This has been an interesting debate so far. I begin by expressing my thanks to the usual channels and the Government for switching the orders so that the constitutional position of Northern Ireland might be discussed first. The constitutional position is the fundamental basis on which everything else in the Province is built, and it has properly been put first on the Order Paper.
I must confess that when I listened to the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) I began to wonder whether either or both of them would get around to the constitutional position. They talked about everything under the sun except that. Perhaps that is understandable, given the delicate negotiations that are being held at present. Nevertheless, this is a debate on the constitutional position of Northern Ireland, its place in the kingdom and the desire of the House to uphold the will of the people of Northern Ireland to remain part of the kingdom.
The statutory instrument is short and simple; one can read it in a few seconds. It does not appear to say very much, but, of course, the consequences are far-reaching. It is not the first time that we have had such an order before us. It is now 20 years since the Stormont parliamentary system was suspended and replaced by the present temporary system. But then, I believe that income tax was originally a temporary tax-raising system. It has persisted for an awful long time. I hope that, unlike the income tax system under which we currently labour, we shall eventually see the legislation come to an end and we shall not have to come back here year after year.
There are a couple of ways in which the temporary legislation can come to an end. One is to alter the present constitutional position of Northern Ireland by restoring a devolved parliamentary system—whether it is legislative or merely administrative is, for the purpose of the argument, immaterial. The other way is by so-called total integration into the rest of the kingdom. Of course, in either case, this annual jamboree would come to an end. So long as it continues, some people are encouraged in their violent acts. I shall come back to that later.
The order is not just short. It conceals within two lines the denial of democracy, as it is commonly understood and practised in the western world, to the people of Northern Ireland. There is no democratic accountability whatever in the Province. When that is understood, people begin to understand the resentment felt by not only Members of Parliament on these Benches but many people in the Province.
The denial of democracy subsists in the fact that, although we have elections, the people who are elected have no power whatever over the disposal of the revenues expended in Northern Ireland at the highest level of Government and very little power over the disposal of resources at the level of local government, where local finance is raised and expended.
The denial of democracy also subsists in the fact that policies resisted by the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland have been put in place and sustained in an effort to buy off violent people. A great deal of what has been done in Northern Ireland has been an effort to buy off violent people by being nice to them. It did not work when the Danes were raiding not only England but Ireland, and it is not working now. It will never work.
The end result is that the system of government is out of touch with the ordinary men and women in Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State can go out on the streets of Londonderry or any village or town of Northern Ireland and talk to people there, but he is not just an ordinary chap from England. He is the Secretary of State and everyone there knows him as the Secretary of State.
When the Secretary of State makes himself available to his constituents, a different relationship pertains. When he goes to a meeting of his constituency association or holds a surgery, he will come away from such meetings or confrontations with a much clearer idea of what people think than he would ever get from talking to half a dozen folk on the streets of Northern Ireland. It is a different ball game. If the Secretary of State does not come away from meetings in his constituency with a clear idea of what people think, there is something wrong with his constituents. They must choose their words with rather more care than mine do.
The system of government in Northern Ireland is also ineffective. If the Secretary of State denies that, will he be kind enough to lay his hands on the report of yesterday's meeting of the Public Accounts Committee as soon as it is published? A scandalous state of affairs was exhibited to public view at that meeting, principally with regard to the purchase of X-ray equipment in the health service. I should like to believe that, if responsibility for such matters lay in the hands of Northern Ireland people, such scandals simply would not happen. The system of government and administration is ineffective and inefficient and it needs to be replaced. There is no reason why matters such as the purchase of equipment for the health service cannot be under the control of people in Northern Ireland.
The system is also secretive, in that no one in Northern Ireland and certainly no one on this Bench has any detailed knowledge of how, and how much, money is spent in Northern Ireland. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will come back to that point in the debate. Information on where money is spent emerges only when the consequences are seen. Sometimes that can take years; sometimes the information never emerges fully. We are aware of what has happened to money as if we are perceiving it through a mist. That is not acceptable to me and it should not be acceptable to those on either the Government or the Opposition Front Bench. People should know. We should be able to question. A Select Committee on Northern Ireland would perhaps go some way towards enabling us to do so.
When my hon. Friends and I listened to the proceedings of the Public Accounts Committee yesterday, we found it not only interesting but sad. It was sad because there was no Member of Parliament from Northern Ireland on that Committee. A Northern Ireland member of the Committee would have known what matters were to be discussed and could have asked questions of people in Northern Ireland. He might have been able to put even more penetrating questions to those people appearing before the Committee than other Members of Parliament who do not have roots in the community and do not know what goes on in Northern Ireland. Personal detailed knowledge of a constituency is one of the great features of the House of Commons system of government and we should not abandon it in Northern Ireland. A vacuum exists at that level which needs to be filled.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), the leader of our party, has already said that he does not propose to take part in the debate because of the present discussions. Given the delicate nature of what is apparently going on, that is a wise decision. However, the discussions are designed to correct some of the matters that I have touched on in my remarks. I have no detailed knowledge of what is going on, as I am outwith those discussions.
My right hon. Friend is making sedentary remarks again, and they are as amusing as ever.
A team of people have been given responsibility for these matters and are getting on with it. They also know that sooner or later they will have to sell the idea to the Unionist executive—a factor that has to be kept firmly in mind.
I very much regret that you should think that you are being ignored, Madam Deputy Speaker. We have been acquainted since I came to the House and I know better than to cross swords with you because I usually come off second best.
Whenever we, who are outwith the discussions, read the press reports, watch television or listen to radio broadcasts on the subject, it is interesting. I cannot figure out who feeds those things to the media. If it is the Northern Ireland Office press officials, they are to be condemned. If the information being given out by the press and other news media is accurate, it does not square with what has been leaked out by other means and appears in other newspapers. If the information that appears in the press here and in most of the papers printed in Ireland—both north and south—is correct, there is something wrong, as one will know if one keeps an assiduous eye on The Irish Times, which seems to have not leaks but torrents. Until now it has published all, or certainly most, of the initial positions of the parties involved in the talks.
The articles printed in the Irish press and those that have appeared in the rest of the media are so different as to make one wonder who is giving who a steer. If The Irish Times is correct, the innuendo and slant of everyday press reports seem to be so far from reality that one must think that they can be designed only to create mischief, which would do no one in the island of Ireland any good.
I long ago concluded that democratic principles do not have elastic boundaries—a thing is democratic in practice or it is not. A system is either ruled by the people or it is not, and the system in Northern Ireland is not. If some people have their way, it never will be. There seem to be many folk who are opposed to the Union and who are determined to resist the idea of democratic rule and practice to the last ditch.
Democracy cannot be denied to Northern Ireland any more than it can be denied to anywhere else. If the system that is brought into being is not democratic, it will not work; and if it does not work, it will cause greater misery, for it will be proof to some people that politics has failed. If we are to avoid that danger, we must have practical and workable structures, and those can only be democratic. Nothing airy-fairy will do, or will be accepted by the people of Northern Ireland.
The crunch issue in Northern Ireland is not social and economic, as is the issue between the spokesmen on the two Front Benches. In Northern Ireland it has always been a question of which nation we belong to. As far as most of us are concerned, the well-being of our people is tied in every way to the nation to which we belong. The vast majority of us desire to belong to the British nation, we consider ourselves British and we intend to stay that way. Elsewhere in the world when the power and dangers of nationalist feelings were ignored and trodden down, they burst forth again. It is very dangerous to try to tell people that they must either belong or be thrust out of the state of which they are a part. If politicians and civil servants try to bypass the will of the people, that will eventually bring its own reward. We saw that clearly in Denmark a short time ago.
People have an emotional tie to the nation to which they belong and will maintain it. Some folk like to analyse problems; some will analyse until doomsday, but will never reach any conclusions. The problem in Northern Ireland is simple. There is a divided community, but the two sides have much in common. Divided communities are not unusual but are common throughout the world. However, I reject the desire of one side of that community to cling to the idea that they must for ever be separate from the rest of the United Kingdom, in language and culture, thereby making the division within the island of Ireland deeper and more bitter.
I am sorry to see that the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) has left us, as it must be especially galling to him—he has been so much in the lead in seeking ever closer union between the peoples of Europe—to find that he has to represent the separatist culture in Northern Ireland. If the desires for ever closer union expressed by the hon. Member for Foyle, which he promotes so assiduously, ever came to pass, there would not be two communities in Ireland, or a dozen in Europe, as they would all be one. If he is not working towards that end, what is he working towards, because that is the logical conclusion of his European policy?
The Government have been confused and have allowed themselves to follow a tortuous course, which has always seemed to have as its objective the avoidance of any democratic accountability in Ulster. They have been urged down that weary course by people who want a united Ireland. Perhaps we should ask why such a departure from normal democratic principles has been necessary to bring about such an end for Northern Ireland. Surely those who instigated that journey towards a united Ireland, the purveyors of that policy, know that their product is so unsaleable that no one in Ulster who values the British connection will ever purchase it. They would try every possible course of action before they would submit to being submerged in a united Ireland.
We have had tried the concept of power sharing, which is another name for minority rule. We are now presented with the concept of foreign commissioners being selected or elected to run part of the United Kingdom. If that came to pass, it would represent an abdication of responsibility to govern by the Government. Twenty years have passed since the first concept was introduced. The introduction of the second concept now simply confirms that our political opponents know that their product is not very good and that it is not now acceptable, never has been and never will be to the vast majority of the citizens of Northern Ireland. They do not have even the confidence to defend those policies for themselves. They need others to force them down the throats of the unwilling Unionist population in Northern Ireland. That policy has not worked and will not work.
If we are to find a reasonable solution to the problems of Northern Ireland, we must consider the United Kingdom as a whole. We must have the same basic system of government throughout the kingdom, but I accept that the various parts of the kingdom need a large measure of decentralisation from Whitehall. The Whitehall machine has become far too centralised: that belief would be echoed by many people on both sides of the House. We need a basic, sound structure to which to attach, or bolt on, as the Prime Minister said, bits to meet local needs.
There is nothing new in that. The legislation on the Northern Ireland statute book has long been separate, legally, from that of the rest of the kingdom. The Scottish legal system is also different. We have a Welsh Office and a Scottish Office, so we know that it is possible to create systems of administration that are somewhat different and take care of the needs of individual parts of the kingdom. They can and should be created.
On 1 June, the Prime Minister made an interesting speech in Ayr. He set out the clear limits that he would put on such bolt-on structures. I am sure that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has studied that speech carefully, because of the backwash effect it will have on thoughts of what is possible in Northern Ireland. It is clear that the Prime Minister understood that a devolved Parliament would be a disaster if it were led by separatists. He called it
a step half-way across a chasm".
He was right.
Devolution within the United Kingdom will work only if it is run by unionists, who desire to maintain the unity of the kingdom. If it is run by separatists, it will not work. It is bound to create a separate Scotland and a separate Northern Ireland, divide and destroy the kingdom and weaken its voice in the world. The Cabinet is clearly aware of that. The Secretary of State is constrained in what he can do in Northern Ireland because he knows that it must bear comparison with the policy in the rest of the kingdom. That is a fundamental fact of political life and he must learn to live with it, as the rest of us must.
It is strange that the Northern Ireland Office is unique and its policies are so different from those enunciated by the Prime Minister. The Northern Ireland Office is remote from the Prime Minister's control; it was also able to defy the control of his formidable predecessor. It carries on its policies regardless of changes in Government, elections, changes of Prime Minister or damage to the people and society in Northern Ireland. The policy of the Northern Ireland Office is to keep Northern Ireland at arm's length, and as different as possible, from the rest of the United Kingdom. Elected Governments are supposed to make policies and to have the strength and the will to put them into practice. If there are people in the machine who do not want to carry out those policies, it is the duty of Ministers to bring in people who will.
When we look back over the last 22 years, we see a tortuous policy that has kept the constitutional position of Northern Ireland in doubt. That policy is the root cause of violence in our Province. Until the constitutional position of Northern Ireland is put beyond doubt—both in words and in action—the violence will continue. The IRA and its fellow travellers will retain the hope that they will eventually achieve their ends.
Only the Government can make the changes. They know what must be done. The 1979 Conservative Party manifesto recognised what could be done. The Government know what can and must be done now. However, only time will tell whether they have the guts and the capacity to do that or whether the present incumbents in the Northern Ireland Office will fail the people of Ulster as much as their predecessors have done. The Secretary of State knows the score. Let him get on with it.
We have been invited by the Secretary of State to support the renewal of a system that is known as direct rule. No hon. Members thus far have put on record any details about what direct rule entails. If we are to make a qualified judgment and valuation as to whether we should support such a proposition, it might be worth while considering exactly what direct rule means and how it works.
I do not intend to give a detailed critique of the Government's economic strategy in Northern Ireland. To some extent, that was done by the Secretary of State when he underlined the present high unemployment figures. Many of us, including the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross), are aware of the strong criticism that the Public Accounts Committee has made of some of the Northern Ireland Office's work. I suspect that in the debate on the appropriation order there will be further criticism of the fact that tens of millions of pounds have been spent on equipment that has not been used for three years, when it probably has a life of five years only before it needs to be updated. No doubt we shall come to that later.
I do not intend to go into details on the security situation in Northern Ireland. Suffice it to say that more than 3,000 people have been murdered during the period of what is known in Northern Ireland as "the troubles". There is no sign that the Government are grasping the nettle of terrorism or that they have the will to defeat it by taking the necessary steps. The number of people maimed and mutilated in Northern Ireland is now well over 30,000. Those cold statistics of violence trip off the tongue quickly and easily, but each of them represents a real story of anguish and sorrow to families the length and breadth of Northern Ireland.
In a small community of 1.5 million people, with 3,000 people killed and 30,000 maimed and mutilated, few families have not been touched by the hand of terrorism. The failure of the Government to have the necessary resolute security initiative to tackle terrorism is inexplicable to those who have suffered at the hand of the Provisional IRA and their fellow travellers and terrorists on both sides of the community. We recognise that the terrorists are no less able today to continue their acts of terrorism than at any time in the last decade or so.
I wish to consider direct rule in terms of its political impact. When the House deals with legislation for England, Scotland or Wales, hon. Members who are sent here by their constituents have the opportunity of a First and Second Reading and Committee and Report stages of a measure, which then goes to the House of Lords, where a similar procedure takes place, and the measure may return here with amendments made in the other place. When we in Northern Ireland deal with such matters, by and large we deal with them through Orders in Council and we have the privilege of one debate, which in most cases lasts for an hour and a half.
When hon. Members who represent other parts of the kingdom deal with legislation, they can table amendments and hope to have them debated. Not so when we deal with Orders in Council. We are not permitted to amend legislation affecting important facets of life in Northern Ireland. We must take it or leave it. With a secure Government majority, that means that we must take it as presented by the Government.
In such circumstances, no real attempt is made, when we are presented with such legislation, to provide changes that would suit the people of Northern Ireland. Indeed, there is ample evidence to show that on many occasions when all the parties in Northern Ireland represented here have been opposed to legislation, the Government have thought that they knew better and proceeded with that legislation.
So we have an unrepresentative system. It is undemocratic and inefficient. If it is all of that when we are dealing with legislative matters, it is just as much that when we are dealing with Executive and administrative matters. While in every other part of the kingdom, locally elected representatives in local government on the mainland have the power to deal with matters concerning education, health, housing, planning and so on, in Northern Ireland that is not the case. There, local government does not have any of those responsibilities. Local government representatives in Northern Ireland can deal with technical services —such as choosing the day when the bins shall be emptied —with the burial of the dead and with community centres and recreational facilities, but that is the sum total of the powers of local government in Northern Ireland.
We are being asked to endorse that system. The Secretary of State presents that system to the House and asks for support. It is not a system of government that any elected representative from Northern Ireland believes is satisfactory. When other parts of the United Kingdom want to deal with issues such as health, education or trade and industry, there is a Select Committee where such issues can be dealt with in great detail. Does Northern Ireland not deserve a Select Committee? Does it not have as much right as other parts of the kingdom to handle detailed consideration of such issues? We do not have those opportunities in the House. So direct rule is not a satisfactory system of government. As the Secretary of State knows—because I have been boring him and his colleagues for the last seven weeks—I believe in devolution for Northern Ireland. Power should be delegated to its elected representatives. That would be the best way of having local flavour in Northern Ireland legislation. It would involve using properly the knowledge of those elected directly by the people of Northern Ireland. They would have more say in decisions affecting Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) referred to the Prime Minister's speech in Ayr. I had the privilege of being there when that speech was made. In it, my right hon. Friend demonstrated the effects of devolution on the future of Scotland and the suggestion of it being one step towards removing Scotland from the United Kingdom. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that devolution would be right for Northern Ireland? I warn him that it would be one step towards what I feel sure he does not want, which is the separation of Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom.
In my view, every Conservative Member believes that Northern Ireland should be totally integrated into the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman's suggestion—
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention. He will appreciate that in addition to making those remarks in Scotland, the Prime Minister referred to proportional representation during the election campaign as "Paddy's roundabout". Yet the Government perpetuate that system in Northern Ireland for elections to local government and, indeed, to assembly elections. So there seem to be double standards, not only in terms of devolution but in terms of representation from the point of view of the franchise.
Devolution is not new to Northern Ireland. We had it before and it was successful. I suspect that those who lived through the old Stormont Parliament, even from a nationalist's standpoint, recognise that it was more accountable to the people of Northern Ireland than under what we know as direct rule. The devolution that we had in Northern Ireland did not endanger the Union. Northern Ireland was as much a part of the United Kingdom as any other part.
I do not accept that every part of the United Kingdom must be dealt with in exactly the same way. Northern Ireland should not be dealt with in any less satisfactory a way than other parts. The remoteness of Northern Ireland from the centre of Government in the United Kingdom makes it essential that there is a form of devolution in Northern Ireland, with regional government for the Province in Ulster. The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) need not worry greatly about the possibility of devolution in Scotland leading to separation. If I were allowed to go further, I would suggest to him that probably the reverse is true. Failure to have devolution in Scotland may lead to separation, and the future may reveal that to many hon. Members.
As for the relationship between direct rule and Northern Ireland, for the reasons I have stated, we need accountability in government in Northern Ireland. We need people who are answerable to the electorate there taking the day-to-day decisions. For those reasons, the talks process is vital, and that is why my party is committed to it, recognising that Northern Ireland should remain an integral part of, and have a close relationship with, every part of the United Kingdom. Indeed, in the context of devolution—perhaps devolution throughout the United Kingdom—it may be particularly important that the talks process takes account of what happens in other parts of the kingdom.
I suggest to the Secretary of State that no Unionist representing a Northern Ireland constituency would walk enthusiastically through the Lobbies to support the renewal of direct rule. The Secretary of State did not tell the House that we are doing more than simply endorsing the renewal of direct rule. Another piece of paper goes to the heart of how decisions are taken in Northern Ireland but does not come up for endorsement by the House, despite the fact that it is part of the Government's programme in Northern Ireland. Obviously, I refer to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Direct rule permits the Government of the Irish Republic, through that agreement, to have a role in Northern Ireland greater than that exercised by any elected representative from Northern Ireland. The Anglo-Irish Agreement can be given life because of direct rule. It is one of the main reasons why Union representatives participate in the talks process with such enthusiasm.
Therefore, the only message that I can give the Secretary of State tonight is that there is no enthusiasm on these Benches for direct rule or its renewal. Like the Opposition spokesman, I trust that this is the last time that we shall have a renewal debate. I want a permanent solution to the problems that have beset Northern Ireland. I want structures of government to be set up, which the people of Northern Ireland can support. in which their elected representatives can take part. and which will bring confidence to the whole community.
The Secretary of State said that he would say little about the matters going on in the talks process and both he and the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) spoke about confidentiality. As a talks participant, I am bound by the same rule. However, I can tell the House that my colleagues and I are totally committed to that process and to doing everything within our power to ensure that it works. We are also committed to the people of Northern Ireland, and we say to them that our participation in that process is consistent with the principles that we share with them: that Northern Ireland is and will remain an integral part of the United Kingdom.
Like many Northern Ireland Members, I am circumscribed by the confidentiality to which the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) referred in terms of the Anglo-Irish talks. However, it would be permissible to say that the people of Northern Ireland, from whichever part of the community they come, earnestly desire a fruitful conclusion to those talks. They strive for a resolution to our problems, which will give them, first, peace in their communities and homes and, secondly, an opportunity to strive a little further and faster in economic and social recovery. That is why so much rests on the participating parties and Governments in all three strands of the talks in which we are now engaged.
It would not be appropriate for me to discuss the detail of the talks in respect of the concept of direct rule. It is paradoxical that we are not allowed to address the subject matter of the debate. However, I can rebut some of the comments made in the debate. One of the problems in dealing with the situation is that people do not look at the problem before dealing with the solution. The remarks of the hon. Member for Derry, East (Mr. Ross) show that there is still a blinkered vision, at least in some quarters, of the problem before us.
To suggest that, in the present context of deaths and injuries referred to by the hon. Member for Belfast, East, the history of the past 50 years and 20 years respectively amounts to the same problem as that experienced by Wales, Scotland or England is simply to deny the existing position.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that substantial nationalist movements exist in Wales and Scotland, as well as in Northern Ireland. The only factor distinguishing Northern Ireland from them is the fact that some nationalists in Northern Ireland resort to violence.
The hon. Gentleman does not do justice to history, which I know that he is well aware of. I shall not go into the historical causes of Northern Ireland's problems and the division that was imposed by force in the 1920s when Ireland was partitioned, creating the concept that force has its own success. For that reason, some people to this day take sustenance from the mistaken belief that force can achieve political change. I hope that we are in the process of illustrating clearly that that is not so.
I do not wish to be drawn aside at this sensitive moment in the talks, but history as it is written in books shows clearly that the force and the threat of force were major factors in the settlements of the early 1920s.
With reference to the point made by the hon. Gentleman who made the previous interjection, is he suggesting that, if the rising had not taken place in 1916, the Republic of Ireland would still be an integral part of Britain? If so, he is not considering the progression that has taken place within Ireland, Europe and many other parts of the world.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention on an intervention. On constituency names, I have been surreptitiously successful in changing Hansard to record my constituency not as "Down South" but as "South Down" for obvious reasons. It is strange that the hon. Gentleman did not refer to the 50 years before the 20 years. It is the tradition of his party and may, for all I know, be his ambition on behalf of his party today, to re-establish a totally separatist, devolved Stormont Government. Again, if he examines history on that subject, he will find that it could not survive because of the manner and means of its administration.
I have strayed into constitutional matters, which I had hoped to avoid. I must return to the Secretary of State's comments on the stewardship of the Northern Ireland Office during the past year, although he can take the credit or blame for only about 25 per cent. of that year—the tenure of his office. He said that he would like to secure a just society for the people of Northern Ireland, and I shall comment on that aspect of the stewardship as distinct from the constitutional one.
The Secretary of State said that the economy was resilient and that business confidence—inspired by the possible and long-forecast economic recovery—meant that the economy was ready to spring forward. I refer him to the conclusions of a recent report of the Department's Northern Ireland economic council which gives one of its most depressing economic forecasts of the past three years. There seems to be some contradiction between the Government's interpretation of the economy and that of the Northern Ireland economic council.
Anyone considering that report, the lack of job creation results achieved by the industrial development board and its sister organisation, the Local Enterprise Development Unit, would become despondent about where the Northern Ireland economy is heading. Many of us are disturbed and perturbed about the IDB's change of objective away from targets towards the more nebulous sectors of marketing, research and promotion which, while good and proper in themselves, will not provide signs of the efficiency and worthiness of the enterprise. I hope that, in the ensuing months, the Secretary of State and the Minister responsible for economic development will address that problem.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) referred to fair employment and job opportunities. Many press reports have appeared during the past couple of weeks on the eastern health board and, more recently, about Queen's university and the can of worms that is opening there. In his wind-up speech, will the Minister of State say in what way, how often and against whom—in both the private and public sectors—the penalties of the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1989 have been used? In how many cases have Government Departments taken action against firms and boards in the public and private sector?
I cannot join the hon. Gentleman in his condemnation, as it is based on a false premise. If he wishes, he can ask the Fair Employment Commission to report on that issue. He would then find that he would have to withdraw his accusation. I well remember that there was opposition from Unionists to the concept of fair employment. There is an old saying in my constituency that one should not hide behind the bush and shake it at the same time. It seems strange for people who opposed and condemned fair employment legislation to complain that there are no weapons to defend it. Will the Minister of State tell us what action the Government have taken to deal with people and organisations who have been found guilty, particularly as appointments to some of the bodies and boards mentioned are made by Government Departments?
Health boards have recently made some catastrophic announcements. I shall parochialise the debate and draw on my experiences in South Down. In the past few months three homes have closed: St. Leonard's at Warrenpoint, and Mourne House and Navan House in Newcastle. The Cowan-Heron hospital at Banbridge has also closed, and it is proposed to close the Nidurne hospital in Kilkeel and the Downe hospital in Downpatrick. That will mean that every hospital facility in the constituency of approximately 750 square miles of mountainous terrain will be closed, as will the old people's residential homes to which I referred.
If that is how the Government intend to secure a just society in Northern Ireland in terms of equity of treatment, opportunity and availability of health resources, God help the rest of us. I appreciate that the Northern Ireland Ministers present today have not been in their positions for long, and the policies may be a hasty translation of civil service intent.
I am sure that it was merely a slip of the tongue by the hon. Gentleman, but I must correct him. Cowan-Heron hospital is in Dromore in his constituency, which underlines the difficulties. While there is still currently a hospital in Banbridge in my constituency, which is adjacent to his, there are ominous signs that it may face severe cuts or even be closed in the near future. That would aggravate his constituents' problems.
On this occasion, I can thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and support, and I take note of what he says about the two hospitals at Banbridge and Dromore. However, the concept is the same—a pattern of closure.
The hon. Member for Belfast, East referred to the imposition of the English health and social security regime by way of Order in Council. Implanting that system in Northern Ireland, and translating the education order—without a letter of it being changed—into an entirely different system—will reduce the effectiveness of the education system in Northern Ireland. Will the Secretary of State and the Minister ponder whether such activities are the result of financial constraints or a dogmatic translation of party philosophy? If those developments are the result of financial restrictions, we know where the answer might lie. If they are the result of party dogma, the policies must be adapted so that they suit the requirements of Northern Ireland.
I hope that the process on which we are now engaged will bring us together to address those issues. At either departmental or ministerial level, the policies seem to diminish the quality of life and the opportunities available to the people of Northern Ireland. If that is what direct rule means for the future, the people of Northern Ireland are in for a lean time.
I am happy to say that, since the point when the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) intervened in the Secretary of State's speech to point out how few Members were present, there has been a slight increase in numbers in the Chamber. I could not help thinking at the time, however, that, although the Secretary of State had announced that he was using this speech to give an account of the way in which direct rule had operated over the past year, the absence of interest in the Chamber stemmed from the fact that he was not giving a proper account of direct rule. This is not a true exercise in accountability; it is merely a ritual which offers pretence accountability.
If there were true accountability, that would be shown at the Northern Ireland Office in the same way as it is shown at other Departments: the proper Committee system of the House would be used to subject the Northern Ireland Office to scrutiny. That does not happen. To pretend that a short speech delivered to empty green Benches is an exercise in accountability is to insult the intelligence.
A few months ago we marked the 20th anniversary of direct rule. It was introduced in 1972 in an Act whose title included the words "Temporary Provisions." I refer to the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act 1972. Those temporary provisions have lasted 20 years.
When the then Administration decided in 1972 to suspend the Northern Ireland Parliament and to take direct control of affairs there, they did not need to put in place arrangements for direct rule. It was necessary only to suspend the Northern Ireland Parliament. The Parliament came into operation in 1921. Before then the affairs of Northern Ireland were treated in this House in exactly the same way as those of any other part of the United Kingdom—and so they had been ever since this Parliament was created. Since the creation of this Parliament in 1801 right through to 1921, the United Kingdom operated, generally speaking, as one political unit and the affairs of its constituent parts were handled in the same way.
Legislation meant proper legislation—the introduction of a Bill, First Reading, Second Reading, Committee and so on. That was what primary legislation meant, and matters were handled thus with no problems or difficulties between 1801 and 1921.
Between 1921 and 1972, Northern Ireland was granted devolution. The Conservative Administration wanted to terminate this form of devolution, however, and to achieve that they needed only to suspend the Northern Ireland Parliament and the status quo ante would be restored—legislation would be passed in the usual way, Ministers would be appointed in the usual way and there would be, one hoped, the usual accountability.
In 1972, the then Administration, followed by every successive one, took a deliberate decision to disapply normality so as to ensure that normal procedures were not followed. They did so by instituting for the first time in 1972 and thereafter renewing every year since the system that we call direct rule. The Secretary of State referred to this as an inherent indignity, which is putting it mildly. The indignity is inherent in direct rule, not in the circumstances that obtained in Northern Ireland before 1972. The indignity was created for the first time in 1972 as a deliberate act of the then Government and it has been repeated by every Government since—subjecting the people of Northern Ireland to a continuing indignity. So the apologies of the Secretary of State carry no weight with anyone familiar with the situation.
What is happening is misrepresented elsewhere, too. Like other Members, I cannot comment directly on the discussions taking place elsewhere, but I want to say one thing about those talks. I refer to an editorial in The Times on Monday this week. It was a curious piece, replete with inaccuracies:
Fifteen years of direct rule are widely regarded in Northern Ireland as having been, on balance, a good thing.
There are two obvious errors in that statement. There have been 20, not 15, such years, and direct rule is not widely regarded as a good thing. One wonders what the editorial's source of information was.
The editorial goes on to say:
direct rule has left intransigence more entrenched, local politics swamped by gang war … Direct rule has driven communal leadership away from politics, leaving extremists to rule the petty baronies granted them by direct rule. Public money has been spent as nowhere else in the United Kingdom".
The hon. Gentleman has referred to the confidentiality of the discussions to which I and all the other Members are adhering. What would he think of anyone involved in confidential discussions who, during those discussions, met leaders of paramilitary organisations to keep them informed of what was happening at the talks?
I would not approve of that. I confess that I am puzzled by the hon. Gentleman's question. I am not aware of any such contacts with paramilitary leaders, but if the hon. Gentleman is, I should be grateful if he would tell me what they are. I am happy to give way to him for that purpose.
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) has certainly caused a great deal of confusion in our minds. It seems that he is perfectly sure who has been meeting paramilitary organisations. He is free in this House to make the names public; he cannot be sued outside even if he makes an inaccurate statement. Giving the names would allow those whom he is accusing by innuendo a chance to reply.
I entirely agree. The hon. Gentleman's comments have understandably caused a great deal of muttered bemusement. He has hinted at improper conduct by members of my party—I am sure, wrongly. Later he suggested that the matter was connected with the Secretary of State.
Mr. John D. Taylor:
A serious smear has been cast on the Floor of the House to the effect that one of the members of one of the delegations to the inter-party talks at Stormont has been confiding details of the talks to a paramilitary organisation. The only Member of this House to have had contacts before with paramilitary organisations is the leader of the party of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon)—the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), who met Sinn Fein before the inter-party talks commenced. It is an even more serious matter if someone participating in the talks is passing secrets to paramilitary organisations.
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) said that the Secretary of State knows which member of which delegation is revealing the secrets to the paramilitaries. Will the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) ask the Minister who is to reply to the debate to reveal the name that the Secretary of State apparently has?
I thank my right hon. Friend. I have already said that I should like whoever replies to the debate to touch on that matter. I have also given the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) opportunities to substantiate the hints that he has dropped. I was prepared to give way to him on that point earlier, and I am prepared to give way to him now.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is easy for someone to come to the House and question the integrity of a number of other hon. Members or persons connected with the talks? If such a Member does not name the person or withdraw the allegation, does the hon. Gentleman agree that that puts a question mark in the minds of a number of other hon. Members about the integrity of the person concerned? As the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) has brought the Secretary of State into the matter, does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the Ministers on the Front Bench should draw the matter to the Secretary of State's attention so that he can return to the House and make a statement? A serious question mark has been placed over the integrity of a number of hon. Members.
I am sure that my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) will take your comments, Madam Deputy Speaker, to heart. But their interventions were justified, if only to underline the seriousness of what has just happened and the reluctance of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh to speak further on the subject.
When the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh intervened, I was quoting from an editorial in The Times, which said:
Direct rule has driven communal leadership away from politics, leaving extremists to rule the petty baronies granted them by direct rule".
That is a curious sentence. There are petty baronies that operate with indirect rule and there are people who rule over petty baronies. The implication of the editorial and the way in which it is expressed is that they are extremists. They are not defined, but the earlier sentence referring to gang war might lead one to think that they were members of paramilitary organisations or other bodies. Some areas are effectively dominated by terrorist organisations, but I suppose that Ministers would say that it is not their policy to encourage those organisations.
Is it possible that, despite that juxtaposition, "petty baronies" might be a reference to the elaborate growth of quangos which are unaccountable to the House or anybody else?
Precisely. My hon. Friend anticipates the point that I was about to make. The petty baronies that are flourishing under direct rule—they exist under direct rule and are nourished by it—to which the large sums of public expenditure to which we have referred are granted are unaccountable bodies, quangos, creatures of the Northern Ireland Office, operating in an unacceptable manner and free from any proper accountability within the House or to the House. It is towards them that criticism should be directed.
I shall not refer further to the comments in the editorial on the inter-party talks because, as we said earlier, those matters should be regarded as confidential, but I could not help but notice that, in The Times on the same day, Monday 15 June, its Northern Ireland correspondent, three times—once on the front page and twice on an inside page—said that the discussions that would take place in the afternoon of the next day were the first occasion since 1914 that there had been talks between unionist and nationalist leaders. Some of my hon. Friends are laughing, and well they might.
To say that there were no such talks after 1914 is to display a lamentable lack of knowledge about what has happened in the time in between; to ignore the discussions that took place in 1921 and 1922, particularly the Craig-Collins pact; to ignore the treaty of 1925 negotiated between north and south; to ignore the ministerial meetings that took place afterwards; to ignore the numerous meetings that took place from 1926 until the late 1960s at official level on a range of matters; and even, although it is not a matter of particular pride to me and my colleagues, to ignore the participation of some unionists in the Sunningdale talks in 1973.
That is the quality of the information available to readers of a paper of record. I can assure them that the other comments in the paper on the inter-party talks, in so far as they touch on matters of which I have knowledge, are wrong. I shall say no more about that.
In the equivalent debate last year on 20 June, when I touched on certain matters, the then Minister of State, the hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney), said that he had no doubt that I would return to those matters. He was right: I shall. The points that I wish to develop relate to another aspect of the inherent indignity of direct rule.
The argument which I developed last year and which I want to place before the House this year is that the direct rule procedures in Northern Ireland are not just offensive, an insult and an indignity, but also contrary to the United Kingdom's obligations under international law and a breach of the United Nations covenant on the protection of civil and political rights and other matters.
On that occasion, I referred to article 25 of the United Nations covenant on civil and political rights, which
Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in Article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions:
I am not sure that I accepted the premise of his argument because all citizens of Northern Ireland enjoy the right to elect representatives at local and parliamentary levels and themselves to stand for election."—[Official Report, 20 June 1991; Vol. 193, c. 573.]That is a correct and fair point to make. But it is pertinent only to article 25(b), whereas for the purpose of my argument the crucial provision is paragraph (a), which says:
take part in the conduct of public affairs.Other international human rights documents contain equivalent provisions and spell out a little more what is meant by the phrase "public affairs." For example, in the American declaration on rights and duties, clause 20 says:
Every person having legal capacity is entitled to participate in the government of his country, directly or through his representatives".The African declaration of rights includes exactly the same phrase:
the right to freely participate in the government of his country".I think that the reference to public affairs implies not only the opportunity to be elected to a body, but to effective participation in governmental organisations.
Article 25 of the international covenant on civil and political rights uses the words
without any of the distinctions mentioned in Article 2".
Clause 1 of article 2 states:
Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to 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.
The point is reinforced by article 3, which states:
The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all civil and political rights set forth in the present Covenant.
Article 2 mentions various distinctions—those of race, colour and sex. We are familiar with those distinctions in the context of anti-discrimination legislation; legislation
exists in part of the United Kingdom in regard to all of them. However, the article also mentions national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Surely there can be no doubt that to treat Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland differently in respect of civil and political rights is to fall foul of the anti-discrimination provision in the article.
There may be some argument about the precise definition of, for instance, "national … status" or "other status"; there may also be some argument about whether the United Kingdom contains several different nations. Nevertheless, it is clear to me that to provide different rights—lesser rights—for those in one part of the United Kingdom constitutes a breach of the anti-discrimination provision in the covenant. Linking article 2 with article 25, which relates to the opportunity to take part in public affairs or to participate in government, provides clear evidence that discrimination against part of the United Kingdom in that regard constitutes such a breach.
When I raised the matter in the House a year ago. the hon. Member for Peterborough—then Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office—responded briefly in his winding-up speech. Some time later, however, on 27 September 1991, the then Secretary of State gave a slightly fuller response in an interview in The Irish Times. The interviewer had contrasted the Government's position on devolution for Northern Ireland—which they had advocated—with their opposition to Scottish devolution, and had happened to mention my name. That seemed to trigger off a slightly different response from the Secretary of State. Rather than answering the question about the contrast in the Government's two attitudes to devolution, he said:
I hesitate to cross swords with a distinguished academic … but my recollection of 1886 and the crisis in the Liberal Party when Mr. Gladstone brought forward the proposals relating to Home Rule included observations by a very distinguished constitutional lawyer who was strongly opposed to the principle of Home Rule and indeed took a High Tory position on it, but who did acknowledge as a constitutional lawyer that there was nothing about the constitution of the United Kingdom which required the manner in which the different parts of the kingdom are governed to be universal.
That of course, was a reference to Mr. Dicey.
A number of responses can be made to that. First. we are living not in 1886 but in 1992, and the United Nations covenants on international and human rights to which I have referred post date 1886. Secondly, I am not arguing for absolute uniformity; it is reasonable to expect variations. There must be some leeway, but the question is, how far can that leeway go?
In the United Kingdom, as in other countries, there are various systems of local government. England and Wales have a system that involves district councils, county councils and so on; Scotland has a system of regional councils. There are slight differences between English and Scottish local government. The differences, however, are matters of administrative convenience; they are not fundamental to the system. I doubt whether the differences between English and Welsh local government and Scottish local government can be seen as depriving people of an opportunity to participate in public affairs or in government.
But what if there were no local government? What if it were decided to abolish local government in part of the United Kingdom so that county councils, district councils, parish councils and the like no longer existed? Would that be regarded as a breach of the articles? I think that it would. That is virtually the position in Northern Ireland. There are bodies there called district councils, but, as we all know, they have no real function. Effectively, Northern Ireland has no local government.
A good analogy is the Potemkin village. In Tsarist Russia, when the Tsar was visiting certain areas, the local administrators would build facades of villages to convince him that everything was all right: they looked fine on the outside, but the reality was somewhat different. Similarly, the Northern Ireland district council structure boasts marvellous buildings, and some roads—I shall not describe them as marvellous. Behind that facade, however, there is nothing; there is a complete absence of opportunity for participation in public affairs or government. That, surely, is a breach of the covenants to which I have referred.
The same applies to law-making functions. Hon. Members have mentioned the indignities of the Order-in-Council procedure, which deprives us of an opportunity to participate meaningfully in the way in which legislation is enacted. Again, it could be said that the empty green Benches in the Chamber reinforce the view that this particular law-making function—such as it is—is a ritual event.
What I have said does not apply only to modern international law. We are part of the United Kingdom; surely that very phrase must imply a single entity, with the same rights running through it. The principle was there, although perhaps not very clearly expressed, even in the treaty and the Acts of Union produced in 1800. Article 6 touched on what was a major point at that time—the principle that, in any treaties dealing with matters of trade, Ireland would be treated in the same way as Great Britain. Even the Act of Union included an obligation to treat all parts of the kingdom on an equal footing—limited to trade in article 6, but endorsing the principle that I am addressing: the principle of uniformity on, at least, core citizenship rights.
In a sense, it is in the treaty of European union. It tries to define the citizenship rights that would attach to the new European state—if it should come into existence, but that is another matter. The fact that the states involved felt that the treaty should specify the rights that attach to citizenship reinforces the point that certain core citizenship rights should exist throughout the Union.
I welcome the comments made about race relations legislation by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). He is right in saying that there should be protection for the civil rights of persons of different races residing in Northern Ireland. There may not be many of them, but the quality of one's rights should not depend on numbers. It should be the same whether it is a handful of people in Northern Ireland or thousands in England.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North also referred to employment. To correct comments that have been made elsewhere, let me say that we do not oppose, and have never opposed, the concept of equality of opportunity. I am glad that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North used the phrase "equality of opportunity". We are complaining about the way in which that concept is being applied by a particular quango in Northern Ireland.
Criticism has been made of my former employer, Queen's university, Belfast. It is not perfect and I will not say that it was incapable of discriminating. In fact, I was a victim of discrimination on the ground of religion and political opinion. On that occasion I approached the chairman of the Fair Employment Commission to discuss the matter. I was left in no doubt that, if I attempted to pursue the case through him, I would be unsuccessful.
There is a distinction to be drawn between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome. Equality of opportunity is consistent with fair employment legislation. To try to compel equality of outcome in every different place of employment and at every different level in Northern Ireland is foolish and unlawful. The Secretary of State is nodding his head. If he is agreeing with me, I hope that he will speak to the chairman of the Fair Employment Commission, because equality of outcome in every different place of employment in Northern Ireland is the declared policy of that quango. It is not consistent with the legislation or with good sense. To use the words that the Home Secretary used on a previous occasion, it will be damaging, dangerous and difficult.
I touch on those points because we are dealing with the concept of core citizenship rights that should include freedom from discrimination on racial and other grounds. Any concept of core citizenship rights must have at its centre the right to participate in the political process in a realistic way. The direct rule system denies that to us. Direct rule is an indignity, an insult, a breach of the United Kingdom's obligations under international law and worse. As I said at the outset, in 1972 it was not necessary for Her Majesty's Government to impose direct rule. Suspending Stormont, in the absence of any other provision, would merely have involved a reversion to the status quo before 1921. No additional legislation was necessary. The normal position with regard to legislation and administration would simply have swung into place.
Instead, the Government decided to introduce a system that kept the affairs of Northern Ireland at arm's length. That deliberate decision nto to treat Northern Ireland as a genuine part of the kingdom sent a signal to others that Her Majesty's Government were, in some respects, qualifying their attitude to the Union and the rights of the people of Northern Ireland.
I remind the hon. Gentleman that earlier in his remarks he gave way to the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon). In that intervention there was the clear implication that some delegate in the talks process had been divulging confidential information to paramilitaries during a meeting that he or she may have had with those paramilitaries. When the hon. Gentleman challenged the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh, he invited him to ask the Secretary of State. May I ask the hon. Gentleman to do that?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, because it again draws the Secretary of State's attention to the issue and reinforces and underlines to the Minister who will be replying that we expect this matter to be touched on so that that slur can be refuted. It is untrue of myself, and I am sure that it is untrue of my colleagues. I wonder whether the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh was referring to his colleagues or other persons who are not present today but who are part of the talks process. All those persons deserve to have that slur removed from them.
By keeping the citizens of Northern Ireland separate, direct rule was carrying a signal to various people. This Tuesday was the birthday of a distinguished colleague who was active in the House for many years. I am referring to the former Member for South Down, the right hon. J. Enoch Powell. I remember vividly, a year or two ago, watching BBC's "Question Time" in which Mr. Powell was taking part. A member of the audience asked him when he thought that the violence in Northern Ireland would end. As quick as a flash, Mr. Powell said, "It will end when the British Government stop encouraging it." There was a gasp from some members of the audience, who did not appreciate the force or accuracy of his comment.
Mr. Powell was perfectly correct. Before violence can end, it will be necessary for Her Majesty's Government to stop encouraging it. They are encouraging violence because they repeatedly send to others, including terrorist organisations, the signal that the position of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom is qualified and conditional and may change. That is an encouragement to those persons to believe that by their violence they may achieve what they would call progress. If we are to see that violence end, a significant step—it may not be complete —would be to end that signal by ending direct rule.
My next point goes back to comments made in 1986. It sums up the quality of democracy available to the people of Northern Ireland. In an interview broadcast to the electorate of Northern Ireland on the eve of the by-election referendum that my hon. Friends had organised on the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the then Minister of State said:
It doesn't matter how you vote, it won't make any difference.
As I have said, that was an accurate description of the quality of democracy. People who wish the ballot box to triumph over the bomb and bullet must ensure that voting enables elected people to play a genuine part in public affairs. That requires the ending of direct rule.
The main political parties in the Republic of Ireland—Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Irish Labour—contested the last local elections in County Cavan. For the first time, there were candidates with another title—the pothole candidates. Not surprisingly in Irish politics, they topped the poll and won the seats. The person responsible for potholes in Northern Ireland is the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland; he is charged with the responsibility of checking potholes and ensuring that they are filled and repaired. That is direct rule in practice, and one day my constituents will bring to my attention the various potholes in my constituency and I will have to table a series of questions to the Secretary of State asking when he intends to fill them in.
The Secretary of State knows as well as I do that that is a ridiculous situation. It was outlined in greater detail by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), who identified the nonsense of the direct rule system. The people of Northern Ireland have no say in the main public decision-making process and in decisions affecting planning, housing and most aspects of local government such as health and education. Yet those things could be achieved if the Government had the will to introduce them in Northern Ireland.
Devolution is not necessary to give people democratic powers over planning, health, schools, roads, sewage and water supply. After all, there is no devolution in Scotland or Wales, but people there have control over those issues. There is no logical reason why such elementary matters are withheld from people in Northern Ireland.
One reason why it does not happen is the inconsistency within the Conservative party and the Government on matters affecting the government and administration of the various parts of the United Kingdom. The Government recommend inter-party talks in Northern Ireland to get an agreed solution to the next system of administration and government of that part of the United Kingdom. That, apparently, is the policy of the Conservative party; yet in Scotland it boycotts and campaigns against inter-party talks on the future administration of Scotland. The inconsistency in Conservative policy in Scotland and Northern Ireland stands for everyone to see.
Conservative candidates stood for the first time in the most recent United Kingdom election. They campaigned against devolution, yet the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke), proposed a policy for inter-party talks. It was noticeable that he spent only 20 minutes campaigning for those Conservative candidates. His absence had an effect, because those candidates made little progress in the election. If the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland had advocated the same policy as Conservative candidates, the people of Northern Ireland would have had more respect for the Government.
It is not good enough to say that it is for the people or parties of Northern Ireland to reach a decision on how and when they will be ruled and governed. The Government also have a responsibility, but for 21 years all Governments have shirked it. The Government must remove all doubts about the status of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom. It is not good enough for the Secretary of State to say, "Our position on Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom is well known and I need not repeat it," only to imply in his next few sentences that it is much the same as his attitude to Scotland, Wales and England. We know that that is not so, and it is misleading the House to say so. There is always a condition in the Secretary of State's support—and, in fairness, in that of his predecessors—for Northern Ireland's position within the United Kingdom, which does not apply to Scotland or Wales: that Northern Ireland should remain a part of the United Kingdom as long as that is the wish of its people.
The Prime Minister talks about how he will fight to strengthen and support the union between England and Scotland, but he has not yet said that he will work to support and strengthen the union between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. We need new consistency in Conservative party policy on the union and on how the different parts of it will be administered and governed.
The Secretary of State said that he was here to give an annual report—a bit like a school report—on how the Government had administered Northern Ireland under direct rule. Direct-rule Ministers have a difficult job. At a personal level, they are very welcome, but at a political level they represent a system of government that is offensive to the people of Northern Ireland. They are not elected by the people of Northern Ireland, nor are they answerable to them for their decisions. Scottish Office Ministers are elected by the people of Scotland and are answerable to them for their decisions, but that is not so in Northern Ireland. The people of Northern Ireland must be involved in the administration of that part of the United Kingdom.
The Secretary of State referred to transport systems and mentioned the improvement in the rail system between Belfast and Dublin. One welcomes any improvement in transport systems in the island of Ireland and the British Isles, but we must get our transport priorities right. A political decision has been made by Conservative Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office to concentrate moneys on road and rail systems from Belfast to Dublin, at the expense of our main transport systems to Great Britain. In the past few years, schemes to Larne and around the city of Belfast have been dropped and money has been reallocated to the road to Dublin. That, of course, has taken place since the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
The Secretary of State, in an attempt to support his programme of improving the transport systems to Dublin, referred to the support that he was receiving from business and industry. But only 5 per cent. of Ulster business goes to the Republic of Ireland; 95 per cent. of our trade goes elsewhere, and the routes that that trade uses should be getting the priority attention of the Secretary of State. He should concentrate on the routes to Larne and from Belfast to Great Britain and actively work with the Scottish Office to improve the transport systems on the west coast of Scotland. That is where 90 per cent. of people want the routes improved, and those are the priorities on which the Secretary of State should concentrate rather than merely bringing into practice the Anglo-Irish Agreement and its preference for routes to Dublin.
One of the uses of the Anglo-Irish parliamentary body is that we could make a study of the transport issue. Although 90 per cent. of the trade comes from Northern Ireland, how much trade comes from the Republic via Belfast and Larne because of Government investment in those ports? The answer is, a great deal.
That is an important point, with which I agree. I believe that about 30 per cent. of the loads of the ferries from Lame to Scotland is now taken up by trade and business from the Republic of Ireland.
As I said, we want improvements in road and rail structures, but not just those from Belfast to Dublin. We want the Secretary of State to concentrate on the links to Larne and to make the No. 1 priority the improvement of the road and rail systems on the west coast of Scotland. Only then will the natural option of Northern Ireland industry and of southern Irish industry to use those routes be properly dealt with.
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) referred to the present talks at Stormont. We all read The Irish Times every day to see what is happening at those confidential talks and, of course, the reports are of interest. We congratulate those who are contributing their time and effort to try to reach some accommodation in Northern Ireland and we wish them well in their work. Suffice to say at this stage that, just as the Anglo-Irish Agreement is offensive and has helped to bring about the present stalemate in Northern Ireland, no agreement will be acceptable to me if it gives Dublin a role in the internal affairs of Northern Ireland. I want to make that clear now.
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh also made a serious accusation. He said that one of the 40 delegates taking part in the inter-party talks was having other secret meetings with a paramilitary organisation. We have many such organisations—the Irish National Liberation Army, the Irish Republican Army, the Ulster Defence Association, the Ulster Volunteer Force and others. We know that, before the talks commenced, the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party had meetings with the IRA, but I gather that the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh was not implying that it was his party leader who was secretly revealing what was happening in the inter-party talks with a terrorist organisation. However, he announced that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland already knew the name of the delegate to the inter-party talks who was in contact with a paramilitary organisation.
That is not only a serious slur on one of the 40 participants in the talks: it must make most of those taking part in the talks ill at ease if they know that, every time they converse at the so-called confidential talks, one of their number is revealing the contents of those talks to a paramilitary organisation. It is regrettable that, when given the opportunity by my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh did not withdraw his allegation. Apparently, he stands firmly behind the allegation that a member of the Stormont talks is in contact with a terrorist organisation.
A great responsibility now rests on the shoulders of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland or whichever Minister replies to the debate to clarify the serious allegation so that those taking part in the talks and the public might be put at ease. The Secretary of State or the Minister must confirm that there is no substance whatsoever to the hon. Gentleman's allegation.
I shall be brief.
Complaints have been made about the green Benches always being empty for debates on Irish affairs. That is because we are sometimes subject to lectures, as though we were naughty children, about what O'Flaherty said in County Mayo in 1874. Some hon. Members could get jobs as history lecturers if the electorate were to treat them badly in due course. Someone pointed out that we live in 1992, not in the era to which reference was made.
I accept some of the criticisms that have been made about direct rule, but when it was introduced—rightly or wrongly—it was seen as a temporary short-term measure while another method, post-Stormont, could be worked out for governing Northern Ireland. I do not understand why the Government or I or any other Government supporter should be castigated for what happened in 1972. It was not our responsibility then, and, in a sense, it is not our responsibility now.
Direct rule was introduced in the best possible faith. It was to be for a short period. Stormont had not worked; if it had, it would not have been dissolved. The troubles that arose were partly the result of the political organisation emanating from the treaty in the 1920s. Rightly or wrongly, some people regarded Stormont as a sign of Protestant supremacy. Whether they were wrong or right does not matter, because that is how they saw it, and that was part of the trouble.
Successive British Governments—mainly Conservative Governments—have struggled to find a replacement for Stormont and for direct rule. I have not approved of any of them. I did not approve of Sunningdale, although I was not then a Member of the House; nor did I approve of the sort of devolution that Lord Prior suggested when he was Secretary of State. I certainly did not approve of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and I still do not approve of it. I agree with the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor); I would oppose any solution to the problem—if it be a solution—which involved a direct input by the Dublin Government into the affairs of Northern Ireland. I would not wear that.
Some of us said that the Anglo-Irish Agreement would not work because, apart from being fundamentally wrong, it simply would not work, and it has not. Some of us said that rolling devolution would not work, and it did not. In any case, it was wrong in principle.
I hope that no one thinks that I am involving myself in a family fight, because I am not. I believe that the more Englishmen who take notice of these matters the better, but I do not know what the solution is. The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) said that the solution was devolution, but of what sort I am not entirely sure. One hon. Member gave us a smattering of integrationism—I add my birthday congratulations to Enoch Powell—but I do not quite know what that means. It is impossible to suggest that the Province is Yorkshire or Surrey, because it is not, and self-evidently it is not.
I am sure that the Government would wish to get rid of direct rule as soon as they could. They are not power-crazed people who wish to go around filling in potholes. Of course we would like to find a sensible and democratic solution.
I also agree that it would be extremely helpful if Ministers could say in the clearest, most unequivocal terms that the unity of the kingdom includes Northern Ireland as much as it includes Scotland, Wales and England. I have asked them to do so many times over the years. I do not think that "as long as the people of Northern Ireland wish it" is a condition, but it is a flavour which need not and should not be there.
I do not know what form of government there will be in the future, nor whether the secret public talks will get anywhere. The atmosphere among the kith and kin on the Opposition Benches make me mildly suspicious that those talks will not get all that far. But please, gentleman, the English cannot solve the problem for you, but you might be able to solve it for yourselves—or perhaps there could be a combination of all those things.
There is one thing that the Dublin Government could do. They could withdraw their territorial ambition and their claim to the territory of the United Kingdom. That claim gives a bogus legitimacy to some of the activities of some of the bodies operating in Northern Ireland.
I have had a ramble round the course. It is for people in positions of power and influence in the Province to reach some accommodation and to make some progress. In the 20 years that all this has been going on more than 3,000 people have been killed. We have tried almost everything by way of political progress. I wish my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State well. He knows that he has a difficult act to follow in my right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke), to whom I pay tribute, although I had to disagree with some of what went on in his time. At least he tried. At least the Englishmen are trying. I hope that some of the Irish will do us the honour of trying as hard.
We have had an interesting debate which has touched on a number of topics. I am grateful to the House for the generally constructive and helpful way in which it has debated the order which will renew direct rule for another 12 months.
Apart from the present political talks, which have inevitably loomed large in the debate, many other matters have been raised, and I shall deal with them first. As has been rightly said, it is disappointing that there are not more hon. Members in the House to discuss the issues, but clearly most hon. Members are leaving the discussion to those more directly affected, and we should be grateful for that. It would be wrong to discuss such issues in Committee. The proper place to discuss so important a subject is on the Floor of the House.
The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) asked about the allocation of the Making Belfast Work funds. He wrote to the Secretary of State recently —on 12 June, I believe—and he will shortly receive a substantive reply. We recognise, as the hon. Gentleman must also recognise, that south Belfast receives an allocation of resources under the scheme and has an action team in place. I can assure him that its problems are taken as seriously as those of any other part of Belfast. Let us wait for the reply of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) said that we took no notice—or perhaps took no action—on the reports of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights. In fact, SACHR is a well-respected body and the Government are fully committed to creating equality of opportunity and equity of treatment for all sections of the community in Northern Ireland. We issued a comprehensive response to the second report, to which the hon. Gentleman referred. That was laid before the House and placed in the Library, and therefore made public, before the general election. It is a valuable report which should assist informed and constructive debate; we continue to examine its recommendations in consultation.
At this point it is appropriate to pay tribute to Sir Oliver Napier, who retires on 1 July, to be succeeded by Charles Hill QC. Sir Oliver has served very well indeed, and I assure both him and the House that the Government read the reports most carefully.
I shall willingly consider the hon. Gentleman's request.
Last night's Public Accounts Committee meeting has been mentioned. I have not seen the questions, nor heard the answers. Some hon. Members—and perhaps some right hon. Members—who are here now were present then. However, I saw the newspaper reports when I woke up in Belfast this morning, and I believe that some hon. Gentlemen may be quoting figures from those reports. The newspapers said that £48 million worth of X-ray equipment was in store. In fact, £48 million happens to be the total value of X-ray equipment in the Province as a whole. The value of X-ray equipment in store is about £0.3 million. A press notice has been issued putting the matter straight. Indeed, the Public Accounts Committee criticised the fact that £0.3 million-worth of equipment was in store, and my noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State responsible for health and social services will consider the report carefully.
Notwithstanding the seriousness of the comments made by the PAC, it is a novelty to be accused of paying teachers too much. Nevertheless, I shall read what was said and see whether I draw any conclusions therefrom.
I am not sure of the details yet, because I have not seen the PAC report, but I am sure that the Minister is aware that the complaint concerns the alleged freedom with which education boards and other bodies grant teachers premature retirement with enhanced pension rights. The hon. Gentleman may be aware of the widespread belief—it certainly exists in my constituency —that there has not been equity of treatment between the controlled sector and the maintained sector with regard to enhanced pension rights for teachers taking early retirement. Written answers to my parliamentary questions have tended to bear out that belief.
I am grateful for that clarification, and I shall examine the issue carefully when I see the PAC report and the minutes of last night's meeting.
At least four hon. Members mentioned the legislative procedures. I assure the House that the Government fully recognise that the current legislative procedures are less than satisfactory. The Order-in-Council procedure is hardly ideal, but under direct rule it is the only practicable way to deal with most Northern Ireland legislation. We have constantly invited hon. Members to enter discussions on possible ways in which the present arrangements could be improved. If it were possible to create a local administration in Northern Ireland—
I shall try to observe a self-denying ordinance hereafter.
Will the Minister consider the Boundary Commissions Bill, or the Sea Fish (Conservation) Bill, both of which are now going through the House, and both of which apply to Northern Ireland without causing any inconvenience?
Indeed, perhaps hon. Gentlemen would consider exactly that experience when they determine whether the current talks will be successful, so that we can pass legislative powers back to local politicians and give them greater scope to debate and decide legislation for the people of Northern Ireland.
We must pursue this matter more honestly. My hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) referred to the Sea Fish (Conservation) Bill and the Boundary Commissions Bill, which have nothing to do with the talks at Stormont. Please let us not raise that as a side issue. Such things happen irrespective of the talks at Stormont. All that was necessary in those two Bills, which apply to the whole of the United Kingdom, was one clause of five or six words saying something like, "This Bill will extend to Northern Ireland." That is all that we have to do, irrespective of the talks. Let us not use the talks as an excuse for everything that is bad in Northern Ireland.
I believe that the House knows why we have preserved a different legislative procedure for Northern Ireland. It grants to Northern Ireland the possibility of the privilege of its own government, which is largely agreed by right hon. and hon. Members. Many may disagree. We have continued with the way in which we legislate against all the difficulties. I assure the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) that there will be many changes to the legislative process and to the way in which Bills go through the House if the talks can be brought to a successful conclusion. That is not an excuse. It goes to the heart of how the legislative process for Northern Ireland will be dealt with in future.
Some hon. Members have mentioned the Northern Ireland Select Committee and the absence thereof. We believe that the arrangements for the scrutiny of matters within the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland are best taken forward as one of the areas under discussion in the talks. I am not at liberty to discuss whether we have mentioned the subject of a Select Committee. I say merely that it would be remarkable if, during the procedures we are undergoing, we did not mention the subject of the Select Committee. The Government's response to the report of the Select Committee on Procedure—it is largely a matter for that Committee—is to say that we are keeping the matter under review.
The Fair Employment Act was mentioned by the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady). Since 1 January 1990, when the Act came into force, the Fair Employment Tribunal has issued 186 decisions. The applicant was successful in five cases and unsuccessful in 21. Thirteen complaints were resolved by conciliation and the balance of complaints were withdrawn. Many other complaints await hearing. In the first monitoring round, 16 employers were prosecuted and fined up to £150, and in the second round, in 1991, five employers were prosecuted. One employer was disqualified from receiving a public contract and Government grants because of continued failure to make a return. The disqualification was lifted when the company complied. A major effort is being made to address the issues to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
There is deep concern in my constituency about the Fair Employment Commission's lack of will to tackle the problems facing many Protestants in the constituency. I have referred on numerous occasions, in the presence of the former Minister with responsibility for economic development and in the presence of Mr. Cooper, to certain areas for investigation. I have not even had a letter acknowledging that Mr. Cooper is looking into the matter. Is it not about time that there was fair treatment for both sides of the community?
I have heard what the hon. Gentleman said. I will pass on his comments to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, and I hope that he will be able to respond in due course.
The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) argued that the present arrangements for the government of Northern Ireland might be inconsistent with article 25(a) of the international covenant on the protection of civil and political rights. I was not aware of that article until the hon. Gentleman raised the subject in an Adjournment debate some months ago, so I studied it with some care as the Government might be the subject of accusations under that covenant. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not respond on this occasion, as I know that he can respond at length on the issue because of his very great knowledge.
The opportunities afforded to Northern Ireland politicians or citizens to participate in the Government at Westminster and at district council level, and in a wide range of public bodies in Northern Ireland, may be sufficient to fulfil the requirements of the covenant. Even if they are not, and even if there were a question about the result of the absence of any structures of government at regional level, the Government's efforts to find a solution, including the efforts we are making now in the talks process, show that we are trying to produce a wider framework for stable relationships in the community.
The vast majority of comments this evening have involved the political talks. It was natural that they should be prominent in our thoughts and in our words. On behalf of the Government, I must tell the House how much I welcome the expressions of support which have been forthcoming from hon. Members of all parties. There have been well-deserved tributes from hon. Members of all parties, which I support, to the courage and tenacity of the participants in the talks.
The obituary notices for the process have been written on more than one occasion. It is greatly to the credit of the parties that the talks are still up and running, and continuing to make headway. We are present at history in the making; I hope that the history will be good for the future of Northern Ireland.
Under the agreed ground rules, which were underlined by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), it would not be appropriate for any of us to divulge details of the discussions, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State explained that in his opening remarks. There has been a constructive and intensive engagement since the new talks reconvened on 29 April and much common ground has been identified, although there is still much to be resolved. Anyone with knowledge of Northern Ireland will know that, although much has been achieved, we are still a long way from final success. Nothing can be agreed at any one stage of the discussions until everything is agreed in the three strands as a whole. Over the weeks ahead, it will be a matter of continuing the good work of recent weeks, and of further developing the trust and understanding that have been developed so far.
The talks are an unequivocal demonstration of the right way in which to attempt to resolve differences in a civilised society. If there is to be trust and understanding based on mutual respect, it can be achieved only through proper political dialogue, and not through guns or bombs. That is why the Government will continue to do everything in their power to ensure that the talks continue their forward momentum.
Another issue was raised by a number of hon. Members. I admit that I did not hear some of the exchanges. Neither I nor my right hon. and learned Friend has any evidence of the matters being raised, so I have decided not to pursue them at the moment.
Many accusations can be made by different people in different ways. Accusations can be made by newspapers and all sorts of comments can be made. But the Secretary of State and I must act on evidence. We have no evidence of the things that were referred to earlier.
In the meantime, through direct rule, the Government will continue to help the people of Northern Ireland to secure a tranquil, peaceful, just and prosperous way of life and one in which both sides of that community can work together to achieve that goal. I commend the order to the House.
|Division No. 36]||[7.10 pm|
|Amess, David||Cope, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Ancram, Michael||Cox, Tom|
|Arbuthnot, James||Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Davies, Quentin (Stamford)|
|Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)||Davis, David (Boothferry)|
|Ashby, David||Deva, Nirj Joseph|
|Atkins, Robert||Devlin, Tim|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Dover, Den|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)||Dowd, Jim|
|Bates, Michael||Duncan, Alan|
|Beith, Rt Hon A. J.||Elletson, Harold|
|Beresford, Sir Paul||Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)|
|Body, Sir Richard||Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)|
|Booth, Hartley||Evans, Roger (Monmouth)|
|Boswell, Tim||Fabricant, Michael|
|Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)||Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas|
|Bowis, John||Fenner, Dame Peggy|
|Brandreth, Gyles||Forth, Eric|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Foster, Derek (B'p Auckland)|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)||Foster, Donald (Bath)|
|Browning, Mrs. Angela||Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)|
|Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)||Freeman, Roger|
|Burt, Alistair||French, Douglas|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)||Fry, Peter|
|Carlisle, John (Luton North)||Gallie, Phil|
|Carrington, Matthew||Gardiner, Sir George|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Gillan, Ms Cheryl|
|Chaplin, Mrs Judith||Golding, Mrs Llin|
|Clappison, James||Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)|
|Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey||Hague, William|
|Coe, Sebastian||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Congdon, David||Hanley, Jeremy|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Hawkins, Nicholas|
|Hawksley, Warren||Morley, Elliot|
|Hayes, Jerry||Neubert, Sir Michael|
|Heald, Oliver||Newton, Rt Hon Tony|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Patnick, Irvine|
|Hendron, Dr Joe||Pawsey, James|
|Hendry, Charles||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Hill, James (Southampton Test)||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Horam, John||Richards, Rod|
|Hordern, Sir Peter||Riddick, Graham|
|Hunter, Andrew||Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)|
|Jenkin, Bernard||Roche, Ms Barbara|
|Jessel, Toby||Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)|
|Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)||Ryder, Rt Hon Richard|
|Jones, Robert B. (W H'f'rdshire)||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Kennedy, Charles (Ross, C & S)||Spencer, Sir Derek|
|Kirkhope, Timothy||Spink, Dr Robert|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Sproat, Iain|
|Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)||Steel, Rt Hon Sir David|
|Knight, Greg (Derby N)||Steen, Anthony|
|Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)||Stephen, Michael|
|Kynoch, George (Kincardine)||Stott, Roger|
|Lait, Mrs Jacqui||Sweeney, Walter|
|Lawrence, Sir Ivan||Sykes, John|
|Legg, Barry||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Leigh, Edward||Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)|
|Lidington, David||Thomason, Roy|
|Lightbown, David||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Lilley, Rt Hon Peter||Thurnham, Peter|
|Luff, Peter||Trend, Michael|
|Lynne, Ms Liz||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|McGrady, Eddie||Tyler, Paul|
|MacKay, Andrew||Viggers, Peter|
|Maclennan, Robert||Walker, Bill (N Tayside)|
|McNamara, Kevin||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Maitland, Lady Olga||Watts, John|
|Mallon, Seamus||Wheeler, Sir John|
|Malone, Gerald||Whittingdale, John|
|Mans, Keith||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)||Willetts, David|
|Martin, David (Portsmouth S)||Yeo, Tim|
|Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Merchant, Piers||Mr. Robert G. Hughes and|
|Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)||Mr. Sydney Chapman|
|Beggs, Roy||Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)|
|Livingstone, Ken||Taylor, Rt Hon D. (Strangford)|
|McCrea, Rev William||Trimble, David|
|Molyneaux, Rt Hon James||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Paisley, Rev Ian||Mr. William Ross and|
|Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)||Mr. Clifford Forsythe.|
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. During the previous debate, while I was speaking, the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) intervened to allege that a person involved in the present inter-party talks in Northern Ireland had arranged a meeting with unspecified paramilitary persons for the purpose of conveying to them information about the talks. I gave the hon. Member the opportunity to intervene again to identify that person and to substantiate his allegations, but he declined. However, he made a comment from a sedentary position which I did not hear clearly at the time but which some of my hon. Friends heard. When I asked him to substantiate his claim, his comment was, "You should be blushing." That is a clear allegation that I was the person he was accusing. Needless to say, that allegation is totally false and without foundation. Is it in order for hon. Members to make such allegations and, when given the oportunity to substantiate them, to fail to do so, and to fail to withdraw them when they are clearly denied?
During the following debate, when the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh returns to the Chamber, would you give him the opportunity to do the honourable thing?
Yes. I think that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will appreciate that I have a responsibility to protect the reputation of my team of 10 in the talks. That would also apply to the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) with his team; and one other party, which is not present in or elected to this Chamber, would have the same difficulty. To avoid prolonging the discussions, perhaps the most effective way to deal with the matter would be for the Secretary of State or the Minister to say that this matter will be referred to special branch to investigate and report to the Secretary of State before the next plenary session of the four teams of 10.
Hon. Members will be aware that all sorts of comments are made from a sedentary position, none of which has any status in the House. I think that that answers the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), who raised the first point of order. The Secretary of State and Ministers have heard the comments made by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) on the second point, and it will be for them to decide how they wish to respond.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was judged by the House for something that I was accused of saying when seated. I find it amazing that some new rule has suddenly been introduced about such interventions. I was sitting in the Gallery, I never even stood up, and I was thrown out of the House. Hansard reported that I had said something that was in order, yet I was thrown out for saying something while sitting, and I was not in the House. My hon. Friends, sitting on this side of the House, plainly heard what the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) said.
Hon. Members are stretching the point. I have made my ruling and have made it clear. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber will accept that. Perhaps we can now move on.
Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I fully accept your ruling about a statement made from a sedentary position, but that was not the point of order raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), who was referring to an allegation made by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) when he was on his feet. That point of order had nothing to do with the personal allegation that my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) "should be blushing." It was a specific allegation.
Had the right hon. Gentleman listened attentively to the whole of my response, he would have heard me say that the Secretary of State and Ministers on the Front Bench would have heard the right hon. Member who raised the separate point of order. I hope that hon. Members will confirm that. Certainly Hansard will do so. Perhaps without further ado we can move to the next order.