I beg to move,
That the draft Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order 1993, which was laid before this House on 26th May, be approved.
This draft order renews for another 12 months the temporary provisions of the Northern Ireland Act 1974, by which government by direct rule continues in Northern Ireland. It has become customary over the years to give the House an account of the Government's stewardship in Northern Ireland over the previous year and it is my intention to do the same again this afternoon.
Last year in the equivalent debate I said that I was committed to achieving the goal of a peaceful, just and prosperous way of life for all the people of Northern Ireland. While there has been progress, despite many factors pulling in the opposite direction, I must of course acknowledge with regret that peace, justice and prosperity do not as yet prevail for all in Northern Ireland.
Violence, injustice and loss continue to be inflicted by evil means and by evil people. They have struck no less viciously than elsewhere at communities where the people have long lived together in peaceful harmony and prosperity. I think of Coleraine, among others. The House shares the anger, the grief and the resolution of the victims, and of all the other victims and their families.
The ruthless use of violence for political ends remains the most malign and dangerous obstacle in our path. The threat to everybody's safety and security remains serious from terrorists at both extremes. The House will recall many of the 75 brutal murders by terrorists in Northern Ireland last year, and many of the 34 that have been perpetrated since the beginning of this year. It will also recall the bomb attacks on commercial and domestic property, such as Belvoir Park, Bangor and more recently Belfast, Portadown, Magherafelt and Newry. It will recall. too, the attacks on security force bases. There have been, for example, three mortar attacks on the Crossmaglen police station and patrol base this year.
It is difficult to do justice to the steadfastness of the men and women of the RUC, and of the forces who support them. It is beyond praise, as the whole House will agree. It is well matched by the qualities of the public, including the business community, of Northern Ireland as a whole.
We owe it to the security forces not to minimise or play down, let alone overlook, the significant successes that they have scored in the past year against the terrorists. We owe it to the general public, too. Throughout the past year, the security forces have had every support and strong, courageous leadership from my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates). I pay a warm and most grateful tribute to his work as a colleague over the past 14 months.
Last year, 405 people were charged with terrorist-related offences, including 101 with murder and attempted murder. This year, as at 13 June, 168 people had been charged with such offences. Important finds of firearms, ammunition, explosives and other terrorist equipment continue to be made. In addition, determined inroads have been made upon the sources of terrorist finance, assisted by new legislation. Other considerable successes have been achieved which get scant publicity. The security forces have worked tirelessly to disrupt and prevent terrorist operations, and I will give some examples.
Since the beginning of March, four bombs in transit containing over 300 kgs of explosives have been intercepted, resulting in several arrests. Over 6,600 kgs of fertiliser, used in the manufacture of explosives, have been recovered. A range of other weaponry has been seized and several other murderous attacks by paramilitaries on both sides have been foiled, with the capture of Republican and Loyalist gunmen en route to commit murder. Those are some of the successes.
Both the numerical level and the equipment of the security forces are kept under careful review. So, too, is the adequacy of the criminal law by which those guilty of terrorist offences may be brought to justice and judicially punished. It is important to recall the recent words of Sir Hugh Annesley, the Chief Constable of the RUC, who said:
When a terrorist outrage occurs there is often a reaction suggesting that the handcuffs should be taken off the police and the army: that our hands should be untied from behind our backs. There are no restraints on the security forces, save those imposed by law and by the very nature of our democratic society. There is no political restraint stopping us from doing our duty or doing our best.
I assure the House that the Government remain unrelenting in their commitment to the defeat of the terrorists. That is our highest priority. I find inspiring the staunchness and resilience of those who resist their cruel attacks, and our commitment to their defeat is no less implacable.
There may he a degree of pessimism about how far terrorism can be defeated in the Northern Ireland context, bearing in mind how long it has been going on, but does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that, although the terrorist campaign—I speak principally of the Provisional IRA—has been going on for nearly four times the length of the last world war, there is not the slightest evidence of the terrorists achieving their objective? Does he further agree that neither in the House nor in the country is there the slightest wish to give up the campaign against terrorism or to give in to the bombers?
I endorse every word that the hon. Gentleman said, and it cannot be said too often or too widely. There are many who recognise the truth of those words in the ranks of those who have perpetrated such crimes. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he said and for what he consistently says in that sense.
When does the right hon. and learned Gentleman expect to be in a position to respond to the proposals for changes in the law suggested by the Chief Constable?
The Chief Constable has proposed certain changes in the law, some of which are well known, as representing his opinion. They call for careful and balanced consideration. It is necessary to ensure that all legal weapons are available to the security forces.
On the other hand, it is necessary to ensure that the state of the criminal law is not such as to represent in reasonable people's minds too draconian a body of law, so that support for the security forces is thereby lost—[Interruption.] This is not a laughing matter, and I do not think many people think it is a laughing matter. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) does not laugh often. It is a pity that he laughted then.
Regarding the Chief Constable's recommendations, is it not essential for the Secretary of State, as the representative of the Government in Northern Ireland and as an eminent legal person, to state clearly that there cannot be any circumstances in which the core of the Chief Constable's request—that is, the shifting of the onus of proof from the state to the accused—can be met? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that it is in the interest of the law that such a statement should be made publicly and as soon as possible to the Chief Constable?
I have given way three times on the trot. I hope that hon. Members will now permit me to continue with my speech.
I come to the performance of the economy of Northern Ireland in the last year, and the House may take heart from that performance. It is becoming recognised that the Province has held up remarkably well under adverse worldwide economic conditions. Seasonally adjusted unemployment in May was down 1,100 on the previous month, the fifth fall recorded in the last six months. Although the total, at 104,500, or 13·9 per cent. of the work force, is still far too high, it has come a long way from the peak of 17·6 per cent. in 1986, and is significantly lower than the rate of unemployment in the Irish Republic, where it is 16·9 per cent.
Output levels in Northern Ireland have risen by 3 to 4 per cent. in the past year, which compares favourably with the figure for the United Kingdom as a whole, of about I per cent. Further encouragement can be drawn from the results of recent surveys of the local business community, where high levels of business confidence and improving market performance are reported. Those indicators provide evidence of the resilience of the Northern Ireland economy and of those who create wealth and employment in it. I am confident that its performance will continue to improve as the national recovery gathers greater momentum.
The Government's strategy of working in partnership with business to help improve its competitiveness will reinforce the progress made last year. Exemplifying that progress, I point to the record of the Industrial Development Board. The IDB had a very successful year. Ten new projects have been attracted by way of inward investment, bringing new products and technology to Northern Ireland and offering about 2,000 jobs. The high level of demand for the IDB's export services was another encouraging feature. Export orders worth £120 million were reported by companies using the IDB's export marketing services.
I report also the continuing development of a number of joint initiatives between the IDB and its counterpart in the Republic, the Irish Trade Board. Their purpose has been to promote the increased use of source materials obtained from within the island of Ireland and the joint marketing of Irish products overseas.
A good example of that was the successful exhibition mounted by the Irish Trade Board and the IDB in Chicago earlier this month, in which 25 Northern Ireland companies participated. I find that the best ambassadors for Northern Ireland as a base for investment from overseas are those who have already been encourged by the IDB and others to take the plunge. Once they have done that, they are the best ambassadors to those who are hesitating about whether to do the same, and they say, "Send them to us. We will tell them about it." I pay great tribute to the IDB.
There have also been impressive achievements on the small business front, for which the local enterprise development unit—LEDU—is responsible. Those have included a record number of new business start-ups, a 4 per cent. net rise in employment among LEDU's companies, representing about 1,000 jobs, and a record number of LEDU companies expanding and transferring to the IDB. A good contribution continues to be made by the Training and Employment Agency to the overall economic strategy to increase company competitiveness.
Similarly, in its first year of operation, the industrial research and technology unit has successfully delivered almost £20 million of European Community support for Northern Ireland made available under the Stride, Prisma and Framework programmes. That has significantly strengthened the region's technological infrastructure. It has improved those quality testing services that are vital for industrial exports, and it has stimulated commercial networking between Northern Ireland companies and academic institutions and their European Community counterparts.
Tourism is an important topic. The highest ever number of visitors was achieved in 1992, the fourth successive record-breaking year, when almost 1·3 million visitors came to Northern Ireland. Individually, just as is the case with corporate visitors, their overriding impression of surprise is how normal the place is. They expect often to step off the aeroplane into a kind of Clint Eastwood scenario. They are astonished by how normal life is in Northern Ireland and by how unusually attractive it is in many respects.
The Government's continued commitment to encouraging the growth of tourism is demonstrated by the increase in resources made available to the Northern Ireland tourist board this year—£12 million in total, which is almost £5 million more than only two years ago.
In addition to our support for the development of a desirable tourism infrastructure, the European regional development fund, influenced by the tourist board, has provided over £35 million in the period 1990 to 1993, and that in turn generated investments worth £51 million. I am an admirer of NITB, especially of its television advertisements, and I am one of a growing number.
I report with some pride the completion of the privatisation of the electricity supply industry in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland Electricity plc, the transmission, distribution and supply business, was successfully floated on the stock exchange on Monday 21 June. The sale of the Province's four power stations to three independent private generating companies was accomplished in early 1992. A total sum of £700 million has been realised for the public purse.
One of the Government's main aims in privatising NIE was to broaden and deepen share ownership. In the event, in common with previous privatisations, the flotation of NIE proved very popular. Two thirds of the shares have been taken up by private investors. I was particularly pleased that so many Northern Ireland people and employees of NIE decided to invest in the company. Over 40 per cent. of the shares available to the general public have been allocated to Northern Ireland citizens, some 140,000 of them. Just as pleasing is the fact that almost 50 per cent. of NIE employees applied for and received shares, and therefore gained a direct stake in their company and its future development. That is a demonstration of their confidence not only in the company but in the future of Northern Ireland. All that is a very satisfactory outcome in relation to our original objective. Its success is a great tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, and to his official and professional advisers.
The Secretary of State has made great play of the benefits that the privatisation of electricity has provided for the investors, but he has not referred to the consumer. It is forecast that in the near future electricity prices in Northern Ireland will rise by 15 per cent. over the rate of inflation on a base that is already in excess of the rest of the United Kingdom. How does he justify that when energy costs for industry are so high and the ordinary consumer will have to pay a high price for electricity in addition to the VAT to be imposed next year of 8 per cent., and subsequently 17·5 per cent?
The hon. Gentleman knows that up to 70 per cent. of electricity generated by NIE is produced by plant that uses oil. If the value of the pound comes down, the price of oil goes up. That is the principal reason for the increases in electricity to which the hon. Gentleman alludes. I am glad that I have been able to ensure that there will be no rise in excess of single figures—that is 9 per cent.—this year and that the transitional arrangements shall extend across the range of industrial users, and there are 4,000 of them.
I am sure that the consumers in the hon. Gentleman's constituency will have benefited—I am sure that they will say that it is a good thing—from the special incentives for buying the shares. There are advantages for them.
For consumers there are wider benefits yet resulting from the privatisation. The industry has been restructured in the interests of promoting competition both in generation and supply. The planned development of the pipeline, and an electricity interconnector with Great Britain, promise, in time, improved fuel diversity and increased competition. They are attracting some £125 million of European Community support. The establishment of an office of electricity regulation, staffed by professionals and entirely independent, has further strengthened consumer rights in relation to electricity supply.
I believe that the House will welcome these indicators of increased economic activity. I have every confidence that, as the national economic recovery continues to take hold, Northern Ireland is well placed to take advantage of growth opportunities, and that it will seize that advantage.
Nothing could be less welcome than this to those who have an interest in fostering instability. They hate to see more jobs and do their best to destroy them. Along with constitutional politicians of every party, the Government are in the business of encouraging their creation, preservation and all the resulting blessings of productive lives. So, as in previous years, we have gone on tackling adverse conditions in those areas characterised by disproportionate disadvantage and inequality in Northern Ireland. The "Making Belfast work" initiative continues to be at the heart of that campaign. This year a further £24 million has been made available for it and put to good use. That will take the total allocation to date to over £124 million. Those funds are additional to the extensive resources which Departments continue to put into these areas through their normal mainline programmes. They have been put to good use. The areas concerned are by no means confined to Catholic areas.
Similarly we have gone on giving high priority to the "Targeting social need" initiative. TSN is the third public expenditure priority in Northern Ireland, coming next only to our commitment to law and order and to strengthening the economy.
Will the Secretary of State pay tribute to the Republic for the number of Bosnian refugees that it has accepted? Bearing in mind his remarks about the normality of everyday life in Northern Ireland, and the number of visitors to the Province, is he ready to accept a number of refugees from Bosnia into Northern Ireland so that they may enjoy the normal life and the care which I am sure they would receive from both communities?
I am afraid that I am not familiar with the Republic's record. However, Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and will operate the same immigration and asylum laws and regulations as the rest of the United Kingdom. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that if refugees were to be received there they would he met with the greatest care and kindness.
Through TSN, Government policies and programmes are targeted more sharply at the areas and people in greatest need. It is central to the TSN initiative that it is directed at need wherever it exists. It is not, as some have suggested, directed at one side of the community but to both Catholic and Protestant communities. Disproportionate need and disadvantage create the same malignities wherever they are to he found. Accordingly, wherever they are to be found, it is our purpose to eliminate them.
Success here will bear directly upon the efforts so many have been making in the past year to encourage better community relations. I pay tribute to the innumerable individuals and organizations—sometimes tiny organizations—who at local level have committed themselves to this work. I hope and believe that they find themselves well supported by the Government. This work continues to expand, reflecting a growing desire within the community itself for peace and an end to all violence.
How can the voluntary agencies continue to serve the sectors of real need when there have been decisive cuts? For example, in the Eastern hoard area the cutbacks are injuring the physically handicapped in the Island centre in east Belfast; they are affecting the Derryvolgie centre for those with hearing and vision deficiencies and other places. Under the principle of care in the community we are supposed to be moving from hospital provision to community provision.
If the hon. Gentleman gives me particulars of what he has described, I should be happy to deal with them. As is well known, the boards are responsible for the expenditure of their allocated sums. What the hon. Gentleman has described is by no means a consistent picture. Only last week I went to the Glenveagh special school. The hon. Gentleman was there. He heard that school described as a world leader—not just a national or European leader—and I am confident that that is right. I was delighted by the scale of the premises and the proper abundance of equipment available for those who are perhaps in most need. That needs to be recognised. I pay tribute to those who have worked in that sector.
Despite the continuing violence in Northern Ireland, there is clear evidence that positive changes are taking place in the relationships between the two main traditions. Recent British social attitudes surveys have indicated that people are much more inclined than formerly to support programmes aimed at improving community relations, and that these are achieving some success. Over the past four years we have devoted around £20 million to this kind of programme alone.
Will the Secretary of State comment on the possibility of renewing talks on political progress? Has he made any decision about what form those talks should take, and does he intend to issue guidelines or make Government proposals on areas where no agreement has been reached in recent talks?
I hope that my hon. Friend will allow me to come to that in a moment or two. I have a slot reserved with which I intend to finish.
I turn finally, I note, to developments on the political front.[Laughter.] In the preceding weeks before my addressing the House last year, there had been intensive discussions between the British Government and the four main Northern Ireland parties on what has come to be known as strand 1. We were discussing the relationships between the people of Northern Ireland, including the relationships between any new institutions and the Westminster Parliament.
Subsequently, on 6 July last year, the Irish Government joined the discussions, with the consent of all the participants. Thus enlarged, the participants moved on to consider issues in strand 2: relationships among the peole of Ireland. On 28 July, the two Governments held the opening meeting on the third strand, concerning future relationships between them.
Those talks continued until the summer holiday, resumed in the autumn and closed on 10 November. I told the House the following day that we had not as yet succeeded in our ambitious task of securing an overall settlement—
a new beginning for relationships within Northern Ireland, within the island of Ireland, and between the peoples of these islands."—[Official Report, 11 November 1992; Vol. 213, c. 877.]
I will not reiterate my account to the House at that time. It is enough to say that I was sure that that delicate and arduous process was by no means without significant
achievements to its credit. It was clear that the talks witnessed a substantive and detailed engagement between responsible and representative political leaders on issues of the utmost importance. It was a long, candid but generally harmonious process.
A lot was done to identify what turned out to be common ground between the participants, to enlarge that common ground and to increase the respective understanding of others' positions and their respect for those positions.
Although the talks came to a close, the independent chairman, Sir Ninian Stephen, expressed the view that their objectives remained valid and achievable. The two Governments also agreed that further dialogue was necessary and desirable. The four Northern Ireland parties agreed and undertook to
enter into informal consultations with a view to seeking a way forward".
That is the current state of events. I believe that it is an important phase. It is in a different format from much that went on last year, although it is fair to say that some of the talks, towards the end, took place in a similar format, and very constructive they were. We should perhaps enlarge the areas in which we take counsel, because there is one thing of which I am certain: the people of Northern Ireland, right across the spectrum, expect politicians to talk.
I remain keen to assist the reopening of dialogue to establish how we might build on the advances of the past two years; perhaps I weary some people in my repeated assertions of that. At Downing street on 16 June, the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach reaffirmed the desire of the two Governments for further talks. As I said, I have been in contact with the four main Northern Ireland parties.
There are issues that require further and private consideration between us, but my overall aim remains unchanged—to go on developing the common ground and working towards the kind of agreed settlement by which alone a less antagonistic way of living in a divided community may be achieved. I am sure that the people of Northern Ireland hope for and expect no less.
We are debating the Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order. How interim is interim? Nineteen years is a long time to be described as "interim". When does the Secretary of State envisage a new constitutional settlement being reached, embracing the island of Ireland and a new relationship between the island of Ireland and Great Britain?
I have much sympathy with the frustration that is implicit in the hon. Gentleman's question. Nineteen years is a very long time—too long. I cannot give him the answer. That lies principally with the people of Northern Ireland, but it is our duty to give what help we can.
If we can achieve that accommodation, part of which the hon. Gentleman described in his last few words, it will hasten the day, to which I ardently look forward, when conditions in Northern Ireland are such that direct rule can be brought to an end. It is bad for Northern Ireland that opportunities for democratically sustained political responsibility are so limited. I want to see them greatly enlarged and my own immediate responsibilities accordingly diminished. There is, in my experience, a very strong desire across the community to achieve through political discussions a widely agreed foundation for such a reform, and not only for that reason either.
Any such reform, in order to survive, would have to be widely agreed. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I, accordingly, will continue to help in this by all means that seem likely to be fruitful. The potential prize is too great by far to make it permissible to be discouraged, let alone deterred. Regrettably, however, a lot more progress must yet be made before direct rule will no longer be needed in the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland.
In the meantime—in the interim—I submit that direct rule must continue. As long as it does, we shall go on doing our best, with the invaluable help of dedicated officials here and in Northern Ireland, to provide good and, we hope, progressively better government for all the people of Northern Ireland. In that spirit, I commend the order to the House.
At the outset, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates). I disagreed with many of his policies and with some of his judgments on Northern Ireland, but he has always been dedicated to Northern Ireland, which is perhaps not the most popular issue in the House, and I know that on becoming a Northern Ireland Minister he felt that he had fulfilled his ambition to serve in Northern Ireland. I therefore regret the circumstances which brought about his decision to resign. I also pay tribute to the work that he did before becoming a Minister and to his dedication to Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland through his work for the inter-parliamentary tier, of which he has been a dedicated and keen supporter.
Is my hon. Friend aware that, as someone who has repeatedly called for the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) to resign—and I am pleased that he has done so—I have made it clear that, although I am sure that I would have been strongly opposed to his ministerial work in any other Department, I felt that he was doing a good job at the Northern Ireland Office, as he had done in his other work on Northern Ireland? I therefore share my hon. Friend's sentiments, although I believe that in all the circumstances it was right for the hon. Gentleman to resign and that if he had not done so he should have been sacked.
In the 17th century, a Northern Ireland Minister ended up on the block and said, "Put not your trust in princes". On this occasion, it must be "Put not your trust in Majors". Although I would not go overboard in support of the policies pursued by the hon. Member for East Hampshire, I pay tribute to his dedication to Northern Ireland, to which many more hon. Members should pay attention.
I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to the work of the security forces in Northern Ireland in impartially upholding the rule of law. We should recognise that they have a difficult task to carry out in very trying circumstances. The Secretary of State paid tribute to the civil servants who have been involved in the period of direct rule and to the many people of the voluntary organisations in Northern Ireland who play an invaluable role through the services that they give to all sections of the community.
Each year, we begin this debate with a ritualistic incantation deploring the continuing need for direct rule and expressing the sincere desire that this will be the last year that the renewal order is debated by the House. The Labour party continues to adhere to such sentiments, but mere recitation of a desire to achieve settlement is not sufficient. The Labour party has consistently supported the talks process. However, we recognise that the prospects of restarting the talks in the immediate future are not good. The aftermath of the local government election results has seen further entrenchment of positions, and the role of the Secretary of State and the Government leaves much to be desired.
The Democratic Unionist party has reiterated its preconditions for a return to the negotiating table. These include an end to the Hume-Adams talks and repeal of articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution. What the Democratic Unionist party fails to recognise is that the Irish Government can amend the Irish constitution only after a referendum of the citizens of the Republic. It is hard to imagine that Irish citizens would accept amendments to their constitution except as part of an overall settlement and, in particular, unless there were widespread support among Northern nationalists for such changes. The Ulster Unionist party now appears to be seeking to unravel the agreed structure and principles upon which the talks process has been based in the past. Such a development, I believe, would be short sighted and would represent a step backward.
What is more important is that we still have no clear idea about what the Secretary of State's proposals will be. We have had reassurances—far from convincing—that there will be no move away from the three-strand structure and the principle that nothing will be agreed until everything is agreed. However, the Secretary of State's speech in Liverpool appeared to indicate that he would be in favour of an internal settlement with limited North-South institutions. There can, however, be no settlement that does not recognise the three relevant interlocking relationships, to which the Secretary of State paid attention today: the relationship between the two communities in Northern Ireland. the relationship between the North and the South of Ireland, and the relationship between Britain and Ireland. To ignore any one of these relationships, or to downplay one at the expense of another, would represent a failure to recognise—indeed, to understand—the underlying causes of the conflict.
If the hon. Gentleman feels so strongly about the importance of the interlocking relationships between what are, essentially, the three strands of the former talks process, why was he so much in favour of proceeding with the Anglo-Irish agreement, which failed to deal with all those relationships at the same time and marginalised the Unionist community?
For the very reason that these talks, as I understand them, seek on behalf of the Unionist and Nationalist parties to replace the Anglo-Irish agreement with something greater, more permanent and more acceptable to all the people involved. I understand that to be the basis upon which the talks have taken place.
The 1991 census returns clearly demonstrate the widening gulf between the communities in Northern Ireland. Approximately half the population live in areas that are more than 90 per cent. Protestant or more than 90 per cent. Catholic. Only 7 per cent. live in areas with roughly equal proportions of both religions. Even in wards that appear to be mixed, the two communities are often separated by so-called peace lines. This segregation is a reflection of the polarisation of the two communities and serves only to reinforce prejudices and the communal divide. The new census evidence is a dramatic demonstration of the failure of direct rule. Direct rule has failed to foster links, understanding and trust between the two communities.
The level of violence remains depressingly high, although we always welcome the successes of the security forces, and a sense of alienation from the political process is still tangible. The status quo has hopelessly failed the peoples of Ireland. It has failed to tackle the underlying causes of the present conflict. Direct rule has simply exacerbated the tensions and heightened the sense of desperation and alienation felt by the minority population and, increasingly, by members of the majority population. Not a great deal has been done to alleviate the siege mentality of many in the Unionist community. Direct rule in no way recognises that Ireland is the site not just of one minority community but of two, and not just of one majority community but of two—first, the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland, and the Protestant minority in the island of Ireland; secondly, the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland, and the Catholic majority in the island of Ireland.
In addition, the census shows that the percentage of the Catholic population in Northern Ireland has significantly increased, standing now at approximately 43 per cent. A majority in favour of a united Ireland is therefore no longer a distant dream, but a distinct possibility. Whether or not one believes that there will be a Catholic majority in 10, 20 or even 30 years' time, the fact that it is now a possibility makes the need for a just and equitable settlement all the more urgent and makes all the more pressing the need to create durable and acceptable institutions that will encompass and cushion such a demographic and possibly constitutional change.
I have been following the hon. Gentleman's argument very closely. Is he suggesting that every person listed in the census as a Roman Catholic wants a united Ireland? Should not his views take account of what a Roman Catholic priest said recently in Dungannon—that a large number of Roman Catholics want to stay in the United Kingdom?
I accept that that may well be the case. Equally, quite a number of Protestants would be quite happy to be in a united Ireland. But the possibility of more than 50 per cent. of the population wanting to vote in that way cannot be denied. Even if what the hon. Gentleman has said about the voting intentions of Catholics is correct, that does not remove the need to have in Northern Ireland institutions that are acceptable to both communities, recognise the traditions and cultures of both and treat them with equality. If there were a change in the constitutional position, such institutions would cushion and encompass it. Whatever the circumstances, the argument stands.
The hon. Gentleman has mentioned census percentages. Is he aware that, in the case of Protestants, only members of the main churches were counted? People belonging to, say, the Free Presbyterian and Baptist churches were not included. That will have made a considerable difference to the figures.
I do not think that that is the case. However, if we are to bandy statistics about, we should do so elsewhere to avoid taking up a considerable amount of time in the Chamber. The perceived proportions of 57 per cent. Protestant and 43 per cent. Catholic are generally accepted as being the result of the census. That is the way it is.
It would be no more desirable to have a discontented Unionist minority in a united Republic of Ireland than it is now to have a discontented nationalist minority in Northern Ireland. A way forward must be found which recognises these realities and seeks to create certainty and institutions for stability. Safeguards must be put in place to protect the rights and cultures of all traditions in the island of Ireland. Direct rule has predictably failed on all those counts, despite the good will of the House of Commons and of successive Governments.
As a result of Madam Speaker's decision to grant an emergency debate, we have less than two hours in which to conclude this one. At least six hon. Members, including representatives of five other parties, want to take part. I should be happy to continue to give way were it not for the fact that it would be at the expense of other people. If the hon. Gentleman wants to make his point, well and good, but he is certainly the last person to whom I shall give way.
I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman, but I have not heard him welcome the successful privatisation of the electricity undertaking in Northern Ireland. Is that not an example of how to give the people of Northern Ireland a stake in their economy? It is an example of the Government's enterprise policies in Northern Ireland, of which I have had personal experience. It is surely through the prosperity of such enterprises that the people of Northern Ireland can look forward to the happy and successful future that they so richly deserve, rather than the terrorism to which they have been subjected.
It would have been wiser not to give way. The hon. Gentleman should have listened more carefully to the interjection of my hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady), who pointed out the dangerous effects of the great increase in electricity prices on the standard of living of the people of Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State mentioned the number of people who had taken up shares and he used the statement to answer my hon. Friend, but the hon. Gentleman should know that for every person in my hon. Friend's constituency who took up shares nine did not and they will bear the brunt of the increase in prices caused by the Government's ideology and dogma in these matters.
Any solution to the Northern Ireland conflict must take into account the interrelated causes of the conflict. The first is the deep-seated distrust which has developed between the two communities and which is enforced by deeply entrenched religious and cultural differences. The second cause is the competing national aspirations of the peoples of Northern Ireland. Majorities in both communities sincerely believe that, for principled and historic reasons, they should belong to different nation states, and those beliefs are reflected in the claims of their respective states to sovereignty over the region.
The third is the inequality—cultural and economic—between the two communities in Northern Ireland, which still persists and breeds understandable resentment and alienation. The fourth is the effect of decades of political violence and repression, and the bitterness and hatred that they have engendered. The fifth is the failure of the security forces and the judicial system to secure legitimacy in the eyes of a large section of the population.
As I suggested in the recent emergency powers debate, the Government should investigate the possibility of developing a new system of policing which would take account of the fact that Northern Ireland is a divided community. Ninety two per cent. of the regular constabulary and 94 per cent. of the full-time reserve are drawn from one section of the community, while almost 100 per cent. of those in the Royal Irish Regiment recruited locally for service in Northern Ireland are from the Unionist community. In addition, 93 per cent. of those working in the prison service are from the Unionist community. They are the facts which must be tackled. It is only through a new and imaginative approach and by working to end the disparities in representation that we shall secure widespread acceptance for the forces of law and order.
Any solution to the Northern Ireland conflict must also take into account the fact that Northern Ireland is the site of contested sovereignty claims by two nation states. Under section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act 1920, as modified by the Ireland Act 1948 and the Northern Ireland Constitution Acts, the United Kingdom claims unqualified sovereignty over Northern Ireland, while under articles 2 and 3 of its constitution the Republic of Ireland claims Northern Ireland as part of its national territory. Those competing claims must be recognised and resolved because they reflect the national aspirations of two sections of the community in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland is the only region within the United Kingdom that the Government formally state—in an international treaty—that they would allow to secede, possibly even "with pleasure", if the majority so wished. In November 1990, the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke), declared:
The British Government has no selfish, strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland".
In November 1992, the present Secretary of State went still further, asserting that the
British Government is not guided by any blue print or master plan leading to some pre-selected outcome of our choice".
Those statements were positive steps forward, but we are worried that recent statements by the Secretary of State appear to contradict the policy of declared neutrality.
The Secretary of State still claims that the Government have set no agenda of their own, but in his Liverpool speech he ruled out the possibility of a united Ireland for the foreseeable future and the possibility of simple majority rule. He firmly ruled out joint authority. He also minimised the role of the Republic in the talks process and in the future of Northern Ireland.
In his speech to the Northern Ireland Conservative area council, the Secretary of State fervently supported the electoral integration of Northern Ireland, declaring:
We want to see elected across Northern Ireland as many Conservatives supporting our policies as possible".
He also looked forward to a time when a Conservative Secretary of State could be elected from Northern Ireland. I think that Mr. Lawrence Kennedy has some time to wait.
In his speech to the Hazel Grove Conservative association, the Secretary of State asserted that Northern Ireland
is part of our own country, no less than Scotland, Wales or England".
He went on to argue that that gave the Conservatives "a clear directional signal" as to their "purpose". If that is the basis of Conservative policy in Northern Ireland, it is reasonable for the House to deduce that the Secretary of State's "direction and focus" will lead the talks towards an internal settlement with extremely limited North-South institutions. By no definition is that a neutral agenda.
The Secretary of State has decided to bring forward solely British proposals, despite the fact that the Irish Government are co-sponsors of the talks, which has left the Irish Government with no alternative but to draw up their own proposals. That difference between the co-sponsors of the talks has occurred at the very time when the two Governments need to be seen to be working together as closely as possible in order to resuscitate the talks process.
The Labour party would prefer the parties of the island of Ireland to determine their own future by themselves resolving the differences between the two communities. Ideally, the parties in Ireland should be able to negotiate a settlement, without any external interference, which would gain widespread acceptance throughout the island of Ireland. However, the talks process seems to be in abeyance for the foreseeable future. That is the unfortunate fact.
No one would welcome more than the British Labour party an announcement by the Secretary of State that the talks are to start immediately on the original basis—
My hon. Friends will have noted that I made that point obliquely when talking about the British Government's proposals.
No one would welcome more than the British Labour party an announcement from the Secretary of State that the talks are to start immediately on the original basis. As that is unlikely to happen, however, it is for the British and Irish Governments, working within the Anglo-Irish Agreement, to recognise the responsibility that they share. It is time for both Governments to reinvigorate and deepen their co-operation within that agreement.
The two Governments should seek to make whatever progress is possible and seek ways to share responsibility and ensure that the needs of the peoples of Northern Ireland for security, equality and justice can be met. It is imperative that a lasting and peaceful solution is found which will recognise the integrity and aspirations of both traditions within the island of Ireland and which will establish stable, legitimate and democratic institutions.
If the parties are not able to talk together, in renewing this order for direct rule there is an increasing responsibility on both Governments—the Government of the Republic and of the United Kingdom—to resolve their differences and to establish new institutions which will win the respect of the peoples of Northern Ireland and of the peoples of the whole of the island of Ireland.
I shudder to think of the nightmare in which we would be embroiled if the Labour party formed the Government of the day and if what we have just heard were the Government's policy, but I shall be ultra-selective in my remarks, for the sake of brevity.
If our deliberations end in a Division—I am not entirely sure whether that will be the case—I shall support the extension order, but I shall do so with regret and misgivings. I shall support it because, in the prevailing circumstances. I believe that it is the only responsible course of action. There is no practical alternative on the agenda. I should support the order with regret, however, because I increasingly feel that we should not be in this position, and that the sooner direct rule ends the better.
Tonight, there is nothing whatever to celebrate. If I calculate correctly, this is the 18th time that an extension order has been laid before the House. The "interim period" has lasted for 19 years. Stormont was prorogued and direct rule introduced 22 years ago. Meanwhile, the power-sharing executive, the constitutional convention and the rolling devolution Assembly have come and gone, and achieved nothing.
Those initiatives were certainly well intentioned—
My hon. Friend says that the last Northern Ireland Assembly achieved nothing. That was not the impression given to me or to other members who served in it. I have heard Members of the House and Members of another place say that they greatly appreciated the hard work that was done, which was manifested in the reports that emanated from the assembly. If the Government had not embarked on the Anglo-Irish Agreement, but had maintained their support for the Northern Ireland Assembly, we should not now be in the present difficult position.
I accept that correction. I said that, for the sake of brevity, I was accelerating my argument. The point that I was making, albeit too briefly and indistinctly, was that the lack of continuity has meant that nothing permanent has been achieved. Of course I accept the hon. Gentleman's correction.
Hanging in the air is the prospect of renewed inter-party talks—the initiative started by the previous Secretary of State and continued by my right hon. and learned Friend the present Secretary of State.
Direct rule is unhealthy. The most that can be said for it is that there can be circumstances in which it is the lesser of evils. Nevertheless, it is profoundly unsatisfactory that direct rule has lasted so long, and profoundly disturbing that attempts to establish alternative structures have had no lasting effect. The fundamental weakness of direct rule, as the Secretary of State has already said, is that it denies locally elected politicians the responsibility of deciding policies for Northern Ireland. For that reason above all others, I believe that it is vital that inter-party talks are not merely resumed but brought to a positive conclusion.
Some of the omens for the inter-party talks may not be very promising. I regret that the Social Democratic and Labour party has not convinced many observers of the genuineness and sincerity of its commitment to the search for an agreement. I also regret the President of the Republic's ill-advised recent visit to Belfast. It has reawakened old suspicions. It was a backward step which has undermined her position as a builder of bridges. Despite welcome improvements, the Irish Government can still demonstrate their good faith by delivering more in the fight against terrorism, and by further clearing the air on articles 2 and 3.
I remain convinced that the three-strand approach is correct, but the greatest emphasis should fall on strand 1, the development of relationships within Northern Ireland, including relationships between any new institutions of government there and the Westminster Parliament. Conversely, least emphasis should he placed on strand 2. I greatly fear that there will be a groundswell of disillusionment and frustration if the political parties do not resume talks and cannot implement an agreement, at least on strand 1.
The process cannot continue indefinitely. My personal perception is that the participants in future inter-party talks have one last chance to put their house in order. If the talks do not start, or if they fail to reach a conclusion, the Government should take a different course of action.
The Westminster Government should then address the task of establishing in Northern Ireland structures and institutions of local government acceptable to the majority of people. In those circumstances, the Government will have to decide between imposing full legislative devolution in the form most acceptable to the majority, and a policy of integration, which would mean governing Ulster as exactly as possible in the same way as the rest of the United Kingdom. I believe that the participants have one last chance before one of those courses of action is taken.
Incidentally, the time has come for the creation of a Northern Ireland Select Committee. The case is overwhelming, and the absence of such a Committee is unacceptable.
I hope that this will be the last time that we have to extend the provisions. Direct rule is unhealthy. It is to be hoped that the inter-party talks will reach a successful conclusion, but if they fail we must take either the course of imposed devolution or the course of integration.
I feel bound to remind the House that, when we embarked on this charade at the same time last year, I said that I did not intend to speak in the debate, on the ground that my commitment to the talks, or the summit, inhibited me somewhat, lest I should inadvertently breach the confidentiality that I considered essential for any possible success in the talks. Unfortunately, it was not long before that confidentiality was breached. Furthermore, the talks were terminated by the decision of the two Governments in November.
The House should be clear about what we are being asked to do in any such initiative, summit or high-wire act—this is relevant to the speech by the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter). In the first place, the requirement is to find a formula or a structure of government acceptable to every party, with a place therein for every party; but that is only the beginning.
There would have to be continuing adherence to the structure thereafter. If one party withdrew its support, the structure—not the coalition, but the structure—would collapse. In countries abroad that are cursed with proportional representation, when a coalition is brought down by the desertion of a minor party, a new accommodation is cobbled together, and the structure remains. However, the Northern Ireland Office specification, time-honoured by 20 years of experimentation, ensures that, in that event, the structure of government itself collapses utterly.
The consequences were spelt out with brutal clarity by a former Secretary of State, Lord Prior, in 1982, when he received a deputation from my party, led by the then President, the late Sir George Clark. I remember Sir George asking the Secretary of State the simple question, "In the event of an all-party coalition being established, what would happen if, for example, the SDLP withdrew?" With disarming frankness, Lord Prior replied, "Oh, that's simple. I would then dismiss the remaining native Ministers and claw power back to myself."
Our SDLP colleagues, who are sitting on the Bench in front of me, will not mind if I say that Lord Prior made the position clear when he made a broadcast towards the end of the election campaign for his rolling devolution Assembly. In fact, it was a kind of election broadcast, although admittedly Lord Prior did not field any candidates, so it was a tactical exercise without troops.
He assured the SDLP and its electors that, if it boycotted the assembly, as—for reasons that I entirely understand, incidentally—it had suggested it would, he would withhold powers from the three parties that took their seats. At a later stage, it was made clear that any of those three parties could be dispensed with; only the SDLP was indispensable. I am sure that that makes the SDLP feel proud, and I can understand that.
All that happened in 1982. Since then, a more disruptive influence has entered the frame in the shape of the insistance of the Irish Government on something approaching joint authority over Northern Ireland. Such an idea is repugnant not only to the Unionists but to that category mentioned by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and those with whom he had exchanges—that element that I call the greater number. I am referring to the Protestants and Roman Catholics, the greater number of all faiths and none, who simply want to remain in the greater unit of the United Kingdom in which the protection of rights and freedoms are taken for granted.
Incidentally, those rights and freedoms are taken for granted by millions of people of Irish descent who are scattered through the United Kingdom. They participate in electing members to represent them in this Parliament, which has evolved over 700 years into a system for the protection of minorities unequalled in the world. The 17 of us who are sent here for that purpose recognise the perceived authority of the United Kingdom Parliament to ensure that those rights are never eroded.
What I have said is not an argument for stalemate or despair. On the contrary, I hope that it has removed the debris of failed initiatives, so that we can make a positive start on restoring accountable democracy, if necessary by easy and modest instalments.
I was greatly encouraged by a passage in the speech of the Secretary of State on 22 June at Coleraine. He said:
The Secretary of State praised Coleraine councillors, and others throughout the Province, who gave of their time to serve local government and who are willing to work together to improve standards of life in the community.
Sir Patrick said he wanted to see wider responsibilities conferred on local councillors, and added: am sure that even more people of high quality will come forward to serve as councillors if they have more opportunities to get their teeth into issues which are of real concern to the community."
I fully support those words—they are in line with everything I said during the election campaign in May. The 17 of us can, without any difficulty, help the Secretary of State to identify non-controversial powers and some real scope.
I shall take the liberty of quoting a passage of my television election campaign in which I, unlike Lord Prior, had some troops:
My Ulster Unionist candidates are offering you the opportunity to insist on the restoration of accountable democracy to all the citizens of Northern Ireland. As a community we can no longer tolerate the overlapping layers of remote authorities which waste our money, time and resources.
This is no sectarian issue, for there are neither Orange nor Green roads—only good or bad roads—and the had can be mended more efficiently by District Councils. One can think of many more examples.
Hon. Members will remember that, when the Secretary of State announced the termination of the talks in November 1992, I said that I intended to consult any people who wished to talk to me—that is, anyone who accepted the constitutional position and was prepared to act in a democratic way. My aim was endorsed by the 468 delegates at the annual meeting of my party in March. I am happy to report to the House, as I have reported to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, that the response has been encouraging.
A volume of support is emerging for practical steps to restore stability to Northern Ireland. What is encouraging is the willingness of organisations and influential individuals, who perhaps in the past did not play their full part in society in Northern Ireland, not to engage in party politics—that was never required of them—but to use their influence at the provincial level as well as in towns, villages and rural communities to steady nerves and make national decision-making possible.
The Government have a role in confidence-building, mainly in taking steps to bring about real accountable democracy. The Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights made its contribution a few days ago by pressing Her Majesty's Government to rid Parliament of that degrading Order in Council method of governing Northern Ireland, especially on legislation of fundamental importance to the entire Northern Ireland populace.
Like the Secretary of State, I see many encouraging signs of further movement towards practical co-operation. As he knows, that capacity has always been there. It is evident in the House when the Northern Ireland representatives put the Great Britain parties to shame in the matter of co-operation, even on matters of bread and butter importance to the people of Great Britain.
Implicit in the remarks of the Secretary of State was a willingness to contribute to that process, and I welcome that. While we share the hope that this farce of renewing an interim measure after two decades will not be necessary in future, we may not see it entirely disappear in the next 12 months. However, I sincerely hope that in the next 12 months we will take modest, practical and constructive steps towards that goal.
Once again, we have been invited by Her Majesty's Government to support the renewal of the draft Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order 1993. We continue this debate, as we have done for the past 11 years since I entered the House, under the shadow of the bomb and the bullet. Several of our major town centres have been wrecked recently and we have been left with wastelands by the IRA bombers. Last night, another body lay on the highway in my Mid-Ulster constituency, the victim of an IRA court of republican justice.
It is important that we carefully consider the system of government that we are being asked to rubber stamp tonight. It has been said by some hon. Members that the direct rule that we have endured in the past is not acceptable but that we must simply continue on that road. Others have suggested that we must continue until the Unionists are willing to surrender their Unionism.
We have heard vintage propaganda from Her Majesty's supposedly loyal Opposition Front Bench about how to get rid of part of Her Majesty's territory. Those who know the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) are not surprised by anything he says. Indeed, we would be surprised if he had said anything else because we are used to that sort of propaganda, which would give only succour—whether intentional or not—to the enemies of the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, the people of Northern Ireland will have to endure the suffering because of some ill-timed statements and ill-thought-out words from Her Majesty's Opposition Front Bench.
The draft order is not a complex document. We all have a copy of it. Indeed, 30 seconds is probably sufficient time to read it. However, the implications of that document are profound and will be deeply felt by the Northern Ireland community. Like the constituents of every other Member of Parliament from Northern Ireland, my constituents have to endure a system of government that is a denial of democracy and an insult to our great British standard of democracy.
More than 20 years ago, the people of Northern Ireland were robbed of effective government by the suspension of our Northern Ireland Parliament. In its place, we have a Northern Ireland Office that is accountable to no one in the Northern Ireland community; nor does it have the confidence of the people of Northern Ireland. Therefore, the House ought to appreciate the frustration and, indeed, alienation felt by the majority of Ulster citizens in the face of that unrepresentative system of government. It should also appreciate the inherent dangers that lie in the path of denying democracy to the good, law-abiding people of Northern Ireland.
Not only is the present position ridiculous but it should be condemned. The people of the Province have no say over decisions that affect even the most elementary aspects of daily living. For example, civil servants order the citizens of our part of the United Kingdom as to where to build, how to build and what to build. The elected representatives of the people are often frowned upon as interfering busybodies who have little or no right to question such unfettered dictatorship.
No other part of the United Kingdom would accept that intolerable and deplorable system. I warn the House that such a system undermines respect for the democratic process and for Parliament. The people of Northern Ireland, through their elected representatives, have no effective say in the decision-making process for roads, sewerage, water, schools, health, planning and so on. As if that insult were not sufficient, the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland often receive lectures from certain Members of Parliament and others from across the world—every Tom, Dick and Harry who desires to be flown in. The Unionists are lectured that we must sell our Unionist principles and betray the trust of the people who elected us before we can have restored to us a say in the affairs of a part of the United Kingdom.
Many of that collection of what one could call political has-beens, nobodies and know-alls sold their soul out to republican propaganda. They care little about democracy or the rights of suffering people such as my constituents. Many of my constituents have suffered murder and slaughter simply because they happen to be members of Her Majesty's security forces or of a Protestant persuasion.
Our present system of government is an indignity and it should be changed forthwith. Our Prime Minister has often expressed his intention to fight to strengthen the union between England and Scotland, but is it not time that the Government came out fighting to strengthen the union between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? Instead, the message that emanates from the Northern Ireland Office and from certain speeches of the Secretary of State is that the position of Northern Ireland as a part of the United Kingdom is qualified and conditional and may change. It is suggested that if the change came about, the Government would perhaps be delighted. The Government have no strategic interest in staying any longer within the Province.
The hon. Gentleman knows that I did not say that. He knows that that is untrue. He knows that that is a gross distortion of anything that I have said or could reasonably be supposed to have said. He does his case no good by saying that.
If the Secretary of State felt so strongly about it, he would not have mentioned that Northern Ireland costs the United Kingdom Exchequer £3 billion. He would not have thrown the cost of retaining Northern Ireland as a part of the United Kingdom in our teeth. Nevertheless, the Government no longer have any strategic interest in staying any longer. Indeed, those are blunt words. They are a blunt way of saying, "Your ports were useful during the war while the Irish Republic showed Germany the path to bomb your cities. Your men were valuable to die in the fields of France in defence of freedom on the world stage. But now we feel all right, Jack. We are in a different international field, so you can go off to Dublin."
Let me make it abundantly clear to the House that the majority of Ulster citizens will not go to Dublin. If the Government at any time desire to rid themselves of Northern Ireland, the people of Northern Ireland still will not go south towards Dublin. Let it be abundantly clear that we in Northern Ireland have sacrificed too much blood to remain out of the Irish Republic. We would happily sacrifice whatever else needed to be taken from us to ensure that we did not go into the Irish Republic. So whatever Bench hon. Members sit on, and whatever lectures they give us, they will not change the view of the Unionist majority. Six will not go into 26.
No. I must continue because I have limited time and I understand that the hon. Gentleman intends to speak in the debate; otherwise, I would certainly be glad to give way. No one delights more in healthy exchange and debate than me.
During the debate last year, the House was reminded of the statement that emanated from the then Minister of State at the time of the by-election referendum on the Anglo-Irish Agreement. He said:
It doesn't matter how you vote, it won't make any difference.
That did not come from a Member of Parliament. It was not a misquote. It was a direct statement to the people of Northern Ireland as they were expressing their view on their position within the United Kingdom and its diminution by the Anglo-Irish Agreement. That statement sums up the sort of democracy that we have endured under direct rule.
There are a few home truths which the House needs to hear. The majority Unionist community in Ulster is sick of betrayal. The Government are on the verge of pushing the majority community too far. The truth of the situation is this: the Government have moved towards alienating the vast majority of Northern Ireland. The ballot box decides that Dublin should have no say in the internal affairs of Northern Ireland—a part of the United Kingdom. Yet Dublin has been given more say in the affairs of Northern Ireland than the elected representatives of the people.
The Government have also decided that all political development in Northern Ireland will be halted until Unionists agree to some interference from Dublin. I appreciate the fact that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North, the spokesman for Her Majesty's loyal Opposition, seemed to envisage a different measure of that interference.
The ballot box declares the will of the vast majority of Ulster people to be British, yet the Government seek through educational programming, economic strategy and so on to erode our Britishness and develop an Irish identity. The ballot box establishes the right of every citizen to be equal and to have equal status, yet the Government have decided that a vote for the Social Democratic and Labour party—it has been mentioned already—or other republican party is of more value than votes cast for the Unionist parties. The ballot box demands the upholding and strengthening of democracy, yet the Government have decided that Ulster can have only what is known in Ulster as a rigged democracy, without reference to British democratic principles.
We have to endure the Fair Employment Commission, which not only is guilty of discrimination against Protestants in its own employment but closes its eyes to blatant discrimination against the Protestant community, for example, in the Department of Health and Social Services. I say that not as one who believes that anyone should be discriminated against on the ground of religion. As the books will show, and as was confirmed by the Fair Employment Commission, the only time there was fair employment in Magherafelt district council was during the four years when I happened to be chairman, when people were employed equally. When the Social Democratic and Labour party controlled the council, it was found guilty of discriminating against Roman Catholics. That can be checked if Opposition Members do not believe it—the books shall open.
There was unfair distribution of Government jobs. SDLP constituencies were deliberately chosen for those jobs. Londonderry in the west of the Province was chosen, but what about Omagh, Cookstown, Magherafelt and all the other places—[ Interruption.] I shall come to the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady).
I read in a paper the other day that jobs are to be removed from Belfast, Ballymena and Bangor and are to be sent to Londonderry and Downpatrick. Jobs were robbed from Belfast, Ballymena and Bangor. Where the jobs were to be shared around, why were Omagh and other major settlements in the Province not chosen? Was deliberate discrimination practised? Were constituencies represented by parties with certain political complexions chosen to receive grants? It is unbelievable that, in order to obtain a grant for a Northern Ireland Housing Executive house, one has to state one's religion—whether Catholic or Protestant. Whenever challenges were made, we were told that the policy was designed to show how many Protestants and how many Catholics were receiving grants for their properties. Following a recently introduced law, that is now the policy of the present Administration.
We have been left in a despicable position—Sinn Fein deliberately and defiantly support IRA murderers, but the Government give Sinn Fein the respectability of sitting in the council chambers. The elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland are supposed to conduct normal council business with those representatives of murderers.
There is unfair distribution of Government finances and Government agencies. I have received numerous letters from my constituents complaining about the imbalance of funding in Government finance programmes. Surely that cannot always happen by chance—some of the funding must be directed from specific sources. There is also a religious imbalance in Government-nominated posts. The list of acts of discrimination is endless. The failure to redress the balance will continue to alienate the Protestant and majority community, with monumental consequences.
There was a recent decision to establish and fund the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools in Northern Ireland. Does the hon.
Gentleman agree that the majority community perceived that decision as if, for the first time, one section of the community in Northern Ireland were having special treatment and special support at the expense of the majority community?
I have been given the statistic that in, I think, 1991–92, 73 per cent. of all funding in the education programme was directed towards maintained schools and 23 per cent. towards controlled schools, which the vast majority of people support. The figures speak for themselves.
A few weeks ago, I was in the United States of America attempting to develop a cordial relationship with industrialists from the southern states to help my constituency. At the same time, the IRA was blasting the business centre of our town to pieces. Millions of pounds worth of damage was done, not only in Magherafelt, but in Portadown, Lurgan and Newry—I could continue with the list.
Recently, in my constituency, the people of the Protestant community of Pomeroy came under systematic attack and intimidation. The position has not changed, and it is due only to the courage of the dwindling Protestant community in Pomeroy that the area has not been wiped clear of that community. I am talking not about a border area where the Provos have been on the march for a number of years but about a region that is the centre of the Province—a part of the United Kingdom.
A young man in my constituency, Mr. Martin, showed the spirit of enterprise and resilience that is displayed by many of my suffering constituents, but that spirit cost him his life. He decided not to move out of Mid-Ulster. Others are being encouraged to move by the security forces as they cannot be protected. However, Mr. Martin decided to secure a better future for his family by purchasing further land essential for the development of his farming industry.
Mr. Martin was brutally murdered because he was a Protestant farmer who was not willing to be intimidated out of his heritage by a bunch of murdering IRA thugs. That may not impress many people in the House, but on my visits to that man's home, I did not see many Members of Parliament telling the family how much they grieved for the suffering that that community has endured down the years. Mr. Martin sealed his purchase with his youthful blood, and his sacrifice must not be in vain. Ulster needs a Government with the will to protect its citizens, irrespective of worldwide propaganda and public opinion. The Martin family face intolerable intimidation and death threats; our Government must effectively defend the innocent and destroy the evil.
As the local government elections approach, much play has been made in that community and throughout the Province of the fact that a large section of the community does not support the terrorists and their political mouthpiece, Sinn Fein. The election results proved that one out of two in that community voted for the gunmen. In the rest of my constituency, the gunmen's vote increased in support. That is how the people were repaid after all the pandering to terrorists and others of the republican community.
Suggestions have been made in the House today that the Irish Government should be inviting us to the table. The Irish Government never asked Unionists to the talks. The first strand of the talks had nothing to do with the Irish Government; they were internal talks for the internal parties of the United Kingdom. I say to the SDLP that, during the talks, it was made clear that there was no intention of having an internal settlement which was to be left on the sidelines to be used to exert pressure to encourage Unionists to sell out their Unionism. We will not sell out our Unionism for anyone. Our people have suffered and endured. Whether or not the House likes to hear it, I tell hon. Members that I shall not come to the House to put my hand to anything that sells out the future of my people.
I shall first refer to the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates). I take no pleasure in anyone's political problems. I have dealt with the hon. Gentleman since 1973, and I wish him well and thank him for his interest in Northern Ireland. We seldom, if ever, agreed and we had many bruising encounters and fundamental disagreements, but I could never accuse him of indifference. I should like to put on record that I wish him well.
There is almost something pathetic about today's debate which, in many ways, ignores one of the fundamental realities. We are almost trying to grovel for a share of a cake which should be equally distributed. The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) spoke about this town getting that and another town riot getting it, and about the way in which problems were divided up into Catholic or Protestant ones. Such comments do not help the political process.
I shall concentrate on two main points as I know that there is a time constraint. Normally in such debates, we have a perennial whipping boy—the political parties of Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State said in his opening statement that the responsibility lies principally with the people of Northern Ireland, but it does not. The problem we have in the north of Ireland was not created by the people of Northern Ireland; it was devised by two sovereign Governments—the British Government and the Government in the Republic of Ireland—as an artificial device to overcome the difficulties that they were facing at that time. That has left us with the problems that we have experienced for the past 72 years.
Let us not make the Northern Ireland political parties the whipping boys in this or any other debate. The situation is the result of a governmental decision. Having created something in such an artificial way that for 72 years it has been sustained only by artificial means—through immense security input, a remarkable amount of expenditure and bending the law as it has been bent by emergency legislation—the two Governments should be asking themselves what is so fundamentally wrong that we have had no solution or settlement in 72 years.
Is it the fault of people in the north of Ireland? Are we that bad that at times we have to endure such a patronising approach here? Let us not forget that the arrangement which created the problem was made at governmental level by two Governments. If we do not examine the fundamental artificiality and failure of that agreement, we ignore the core of the problem.
Of course we can talk and I congratulate the Secretary of State on a rather attractive travelogue about Northern Ireland, but that is not the place where I live. His speech was absolutely excellent from a presentational point of view, but it is not the Northern Ireland I know and it did not touch the core of the problem. Until we face the core of the problem, we will continue putting pieces of icing on the cake.
There is little doubt that some people who negotiated the treaty 72 years ago believed that it was artificial and that it would change within 10 years. However, 72 years might lead one to believe that the treaty was the end of a process and not the beginning of one. That is the reality and, apparently, some people simply will not accept it.
If the hon. Gentleman were to refresh his memory and read the Government of Ireland Act 1920 and the comments of the then monarch in relation to that Act, he would recognise that it was then seen as an ad hoc arrangement that should inexorably lead to a permanent position. Let me probe further, as one seldom has the opportunity to probe the British Government's long-term position on the viability of partition as a solution.
What if I were to say on record:
I do not agree that partition can be the basis for a settlement. My hon. Friend's underlying thought is perfectly right—there are two communities on the island and they must be given rights as two communities—but if there is to be a lasting settlement, it must be within the sovereignty of one Cypriot Government."?—[Official Report, 28 October 1992; Vol. 212, c. 1006.]
Those are not the words of a Northern Ireland nationalist or republican; they are words of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the House on 28 October 1992. In those words, is the Secretary of State recognising the inherent instability and artificiality of partition on a small island such as Cyprus? If he is, I believe that he is looking realistically and courageously at the way in which problems can be solved, rather than putting them under the icing on the cake.
We say yes to good local government for its own purposes and its own good reasons, to good economic co-operation between the political parties for their own good reasons and to good community relations by all means for good reasons, but not to solve fundamental political problems. We are hearing such a patch-up today—that, if we put another blob of icing over what is underneath, everything will come together and solve the problem. I believe that it will not. It should happen as of right, because it is the right thing to do.
I return to the fundamental point where I started and again ask the same question. Is it not the business of the two sovereign Governments who created a mutual problem to solve it? It is not enough to say that the Irish Government have no role to play. The problem is on the island of Ireland and affects them daily. It costs £1 million a day to police the border. It is a problem that is not going to go away in the normal conventional way.
We must examine the central issue. What are the Governments doing? Where is the missionary zeal we were promised not just by the British Government but by the Irish Government? Has it been siphoned off into a new form of contemplative order, as was referred to in the debate on this subject last year? When has there been realistic debate in the Republic of Ireland about a problem which is the Republic's problem as well as ours, and which was created by an Irish Government? Why are we experiencing an almost Trappist silence from those who had remarkable missionary zeal? Have both Governments jointly decided that a vow of silence is right and that they should retreat into their own monastic settlements? Why are they contemplating how to solve a problem that they have had 72 years to solve? I believe that the question must be asked.
There is something fundamentally wrong with the political process if, with all the people dead, the price being paid and the instability it is causing, both Governments seem to have run to ground and are not giving it the attention that it deserves. I apply that criticism even-handedly because I believe that the responsibility lies with both Governments and not primarily with the political parties in the north of Ireland. That is one reason why so many peripheral issues start to become important.
Next week, when the inter-parliamentary body meets, wonder of wonders, we will be giving almost half a day's consideration to the Opsahl report. The inter-parliamentary body of representatives from this Parliament and from the Irish Government has experienced the problems in the north of Ireland; lo and behold, we will be giving the Opsahl report half a day's consideration. Is that facing reality? I am tempted to quote an observation made in one of the Sunday newspapers relating to the Opsahl report, although I cannot attribute it because I forget which newspaper it was in. It was a quote from the philosopher Nietzsche: "I sowed a dragon and I reaped a flea." The problems are more fundamental than that and have to be grasped.
One of our other recent distractions was a presidential visit. I do not know what the background to the visit was—I am not privy to that type of information. I wonder how much time during the meeting between the Prime Ministers of this country and of Ireland was spent discussing that visit, and how much was spent discussing a political resolution to our problems. I do not know and will never know. I suspect that it will be another in the litany of incidents that assume an importance that is remarkable given that the important things have not been addressed.
We have to face up to the fundamental realities of the problem. I am not speaking about creating a situation where Unionists cannot have parity with nationalists. I am asking a question that must be answered by both Governments: what is the long-term position in relation to a solution to the problem? Unless someone ultimately has the courage to say what that long-term position is, the fundamental problems will not be faced.
Are we to go on with the platitudes that we all utter when we are asked about the resumption of the talks? I do not think that anyone in the House believes that talks are to resume in the autumn. I am not sure that anyone in the British or Irish Governments believes it. Nobody in the political parties believes it, but one must conform and say that one believes that they will resume in the autumn. I do not think that they will, although I should like them to continue. I believe that the reason for that is that we have come to a watershed in the way in which the two sovereign Governments deal with the problem.
The matter could perhaps best be summarised in this way: is there an opportunity to start to solve the security problems, the policing problems, the justice problems and the problems of discrimination to which the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster referred? Is there to be a solution once and for all, or is there to be another Anglo-Irish agreement? I should perhaps remind the Unionists behind me that, when they talk about the Anglo-Irish Agreement, they are referring to the most recent agreement. We must also remember the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1921, which has not been spectacularly successful.
We must make a distinction, because I believe that that will help the political process. Are we going for a solution to the problem? Or are we to get another cosy little arrangement that may last a while and struggle along artificially, and be propped up in every way—an arrangement whose members will be lionised by everyone of good will and which will ultimately collapse like all the other arrangements have collapsed? That is the position that the two Governments and the political parties are in.
I hope that we all have the courage to say that we are going for a solution. It is a path that will entail dangers and major compromises for everybody and will raise serious questions of all of us in this Parliament and in the north and south of Ireland. Are we to create for ourselves another little arrangement that will be as fundamentally flawed as the other little arrangements that have fallen before? That is the nub of the problem we face. Sooner or later, the Government will have to face that problem and answer the questions. Must we continue year after year with the classic failure of all Governments—that they never do the right thing until they have exhausted every other eventuality?
I am surprised that the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) said that Northern Ireland was an artificial entity. The first people ever to land on the island of Ireland came across the narrow strip of water between Scotland and what the hon. Gentleman refers to as the north of Ireland. They were the first people to live in the island of Ireland, and most historians accept that as a fact.
I have the honour to represent a constituency which was a centre of learning long before Dublin city ever existed. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman talked about the bitterness that he seems to think has been generated from the creation of Northern Ireland more than 70 years ago. I have read a history of the ancient Irish Churches—I am not talking about King Billy or Henry VIII or anybody like that—in Norman times, about 700 years ago.
At that time, the Irish monks wrote to the Pope to complain about the arrogance of the English monks, and to say that they did not want them in Irish monasteries. The English monks in the Irish monasteries also wrote to the Pope to complain about the barbaric Irish monks. The dispute was running long before 1920, when Northern Ireland was created.
In North Down, we have witnessed IRA bombing atrocities, although nothing like the ethnic cleansing that has taken place in the border areas of Northern Ireland. On the last two occasions, the IRA tried to destroy the heart of Bangor in my constituency, and four brave police officers escaped death only by a miracle, although some sustained serious injuries. More recently, there was the sectarian killing of an innocent Roman Catholic man, which I utterly condemn. The loyalist paramilitaries, in committing that dastardly deed and other tit-for-tat murders, play into the hands of the IRA, which thrives on fear and hatred.
We are fortunate in North Down. We have no peace lines dividing one religion from another. We reject sectarian hatred, and our earnest hope is for reconciliation and political progress in Northern Ireland. Our prayers are directed to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and we hope that he will succeed in achieving political progress in the Province. That is why I support the talks, and why most people in Northern Ireland support them and hope that they succeed.
The previous Northern Ireland Assembly, of which I was Speaker, made a valuable contribution to democracy in Northern Ireland. I mention it because one of my hon. Friends referred to it and accepted afterwards that his remarks about that Northern Ireland Assembly were wrong. It was a useful Assembly, and from 1982 to 1986 the people of Northern Ireland, through their Assembly representatives, were able to play a positive role in the affairs of the Province. For that short period, direct rule was given a human face and a local input.
Sadly, having established the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Government then embarked—in secret—on another initiative, which led to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. That scuppered the Assembly, and scuppered any prospect of reaching a settlement based on an Assembly at Stormont. When I say that the initiative was embarked on in secret, I mean that the Government did not consult representatives of the majority community in any way.
Since 1986, Northern Ireland has been governed by Order in Council. Debate on such orders is normally limited to 90 minutes, and the orders cannot be amended. That is not democracy; it is a denial of democracy. The parliamentary democracy enjoyed throughout the rest of the United Kingdom is denied to the people of Northern Ireland, at a time when the population of Ulster are suffering appalling injuries and deaths at the hands of the terrorists. The campaign of terrorism has now lasted 25 years; we need more democracy, not less.
As I have often said before, that is why I support the call for a Select Committee to deal with Ulster's affairs, composed of all Northern Ireland Members. It could sit in Northern Ireland as well as in London; it would have the power to take evidence from expert witnesses, and to examine Ministers, civil servants and others. All the political representatives—representing most political hues in Northern Ireland—could then work together to resolve the problems that face people in Northern Ireland. Political slogans would no longer matter, or at any rate they would matter less. I believe that, in that way, a political rapprochement could be secured in Northern Ireland.
The history of Ireland is crammed with happenings that cause offence to loyalists as well as nationalists. I am a great believer in reading history; but there is no merit in constantly raking over the past and opening old wounds. Ireland's history is not unique; we are witnessing terrible slaughter in Bosnia and other parts of the world.
I commend the people of Ulster for the remarkable restraint that they have shown in the face of obscene slaughter, mutilations and bombings. The people of Ulster need not only political progress, but—first and foremost—the defeat of terrorism, whether it be Protestant, Catholic, republican or loyalist. I pay tribute to the courage of the security forces; I hope that the Government will now adopt a vigorous security policy.
I am disappointed by the Dublin Government's reaction. I think that they could do far more. I believe that, if all the people in Ireland, north and south—and all the people in Northern Ireland, including politicians who regard themselves as constitutional politicians—worked together against terrorism, we could unite the people against the evil and bring peace to Northern Ireland. With peace, we would bring hope and prosperity to our community.
In the past half hour or so, I have learnt that another of my constituents has been murdered by terrorists. It happened this afternoon. I understand that that constituent served the community in the Ulster Defence Regiment; for that, he has been murdered—presumably by Republican terrorists, although I know no more about the circumstances.
I think of that, and I think of what has also happened today: the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates), who was responsible for security in Northern Ireland, resigned this afternoon. I have heard some of the comments of hon. Members about his resignation, and about the work he did as a Minister. Hon. Members will understand that I do not feel able to echo the tributes paid to him, following yet another demonstration of the failure of the Government's security policy. Whoever succeeds him as Minister responsible for security should reflect on what happened in Lurgan this afternoon, and on the loss of yet another good man who served the community well and paid the price for doing so.
That event casts a shadow over what I had intended to say. I shall therefore leave the bulk of it for another occasion. No doubt the news and current affairs programmes are already discussing the circumstances which led to the resignation of the Minister responsible for security in Northern Ireland, but I wonder how much discussion there will be of the terrorist murder which took place this afternoon—I suspect that there will be very little.
Today has been very confused. The emergency debate prompted by events involving Rosyth, which will begin in 25 minutes' time, has led to the withdrawal of the debate on the draft Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1993. However, listening to the Secretary of State, I sometimes wondered whether in his haste he had picked up the wrong speech as most of his speech referred to Government policy on the economy of Northern Ireland, or on aspects of the work of the Northern Ireland Departments. Such matters should be dealt with in debates on appropriation orders, not in debates on the renewal of direct rule.
The tail end of the Secretary of State's speech referred to what are described as inter-party talks. That, too, struck me as—strictly speaking—not relevant to a debate on the extension of direct rule. Direct rule means the rule exercised by Her Majesty's Government, and the legislative authority of the House in regard to Northern Ireland. It is right and proper that the House of Commons and Her Majesty's Government should rule Northern Ireland, because Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. What should be observed in regard to the future of direct rule, however, is that it is a debased form of rule: we are not governed as we ought to be governed and as other parts of the kingdom are governed, but through a truncated legislative procedure—the Order in Council procedure—which is patently undemocratic.
We are governed without proper accountability. That is what the Secretary of State was trying to cover up. He went through the motions of rendering an account, but there is no proper accountability, and he knows it. If there were proper accountability, the Secretary of State—like every other Secretary of State—would be called to account through a Select Committee. The absence of that procedure illustrates the improper nature of direct rule. This debate should have focused on the absence of a Select Committee procedure and on the shortcomings of the Order in Council procedure that we are forced to suffer.
If I had the time, I would have quoted from the valuable report of the Hansard Society commission on the legislative process, which expresses the hope that the Government will handle Northern Ireland problems sympathetically and, in particular, that they will return to a proper form of legislation. I also hoped to quote from the recently published and equally valuable report of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, which analyses the Order in Council procedure in a devastating manner and makes cogent proposals for reform—proposals that I endorse.
I will quote one sentence from the SACHR report—or, rather, from the appendix to it. It refers to the Government arguments for not legislating properly and summarises them by saying:
that is, the argument that the Government advance with regard to not legislating properly
may be interpreted as an indirect way of stating that the power to make laws for Northern Ireland is not required to be exercised either fairly, or willingly and responsibly.
That is what the House will be saying tonight when it reviews the direct rule legislation; it will be saying that it does not consider that the Government are required to legislate fairly, or willingly and responsibly. That is what Government Front Bench Members have been saying and what the Opposition have been endorsing. It is not right, and it is getting extremely tiresome to have to sit here year after year listening to feeble attempts to justify what is unjustifiable and to divert attention from it.
Reference to the talks and suggestions that it is somehow the responsibility of the people of Northern Ireland to put an end to direct rule is a diversion, and I have just one comment to make on it. One has to acknowledge that last year's talks, which ended unsuccessfully and inconclusively in November, had a destabilising effect on the community. Fresh talks which also end inconclusively would only worsen that destabilisation. Any responsible party representing, as we do, a significant section of opinion in Northern Ireland has to be sure that there is a reasonable prospect of success in any further talks process, whatever form it may take, before embarking upon it. It would be grossly irresponsible to undertake something that would result only in greater uncertainty and greater destabilisation of the community, because destabilisation, instability and uncertainty are the root causes of the terrorism of which we have seen another example today.
I have to thank my own Front Bench Members for allowing me to come in e this stage and forgoing their own right to reply. I will try not to bite the hand that fed me on this occasion.
My position with regard to Northern Ireland is that we should be doing everything we can to try to establish peace and reconciliation, which involves an understanding of the existence of different communities and the need for respect for the different traditions. At the same time, we must take as strong a stand as possible against terrorism and acts of abuse. Those positions do not seem to me to be in conflict; they are bound together, and there must not be any ambivalence on any side about objecting to acts of terrorism and abuse and organising to stand out against them.
I have been disappointed, however, with certain aspects of the debate so far. If we cannot have talks on the future of Northern Ireland elsewhere, at least opportunities such as today's should be taken to have our own talks about what we believe should be done.
Some of the debate that has taken place across the Floor between Northern Ireland Members has tended to reflect the difficulties in discussing the various positions. A good debate is one in which new ideas emerge and there is some sort of synthesis of the best points from the arguments on all sides. This is not always possible when the opposite sides are diametrically antagonistic.
I am sorry that certain things were not referred to by the Front Bench spokesmen. It was not until the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) spoke that we had any mention of the Opsahl Commission, and then it was only to condemn its findings. The commission's report should be examined seriously. It has 25 recommendations, and I for one will have great difficulty with a number of them. Nevertheless, the commission engaged in some 3,000 interviews in Northern Ireland, often with people within community groups. It had some good discussions with sixth forms, for instance.
A whole host of views and attitudes emerge in the report which are not necessarily part of the conclusions and recommendations, but they help hon. Member; such as myself who are not from Northern Ireland to begin to gain some understanding of the situation there.
The points about direct rule in the report are very relevant to this debate. I do not have time to quote any of them, but I refer hon. Members to page 113. A number of points have been made about the inadequacies of the procedure in the House. I would have thought that the Secretary of State would at least have recognised the existence of the Opsahl Commission.
There are bodies of people in Northern Ireland which are not the major political parties, organisations or forces, but which work continuously for reconciliation and object very strongly to terrorism. Groups such as Families Against Intimidation and Terror are cross-community and adopt the same attitude to sectarian terror in their own communities. There is also the Peace Train organisation, and a body with which I am associated, called New Consensus, which has particular ideas about what should be done. Indeed, some of the best work is being done at community level, sometimes involving political parties, religious groups and others, and working on a cross-community basis.
I also believe that the debate should cover—the Secretary of State mentioned it—the economic and social elements of the problems of Northern Ireland, including those connected with direct rule. In this connection, I disagree with the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), who felt that this was irrelevant.
However, the Secretary of State said the wrong things about economic and social development. He stressed such things as electricity privatisation, on which a unanimous position was taken across the political parties, apart from the new Conservative party in Northern Ireland, which opposed that measure. When there is some unity in Northern Ireland on such a wide political issue, we should look very carefully at the situation. It may have been that the Government were playing a cautious role and trying to get everybody united against them in the interest of other forms of development, but I doubt whether there was that kind of subtlety. I believe that what happens is that the economic programme of the Cabinet and of the Government generally spills over on occasion to Northern Ireland, and almost runs counter to many of the other things that are being done.
The Northern Ireland Office will point to the valuable work that it does, the amount of money that is being spent in Northern Ireland and the encouragement of different forms of activity. Then it will come up with something that is in the ideological tradition of Thatcherism and apply it to Northern Ireland, although it is felt to be quite irrelevant by the organisations within Northern Ireland.
I feel that the appropriation debate offers a great opportunity. I hope that the timetabling of that debate will be re-examined and that it will not be just a one-and-a-half-hour affair. What opportunity do we have to discuss economic and social affairs in Northern Ireland? This is the nearest we come to a Northern Ireland budget. Because of the problems of Northern Ireland and because there is no proper local government structure, Northern Ireland Members are obliged to raise under this heading many issues that are local constituency concerns. They are matters that in another sphere would be dealt with in councils and other bodies. We cannot therefore get to grips with the economic and social issues. The political parties have not, it seems, analysed these issues and are not in a position to put forward an alternative.
Few Members attend Northern Ireland debates, apart from Northern Ireland Members of Parliament, the Front Bench spokesmen on both sides and those who support them. Only four Conservative Back Benchers and two Labour Back Benchers who have an interest in Northern Ireland affairs are here at the moment. There are many reasons. One is that we are considering a statutory instrument that cannot be amended. The ability to table amendments is not available to us. If we could do so, we should be able to put forward our own ideas about the way forward, or ideas that we had picked up as a result of our studies and of our talks with members of the Hansard Society and others. The procedures of the House deny us the opportunity to discuss Northern Ireland matters properly.
There is an overwhelming case for setting up a Northern Ireland Select Committee. Such a Committee could discuss properly Northern Ireland concerns. Representatives of all the political parties in Northern Ireland would be able to serve upon it and publish reports that the House could consider.
It is a mistake that the Ulster Unionists decided not to be members of the British-Irish parliamentary group, which does valuable work. Its work would be even more valuable if a Northern Ireland Select Committee could be set up. Some members of the British-Irish parliamentary group would be keen to serve on that Committee, which might lead to a valuable exchange of ideas. The opportunity for discussion and argument is lacking at present, with the result that only individual views are put forward. Discussion and argument could lead to compromise and reconciliation and possibly to agreement.
As for privatisation in Northern Ireland, it would be interesting to know how much money was spent on advertising shares when the electricity industry was privatised, compared with the amount of money spent on the development of the political process in Northern Ireland. When I asked the Prime Minister how much money was spent on the registration of United Kingdom electors, I was given an answer for Great Britain, but I was told that support for advertising electoral registration in Northern Ireland is not provided. In 1990, £705,000 was spent on getting people from overseas to register so that they could vote in Great Britain, but there is no such expenditure in Northern Ireland, which is disturbing.
However, that issue is only part of what is needed in a democracy. Many people believe that the franchise does not matter all that much, for there is little that they can do with their vote to influence affairs in Northern Ireland.
May I begin by thanking those hon. Members who have paid tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates). I shall certainly ensure that their tributes are passed on to him. May I also pay tribute to my predecessor, the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) who, I know, is very much respected by all Northern Ireland Members.
This has been a lively debate which has centred mostly on the political question. I realise that I have only a short time in which to reply to the debate. I hope, therefore, that hon. Members will forgive me if I do not answer all the points that were raised.
I listened carefully to the speech by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). This is the first time that I have attended one of these debates in an official capacity. His speech—I am told that this is not unusual—was strong on analysis but not very strong on answers. There were one or two inaccuracies in it that should be corrected.
The hon. Gentleman accused my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland of not backing the three-strand concept in the talks. My right hon. and learned Friend has always backed the three-strand concept and has made that clear on a number of recent occasions. It is right to put on record the fact that my right hon. and learned Friend has strong feelings about that matter.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to proposals and made the point that the British Government have left the Irish with no alternative but to go forward with their own proposals. It is right that I should make it clear that we have been formulating our proposals, which we hope may serve to give direction to the talks when they resume. We shall present our paper to all participants at that stage. In the meantime, we want to test and refine our ideas and judgment by means of dialogue with all of them. We are trying to carry out that process at the moment, through discussions with the party leaders and the Irish Government.
The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) made a helpful and constructive speech. I welcome what he said. We shall wish to consider his speech carefully. He said that the prospect of joint authority appearing over the horizon was a matter of some concern to him. I should stress that my right hon. and learned Friend is already on record as saying that the political talks will not conclude with Northern Ireland becoming subject to the joint political authority of the United Kingdom and Irish Governments. Apart from the question of practicality that such an arrangement would raise, my right hon. and learned Friend does not believe, nor do the Government, that such an outcome would be acceptable to public opinion in Northern Ireland. I want to stress that too.
I listened to the speech by the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) with great care. Most of his speech was addressed to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North, but he asked us why there was a difference in the Government's attitude towards Scotland and towards Northern Ireland. There is no difference. The only circumstances in which Northern Ireland might leave the Union would be on the basis that that was the will of the majority of the people who live there. Equally, the Prime Minister has made it clear in respect of Scotland that no nation could be held irrevocably in the Union against its will.
The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) referred to what has occurred in his constituency today. I join him in his expessions of horror at that incident. He raised the question of security. The Government will not shirk their responsibility for dealing with terrorism. There is no acceptable level of violence. The Government are responsible for ensuring that the law effectively protects the rights of citizens, including the right to life. There is no compromise on that.
The Government have made it clear that we believe that at the end of the day there has to be dialogue if we are to find a solution to the problem. Many hon. Members have made it clear today that they find this debate distasteful because we are, in effect, debating the question of renewing direct rule. I can only reiterate the hope expressed by many hon. Members today and by my right hon. and learned Friend—a hope which I am sure has been expressed by many others over the years in such debates—that it will not be much longer before an end can be put to the present temporary arrangements for handling Northern Ireland affairs. That is what the process of political development is all about. If, in the coming months, we can come to a system of restoring the dialogue again—of trying to find that lasting accommodation—I hope that these debates will, in the near future, become a thing of the past.
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I wish, first, to welcome the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) to his office. We did not have an opportunity earlier in the debate to do that. I wish him every success in his new job.
When replying to the debate, he referred to the question of dialogue. I appeal to the Government to try in future, when arranging business affecting Northern Ireland, especially in relation to renewing emergency provisions legislation, to try to provide time for adequate dialogue across the Floor of the House so that we may better explore and expose the issues.