Adjournment (Summer)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:50 pm on 9th July 1992.

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Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth , Belfast South 5:50 pm, 9th July 1992

It is my pleasure to speak following the able maiden speech made by the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Mr. Trend). I trust that he will not suffer the fate of Sir Christopher Wren but will join his two immediate predecessors, who gave long and distinguished service in the House on behalf of their constituencies.

We have enjoyed three excellent maiden speeches today. I appreciated the humour of the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry), who commented on the poor salaries that he had received from his employers. As an Ulster Scot, I appreciated his humour, but I know that he was not suggesting that the Scots were niggardly. Indeed, I am sure he knows that they are warm-hearted.

The hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) paid an excellent tribute to his predecessor, but I particularly appreciated his tribute to Lady Lloyd. Let us not forget that the spouses of hon. Members contribute much, and Lady Lloyd has served the community at large in her own right. I feel that we sometimes take for granted the services that our spouses provide to our constituencies and to the country in general.

I wish there had been time before the recess to deal with a number of other major issues, especially as we have gone astray with Masstricht. I should have liked time for the House to examine the whole question of constitutional and political reform. With the fervour in that direction that is evident in the country, it is a pity that the Prime Minister has not been able to express in the House his views about how the constituent parts of the nation should be governed as one part. I believe that in the onward evolution of democracy there is a place for a federal system, even in our nation.

I wish today to probe the role of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, particularly in its dealings with a part of the nation: Northern Ireland. I do not object to the Foreign Office representing us internationally. My gripe at times is that it does not represent us internationally as eloquently and efficiently as it should.

I have been puzzled at having received in June, and again this month, background briefs from the Foreign Office, one entitled "Northern Ireland: The Economy and Employment" and the other entitled "Education in Northern Ireland: A New Direction." I wonder whether the Foreign Office gives the same service to the Scottish Office and the Welsh Office. Does it all mean that, despite the tributes paid to the Northern Ireland education service, there is a lack of education and ability in the Northern Ireland Office? Or is it simply that the Foreign Office is playing the same role as it has played on those issues over the years?

The briefs are helpful and interesting and I do not intend today to analyse or criticise them: I am simply probing them. Does the Leader of the House agree that it should be the role of the Northern Ireland Office, rather than of the Foreign Office, to explain the policies, economic issues, matters affecting tourism and the development of education in the Province? Are such briefs provided for all Government Departments for the benefit of people overseas who wish to know what is happening, for example, in the Department of Trade and Industry, in the Scottish Office and in the Department of the Environment?

To ask the question in a more sinister way, is it the continuing policy of Her Majesty's Government to keep Northern Ireland as a satellite in orbit, controlled by Foreign Office computers looking after international affairs rather than representing the rights of British citizens in Northern Ireland? Is it, as some have feared for a long time, part of a process of seeking to break up the Union? When talking to a distinguished servant of the British Government yesterday, I discovered again that there is speculation that the way forward might involve an independent Northern Ireland.

I wish to place on record the fact that if Northern Ireland—little Scotland, the Ulster Scots—goes, we would like to think that the House would go on to consider where Scotland goes in future. Lest some do not understand the analogy and relationship, Scotland means the land of the Scoti—the land of the Irish. We believe that we are part of that nation, where the O'Donnells of the glens of Antrim are similar to the O'Donnells of the glens of Scotland. Some relationships are conveniently forgotten.

Some of us wonder why the Foreign Office, in supplying talent on a regular basis to the Northern Ireland Office, including writing briefs, seems to be acting in a contrary manner in Yugoslavia. There, I gather, the Department believes that small groups who were part of other groups have a right to self-determination. Apparently a British warship is to be deployed off the coast of Yugoslavia. Does that suggest that one should be deployed off Dundalk bay because a Government there are giving, directly or indirectly, sustenance to those who seek the break-up of the United Kingdom and who act against the democratically declared wishes of the people of Northern Ireland?

As many hon. Members wish to take part in the debate, I shall not deal with other issues that I would otherwise raise. Recently the Prime Minister went to Czechoslovakia —among other places, to Prague, the home of Jan Huss, an outstanding reformer of an earlier day—and I sympathised and empathised with the right hon. Gentleman as he apologised on behalf of our people to the Czech people for the actions of a previous British Prime Minister who returned to Britain with a piece of paper proclaiming, "Peace in our time."

Can we look forward to the Prime Minister coming to Northern Ireland in the near future to apologise on behalf of another British Prime Minister who signed a piece of paper that was supposed to lead to peace, stability and reconciliation? While I have empathy with the former Prime Minister, who is now in another place, in some of her thinking, I have been amused by the fact that she now wants a referendum when she refused to accept the will of the people of Northern Ireland, democratically expressed at the ballot box, and imposed on Northern Ireland a programme which had the effect of taking us out of the normal role of government in this place. That is why I ask whether Northern Ireland is now being ruled by the Foreign Office rather than being accountable to the House of Commons through the Northern Ireland Office.