irish conference would be suspended while the talks were going on. Is that not the case?
In the statement that I made on 26 March, which was agreed by all the parties, I said that after a subsequent IGC we would indicate the dates which would provide a gap in which talks could take place. I made that statement on 26 March. After the IGC on 26 April, I said that there would not be an IGC between 26 April and 16 July, thus affording a gap in which talks might take place.
In view of the weeks that have been lost in discussion about the chairman for the second and third stages, is there not a case to be put to the Republican Government that the date of 16 July should now be much more flexible? Is there also not a case to be made that even if that conference meeting is to take place it should do so in Dublin, and certainly not in Northern Ireland?
As I said, the two Governments will meet on 16 July. As I have said to some hon. Members in informal discussions, I am concerned that we should not fudge the issue. There is business which needs to be done within the intergovernmental conference, and which should, therefore, be done properly and not surreptitiously. We shall, therefore, hold an IGC. We hold such meetings in a rhythm, but the particular rhythm is not a matter of significant importance. I will certainly bear in mind what my hon. Friend said.
Even though the Secretary of State has excluded me from the talks—for reasons that I do not understand, as my party is represented in the House and is the only party not involved in the talks—he is aware of my total commitment to their success. On that basis, I appeal to him not to have a meeting of the conference under the Anglo-Irish Agreement on 16 July. So much is at stake and the right hon. Gentleman has said that serious discussions have taken place. I plead with him not to rub the noses of the Unionist people in the dirt—which is how it will be interpreted—by having the meeting on 16 July. I beg him to postpone any meeting under the Anglo-Irish Agreement until stage one of the talks has been completed. I urge the Secretary of State to do that.
To some extent, I am reiterating what I said a moment ago. Two points flow from earlier remarks and I will repeat them in response to the hon. Gentleman. On March 26, I made the statement that had been agreed with all the parties and which was to be the basis on which we would conduct our affairs. When one has such an agreement, which has been hammered out carefully over many months, it is dangerous to interfere with details of it at a later date. The second consideration that I want to make firmly to the House is that we have sought, during all the negotiations which led up to the statement of 26 March and since, to be totally straightforward with the House and not to do things in an underhand manner. There is an agreement to have the intergovernmental conference on 16 July. There is business to be done, and I repeat that it is the intention of the two Governments to have the conference.
I notice that the right hon. Gentleman keeps reassuring the House that he does not wish to do anything in a surreptitious or underhand way. But has not the whole Anglo-Irish process from 15 November 1985 been surreptitious and underhand? Was the arrangement not arrived at without consultation with the elected representatives? Does not the right hon. Gentleman hold meetings of the Anglo-Irish conference without letting hon. Members know what is on the agenda? Do not those meetings conclude without any open and frank statement about what has been arranged behind closed doors? When the right hon. Gentleman has the opportunity to have all the major Northern Ireland parties around the table and when we are moving, one hopes, consistently towards sitting round the table—all of us—discussing matters with the Irish Government in the not too distant future, is it not worth while to consider, instead of sacrificing that opportunity, postponing at least any idea of having another meeting of the conference?
I do not want—and this characterises my exchanges with the hon. Gentleman—to be combative in response to what he said, but I must admit that I react a little adversely to his remark that the intergovernmental conferences under the Anglo-Irish Agreement are conducted surreptitiously. It is known that they are taking place, and on every occasion a communiqué is published which is put in the Library of the House. I am consistently subjected to massive cross-examination by the media immediately after the conference meets.
I repeat that, in effect, an agreement was made that each party entering the negotiations was aware of that date and of the fact that there was a commitment by both Governments to have the meeting on 16 July. The delay of almost seven weeks so far was not the fault of either Government and should not be another contrived road block against the meeting taking place. I welcome the assurance which the Secretary of State gave three times that the meeting will take place.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his concluding remark. All of us who lived through that seven weeks know what happened during that period. A number of different factors contributed to it. That is why I am concerned to initiate talks to see whether we can find a basis for proceeding hereafter.
I hope that, the Secretary of State will forgive the interventions. Many of us had expected him to make today what might have been considered an uncontroversial speech, so we have been somewhat set back by its somewhat controversial nature thus far. As one of those—I think that the Secretary of State will recognise this—who has urged the process forward, who has wished it every success and who has done everything possible to make it succeed, I must emphasise for the Secretary of State the feeling within the Unionist community that, if there is to be a meeting of the intergovernmental conference, that in effect brings the agreed talks process to an end. The Unionist community would not see it in any other way.
The Secretary of State will know that his discussions with the two Unionist party leaders suggested a time band of approximately 10 weeks in which talks would take place. We had hoped to start those talks as soon as the period began from the end of the most recent intergovernmental conference, but matters that did not relate to strand one took up a considerable time during which we were quite happy to proceed with strand one dialogue. We feel that the time lost during that period in dealing with procedural and other matters should be made up and that the Secretary of State should, therefore, have an add-on to the period that he set, so that we can have the same time band available for talking. We are prepared to intensify our efforts, and to put in more hours each day and more days each week. I hope that the Secretary of State will meet us on that issue.
I do not know where the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) was imputing controversy in my speech, except in the particular matter that has prompted a number of interventions. I did not seek to be controversial in other parts of my speech. In the part that has prompted interventions, I was concerned—as I sought to say in answer to earlier questions—that the Government should continue to be open and should not be thought to be doing something under the counter. The hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that we envisaged a period of about 10 weeks. The periods of eight weeks and 12 weeks were regarded as possible brackets, and we settled on 10 weeks. I acknowledge that we lost a number of weeks because of the procedural discussions to which I referred.
Given the fact that we sought to get all three strands of the talks completed in the 10 weeks, I am not at all confident that if we had dealt with what I described as procedural matters in the margins rather than dealing with them head on, we should not have got into separate and severe difficulties. The talks have benefited by getting those out of the way and from everyone knowing how we proceed hereafter. The statement of 26 March was the basis on which the talks should occur. As a general statement, the whole process is better if we know the firm basis on which we are proceeding. That is why I was proposing to initiate talks with other parties about what we might do hereafter.
If progress can be made—
This is a vital matter. I have the support of all my colleagues from the Unionist side. This is a very serious matter. We were given a time limit. When the Secretary of State consulted the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) and myself, the first document that he gave us had brackets in it and no dates. However, he assured us that we would have at least 10 to 11 weeks to carry out the process. We said that we did not know whether that would be time enough, but we agreed to give that time. Now we are not getting that time.
The hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) was right. The Unionist people will feel that they have been betrayed. They will not tolerate leaders who will be part of that betrayal. I will certainly play no part in telling my people that we cannot get 10 weeks now and that we have to do what the Dublin Government say. After all, this territory is part of this United Kingdom. It is not an annex colony of the Republic. Therefore, we need the 10 weeks, which is little enough time to try to achieve a solution to years of agony.
In the context of the discussions that I had with the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) in the period leading up to the statement of 26 March, I acknowledge that we discussed many things and there was no way in which we could have dealt with every possible contingency. If we had tried to deal with every possible contingency, we would never have started the talks.
In a situation where one cannot contemplate every contingency in advance, it is sensible to conduct affairs on a basis agreed by everyone. If an unforeseen situation arises, collective discussions would be required to consider what should be done thereafter. That is what I was proposing.
In an attempt to be helpful, if circumstances have changed since the statement of 26 March, which I had understood to involve a de facto suspension of the IGC and time limits, it does not seem to me that 16 July is sacrosanct. I should have thought that rational and reasonable people in Dublin would understand if more time was given for discussions as some hon. Members are suggesting. Surely that is the pragmatic and sensible way forward.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I will not try to become involved in a gloss on the statement of 26 March. If I may take a different legislative example from the affairs of this House, when the House passes a Bill it is for others to interpret it thereafter, rather than for hon. Members, although we may individually try to help our constituents to understand that Bill. The words in the statement of 26 March were carefully honed and we had spent much time agreeing them. The statement states the basis on which we would be going forward.
I said earlier that the intergovernmental conference under the Anglo-Irish Agreement was a necessary meeting for us to carry out proper business which needs to be done. I repeat that I was concerned that we should not try to do that by some other means which might have been regarded as surreptitious and underhand. I was concerned that we should do these things openly.
I hope that it will be possible in discussions between the parties to discover a way through these matters. In the meantime, the business of Government must necessarily proceed on its present footing and the order before the House for approval today therefore remains essential. I commend it to the House.
I join the hon. Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) in congratulating the Secretary of State on the award that he received yesterday evening. That was important and I hope that the spirit in which it was given and the hopes contained in the giving of it might permeate our debate this evening.
I welcome the appointment of Sir Ninian Stevens. I trust and hope that he will get down to his task of chairing the second strand of talks soon. He is a man of distinction and a man about whom, despite all the digging, no one seems to have found anything that would render him unacceptable as chairman of the conference. That in itself must be a considerable achievement in that someone somewhere in the past 20 or 30 years has not left his fingerprints on the history of Ireland or made unacceptable statements.
When we began this debate we had more grounds for optimism than we have had for many years about the political future of Northern Ireland and I trust that those grounds for optimism will remain. On behalf of the Opposition, I express our good wishes to all the participants in the negotiations which began last Monday. We sincerely hope that arrangements will be agreed that will allow direct rule to be replaced by a much more effective system of devolved government with the consent of all the parties in Ireland and subject to agreement by referendum in both parts of Ireland.
We would like to hope that this was the last occasion on which we were seeking to renew direct rule. I am sure that all hon. Members share the view of the Labour party. Obviously direct rule has not been an entirely negative system. Some progress has been made over the years. For example, the urban landscape of Northern Ireland has improved immeasurably over the past 20 years as a result of the activities of the Housing Executive and the various area, rural and urban schemes to improve the appearance of places such as Derry and Belfast. We must congratulate the various parties involved in direct rule in Northern Ireland on achieving that in co-operation with the people of Northern Ireland. They have given quite remarkable facelifts to many towns. I have visited Northern Ireland frequently over the past 25 years and I have seen the changes that have taken place. That is a tribute to the Ministers involved and to the people in Northern Ireland whose ideas and schemes were carried out.
I also welcome the Secretary of State's comments about the last SACHR report on the funding of voluntary schools. That is important and it must be examined and explored to discover what help can be provided.
The Opposition must place on record our congratulations to the Government on their work in seeking to improve community relations and on the programme for education for mutual understanding and the curriculum changes. Those are important issues. They do not attempt to destroy people's beliefs or ideals. They try to promote understanding of other people's beliefs and ideals. As the Secretary of State said, strength can come from a diversity of tradition rather than from a monolithic acceptance of matters. That is to be welcomed. However, I still regret what I regard as the political mistake that the Secretary of State made in the past year when he banned Glor Na nGael. I hope that the problem will soon be overcome and that if Glor Na nGael reapplies for funds it may get them.
It is worth reflecting for a moment on the present unacceptable state of affairs in Northern Ireland. Despite the gains that have been made, none of us can be proud of the conditions that have been allowed to prevail in what is, as the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) pointed out, meant to be part of the United Kingdom. Most obviously, that has been apparent in the violence which, sadly, the Secretary of State had to catalogue for us earlier. Yesterday, another victim was murdered in a particularly brutal and horrendous fashion. We extend our sympathy to the family and fiancée of Private Harrison and to the families of all those who have been killed or damaged, either physically or mentally, as a result of the conflict of the past 20 years.
Coupled with the physical tragedy of violence is the moral tragedy of unemployment and the economic wasteland of many parts of the Province. Tens of thousands of people in the Province, especially young people below the age of 25, are condemned to a bleak future while those deep-rooted economic and social problems persist.
Of course, direct rule is not responsible for that state of affairs. But it has one crucial defect that prevents those difficulties from being overcome. Quite simply, for all the good intentions of Ministers of whatever party, direct rule does not reflect the reality of society in Northern Ireland, except in a negative sense. It is the second option of nearly the whole of the population of Northern Ireland. It does not command the consent of a substantial section of the population as a first option and, because of that, it does not allow effective Northern Irish involvement in decision-making. It involves an unsatisfactory relation between this House and Northern Ireland, whereby we have to take decisions which should more properly be made by the elected representatives of Northern Ireland. I am sure that few hon. Members from this island would welcome the intrusion of Westminster into their constituencies to the degree, detail and level that pertains to Northern Ireland. We would feel that such matters should be satisfied locally.
There is an absence of agreement on institutions that reflect the geographical reality of Northern Ireland, sharing as it does the island of Ireland with the Republic of Ireland. Institutions that are capable of furthering the mutual interests of Northern Ireland and the Republic are vital. Despite some of the difficulties that have become apparent this evening and that demonstrate the scale and difficulty of what has to be overcome, we hope that the talks that are taking place at the moment will put into place institutions that will help to eradicate terrorism, and will be more adapted to the task of economic regeneration.
Any new arrangements must be in harmony with the realities of Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland rather than be imposed with the aim of keeping the lid on the area's problems. We need to unleash the constructive energies of the people of Northern Ireland, with the aim of creating a land in which there are neither executioners nor victims, but people living in reasonable content, one with another.
During the past 18 months, the Labour party has taken as its line on the talks and the discussions about the talks that we would do all that we could to help those talks to be established and to take place. We felt that we could best do that by keeping our mouths shut and by not giving running commentaries on every turn and twist of the negotiations. That self-denial has kept myself and my hon. Friends more off the television than on it which, for politicians approaching a general election, is the supreme sacrifice. However, it is not the same degree of sacrifice that has been expected of the people of Northern Ireland, nor is it the sacrifice that the people of Northern Ireland will have to make if the talks break down. We listened carefully to the entire contents of the Secretary of State's statement on 26 March. That complete statement had the support of the Labour party, and it still has.
I sometimes think that there is nothing in this world as permanent as that which is labelled "temporary" or, in this case, "interim". Like, I am sure, all hon. Members in the Chamber, I have noted the fact that for weeks the newspapers, radio and television have all been saying that this is the first time for 16 years that the leaders of the three constitutional parties have sat down together at the same table to talk. Those same news outlets never add that such a remark could be made only in relation to talks on constitutional issues or to talks that have regard to constitutional issues. The reality is that the three leaders have met on other occasions about issues that are important and of benefit to the people of Ulster. We have never found any real difficulty in doing that.
The three parties have also united on a number of occasions against the Government; the latest occasion being this morning in the Northern Ireland Committee, when we did so successfully. We have done so whenever we have protested against Government legislation—this has happened time after time—yet it seems to have passed the news media by. They never seem to pick up the fact that the people of Northern Ireland agree on many issues affecting Northern Ireland. Indeed, apart from constitutional and security issues, the parties are far more ready to talk about their major concerns than are their counterparts in the parties of Great Britain. I have noted that the parties which form the major political institutions in the House and in this part of the country have never made any real effort to reconcile their views. Where was the reconciliation of view on the poll tax, over the present controversy about the health service, or over the issues of a federal Europe, the exchange rate mechanism or the single European currency? Those are matters of the greatest importance on which there should be consensus and a national view, but that does not happen.
The parties in Great Britain may need a lead on that which they are providing in Northern Ireland—discussions between the parties—and, if so, I have no doubt that some of us would be prepared to suggest the name of a chairman or two, but not, I think, that of an ex-Prime Minister. That would not be conducive to peace and stability in any discussions that might take place.
Surely the fact that 19 years have passed since the Stormont Parliament was closed by street violence and that nothing has been put in its place is a matter of concern to us all. It certainly concerns many minds outside, if not inside, this House. The present effort to end the impasse is the result of the initiative not of the Secretary of State, but of the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) and the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), who ensured that a commitment to seek changes was written into the manifestos of the two Unionist parties at the last election, that that manifesto was put to the people, and that the mandate that they sought was given by the Unionist population, the result being the present discussions. That item of political and constitutional business has cost our parties dear in time, trouble and political capital. We have no wish to see the effort wrecked by malignant forces or by foolishness on the part of those in high places.
The whole process very nearly came to grief last July and the momentum was only slowly restored, with some severe hiccups between then and the end of March this year. It appears to me that today the Secretary of State has dealt a further deadly blow to the process. 1 could hardly credit that anyone in his position would behave with the rank insensitivity that he showed to the House today.
It would be an act of the greatest folly to stop the present momentum, so painfully achieved. It needs rather to be kept going and to have further impetus given to it. As the matter of the 16 July meeting is a United Kingdom decision—for we are talking about United Kingdom territory—I hope and pray that the Secretary of State will make the right decision. For the Government know perfectly well that the long delay in reaching the present stage was not the fault of the Unionist parties. The question of an independent chairman reared its head only at a late stage. As a result of that, the timescale has slipped. There is no good reason why the timing of the next meeting of the Anglo-Irish conference should not slip in concert with the timetable of the talks. Even a few weeks could make a vast difference, especially as I understand that my right hon. and hon. Friends are more than prepared to work overtime.
Why should the process be wrecked by insistence on a meeting on 16 July? There are those in the Unionist community who would say that it is simply another attempt to hammer home to Unionists the real strength of the Dublin input into the governance of Northern Ireland. If the process stops, if it is wrecked by insistence on a meeting on 16 July, it will be difficult to restart it. It will probably prove impossible. If that meeting takes place, it will only reinforce the belief in the Unionist community that the Governments bear ill will towards the discussions. It is certain that if the participants go off on a long holiday for the summer before reaching firm conclusions, we shall come back to a vehicle that is totally bogged down and likely never to run again.
It seems to me that there is a strong argument for flexibility on the matter. It does not matter very much who caused the slowing down of the process. I understand that the Taoiseach of the Republic will be in London tomorrow. Would that not be an appropriate opportunity for discussions about the flexibility of 16 July? I do not want 16 July to take on similar significance to 12 July. We should start chatting about that.
Let us not look back at whose fault it is that the process has taken all this time. Those are arguments between all the parties involved. It would be disastrous if one date had the effect that the hon. Gentleman suggests. If there is an opportunity to speak to the Taoiseach tomorrow, I am sure that he would understand, if not accept.
The Secretary of State and his colleagues will have heard what has been said from their own Benches. When Mr. Haughey is in London to see the Prime Minister there will be a real opportunity for them to discuss the matter and reach firm conclusions. The matter is serious and we all know perfectly well that the process is not open-ended. We have no wish that it should be open-ended. I know that the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party has said that the talks could go on and on almost for ever, but that is not the way that we see it. We want to see firm conclusions reached fairly soon. There is no benefit in trailing the thing on. We all know each other's positions and we have a fair idea of the perimeters of our freedom of action. There is no reason for long delay.
If there is an attempt to keep the talks going until the next election, some people may say that the SDLP was waiting and hoping for a Labour party victory when it might make further advances towards the ideal of a united Ireland. Personally, I do not believe that that ideal would be advanced whichever of the parties that are most likely to form a Government wins the election, so to wait for that length of time could be a fairly futile operation.
We all know that in the run-up to the elections preceding the Sunningdale fiasco the Unionist electorate was fed a marvellous diet of misrepresentations as to the course of action that some Unionists intended to take. The ballot papers were marked and counted and the boxes were put away for a few years. Not all those who were involved in politics at that time were deceived. Those of us who now sit on these Benches were among the folk who were not deceived. That lesson taught the Unionist population of Northern Ireland, not least those who are in this House, a great deal about deceit and weasel words. Ever since that time we have paid attention not to the frothy expressions that we often hear from political leaders about good will or to other helpful expressions, but to the acts committed by Governments. I must tell the spokesman for the Conservative party who is in the House this evening that the record of his party is not one which I consider honourable. The present position on the government of Ulster is a gross affront to democracy in general and particularly to the House, which is run, as those of us who were here in the late 1970s know, by the most rigid application of majority rule. I have stated before and I make no apology for stating again that democracy is rather wider than a majority of one. In the 1970s I saw a majority of one being more than sufficient to maintain a party in office on several occasions.
I can appreciate, and I am sure that the Secretary of State appreciates, the feelings of the Unionist population of Northern Ireland when they see their will so blatantly ignored so often. In any democratic society there must be recognition of the rights of minorities. The Unionist population of Northern Ireland is a minority within this kingdom. I have to tell the Secretary of State and the Government whom he represents that that minority's rights have been neither recognised nor respected by his predecessors. I consider that a grave affront to the democratic process. I have scant sympathy with those who preach democracy elsewhere and flatly refuse to practise it at home to any normal, reasonable standard.
Having said that, I appreciate that the perimeters of the democratic process cannot be expanded to the point where the decision of the ballot box is completely ignored—within any organisation. A majority cannot be constantly thwarted by a minority because that gives to the minority the right that should always be reserved for the majority.
This House is the first to complain if elected representatives cannot form the government in places such as Burma. Yet for 20 years it has denied any role—perhaps that is not quite right and I should say any meaningful role —to the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland. If that were happening anywhere else, the House would be afloat with early-day motions condemning the sort of rule that we have seen in Ulster, and under which we have lived for the past 20 years. We need a system in Ulster which can withstand the shocks of violent men and violent organisations and which can deliver a service of good government to the people of Northern Ireland which is so sadly lacking at present.
The Government have always had it in their power to improve the unity of the kingdom by applying to Northern Ireland the same methods of security, administration and law-making as they use for the rest of the country. The suggestion to have a Select Committee has never been adopted. There is a motion on the Order Paper at present, tabled by the leaders of the two Unionist parties, calling for that. There is no good reason why Bills should not be used to legislate for Northern Ireland.
I found it interesting yesterday, when I was in Committee discussing a Bill on the forfeiture of the profits of drug trading, to discover that there were three measures —one for each of the legal jurisdictions of the United Kingdom. They are all designed to come into operation on 1 July. The Scottish one was available only in draft form, but that did not matter. If such measures were consistently applied to Northern Ireland, even that would be a slight improvement. I hope that the Government will take not only such a small, tottering step, but a major step and include Northern Ireland in United Kingdom legislation whenever it includes Wales and Scotland. That would be well received by everyone in the Province and would certainly make the life of those in the House a lot easier.
The IRA is another factor in the equation which, although mentioned in earlier debates, has not been discussed very much in this one. It has its own agenda and its campaign of genocide and murder will not stop at least until it achieves its agenda—a united Ireland from which the British influence is totally removed. As I said earlier, by "British influence" I do not mean soldiers standing on street corners, but those who vote for the British connection, call themselves British and carry British passports. The IRA believes that all those people are British, and it is perfectly correct to say that. We are British; that is why we are being killed—it is for no other reason, and is a matter of national identity.
That national identity has been weakened by Government action during the past 20 years which has been an encouragement to the IRA. That is well enough known to the Secretary of State, a man quite capable of grasping all the nuances of the position in Northern Ireland. I cannot understand why he and his equally intelligent and able predecessors have failed to act out the logic of their understanding of the situation, rather than continually proceeding in a manner which they knew could never succeed. I hope that the present Secretary of State will go down in history as the person who grasped the nettle and did something positive.
Another problem, which annoys me intensely, and I am sure also annoys the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), is the impression given by the news media, churchmen and other well-meaning people that the IRA would stop murdering people if only the SDLP would reach political agreement with the Unionist parties. It is an act of great wickedness to try to perpetuate that myth, as it is intended to mislead people about the IRA's agenda. That proposition also seems to suggest that the IRA will be influenced by decisions taken by the SDLP, and so implies that the IRA will do what the SDLP asks. That is a gross affront to nationalist representatives because, in reality, the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) has no influence or control over the IRA. That sickening and obnoxious falsehood is constantly trotted out. I know that the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh would be the first to admit that he cannot influence the actions of the IRA or even Sinn Fein, whose members they and we have faced often enough, at polling stations and elsewhere, to know that the SDLP and the IRA are not exactly good friends.
The hon. Member is correct to mention the occasions when there is a difference between the SDLP and the IRA-Sinn Fein, but he will recall that the SDLP recently put much effort into trying to arrive at a common platform and an agreed nationalist campaign with the IRA's Sinn Fein, so we cannot say that there is an absolute barrier between the two.
One of the regrettable elements in the nationalist politics in Northern Ireland is that, on occasion, tribal pressures force people to behave in a way that they might not wish to.
I had intended to respond to the hon. Gentleman's benign references to me and my party. However, I shall deal with the malign intervention—if I may call it that—of the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). At no stage was there ever any suggestion of a common platform between my party and Sinn Fein. It has asked for it on numerous occasions and been told that it will not get it. It did not get it in the past, and will never do so in the future, and it is malicious to suggest otherwise.
I shall expand on the point made by the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross). We have never suggested for one moment that we have any control over anybody in the north of Ireland who commits violence, and we do not—I readily admit that. But we have said_ that, if there were agreement between the parties at the negotiations, and that agreement was recognised by some sort of mandate—we would suggest referenda in the north and south—it would have a potent effect on public opinion in the whole of Ireland and would make it more difficult for the men of violence to operate. I readily admit that it would not stop them, but it would make it much more difficult for them to operate and make it much easier for the political process and to do what we must do in the island of Ireland.
The hon. Gentleman responded to me in the terms that I had expected. But I do not agree with his conclusions. I do not believe that it would he any easier to deal with Sinn Fein and its violent wing, the IRA, because they would see that there was something to be gained. They often tell us that they have made tremendous sacrifices in the nationalist population which they will not forget. They say that they will not give up, but will continue the struggle until the last vestige of British influence is removed from the island of Ireland. I say to Sinn Fein spokesmen and their IRA gunmen that the unionist population has also paid a high price to remain British. Anyone who thinks that we shall forget those who died in defence of the freedoms and values that sent people such as me to this place had better think again. We are not defeated by, or afraid of, the IRA. As a people we have paid a tremendous price, and we have no intention of surrendering our British heritage.
Now that we are being offered the hope that some political settlement will take away support for Sinn Fein or the IRA, will the hon. Gentleman think back to the Anglo-Irish Agreement, when we were promised the very same thing? In reality, in recent by-elections, the Sinn Fein vote has increased rather than decreased.
The hon. Member should have restrained himself because I was coming to that point. As he has intervened on it, perhaps it is unnecessary for me to take it further. However, the reality is that in Northern Ireland about 100,000 people vote consistently for the IRA. Sometimes that support has fallen to 70,000 or 80,000 and sometimes it has increased to 120,000. On one occasion when the old Nationalist party decided not to contest elections to this place, its vote increased to 155,000. That was in 1955. In round terms, however, the IRA's vote is 100,000, taking into account tactical voting here and there. There are supporters of the IRA in Northern Ireland and, as the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster knows, they have always been there. They will not go away. They happen to believe in the politics, as it were, of the IRA. They happen to believe in violence and they practise it. Anyone who shuts his eyes to the brutal realities does Northern Ireland, himself, this country and above all the people of Northern Ireland no good. The supporters of the IRA have always been present and they always will be.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the perceived co-operation at district council level between members of the SDLP and Sinn Fein elected councillors causes considerable confusion and makes it difficult for us to understand exactly where the SDLP and its elected representatives stand on many issues?
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh has made a seated interjection. I have no doubt that he will be able to make a speech later.
I thought that I had covered that to which the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) referred in his intervention, when I said that tribal politics are a powerful force in Northern Ireland. I know that the SDLP sometimes has to play footsie with the more violent elements of its own community to gain, perhaps, long-term benefit. I think that it is mistaken to do so. It pays a heavy price when it is seen to be playing around with such folk. Surely it should oppose them ferociously whenever it is presented with the opportunity to do so. The IRA and its Sinn Fein mouthpieces operate in areas where Unionists are pretty few in any event. If the SDLP was prepared to oppose them on every occasion in those areas, it would eventually, slowly but surely, overcome the men of violence, it being a moderate party. If it cannot overcome them in its own camps, it cannot expect the Unionist population to win elections on the Bogside, in the Creggan or in west Belfast. The only party that can defeat Sinn Fein in those areas is the SDLP.
Has it struck the hon. Gentleman that the hon. Members for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) and for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) are sitting in this place by the grace and favour of Provisional Sinn Fein? If it were not for Provisional Sinn Fein, neither hon. Member would be a Member of this place. Has that not struck the hon. Gentleman?
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Surely it is out of order for any hon. Member to say that someone is a Member of this place by the grace and favour of those who violate the law and engage in murder. That is what has been said. It has been said that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) is here by the grace and favour of the IRA. Surely that is not in order.
It is my judgment that that has not been said. I interpreted the intervention of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) to mean that a candidate stood and, therefore, divided the vote, and that as a result various things took place. I hope that all those who are in their places will be called to speak in the debate so that they can express their own points of view on the matter.
I think that some light can be shed on the tribal politics of Northern Ireland by saying that not all those who belong to a certain religious or nationalist tribe will vote for the same candidate in an election. That is known by those who represent the Democratic Unionist party, and it has been discovered by many others in the past within the Protestant-Unionist-British tribe. There are divisions, however, which have led to my right hon. and hon. Friends and I sitting on the Opposition side of the Chamber while those who represent the DUP, for example, sit on the Government Benches. I think that everyone appreciates that.
I fought and held the old Londonderry seat on several occasions when there was a clear Catholic—which I assume to be a nationalist—majority within it. Among those whom I defeated was the leader of the party of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh, and that took some people by surprise. That happened only because there were many Roman Catholic Unionists within the constituency. My majority was considerable. I believe that it was about 12,500.
It is not. Where did the votes come from? The hon. Gentleman has not answered that question. I hope that he will bear it in mind that those who happen to go to the Roman Catholic church on a Sunday morning do not necessarily vote for the SDLP on the following Thursday. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) enjoys considerable support from that community in his constituency, as we all do. That is why there will never be a united Ireland. The reality is that an overall majority of the population, leaving aside the religious and apparent tribal divisions that we suffer—
Is it not a fact that in Omagh a member of Sinn Fein was put into the chair of the council by the votes of the SDLP? In Magherafelt, however, an SDLP member took an honour from Her Majesty the Queen. I understand that it was an MBE. The other members of the SDLP voted against that person being a member of the party.
I thought that those matters were well known in Northern Ireland. I am happy, however, for the hon. Gentleman to broadcast them in the House, perhaps to a wider audience. I hope that they will be taken on board, so that it is understood that things are not quite as simple in Northern Ireland as some folks would have them.
The nonsensical process of renewal that we are going through this evening has been taking place year after year and for longer than I have been a Member of this place, and that is longer than many others. It is a reality that effort after effort has been made to buy off the Republican population in Ireland—both the constitutional and the violent Republicans—for far too long. I hope that this will be the last time when we go through this bloomin' nonsense, for that is all that it is. I hope that it is the last time that I have to be insulted and frustrated by patronising words from the Secretary of State and his minions. In reality, their words mean that they intend to continue denying me my birthright as a British citizen. The people of Ulster have paid a high enough price. It is about time that they received the goods for which they have been paying in blood and misery. They have asked to be treated fully and permanently as members of this nation and kingdom. That is what they believe they are, and that is why they are British. We believe that we are part of the kingdom. If we are treated as such in all respects, many of the problems with which the Secretary of State and his predecessors have had to contend will vanish.
I want to pay a tribute to the Secretary of State and congratulate him on the award that he received last night, I believe. He must have moved quickly after the conference in Belfast to get there on time. I think that he should know that many within the community, from all quarters, appreciate that it is a recognition of the tirelessness with which he has worked in initiating the negotiations and getting them under way.
I also want to put on record the fact that substantial efforts have been successfully made to try to improve the lot of the entire community in Northern Ireland. It is seen in various ways. It is seen in the way in which people within the Northern Ireland Office have striven enormously against all the odds—violence at home and propaganda abroad—to bring inward investment to the north of Ireland, to create jobs and, by doing so, to raise the standard of living for us all. As the Secretary of State said, unless everyone in the north of Ireland feels part of society and receives what one expects from society—a decent job and the ability to look after one's family—we shall have difficulties in the relation to the whole question of unrest.
In particular, it would be wrong not to identify the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham), who has responsibility for economic development and who seems to spend so much energy and time abroad trying to do just that. It is not just the hon. Gentleman exclusively; it is something that the Northern Ireland Office is doing as a team and is doing as successfully as possible in the circumstances. How much more successful could that be if we did not have the rancour and violence and the obscenity of the disrespect for human life in the north of Ireland? If that could be done successfully, we could start building rather than have this constant destruction. It is only right to make those points, because they are factual and it is fair to say so.
I also want to reply to one of the accusations winch was made against our party. I shall not deal with the obvious inaccuracies. Those who know the electoral situation in the north of Ireland will recognise them for exactly what they were, and that was at least an evasion of the facts. I remind again those who believe it because they want to believe it, or simply will not listen no matter how often it is said, that the political life of the Social Democratic and Labour party has no outside influences. It is not beholden to any Church or Church grouping, to any set of businesses or capital, to any trade union or to any quasi-political grouping. It has no monkeys on its back, and that includes Sinn Fein and any other section of the community.
The strength of our party, small though it is, has been the fact that it can make its own decisions without looking over its shoulder at anyone else within the community, be it any religious grouping or those involved in unions or the use of capital, and that is a strong position. It is a position that I would recommend to other political parties in the north of Ireland. Every time one has to consult or nod in the direction of groupings which are not political parties, one weakens one's position. I shall leave the matter there, and I shall not enter into the type of events that we have seen so far.
We are involved in a serious debate. It is serious because—this is again one of the weaknesses in the argument which has been used so far—if political agreement is achieved, no matter how difficult it is or how long it takes, no matter what opposition is put up to it. as there will be, such debate will strengthen the position of the political process on the island of Ireland.
At the end of the day, if we see through our own prejudices, the IRA campaign is not constitutionally aimed. The issue at stake is the issue between the political process delivering peace and stability on the island of Ireland and those who believe in violence succeeding not in obtaining their objectives but in pursuing their violence ad infinitum. That is where the problem lies with our negotiations. I want to see those negotiations succeed for that reason, and that reason is paramount in our thinking.
There is a second point. We in the community in which we live, I as a person, we in our political party, probably know more about the effects of violence and the effects of the type of activities of the IRA and its fellow travellers than anyone else. Those who hurl abuse in the way that they do should perhaps look at the way in which, over the past 20 years, we have had to stand up against that, not in terms of words or theories but by walking into villages to polling stations with weapons trained upon one and upon the electorate, with messages of intimidation going round saying that those who voted for the SDLP would be dealt with. We had to face that and face it down for 20 years, and that was not easy. That still continues, in its own subtle ways. So when we are talking about the understanding of violence in the north of Ireland, do not rule us out, because we probably have a better understanding of it than most.
It is for that reason, among other reasons, that I want to see the type of political agreement which would allow for a system of justice in the north of Ireland which of itself would not solve the problem but which would remove the peripherals from the problem and let it be seen in its starkness. That is the effort by the Provisional IRA and other paramilitary groups to usurp the right of the people to express their views democratically and to resolve their problems through negotiation, understanding and dialogue, and through peaceful political means.
That is why debate is so important, and that is why we are wasting our time with the type of petty abuse that we have seen and heard so far. That is why negotiations are difficult and that is why, unless we start to understand each other's positions and at least listen to them without the type of mischief that we have heard so far, we will not get to grips with the problem.
I wish the negotiations well, and I hope that, as we go further down the road, that understanding will grow. But it will not happen quickly. There is no quick fix for the problem. There is no quick way in which we can deal with it. But it is better to take time to get it right than to have a quick fix and again have the past and present failures of the attempts to obtain a political solution.
The hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong, but I thought from his words a moment ago that he was saying that the IRA was simply practising mindless violence and thuggery for the sake of it, and that it did not have a constitutional objective. Surely he cannot believe that, because it is well known that the constitutional objective of the IRA and Sinn Fein is a united Ireland.
I do not believe that, so I did not say it, and I did not say it because I do not believe it. The aim of the IRA is not guaranteed, and it is not a political or constitutional resolution on the island of Ireland. The IRA itself has said that its intention is to grab power in Ireland by the ballot paper and the Armalite, but it cannot form part of the democratic process by forcing its views on people at the point of a gun. That is where the hon. Gentleman misunderstands my remarks.
Neither of the two points that I want to make about direct rule is complimentary. There is something wrong when, after 20 years of direct rule, two blatant examples of injustice are still to be seen in statistics relating to employment and education. I am not placing blame on the present Secretary of State or his Ministers, because direct rule has existed for 20 years. Nor am I placing the blame only on the present Government, because it must be shared by both the parties that have governed Northern Ireland since direct rule was imposed.
There must be something radically wrong when such an imbalance of employment exists not among Protestant or Catholic firms, but in Government Departments, which are not run by those who have the hang-ups or the prejudices that are indigenous to the north of Ireland. Blame cannot be attached to bigoted Protestants or to bigoted Catholics for the situation that I describe. The figures—which come from the Northern Ireland civil service equal opportunities commission—speak for themselves.
At a senior level, the percentage of Catholics working for the Department of Economic Development is 6.7 per cent. For the Department of Agriculture, the figure is 10.2 per cent; Department of Education, 16.9 per cent.; Department of the Environment, 8–2 per cent.; finance and personnel, 23–1 per cent.; Department of Health and Social Services, 13–9 per cent.; and for the Northern Ireland Office itself, 14·9 per cent. The average figure is 14·4 per cent.
Why has that imbalance not been dealt with after 20 years of direct rule? That is a reasonable question for someone from my perspective to ask, and even for any hon. Member from the Unionist tradition to ask. There must be something wrong with a system that has not allowed such an imbalance to be redressed over 20 years.
I recognise the statistics that the hon. Gentleman gives, and acknowledge his attribution of their source. However, when I think back to the pattern of employment in the Northern Ireland civil service, consider the figures that now prevail—which, for the service as a whole, approximate to the balance within the two sides of the community—and consider the shift that has been occurring over a period, and which has necessarily occasioned recruitment into the service from the bottom, I see that it is necessarily the case that one will not have in the ascending grades a sufficient number of candidates for promotion to produce a percentage in the highest grades that will be comparable to that for the service as a whole. Is the hon. Gentleman recommending drafting in people to those higher grades from outside the service simply in order to accommodate the figures?
I will not give way to somone who grossly misrepresents my party's position in a mischievous way —and that is my last word on that subject.
I acknowledge that it will take time to redress the imbalance that I described, and agree that the solution should not be contrived. However, I say again that something must be wrong for such an imbalance to develop and to remain the same after 20 years.
The Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) referred also to the imbalance in the recurrent spending on education in the north of Ireland. I regret having to present these figures in religious terms, but that is the only way of ensuring proper understanding.
I emphasise that these figures relate to recurring expenditure and not to the capital expenditure differential that arises because of the voluntary option. I refer to the expenditure to which every schoolchild is, by the Government's own definition, entitled as of right. Between 1981 and 1986, there was a differential of £32 million between expenditure on schools attended largely by Protestant children and those attended by Catholic children. Why has that situation been allowed to continue willy-nilly, and without even being known about? Why has it continued, to the detriment of people in the north of Ireland?
At a recent employment equality seminar, the Secretary of State said:
Our aim must be to reach a situation in which there is full equality of opportunity and a fair distribution of jobs across Northern Ireland.
In terms of Government spending on north of Ireland schools, no such equality pertained between 1981 and 1986.
You are quite correct, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The Secretary of State said also:
Catholics suffer more severely from unemployment, and the unemployment rate of Catholics is more than twice that of Protestants …employment and employability lie at the heart of this debate".
If the education of Catholic children suffers to the extent of £32 million, will that not produce an educational deficit that will result in the unemployability to which the Secretary of State referred?
Those are harsh words, but I do not know how to speak about either of those two factors without sounding harsh and blunt. I do not mean to cast any aspersions or lay the blame on anyone, but something is wrong and it is time that we found out where that wrong lies and put it right.
The Secretary of State said that an attempt will be made almost immediately to monitor the position and I welcomed that. We have been trying to monitor it. In 1988 and 1989, the leader of my party, the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), tabled some parliamentary questions asking about such things. He was given some figures for grammar schools but not for primary schools because, in the words of the parliamentary reply, such information would be available only at disproportionate cost. Yet a Government-appointed body, the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, has unearthed the figures, when hon. Members could not be given them because of the "disproportionate cost", to quote parliamentary replies to my colleague the hon. Member for Foyle in 1988 and in 1989. We should study that, because the matter could have been dealt with much more quickly had it not been for that approach.
That is hardly a point of order for me. I am sure that, if the hon. Gentleman were to inquire, he would find that the document was avai[able within the precincts.
I can assure the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) that it is available, and if he wants me to refer to more recent answers to parliamentary questions—January of this year—I am able to do so, but I shall not delay the House any further.
There is something radically wrong when, after 20 years of direct rule, those glaring faults are staring us in the face to such an extent. In pursuit of the aims that the Secretary of State mentioned—some of which I have quoted—will every effort be made to identify what is wrong and to deal with it immediately so that those faults will cease to be a problem? For as long or as short as direct rule continues in the north of Ireland, we can study the situation and give it the same commendation and praise that I have given the Northern Ireland Office for its efforts.
One of the potential benefits of the period of direct rule was that hon. Members who have not got the ideological hang-ups or prejudices that we may have, or indeed the difficulties that many of us could have, could come here with a fresh and clear mind to deal with the problems. When direct rule ended, it would leave us with a clean slate. If we can get those two problems out of the road, the slate will have been substantially, although not totally, cleaned and that could be an encouragement to the rest of us to reach agreement in the negotiations that would allow us to proceed with a clean slate.
I have listened with care to the debate and I realise that the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) is playing to a wider audience than the few in the House tonight, pretending that he is Mr. Reasonable and acting Mr. Softie. There is an old statement that you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you do not fool all of the people all of the time. People hearing the hon. Gentleman for the first time, through the modern media, may not have heard the old record played before.
If the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh could not cry "discrimination" he would have had little disadvantage to speak about. I come from a constituency with a far higher rate of unemployment than that in Newry and Armagh. I come from an area in the west of the Province that has greater disadvantage than the constituency of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh. Yet I am not charging any Government with deliberate discrimination against anyone or any section of the community; that was the central theme and essence of what has been said in the past 15 or 20 minutes.
I have listened to a number of things in my political career and I have a broad enough back to take it. I know what it is to experience a threat from terrorists just as much as any hon. Member in this House—perhaps more, as those who know my constituency will agree.
I do not come to this House merely with words of threat. Since we last debated this subject, the Secretary of State knows that my family has once again known what it is not merely to experience the threat of terrorism but the slaughter of an innocent young man in his late 20s, gunned down in front of his two little children of four and six. One of those little boys rang his grandmother to call for help saying, "A bad man has shot my daddy." When granny came down it was to see her two grandchildren putting their fingers into the holes where the IRA bullets had gone in, trying to stop the blood flowing from their father's veins. That is the shadow under which I come to the House; that is the reality of the situation. I need no lectures from anyone about intimidation, threat, violence or the possibility of a gun when people go to the ballot box, much less from the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh.
I remind the House that in this Chamber tonight it was said that I am here because of the grace and favour of Provisional Sinn Fein. I am here in the same way as everyone else is here—through the ballot box and the wish and will of the majority of people in my constituency to send me here to be their elected representative. I have come here in the face of abuse and terrorism without fear or favour.
It is about time that people outside the House, as well as hon. Members, realised what the people in the constituency of Mid-Ulster have to face under direct rule and what we have endured for the past 20 years and much longer. I listened to a gem from the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh. Councillors from his party have consistently voted and elected Sinn Fein into positions of power, including the vice-chair and chair in my constituency. It sounded tremendous to those who were listening—if it had any vestige of truth—when he said, "Our party is not beholden to any church." That is amazing when one considers that when a certain cardinal from a certain church speaks, certain members of a certain party, who are not beholden to any church, will act accordingly.
Then the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh said, "In our party we have no monkeys on our backs." That was a gem because the Social Democratic and Labour party down the years has been happy to ride, not with a monkey on its back, but on the political achievements of the IRA gunmen, which brought the Anglo-Irish Agreement into reality. The former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), said, "I cannot allow the killings to continue: that is why I signed the agreement."
The Anglo-Irish Agreement was the fruit of murder and destruction. The SDLP has been happy to accept it as a hard-won reward for much labour; in another place, I believe that the phrase "hard-won wisdom" was used. In my view, the only hard part of the agreement is the harsh reality that it emerged from the end of a gun—as a result of the placing of a bomb and the slaughter of innocent people in the United Kingdom, both here on the mainland and in Northern Ireland.
The Secretary of State's speech this evening had three main parts. It dealt with security, the economy and constitutional matters, with special reference to the current talks. The House should remember that, on almost every occasion since I came to the House eight years ago when we have debated major legislation to curb the terrorists and destroy the threat to our Province, SDLP Members have voted against that legislation. Without it, meagre though it is, our security forces would not be able to meet the challenge or face the threat.
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh has sent a good deal of praise across the Chamber to the Conservative Front Bench; there has been a lot of back-slapping. It may fool some people, but the people in the Province know the history and reputation of the hon. Gentleman's party, which certainly do not merit a lecture on how to safeguard the future of Northern Ireland.
As I said, the first part of the Secretary of State's speech dealt with security. On 19 June, the Minister of State gave some figures about terrorist activity in 1990. They were as follows:
|Weight of explosives in Kgs.||5,392|
|Army/UDR (8 Army, 7 UDR)||15|
|RUC/RUC'R' (7 RUC, 5 RUC'R')||12|
|Army/UDR (190 Army, 24 UDR)||214|
|RUC/RUC`R' (165 RUC, 49 RUC'R')||214|
Those are alarming statistics: they appear again this morning in our local newspapers. We have a long catalogue of terrorist activities and I assure the House that my constituents, and others in the Province, take no comfort from it. Already this year—and we are only in the middle of June—38 people are dead in Ulster. For 20 years, after each major outbreak of terrorism, we have been promised a review that will look afresh at security. Since the Anglo-Irish Agreement, under direct rule, there have been more and more deaths in the Province. The people of Ulster have continued to endure a nightmare under the shadow of terrorism.
In recent months, my constituency has experienced more fear and intimidation than it has known for 20 long years. If the Secretary of State does not accept that, I suggest that he visits the area and speaks to ordinary people there: he will find them gripped by terror. Castlederg has suffered more than any other village in the United Kingdom. In Cookstown a few weeks ago, the IRA tried to wipe out a housing estate, regardless of the deaths and injuries that might result. One hundred houses were affected; many will have to be pulled down, and others have been severely damaged.
Buildings can be rebuilt; that is not the real hurt and heartbreak in the community. In Pomeroy, the IRA tried to slaughter the security forces. They planted a bomb at the police barracks. When a bomb is placed there—a number have been placed there over the years—the police and the Army cordon off the area to ensure that the public do not move into the vicinity. The IRA deliberately planted a second device on that very spot. They care not for person, life or limb: they are murderous scum, and they have no place in any democratic society.
Nevertheless, there is opposition in the House of Commons to the measures that we could take to curb IRA activity. When IRA members are caught in the act and removed, we hear calls for inquiries. We do not hear such calls after the killing of a UDR man or an innocent civilian. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh is quick to go on television, and take in as much oxygen as he can. He calls for independent inquiries to establish whether minimum force has been used.
Let me give a example of so-called minimum force. Recently, three murderers—one had killed at least 200 people—entered a town in my constituency. Their intention was to murder again—to kill innocent constituents of mine—but they were intercepted by the SAS. Because the terrorists, not the innocent civilians, were defeated and removed, the cry went up, "Was minimum force used?".
My constituents are sick to the teeth of hearing certain people asking whether minimum force was used when we are talking about the hardest core of terrorists in the United Kingdom, and even further afield. In any event, how could we ensure that minimum force was used? If that question continues to be asked, I suggest that the three gentlemen who usually ask it—named Faul, Daly and a certain hon. Member of this House—should do something to find out. On the next occasion when there is definite information in my constituency of a terrorist attack—as there was in Coagh a week or two ago—the RUC should telephone the three of them and ask them to go to the police station. There, they should put on the police or Army uniform and go in the vehicle that is to intercept the terrorists. Let them step out of that vehicle and try, with the minimum force, to arrest the murderers. None of those getting out of the vehicle would be likely to get back in it, for the terrorists have never cared who they slaughter, kill and destroy.
We are in the midst of a cruel war. For over 20 years people in our Province have been slaughtered. My constituents, as I attend one funeral after another, have a right to ask, "When will the Government take the measures—under direct rule because they have the responsibility for security—that are necessary to defeat the terrorists?"
We will never talk terrorism away. The terrorists will not melt in the way that snow melts from the bank of a ditch. We recently got 500 additional troops and I thank the Secretary of State for them, but they are totally inadequate to meet the challenge in my constituency. I could take the right hon. Gentleman to a village in my area where, in recent days, five Protestant families have had to move, some to other parts of the Province, some across the water and some further afield. In that same village, 15 young constituents of mine were visited by the security forces to be told that definite information had been found that the names of all 15 were on an IRA murder list. The very heart of that area—15 young men from one village—was to be wiped out by the IRA.
That is the reality of terrorism, and the grip of it is tighter tonight than it has ever been. While I accept, and am thankful for, the 500 additional troops, let us remember that the Chief Constable asked for—demanded, even begged for—400 additional police to be put on the roads. I understand that the Army chiefs have also requested additional forces to meet the challenge of terrorism.
Be it in Mid-Ulster or south Belfast—where a policeman aged 26 was murdered a couple of Saturdays ago—or in north Belfast, where the other morning a young man at his work was murdered, or the young soldier who came to east Belfast last night to make his wedding arrangements with his young bride, that is the reality of the situation. The terrorists are not on the run. They have the community on the run.
Under direct rule, the Government have a God-given responsibility to bring back to the whole or the United Kingdom relative peace, stability and prosperity. I do not accept the statement once made in the House that there is an acceptable level of violence. There is no such thing. There is no room in Ulster for terrorists and there is no place for terrorism in the United Kingdom. Any democratic society that allows terrorists to have the run of the community—to tell people when and where to work and live—has been taken over by, and is in the grip of, terrorism.
I am not talking about somewhere far away, such as the Falklands, where we are facing an aggressor. I am speaking about our mainland and our back door, about a part of the United Kingdom for which the Secretary of State is responsible, not only under Government but under God. That responsibility involves protecting and ensuring the security of the people of the area.
I stand here without apology, as I have in the past, begging for the lives of my constituents. We are sick of looking at the coffins going down the road. We are sick and broken-hearted as we follow the coffins of young men and women, watching the flower of Ulster being destroyed by a bunch of murderous thugs. Every hon. Member should know the reality of what is happening in a part of Her Majesty's domain.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the tragedy is highlighted when we recall that when a UDR man was murdered and his relatives gathered in the parish church of the village in which he was brought up the coffin could not proceed out of the church—this happened in Holywood parish church yesterday—and the bishop announced that as there was a threat of bombs on the way to the graveyard, the whole procession had to stop? There was then a second threat—coded by the IRA to the police —of a bomb in the graveyard.
That reflects what is happening in Northern Ireland. No matter how many politicians, with all the dedication they may have, sit round a table and hammer out an agreement, people who stoop to such dastardly and sacrilegious acts will not be stopped by political agreements. Does my hon. Friend agree that such people must be put down by the only weaponry that they understand?
I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. It is an absolute tragedy that a funeral procession involving a broken-hearted family, a son and husband having been murdered, could not make its way from the church service to the graveyard without a further threat—not only along the road but in the burial ground as well—to disrupt the proceedings.
That proves beyond a shadow of doubt that there can be no place for terrorists in our society. Unfortunately, there have in the past been apologists for such people. Some have been more concerned for the terrorists than for their victims. It is about time that hon. Members in all parts of the House realised that the broken hearts of the terrorists' victims do not heal in a matter of days or in five years or in the length of the sentence given to the terrorist, if he is caught, who committed the murder. To suggest otherwise is an insult to the broken-hearted people in those families. Not one of 23 murders in Castlederg in my constituency has been solved. There are Ulster Defence Regiment graves throughout the graveyard, bui not one of the people responsible has been brought to justice. Unfortunately, in other parts of the Province, where murderers are brought to justice, they are treated with kid gloves. They are sentenced and given 50 per cent. remission and return to society, many of them to carry on where they left off.
There is a great hurt in our society. It does not matter how long politicians sit around the table. Politicians will never defeat the terrorist or destroy his terrorism by an agreement. The agreement must be within the confines of the United Kingdom, because Ulster people are British. They are a part of the United Kingdom and have paid for that Britishness and for their heritage in being a part of this illustrious kingdom.
Terrorism must be defeated. What has been done to try to withdraw support from Sinn Fein has not worked. In two recent by-elections—in my constituency and in Fermanagh and South Tyrone—the Sinn Fein vote increased. I know that that is not good for the Northern Ireland Office. It is not good for the Anglo-Irish Agreement. But, as an elected representative of Ulster, I am more worried about the lives of my people—I have a right to be concerned—than about statements or statistics that try to prove that the agreement is a big thing and that we shall see the fruits of peace, stability and reconciliation.
The second strand of the speech by the Secretary of State was about the economy and the 13.7 per cent. of the work force who are unemployed. Again, my constituency has the second highest unemployment rate in the United Kingdom. I beg the Secretary of State to ensure that the Industrial Development Board and the Local Enterprise Development Unit are more helpful to local firms that want to develop and that they will encourage some of our great young people who are coming up with tremendous ideas. I have proof that, despite all the promises and advertisements on television, young people have been discouraged and have taken their products outside Ulster, some to the south of Ireland and some to the mainland.
If the Secretary of State believes that competition lies at the heart of the challenge for 1992, he will stop his Ministers privatising Northern Ireland Electricity purely for reasons of party political dogma. It will change a nationalised industry into a private monopoly and a large price will be paid by domestic and industrial users of electricity in Ulster. I listened carefully through six hours of the Minister's statement in Committee. He said nothing to convince hon. Members, whether Labour Members or Northern Ireland Members, that privatisation of Northern Ireland Electricity was being done in the best interests of the community in Northern Ireland or that it would improve the competitiveness of our industry, which suffers the highest electricity tariffs in the United Kingdom.
Once again, I listened to the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh—who is not here at the moment—talk about discrimination. I have requested scrutiny of the fair employment practices in the offices of several Departments in my constituency. There seems to be no urgency in dealing with that matter because it involves discrimination against Protestants. The three people who were recently appointed to chief posts in the Department of Health and Social Services area covering Magherafelt, Cookstown Dungannon and Armagh were Roman Catholics—not one Protestant was appointed. Of nine mental health posts, eight went to Roman Catholics—not one went to a Protestant.
If the Secretary of State wants fair employment, he will ensure that the Minister gives us fair employment in the Government Departments in my constituency. I am all for fair employment. Few people in Ulster have a better record than mine in terms of fair employment. During 18 years of local government in Magherafelt, 14 of them under the control of the SDLP, the only years of fair employment were the four years when I was chairman of the authority. That is what the Fair Employment Agency says. I need no lectures from any hon. Member about believing in fair employment.
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh speaks about discrimination. We in the west of the Province know what discrimination is against the Protestant community.
Over the past 18-odd years, the SDLP has had control of four councils. Roman Catholic employment is 75 per cent. in Londonderry, 88 per cent. in Newry and Armagh, 60 per cent. in Down—the area of the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady)—and 60 per cent. in Strabane. The population figures are entirely different. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh lectures us and the Secretary of State about discrimination, but he does not tell us that 12,000 of the 21,000 people recruited into the higher grades of the civil service in Northern Ireland are Roman Catholics—52 per cent. Those are the figures from the FEA, not the figures that the hon. Gentleman used.
I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. I remind the Secretary of State of the statistics in a district such as Magherafelt, where 46 per cent. of the population are Protestant and 54 per cent. are Roman Catholics. In the DHSS, 90 per cent. of employees are Roman Catholics. So much for fair employment.
If one plays a record long enough, someone starts to believe it. That is what has happened with the SDLP. In public and private debate—with the Secretary of State, with other Departments and with the world and its cousins—it has played the old record: there is blatant discrimination against the Roman Catholic community.
I do not and will not defend anyone who discriminates against anyone else on grounds of his religious persuasion or party affiliation. We in the Ulster Democratic Unionist party know exactly what that is. As my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) has said before now, it would be most interesting to find out how many of those appointed by Ministers to new boards will come from our party, how many will come from a party that does not even have the power to get one of its members elected to this place—the Alliance—and how many will come from the Conservative party, which at the moment is a fledgling in Ulster. I am sure that the Secretary of State could find other words to describe the position of his party in the Province. It seems that there is patronage—jobs for the boys. That is something to which my party is totally opposed. We stand wholeheartedly for fairness in employment. The person who is best qualified for the job is the person who should occupy the post, whether one likes that person or not.
Does my hon. Friend agree that that applies to every department? Take the honours list, for example. If one belongs to any party other than the Ulster Democratic Unionist party and has served as lord mayor of Belfast, one is honoured. But if one happens to be of my religion or my party, one gets no honor. Is not it strange that all the other people who serve on boards and the rest will be honoured, but that the people who happen to belong to my religion or to my party will get no honours, although names have been put forward under the procedures? Can my hon. Friend tell me now how many DUP members have ever been nominated to a board by a Minister? I am not talking about those who have been appointed through councils or housing departments. I am talking about direct appointments to boards.
I thank by hon. Friend for his intervention, although that question really should be directed to the Secretary of State and his Ministers. Perhaps his question could be followed up and those names supplied. I would say only that one could probably write them on the back of a postage stamp; one would certainly not need a large piece of paper. That is disgraceful given that we are lectured in the House about discrimination and given that a father who wants to employ his son or cousin in his business can be told that he must employ someone else. To be frank, it is brazen cheek. My constituents and I are taking careful note of the situation. I know people who have served the community well, and who have reached out across the community, but whom the Government have never recognised because they come from a certain party or religious persuasion. We await developments with bated breath because there is always another opportunity for discrimination to be rectified. We shall be interested to see exactly who Ministers will consider for the coming honours list.
On the subject of discrimination, does my hon. Friend agree that it is unfair for the Secretary of State to have excluded me from these all-important talks—which I genuinely support—even though my party is represented by me in this Parliament, when another party, which does not have a Member of Parliament, is participating?
As I said earlier, I believe that it is disgraceful that a party that cannot get a candidate elected to this House should have been chosen to come to the constitutional talks and is to provide 10 representatives —the same number as the Ulster Unionist party, the Ulster Democratic Unionist party and the SDLP—when my hon. Friend the Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) has been discriminated against and when his party is not recognised, even though it has an elected representative in this House—which is regarded as the mother of Parliaments, at the very heart of democracy.
My hon. Friend has referred to the mother of Parliaments. Why is it that Unionist Members are also discriminated against on the Committees of this House? A member of the SDLP has been voted on to the Select Committee on Agriculture while other hon. Members are forbidden to serve on Select Committees.
I trust that that will illustrate the fact that direct rule is not working. The reason why the Ulster Democratic Unionist party representative and a representative from the Ulster Unionist party were removed from the Agriculture Committee, even though those parties are more representative of the agricultural community than is the SDLP, was that they would not bow to the diktat of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
With the SDLP, the back-slapping once again went on; once again we had the prayers and speeches and the softly, softly approach was taken. The SDLP Member in question was recommended by Her Majesty's Government and his election to the Committee was supported by Her Majesty's Opposition. My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North chaired the Agriculture Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly with great distinction, as was recognised by every section of the Community in Northern Ireland, yet, because he would not bow to the diktat of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, it was dismissed and regarded as irrelevant, and the authentic voice of the farming community in Northern Ireland was thereby removed.
If one does not toe a certain line, one comes to know what discrimination is really like. We certainly do; we have every evidence and every proof of it. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister of State has to say about the stewardship of direct rule. In the past year, many of these problems could have been rectified, but they were not. I trust that we shall ge a clear statement that the mistakes of the past and the discrimination against the Unionist and Loyalist community, which has paid a great price for its loyalty, will be rectified and that Northern Ireland Ministers will reward that community in some way.
I must mention another inaccuracy. The Secretary of State talked about controlled schools being mainly Protestant. What he said was accurate as far as it went. I wish to make it abundantly clear, as I do not believe that many hon. Members know this, that controlled schools are not Protestant schools; they are state schools. They are not run by Protestants. Every section of the community is welcomed through their doors including—and it is a vital part—the Roman Catholic community.
Unfortunately, the person who has been elevated to the chief post in the Roman Catholic community in Ulster would refuse at the same time and in the same place to baptise children from the Roman Catholic community who happen to go to a state school and not to a Roman Catholic school. Unfortunately, the House does not know that the doors of our controlled schools are open to everyone in the community. Members of my party, those who belong to the party of my hon. Friend the Member for North Down and those from the Ulster Unionist party have encouraged the whole community to be part of the system of state education and not to go in their own direction.
A vital matter that must be dealt with is the bombshell that was placed before the House tonight. We witnessed not only the rug being pulled from under us, but a bombshell being dropped in the House by the Secretary of State. I am sure that if he reflects on what I said earlier —when I hoped that he would see reason—he will realise that my words were carefully chosen, imploring him to turn back from the precipice and beseeching him to think again.
Unfortunately, the Secretary of State cast those words to one side. He mentioned a statement that he made on 26 March about the number of weeks allowed for the constitutional talks. The truth is that there was a delay of seven weeks in the commencement of strand one because one party to those talks would not move to strand one until matters relating to strand two had been decided. A major matter was one that the Unionists did not know about until it was thrust upon them—an independent chairman.
Everyone had come to the table and started the bilateral discussions with the clear understanding that the Secretary of State would be the chairman of the strand two talks.. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister of a foreign country decided otherwise. He would not sit under the Secretary of State who permitted him to walk all over him and to have his way. The same Prime Minister and his Government have told the Secretary of State that the 16 July date will go ahead and that there will be no backing down.
The Secretary of State must realise that the elected representatives of Northern Ireland have put their lives on the line to participate in the talks. Every participant in those talks is under threat from terrorists. We have put not only our lives, but our reputations with the electorate on the line. Day by day we have to face the propaganda pumped out by the media, much of it against the Unionist population, its elected representatives and the Unionist position. The Secretary of State has decided to cast aside that danger and the fact that our reputations are on the line and he has decided to go ahead with an Anglo-Irish conference for which there is no need.
I am sure that the reason that will be given in due course will be that there are serious matters of security which we need to discuss with the Irish Republic. There have been 20 long years in which to talk about security with the Irish Republic. In my constituency, the Irish Republic is still held to be the haven for the terrorists who murdered people in Castlederg. The Prime Minister of that country has never thrown them out and nor have they, in the sight of Ireland, been brought to justice. If the Secretary of State progresses down that road, he will be regarded—I still appeal to him to change his mind—as having betrayed the long-suffering people whom I represent because trust will have been broken down by such a decision.
The Secretary of State must back down from his decision because if he earnestly believes that the talks are so important to the future of Ulster, he will not allow a conference under the Anglo-Irish Agreement—which has produced nothing in the past to bring real stability to our country—to stand in the way of substantial progress. He knows well that there was to be substantial progress in strand one before we moved to strand two. He is trying to jockey the Unionists into betraying the trust of their people.
I remember when I came into politics 18 years ago and was first an elected representative. It is true that there were those who did not have the courage to stand up in honour for what was a good, right and proper principle. It is true that successive Governments have racked and ruined the reputation of Unionist leaders. However, I must make it abundantly clear that the two leaders of the Unionist community in Ulster will not be broken and their reputations will not be destroyed by anyone. They will act with honour and they will stand by the pledge that they give to the people. There are three strands to that pledge, as the Secretary of State knows full well. I trust that hon. Members who are present will seek to galvanise all other hon. Members to say to the Secretary of State that there is too much to lose by making a foolish mistake which, again, must be based on dogma rather than on bringing peace, stability and reconciliation to our Province.
We are to have direct rule for another year. Especially in terms of security, which is close to my heart, no one can be proud of that stewardship. On the constitutional position of Northern Ireland, I have pride in saying that I was born a British subject. Neither Charles Haughey nor anyone else will rob me or my family of our Britishness. I still believe that if Ulster is part of the United Kingdom, Charles Haughey, the leader of a foreign country, has no right to interfere in the internal affairs of that part of the United Kingdom.
I fully understand the fervour with which my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) spoke. He represents a constituency that has suffered terribly at the hands of terrorists. We should ensure that he knows that he and the people whom he represents have our sympathy and support.
I was saddened by the remarks about religious schools in the latter part of the speech by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon). For the past 20 years, I have argued against religious apartheid in education. I argued not only for seeing an end to the taxpayer supporting religious schools, but for the abolition of the three teacher training colleges and for teachers to be educated under the aegis of a university.
One of the great curses of Northern Ireland is the religious divide which exists because children are educated separately. There is the state system, to which reference has been made, and there are the religious schools. I cannot see the possibility of any real reconciliation unless and until all children from the earliest age attend the same schools. At the moment, even in my constituency children are bussed past state schools to attend religious schools. That is wrong, and I recognise the Minister of State's efforts in trying to bring people together and to remove that divide in education.
I participate in this debate at a time when I have been saddened by events of the past few days. We in Northern Ireland have experienced grievous times. Last Monday morning another of my constituents, Brian Lawrence, a member of the Ulster Defence Regiment, was callously murdered by the IRA. He gave his life for the people of Northern Ireland, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, who have been subjected to more than 22 years of evil terrorism at the hands of sadistic killers. My heartfelt sympathy and the sympathy of this House go out to his grieving wife and family.
Yesterday Brian Lawrence's funeral was deliberately disrupted by IRA bomb hoaxes intended to create havoc and further distress for the mourners. That is utterly contemptible, but of course the IRA will stoop to any depravity, as we have learnt over the years.
Yesterday evening—more than likely just when the Secretary of State was receiving his award for reconciliation and harmony in Northern Ireland—a member of the regular Army, who came over especially from England to make arrangements for his wedding to a Belfast girl, was murdered in cold blood by the IRA in front of his girl friend. Our deepest sympathy goes out to her and to his family. Over the past two decades the House has heard countless expressions of sympathy in the wake of never-ending misery and atrocities. But sympathy is not enough.
I was particularly angered by the statement from the Northern Ireland Office that the upsurge in violence and deaths was due to the present inter-party talks. That is blatant nonsense, as were the earlier statements that the IRA atrocities continued over the past decade because no talks were taking place between the political parties. That is an insult to those who have died at the hands of the IRA and to the intelligence of the Ulster people.
The plain fact is that the IRA kill because they relish killing innocent and usually defenceless people. The IRA has calculated that if it commits enough atrocities, it will be able to rule by terror. The IRA believes that it can frighten the British Government into taking steps that will eventually lead to capitulation.
One need look no further than the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which has been referred to more than once today, to see an example of abject capitulation which—let there be no doubt about it—gave encouragement to the IRA. At the time, the explanation was that the agreement would lead to peace, stability and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. We know that that has not been the case and we can point to all the funerals that have taken place since that agreement was signed.
Despite all that has happened in the past decade, the majority of the Ulster people hope that the inter-party talks will end in success. I have commended the Secretary of State in the past for his patient efforts and I do so again now, even though, as you have already heard, Madam Deputy Speaker, he has excluded me from the talks for reasons that I have not yet heard. As I have said to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea), that is surprising because I genuinely support the talks and have taken every opportunity to promote their success. The extraordinary thing is that 17 months ago, when the Secretary of State launched the talks, he did so in a speech that he made in my constituency at a lunch with the chamber of trade. Its members thought that he was coming along to talk about the problems of Bangor and were disappointed that he did not. I was invited to attend by the Northern Ireland Office. I did and heard for the first time from the Secretary of State's lips about his intention to hold the talks. That was both the first and last time that I ever heard directly from the Secretary of State about the talks. I do not know why, and I would love an explanation. I intend to be brief, but I will sit down now if the Secretary of State wishes to give an explanation as to why I have been excluded. I regard it as a form of discrimination. The Secretary of State declines to take the opportunity to give an explanation, but I should like to know why because I regard it as a strange way of encouraging the talks. The Alliance party and all its entourage has been invited to attend the talks when it does not even have a Member of Parliament here; I ought to have been allowed to make my input at the talks.
As I have said, however, I am committed to the success of those talks. That is why I repeat my earlier plea to the Secretary of State about the meeting of the joint ministerial conference which is to be held under the Anglo-Irish Agreement on 16 July. The Secretary of State knows that the agreement is regarded by the Ulster majority as a detestable betrayal of the Unionist people in Northern Ireland. If the meeting on 16 July is not postponed, that will be seen as evidence of the Dublin Government's intention to humiliate the Unionist people.
This is a time for statesmanship. We need evidence of good will from Dublin. Therefore, when the Secretary of State meets the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic in the next day or two, I trust that he will urge the Irish Prime Minister to extend the period of suspension of the Anglo-Irish conference until after the end of July. I ask that because it seems to me that Dublin has a say in these matters. The Secretary of State has said that there is urgent business to attend to, but what business is so urgent that it cannot wait for two weeks? I should like to know. If the meeting is to go ahead on 16 July, the Secretary of State should tell us the reasons why. I do not think that it is asking too much to ask for a two-week postponement when so much is at stake. It would certainly demonstrate the commitment of the London and Dublin Governments to fairness and justice. Stage 1 of the talks could be completed by the end of the month. I urge the Secretary of State to stand firm on this matter. There should be no meeting on 16 July or until the conclusion of stage 1 of the talks.
I remember—I was Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly at the time—how Dublin forced the British Government to bring the Assembly to an abrupt and ignominious end. As I was leaving Stormont for the last time, I saw the building ringed with police and police vans to make sure that the Members of the Assembly, who had been democratically elected, were ejected. It was a sad day for democracy that the people who had contributed so much to making the Assembly a success should have been treated in such a disgraceful way. It was done because Dublin demanded that the Northern Ireland Assembly should not provide a platform for those who were opposed to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Surely in a democracy we are entitled to talk about matters which affect us. The British Government should not have closed Stormont prematurely, as they did. It is a blot on the British Government.
I close my remarks by referring to my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook). I am sorry that he is not here. I should like to pay tribute to him. He has announced that he will not stand at the general election. He has served his constituency well for more than 20 years and he has certainly been conscientious and loyal to his constituents. I have addressesd his Conservative association. As the Secretary of State has not invited me to the talks, I wonder whether perhaps I should not have done that. Perhaps that was why I was not invited. I spoke to the Orpington Conservative association dinner in this House. My hon. Friend is regarded with great warmth in his constituency. I pay tribute especially to his dedication to the people of Northern Ireland. His commitment is recognised by the people of Ulster and we regret that he will no longer be in the House after the next general election.
This debate is on the Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order 1991. I refer to that to remind myself—not necessarily to remind others—of the precise subject of the debate. It is an extension for another year of the system known as direct rule. As the time is available, I understand the desire of my colleagues to range over other subjects. But I wonder whether it would be better—perhaps the Ministers from the Northern Ireland Office would like to bear this in mind—to have properly structured debates on various aspects of Northern Ireland business as and when appropriate, or to create the opportunity for such debates. To allow debates such as this to range over a series of issues does not allow us to have focused debates.
The issues over which my hon. Friends ranged are important—I intended no criticism of them in what I have just said. Security and other matters are of vital importance. I am well aware of that from the events in my constituency. However, I hope that my constituents will forgive me if I do not concentrate on those matters but turn to the particular issue of direct rule. I wish to focus attention on the direct rule system itself. It is important that we should consider the nature of it and its effects as well as the position in which it might place the United Kingdom.
It is accepted that direct rule is an extraordinary system of government. It should not be regarded or accepted as normal, although it may have lasted for 19 years, with one short break of five months. I believe that I am right in saying that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland once said, in respect of direct rule, that there was a "democratic deficit" in the government of Northern Ireland, which is undoubtedly true. If we compare the system of government in Northern Ireland with that in the rest of the United Kingdom, it immediately becomes apparent that there is a complete absence of any form of effective local government in Northern Ireland.
Changes to the local government system in Great Britain are presently being mooted, but there is an effective system of local government, controlling a range of matters related to the environment, roads, housing, significant planning functions and even, in some areas, policing. None of those functions exists within local government in Northern Ireland. There are district councils, but they are equivalent to parish councils in rural England. A recognisable system of local government does not exist in Northern Ireland.
There is also a democratic deficit in central Government functions in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland matters are not treated properly in the House. We have the iniquitous system of legislation by Order in Council. Such orders are not treated properly in the House, and there is no opportunity to amend or discuss them in detail. In the past couple of weeks, we have been fortunate in that electricity privatisation has been discussed in the Northern Ireland Committee, but even that is less than satisfactory because, during those discussions, there is no opportunity for detailed consideration on a clause by clause basis such as we would have for proper legislation.
I refer hon. Members to a most eloquent denunciation of the procedures in the Northern Ireland Committee by a Labour Member in that Committee this morning. I think that it was an hon. Member representing a Derbyshire constituency, but I shall have to leave hon. Members to look at the Hansard report of that Committee to explore further that clear denunciation of the Committee's operation, which shows that we cannot make up the democratic deficit that results from an absence of a proper system of legislation.
Accountability is also non-existent. We do not have the same measures to provide for the accountability of Ministers to the House on Northern Ireland matters as on other issues. Once again, there is a clear democratic deficit.
The system of direct rule, the interim period extension, was referred to in the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act 1972 as "temporary provisions". However, the measure has lasted in one form or another for 19 years, and cannot be described as temporary or interim. It exists because it is the will of the Government and the House that such an unsatisfactory system should exist. It is their responsibility that it exists, because there are other things they could do.
I wish to consider whether, by having such an unsatisfactory system—which even the Government
acknowledge as unsatisfactory—the United Kingdom Government have placed themselves in breach of their international obligations. That idea came to my mind when I was perusing the United Nations' covenant on civil and political rights, article 25 of which states:
Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions:
The article goes on to refer to elections and to access to public service.
take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives,
is largely based on article 21 of the universal declaration of human rights, which states:
Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
Article 25 states that that is without any of the distinctions that are mentioned in article 2, which sets out clearly what might be called the equality principle that is present in the United Nations covenant, as it is in almost all human rights and civil liberty provisions that are internationally recognised. The equality articles in the international covenant on civil and political rights state that each state party undertakes to respect and ensure to all individuals within its territory, and subject to its jurisdiction, the rights recognised in the present covenant without distinction of any kind,
such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
That obliges each state to ensure to all individuals within its territory basic equality.
Sometimes people talk of the United Kingdom as if it were a single nation. Sometimes it is spoken of as a multinational state consisting of the separate Welsh, Scottish and English nations and the people of Northern Ireland. Whatever term we use, and whether or not we focus on the phrase "national or other status" within article 2, there is no doubt that the covenant requires the United Kingdom to treat all its citizens within the United Kingdom on an equal basis. In the terms of article 25, that means the opportunity to take part
in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
There should be equality in the opportunities afforded to all the citizens of the United Kingdom to take part in public affairs, but it is demonstrably clear that that equality does not exist and has not existed during direct rule. There can be no doubt about that. It will be interesting to hear any observations that are made about this state of affairs later in the debate. The inequality was recognised by the Secretary of State when he used the term "democratic deficit", and there is such a deficit. The people of Northern Ireland suffer from a system which gives them less opportunity to participate in public affairs than the peoples of England, Scotland and Wales.
We in Northern Ireland are deprived of an effective system of local government. We who represent Northern Ireland constituencies are deprived in the House of an equal opportunity to participate in public affairs when it comes to considering legislation and holding Ministers accountable for their actions. There are first and second-class citizens and there are first and second-class Members in this place. We are conscious of the restrictions that have existed for 19 years.
I am sure that the covenants and obligations to which I have referred are not to be read too closely and too precisely. If a judicial body were called upon to interpret and apply the principles that are set out in them, I am sure that it would allow what in continental jurisprudence is referred to as a margin of appreciation to the relevant Government. It would allow some attention to be paid to circumstances, and I am sure that it would allow a degree of variation. There is a degree of variation within Great Britain in the local government systems in Scotland and England.
The principle of equality does not require an absolute, precise and completely unvarying standard throughout the kingdom. Instead, it requires a broad approximation. If crises required changes to be made, I am sure that a court that was called upon to apply the principles that are set out in the covenants and obligations would allow time for adjustments to be made if adjustments were necessary.
When a system of inequality has operated for 19 years there must come an end to the excuses that can be made for operating it and to the reasons that can be advanced for not applying equality. Her Majesty's Government should consider carefully the United Nations universal declaration of human rights and the international covenant on civil and political rights. They will know that there are other international obligations and agreements into which they have entered in which the same principle of equality is set out. I suggest that they should consider carefully whether they are in breach of their other obligations as well.
The United Nations covenant and declaration are not immediately and easily enforceable. They are not the same as the European convention on human rights, under which applications can be made to the European Court of Human Rights and the issue made justiciable.
There are procedures, but not terribly effective procedures, whereby breaches of the United Nations covenant can be taken up. They usually involve going to other countries to raise the issue. I am sure that it would be a matter of great shame for Her Majesty's Government if her loyal citizens in part of the United Kingdom who have been discriminated against were forced to go to other countries to try to get them to raise their case before international tribunals in order to achieve redress. We have endured the system too long, and we cannot be expected to endure it for ever.
The principle of equality does not just condemn direct rule. I use the word "condemn" advisedly. If hon. Members were to reflect on it, they would see that it also condemns the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which is also in breach of it because it establishes a different regime in some respects for Northern Ireland.
With regard to certain matters—not all the issues of government but certain matters—as we know, the Anglo-Irish process, especially the intergovernmental conference, which has been referred to by hon. Members tonight, is the most significant organ of government for decision taking. We know that decisions are taken within it. We do not know the precise details, because, as was pointed out to the Secretary of State tonight, that conference and the Anglo-Irish process is underhand, secret and deceitful. It really should be a matter of shame for an hon. Member to have taken part in it. I hope that eventually they will come to their senses on that matter.
There are implications not just for the Anglo-Irish Agreement but for other organs as well. If we talk about opportunites to take part in the conduct of public affairs, we have to consider not just Government organs and legislatures but the other things which operate within them which are the vehicle for taking part in public affairs, and that must inevitably bring one to consider the position of political parties.
Those political parties that discriminate against certain persons in the United Kingdom, that discriminate against certain regions of the United Kingdom by denying people the opportunity to join them, should reconsider their approach. The representatives of the Labour party who do discriminate in that way should consider their position, because the equality principle should apply to them too.
It is not good enough to say that political parties are private organisations that can draw up whatever rules they like for the conduct of their affairs. One did not say that about trade unions. Because of the way they operate within the body politic, it was said that they should be regulated. If one discusses or touches on the matter of some form of state or public regulation of political parties, one is entering into a dangerous area
One could understand the reluctance of public bodies to move in that way, but when one political party clearly discriminates, as the Labour party does, against the people of Northern Ireland, that should be a matter of general public concern. We have the ridiculous situation that the only people in all the world who cannot join or publicly affiliate themselves to the British Labour party are the 1·5 million British citizens living in part of the United Kingdom. That ought to be a matter of shame to the Labour party. I wish that it was. I regret that many of its members are shameless in that respect.
There may be a defence for different treatment of some areas, but the only effective defence is where that different treatment is done with the consent of those who are treated differently. In that respect, one has to say that with regard to direct rule there is not that consent. It was possible for some time—I believe that an hon. Member touched on this earlier—to suggest that direct rule was everybody's second option and there was some opinion poll evidence for that. At the end of the 1970s and in the early 1980s, a number of opinion polls suggested that there was a growing acceptance of direct rule, but it is interesting to note that, since 1985, general surveys and public opinion polls show that there is now no significant popular support for direct rule. People realise that the iniquitous system of direct rule allowed the act of folly and misjudgment known as the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and that it must be changed and replaced by something else.
The conference on security and co-operation in Europe, from the time of the original Helsinki agreement to as recently as two years ago, was primarily concerned with European security—particularly in respect of the two main power blocs—and human rights. However, its purpose subsequently broadened and deepened—notably at the charter of Paris conference last November—to include also the protection of the democratic process.
The CSCE is seen as the means by which the newly-independent states of eastern Europe could have their democracy confirmed, and by which the growth of genuine democracy in central and eastern Europe could be assured. Her Majesty's Government are playing a part in that process, and are no doubt helping to advise others —so it is ironic that such an appalling state of affairs should exist in their own backyard. Instead of preaching to others, the Government would be well advised to put their own house in order and to remedy the direct rule system.
Let no one argue that the remedy for direct rule is for the people of Northern Ireland to agree, under the present talks, to some strange system of government. That is an inadequate answer. The difficulties of 18 or 20 years ago may have led the then Government to remove local institutions of democracy and to abolish the Stormont Parliament, but they did not compel the British Government to adopt direct rule. If they had wanted to divert power to this House, they could have done so in a proper way, using correct procedures, and by introducing other measures. That could still be done.
The Government should not hide behind the present talks. The remedy for the democratic deficit lies here. The people who can remedy that democratic deficit are seated on the Government Benches. It is their responsibility—and if they fail, as they have in the past, let them not put the blame on anyone else.
I intend to speak more briefly than the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea), and I do not want to identify all the areas of disagreement between those hon. Members who have already contributed. I recollect that I spoke first after the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). I paid tribute to his remarks then, but cannot remember whether I alluded to the possibility of the hon. Gentleman being a future leader of his party. Given the rate at which Northern Ireland parties change their leaders, the hon. Gentleman may have to wait a long time.
People change things—institutions do not. Institutions change—people do not. There are obvious exceptions to those generalisations, and if Northern Ireland is to have a happier future, those who appear to be unchanging must find a way of accommodating their ambitions with the aspirations of others.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), who spoke with commendable brevity. He referred charmingly to the way in which he has avoided the television cameras for some time. I sometimes wish that members of my own party would do the same, on different issues.
I pay tribute also to the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), who put up with a fair amount of chiding. I understand the strength of feeling that exists, but it is important that people, while not totally hiding their feelings, should exercise the restraint that we saw more from the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh than from some other hon. Members tonight. As I have mixed Yorkshire and Northern Ireland blood in me, I shall—if provoked—be not nearly so restrained as the hon. Gentleman.
It would help to deal with one of the associated factors that lead to direct rule if there were certainty about the future of Northern Ireland and acceptance of the process of government in Northern Ireland. Those two may appear to clash. It is quite clear to me that both the disloyalist killers and the IRA—as fellow killing criminals —are trying to exploit the possibility of change. I have no problem about envisaging a change in government within Northern Ireland, or for that matter within the United Kingdom. I am willing to contemplate change in the government of the European Community and even an enlarged European Community. Forms of government ought to serve the peoples within their jurisdiction rather than the other way round.
The IRA is one part of a series of issues in Northern Ireland; indeed, it is more than a part—it is one of the problems. Northern Ireland is not a problem by itself, although the IRA may be, but there is a series of other issues involved.
The IRA is limited by three factors—its physical capacity to create mayhem and to commit crimes, its supporters' tolerance for what it does, and the likelihood of progress towards its intended or desired results. It is plain that the House will stand completely firm against violence and crime achieving what should only be obtainable, even in theory, by political involvement.
The United Kingdom is not the sort of country where people can claim that the failure of democracy needs to be filled by violent crime. Whatever the democratic deficit that may have been identified by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or by any other person, that is not true.
It is also worth recognising that the tolerance of the IRA's supporters' exists. During my brief period of service in support of my right hon. Friend, the IRA had on occasion to explain why it had done certain things. The only time that it makes public explanations is when it has done something that tries the patience, understanding or support of those relatively close to it.
Part of what this House ought to be doing is creating the sort of climate and understanding among the outer fringes of peple who are willing at least to accept that there may be some reason behind part of what the IRA does, so that that circle of people gets smaller.
To put it differently, if one person is planting a bomb there are problably four people who know who is doing it, and for each of them there are four more people who are willing to accept that the process is "worthwhile" in their terms, even if it ends up with the killing of people on their own side whom they are against and many others who have no connection with the issues at all. Therefore, 16 people may be called proper supporters, and for each of those there may be four others willing to say that those actions are part of the process.
If we can turn the white propaganda—I am not talking about anything false, but about the genuine—and if we can get at those 64 people and make growing numbers of them understand what the IRA and for that matter the disloyalist killers are doing is counterproductive and has no prospect of success, the 64 may turn to 32. Thus we and the local community can squeeze the people who are killing.
I do not want to diminish the importance of strong physical security measures or say that is a substitute for the actions of the Army and the police. I am not saying that it diminishes the necessary bravery of those taking part in legitimate politics. However, that hard security is not sufficient by itself.
When dealing with other parts of the world I have come to the conclusion that we often find weakness where our enemies think that they are most strong. Sometimes we find the greatest strength in the areas where people appear to be weakest. Nothing is apparently weaker than someone going to a polling booth, placing a cross on a ballot paper and shoving it in a box and then having their vote counted. Yet in a growing number of countries that system has managed to out-manoeuvre and outlast and may achieve more than those people who turn to the use of bombs and bullets.
We must have faith in an open political process. One of the tragedies of much of the period of direct rule is that no Member of Parliament from Northern Ireland has been a Minister in the United Kingdom Government and there appears to be no prospect of that happening. Each political party in Northern Ireland should be trying to change that. The solution may come from what has been described as the fledgling of the Conservative party in Northern Ireland; it could perhaps come from the SDLP in the event of a Labour Government, because of the close association between the SDLP and the Labour party in Great Britain. Again, it might result from the Unionists returning to the kind of arrangement with a political party that they had until about 18 years ago.
That is one answer; there are various others. The solution might be found if the current talks —an achievement on which all the legitimate parties should be congratulated—led to what the hon. Member for Upper Bann has described as "consent to different arrangements". The present arrangements are not satisfactory; no one pretends that they are. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said as much in his speech at the Methodist college in December 1989.
The United Kingdom is more likely to provide the equal opportunities described by the hon. Member for Upper Bann if we can secure basic consent to a process whereby people can reach agreement themselves in Northern Ireland—or the north of Ireland; I use the terms interchangeably. The talks will not succeed unless the legitimate parties reach agreement, and such an agreement is at least as likely to result from what is said outside the Chamber as it is to be informed by our debates.
I understand what the hon. Gentleman has been saying, and I know that he intends to be helpful, but he is putting the cart before the horse. The principle of equality that I mentioned ought to be applied irrespective of whether we approve of the way in which local politicians are behaving. If it were applied, it might in itself be conducive to the developments that the hon. Gentleman has described.
I am sure that that is true. I have never been accused of having any difficulty in overcoming intellectual pretensions. I have none—I am not rigorous, or a successful lawyer like the hon. Gentleman. I am simply trying to give my views on some of the issues about which I felt strongly before I became a Northern Ireland Minister, and about which I have continued to feel strongly since I stopped being one. I have listened to what the hon. Gentleman has to say and I hope that he will now allow me—briefly—to say what I want to say.
There has been some argument about whether the date of the intergovernmental conference should be changed. Some of the exchanges have not been very helpful. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State should have been allowed to continue after he had repeated what was known —that a date had been announced. He also said that he intended to discuss the matter with others because of the delay in embarking on the first strand of the talks. I suspect that he was alluding to the possibility of an alteration in the date.
One party that is not represented here—apart from the Alliance party—is the party which governs the Republic. I think that the Irish Government would have found some of the demands for a change in the date pretty offensive. I ask them to react in the same spirit as the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh and not to respond to all that has been said here.
I hope that the inter-party talks will lead to some way of accommodating the different interests. I do not believe that an extra two weeks, bridging 12 July, will make that much difference; I am not sure that people in Northern Ireland want to be involved in detailed, serious talks, with an unpublicised content, throughout July. I do not think that that is in the Northern Ireland tradition. It is not likely to be the best time to be continuing the talks. There are other problems, too, that are best aired without the benefit of the microphones in this Chamber.
I enter a plea for the Government in the south to understand the implications of what had been the 10 weeks leading up to the middle of July. There has been a change in the circumstances that people were expecting before the hiccups in starting the talks process.
The tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) was well made and I thank the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) for his remarks. There has been a good tradition in the Conservative party of having people with a keen interest in the constitution, and the well-being of the people, of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. We have had Airey Neave and Ian Gow and the present Secretary of State, and I hope that the tradition will continue—whether there are vacancies by way of bombs or retirement, I trust that four more will step forward on each occasion, for that must be the way to proceed.
The tribute to the Secretary of State is well deserved and I am glad that there has been all-party support for early-day motion 975, which recognises the efforts of the Secretary of State, with his good humour and self-restraint, together with his persistence in trying to get people to find ways of pushing forward their own views of the right interest for Northern Ireland in a way that is compatible with sitting down at the same table with people who approach the issues in a different way.
The all-party talks represent a major opportunity for progress and reconciliation. Perhaps they are not likely to succeed in all possible ambitions straight away, but the fact that they started is a reflection of the detailed preparatory work that took place. That is a tribute to all those taking party, including—I say this in the open—the Opposition in this House and the constructive assistance that they have given along the way. If all those participating in the talks do their utmost to deliver a successful outcome, it will, as the early-day motion says,
be universally recognised as a quite outstanding achievement.
I sum up a whole series of issues by saying that I do not have, and never have had, a solution. About 300 years should have been sufficient to find the easy solutions. There remain a series of issues with which we must deal. If
we are to get justice, it must be the type of justice that cannot be delivered out of an illegal gun or bomb. Such methods cannot deliver justice in any part of these islands.
If we are to have equality, it must come because people have a true choice of employment, and issues that arise over people being unable to swap between one council area and another must become issues of the past. Once each person has a job, we can argue over what sort of jobs people have rather than having to ask whether they have jobs at all.
Justice goes with peace, and justice and peace go with jobs and prosperity. The politicians will not have succeeded until we have managed to outfight, in terms of security, and outwork the people of violence and ill will, those who want to be stuck in the politics of the past, pandering mainly to the prejudices of their most extreme supporters. Northern Ireland deserves better than that, and we may be part of the way towards seeing a glimpse of a better future.
This has not been a good day for me. I had intended, when looking at my diary in the early part of the week, to use today to listen to others making contributions. But, including in Committee upstairs and the two debates in the Chamber, this is the third speech that I have made today. That has occurred because of circumstances outside the House and comments made inside it.
No matter from which part of the United Kingdom we come, and no matter to which party we give our allegiance, each of us enters the doors of the Chamber having gained access through the ballot box. We all have something else in common—when we go before the people, we put to them a programme of what we intend to do when we are elected. In 1987, when I last stood for election to the House, I stood on a manifesto which, in common with my colleagues in the Ulster Democratic Unionist party, we fought with the Ulster Unionist party. That manifesto committed us to take a certain course of action on the Anglo-Irish Agreement and, therefore, the impact that it had on direct rule—the subject of our debate.
Because of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, in effect the Unionists had been marginalised in political life in Northern Ireland. An outside Government had been given a greater say in our internal affairs than we had. Because of that agreement, we pledged ourselves to work with anyone in the House who was prepared to find an alternative to and replacement for that agreement and to find new structures for Northern Ireland which could bring about the peace, stability and reconciliation about which the then Prime Minister had spoken in terms of the Anglo-Irish Agreement but which could not have been and have not been achieved through it.
In some ways, I suppose that I could be described as a child of the troubles. Having grown up during those years, I was earnest in my efforts to work towards that alternative and replacement. I have three young children, the eldest of whom is approaching 19. None of them has lived a day in Northern Ireland when Ulster has not been at war. By the time I reached my eldest son's age, I had at least enjoyed knowing Ulster when it was free. None of my children has had that joy. I have a responsibility to them, which I will not shirk, in working towards the structures that will bring about a stable and better future for our Province and its people. It was with that sincerity and genuine desire to see progress that I was happy to encourage the Secretary of State, to congratulate him on having brought the process about and to urge him on. Undoubtedly, there will be many difficulties. There have been many difficulties, but all of us hope that the process will succeed.
Although we face what is clearly another obstacle, it is perhaps beneficial if for a moment we take our eye off it and look over our shoulder to see how many obstacles we have already overcome. Many would have felt that it was unlikely that we would reach this stage, given the difficulties and obstacles in front of us. Perhaps, even at this late stage, we are not without hope and perhaps even this obstacle can be overcome. My colleagues and I will be at Stormont on Monday, willing to work to overcome that obstacle.
Part of the reason that we gave in our manifesto for seeking an alternative to and replacement of the Anglo-Irish Agreement was the fact that that agreement had effectively put us outside the political arrangements. It had put in place structures with which we did not identify. We made no secret of the fact that we had a precondition, which might be described as a tripartite precondition, for entering into talks. Other parties were less open about their preconditions. We spoke plainly in our election manifesto about ours.
We required a suspension of the working of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which has two parts—conference level and secretariat level. The reason for that was perhaps best described by my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley)—he is often the best person to describe such things—who said that, if we simply sat down and talked within the framework of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, we should be negotiating within a cage. That is why we sought the suspension of the working of the agreement through the suspension of its conference and the secretariat.
Effectively, we had established that there would be book-ends at the beginning and at the end of the talks, in the form of conference meetings. The end of a conference meeting would herald the beginning of the talks and as soon as a conference meeting took place thereafter, that would be the end of the talks. That was pressed home not only to this Secretary of State but to previous Secretaries of State. We told them exactly what we meant by a suspension of the working of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. No one could have been in any doubt about it.
It was important for us that there should be a break in the conference meetings specifically for the purpose of the talks. In his speech, the Secretary of State referred to a statement of 26 March, implying—I put it no more strongly than that—that he had specified in that statement the dates within which the talks would take place in Northern Ireland. The text of the statement did not, in fact, give dates; it simply said that there would be a specified period within which the talks would take place and that it would be between conference meetings.
The dates of the conference meetings were set by the two Governments. We never agreed to those dates; indeed, we had no power to suggest what those dates might be. Nevertheless, the scene was clearly set: in the discussions between the two Unionist party leaders and the Secretary of State, it was clearly specified that there would be a period of about 10 weeks in which we could talk about the three strands that made up the overall talks process.
Unfortunately, when the bilateral sessions that were to lead on to the first strand began, we were informed of matters that had to be resolved before strand one plenary sessions could begin. Those matters related not to strand one, but to a later stage of the process. I am sure that the Secretary of State will confirm that, in recent weeks, our advice to him has been that we should have proceeded with strand one and dealt with these matters in the margin of the conference. They were matters that took us quite by surprise. They also took the press by surprise. I recall a press conference given by the Secretary of State in which the right hon. Gentleman attempted to suggest that there was a need for an independent chairman for strand two. The press immediately said, "But we thought you, Secretary of State, were the independent chairman." That is what we thought, too.
There was a delay in the start of the talks process not because we sought or wanted a delay—on the contrary, we wanted to get on with the strand one negotiations. We therefore assumed that the time lost would be added on and that we would still be able to work within the same time period. As I said in an intervention, we have shown our willingness to intensify the process—to put more hours into the day and more days into the week—and we are still willing to do that, as an indicator of our good faith in the process. I rather suspect, however—and perhaps it is better to say it out than to allow others to think it and not say it—that the SDLP and the Government of the Irish Republic fear that the moving of a conference date is in some way an achievement for the Unionists and that there is some bonus to the Unionists in having a conference meeting moved just for the sake of it.
For the record, I make it clear that our only objective is to complete the talks process within the conference meetings and if we could do that in the two or three remaining weeks, we should be delighted. However, practically, I do not believe that it can be done in such a short time. It could just have been done if we added on the time that we would have had if we had the full 10 weeks in which to work.
The Secretary of State will know that some of us believed that the best argument which could have been advanced for the moving of the conference dates would have been that progress had been made. I should have been most happy if there had been no reference, either today or earlier, to the date of conference meetings and to the fact that there was a time limitation. I am convinced that if progress is made in the next few weeks, only a very foolish Government—whether of the United Kingdom or of the Irish Republic—would consider prejudicing the progress that had been made for the sake of what is, to all intents and purposes, an artificial deadline.
During the past seven weeks, the two Government representatives have met each other more than in any other period since the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. They cannot be missing each other because during the past seven weeks they have had every opportunity to be in regular contact. The Unionists recognised before the process began that there could be just cause for the Secretary of State to meet the Foreign Affairs Minister of the Irish Republic. The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) and my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North even said that it could be about security issues. Therefore, the Unionists did not believe that there could be no contact between the two Governments. They recognised that it was possible that the two Governments would need to be in contact, but the key issue was that if such contact occurred, it should not be under the auspices of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
If the Secretary of State believes that there is a pressing issue which burdens him so much that he is prepared to jeopardise the talks process, surely it can be dealt with outside the Anglo-Irish Agreement with the Foreign Affairs Minister of the Irish Republic. The two Unionist leaders have already shown that they are prepared—and I use an Ulster expression—to thole such a meeting in those circumstances, but it should not be held under the auspices of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
I do not believe that a meeting on 16 July is an essential element of political life. The two Governments could do without it. During a week, or even two, three or four weeks, away nothing would have changed so much that the Governments could not then discuss whatever is burdening them so much at the moment.
The Secretary of State and the Minister of State must take on board the concern of the Unionists' representatives. When the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister are in contact with the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic—as I understand that they will be within the next day or so—we urge them to establish whether he was genuine when he said publicly in Dail Eireann that he was prepared to be flexible on the timing of the meeting. His flexibility was recorded in the report of Dail Eireann. We are waiting to see whether that was a genuine statement. The Prime Minister and Secretary of State can also discover whether he was being honest when he said on Radio Telefis Eireann—that is the only Gaelic that he will get out of me this evening—
The Unionists will be surprised at how generous we are going to be.
There is an opportunity for Mr. Haughey to demonstrate his generosity and we will certainly urge and encourage the two Governments to give the full time necessary for the process to continue.
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) spoke of his desire to see the negotiations succeed. I honestly do not believe that any of the Northern Ireland political parties would have gone through the many difficulties if they did not want the process to succeed. It is incumbent on the Secretary of State to make sufficient space to ensure that they have the opportunity to work towards that success.
The issue of security burdens me significantly today. Yesterday evening in my constituency, a young soldier who was a member of the Parachute Regiment, having taken leave to do so, was visiting his fiancée in Nevis avenue off the Holywood road in east Belfast. I am sure that many people in Northern Ireland will be concerned that someone who had been in the Province for a short time should have become the object of attention by the terrorists in the Provisional IRA. It shows a worrying aspect of the intelligence of the terrorist organisations that someone who is in the Province for such a short time can come to their attention.
I know that everyone in the House condemns the action of the gunmen who carried out that attack and who forced their way into the house, held the fiancée at gun point and fired four or five shots into the back of that young man's head in front of his fiancée. There have been many wicked murders in Northern Ireland over the past decades, but few have been carried out in such an evil manner as was that one. I know that the House will support me when I offer my condolences to all in the family circle and especially to the young girl who witnessed such a horrifying act against someone she loved.
Similar incidents to the one that occurred in my constituency last night have occurred in the constituencies of hon. Members in every part of Northern Ireland over the past years. Death and destruction are no new features to the people of Northern Ireland. It is a sad reality which was perhaps underlined in the figures that were given yesterday in Hansard by the Minister of State. Behind each cold statistic is a human story of suffering and anguish.
It is very easy for hon. Members in other parts of the United Kingdom to look at the scenes on television and to recognise and, I know, sympathise with the events in Northern Ireland which are brought home to many of them because some of those who have died have been soldiers from their constituencies who were serving in Northern Ireland. But in Northern Ireland at the moment there is considerable concern because there is a recognisable increase in IRA operations. When the IRA increases its operations, the Government must ensure that the security forces increase their operations as well.
While I have said that I support and will do everything in my power to ensure the success of the talks process, that process will not provide the solution to the death and destruction in Northern Ireland. The people who shot that young soldier in my constituency will not be won over because we agree on political structures or new relationships. They will not be impressed if they see four Northern Ireland political leaders signing a document. They will not throw their guns away if they see that a new relationship has been worked out between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. They will not melt away if we all sign a new British-Irish agreement. They will still be there and they will have to be dealt with. As likely as not, they will increase their violence because there is to be political stability.
That does not mean that stable political structures cannot make a long-term contribution. They can, if those structures contain the means to deal with law and order. With the greatest of respect to those who are responsible for law and order at the moment, local Ulster people who know the situation best and have a vested interest in obtaining peace for their Province will be the best people to deal with law and order issues affecting Northern Ireland.
I urge the Secretary of State to employ a strong and resolute military initiative against terrorism. By all means he should devote his energies to a successful talks process, but he should not do that at the expense of pressing the terrorist. He should not do that at the expense of holding back the security forces in the battle against terrorism. That means that we must hunt and harry the IRA. We must corner and catch the terrorists. When we catch them, we must ensure that the terrorists are given appropriate sentences that fit the crimes that have been committed.
In conclusion, I draw to the attention of the Secretary of State one of the outstanding matters of direct rule that it is within his power to resolve. I am referring to an injustice which must be corrected. As the Secretary of State said last week, he has before him a report from the Chief Constable of the RUC which arises from an investigation into the procedures adopted leading up to the prosecution of four men who, in 1983, were found guilty in the courts of the murder of Adrian Carroll.
Since those men were arrested in Armagh and brought into the Castlereagh station, they have protested their innocence. They were serving in the UDR—a branch of our security forces—on the night in question. We have presented evidence to the Secretary of State which shows that they could not have been at the scene of the murder. The Secretary of State has a responsibility—one that I know he will not dodge—to ensure that that matter is put before the Court of Appeal so that those men can have the right to put their case for a retrial. Given the evidence that is now before him, the right hon. Gentleman should take that step. In considering what he should do and when, I remind him that those men have been in prison for more than seven years for a crime that they did not commit. Surely, therefore, he should act urgently and immediately.