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House of Commons

Thursday 9 February 1989

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Associated British Ports (Hull) Bill

(By Order) Birmingham City Council (No. 2) Bill-- (By Order)

British Railways Bill-- (By Order)

Hythe, Kent, Marina Bill-- (By Order)

Hythe Marina Village (Southampton)--

Wavescreen Bill-- (By Order)

International Westminster Bank Bill-- (By Order)

Isle of Wight Bill-- (By Order)

London Underground Victoria Bill-- (By Order)

Wentworth Estate Bill-- (By Order)

British Film Institute Southbank Bill-- (By Order)

Bromley London Borough Council--

(Crystal Palace) Bill-- (By Order)

City of London (Various Powers) Bill-- (By Order)

Penzance Albert Pier Extension Bill-- (By Order)

Redbridge London Borough Council Bill--

(By Order)

Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 16 February.

Oral Answers to Questions



1. Mr. Ross : To ask the Secretry of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the security situation in Northern Ireland.

2. Mr. Livingstone : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the current security situation in Northern Ireland.

9. Mr. Molyneaux : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the security situation in Northern Ireland.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Tom King) : Since I last answered questions in the House on12 January, there have been six deaths in Northern Ireland arising from the security situation. They include a policeman and a soldier murdered by the IRA, two civilians murdered by the Ulster Volunteer Force, a terrorist blown up by his own bomb and a further civilian killed this morning in Belfast. The Provisional IRA also murdered a former member of the RUC reserve in Donegal close to the border on 15 January.

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The security threat remains high but the courageous and determined efforts of the security forces continue to yield results. During 1988, 439 persons were charged with serious offences including 23 with murder and 46 with attempted murder. So far this year the security forces in Northern Ireland have recovered some 41 weapons, more than 4,500 rounds of ammunition and 22lbs of explosives.

During 1988 the Garda Siochana recovered over 350 firearms, more than 100,000 rounds of ammunition and more than 1,100lbs of explosives, including 650lbs of Semtex. Already this year they have made a number of significant finds, including weapons and ammunition recovered from the Offaly, Kilkenny, Monaghan and Donegal areas.

Mr. Ross : Was the question of who would be the new chief constable of the RUC discussed at yesterday's meeting between the right hon. Gentleman and the Government of the Irish Republic? Will the Secretary of State confirm that James Joseph Conolly the terrorist who, as the Secretary of State pointed out, died by his own hand, was planting a bomb under the car of a member of the security forces, that he was a workmate of that same member of the security forces and that he had shared his lunchbox?

Mr. King : My answer to the hon. Gentleman's first question is certainly not. In regard to his second question I confirm that there is clear evidence that the terrorist who was killed was seeking to plant a bomb under the car of a member of the security forces. I was not aware of the hon. Gentleman's further suggestions.

Mr. Livingstone : Will the Secretary of State investigate why vital information made available to the security forces about cross-border bombings was not made available to the Garda? That information was supplied by a former UDA activist and assassin, Albert Baker, a former British soldier. Was the information not passed on to the Garda because Sir William van Straubenzee, then a Minister at the Northern Ireland Office, visited him in Crumlin road gaol and discovered that while he had been assassinating members of the Catholic community he had been supplied with weapons by members of the security forces?

Mr. King : The hon. Gentleman specialises in retelling his version of events of 15 years ago. I have no knowledge of those events. If the hon. Gentleman has accusations or evidence, they should be put before the appropriate authorities. The House will draw its own conclusions from somebody whose only vehicle is to stand up in the House and make such allegations under the protection of the House.

Mr. Molyneaux : Following the introduction of a great deal of legislation affecting the policing of Northern Ireland, given that much retraining and study courses are necessary to enable the smooth implementation of that legislation, and given that that training is months behind schedule, is it possible to persuade the Treasury to make available the necessary additional funds to implement the decisions that have been taken by Parliament?

Mr. King : We pay close attention to the RUC's budget. It has been given a significant increase in funds over the past three years, but this aspect of budgetary expenditure

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should be dealt with through the appropriate channels and by the Police Authority. The right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not go further down that route.

Rev. William McCrea : Given the recent brutal murder of a constable in Sion Mills, the attempted murder of a member of the security forces, the serious wounding of another member of the security services in the same incident while Republicans cheered and the attempted murder of a reserve constable at Drumquin, in which the terrorist was blown up by his own hand, what additional resources will the Secretary of State provide to bring to justice those who are responsible for a catalogue of unsolved murders in Castlederg and surrounding areas? As a matter of urgency, will he increase the members of the soft target protection group in the area?

Mr. King : I understand the hon. Gentleman's strong feelings about recent events, especially the attack at Sion Mills. The appalling behaviour of the crowd that emerged from the pub was beyond belief. I well understand the feelings of the hon. Gentleman and his constituents, which I share. I gave the figures showing the number of people who have been charged with serious offences, and the House will note the significant increase in the number of people who have been charged following recent terrorist offences. I recognise the particular problems that are experienced in the hon. Gentleman's constituency because of some extremely vicious and evil people. I shall certainly take note of the points that the hon. Gentleman makes.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett : Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is difficult to place much credence on the accusations made by the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), who as leader of the GLC invited convicted IRA terrorists to county hall?

Mr. King : The House draws its own conclusions. If the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) has serious evidence he should present it. If an hon. Member rises once a month during Northern Ireland Question Time to make an allegation, which is usually impossible to check, the House must reach its own verdict about the quality of his comments.

Mr. Ashdown : Does the Secretary of State agree that security will not improve and the IRA will not be defeated until the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland find the wit and imagination to get together? I understand the right hon. Gentleman's reticence to comment too much, but does he agree that the recent talks that may have taken place are a hopeful sign for the future? Those who seek peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland would be better advised to consider what can be built on rather than to seek scapegoats.

Mr. King : The right hon. Gentleman rightly said that I should not wish to comment on talks in which the Government were not involved. The way forward in Northern Ireland is through democratic discussion, persuasion and argument, not violence. A democratic party that denounces violence does not fulfil its responsibility if it fails to discharge the other half of the logic of that argument and says no to violence and yes to dialogue.

Mr. Leigh : My right hon. Friend referred to some of the Garda's successes in 1988, such as recovering over 100,000 rounds of ammunition. Bearing in mind the commitment

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of the Garda, is my right hon. Friend convinced that the Social Democratic and Labour party has shown equal commitment to security?

Mr. King : I look to the SDLP to show full commitment. We have had expressions in the House of full support for the security forces, which I welcomed. It is not possible to qualify the support that needs to be given to people who are prepared to stand and defend either community when under threat and to risk their lives in that activity ; people must decide whether they are for or against. We expect the security forces to operate fairly, impartially and within the law. Against that, they are entitled to the unqualified backing of all democratic supporters.

Mr. Flannery : Is it not a fact that although there is melancholy in the House about the list of the latest killings, the situation in Northern Ireland is at best stalemate and at worst an intensification of the killing? We do not seem to be getting anywhere. Does that not pose the problem that the answer is wider and that the Government should be thinking of some political solution--difficult as that is and much as Unionist Members deplore anything that does not tackle the immediate situation? Can we not do something, possibly more expansive than Duisburg and a bit nearer home, to get together?

Mr. King : Anybody who lives and works in Northern Ireland and has some understanding of the events there would not describe the present situation as stalemate. There are encouraging developments in employment, vast improvements in Belfast and developments in housing. There is no doubt that the condition of people right across Northern Ireland has improved in many significant ways and that there are many people working for reconciliation and for better understanding between the communities. The education proposals made by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for greater integration in education are further indications, not of stalemate, but of people genuinely wanting to work for a better future.

Mr. Ian Bruce : My right hon. Friend gave a long list of the successes of the Garda in the Republic of Ireland. Can he perhaps comment more on whether he feels that there has been a new spirit in the Garda of getting out and attacking terrorists in their bases in Southern Ireland? It seems to an observer in Britain that it is achieving real results.

Mr. King : After a number of difficulties and interruptions to the process, an honest judgment would be that there is now a better relationship between the RUC and the Garda than there has been for many years. I am also encouraged by the work that is being undertaken by the Garda and the methods that it is adopting. I have given some figures to the House and anybody who is remotely familiar with Northern Ireland and the Irish situation will know that they show that some significant work is taking place.

Mr. Mallon : Will the Secretary of State put on record for the House once again that the Social Democratic and Labour party, which he has previously mentioned, gives full and unequivocal support to the police in impartially enforcing the law? Does he further agree that our party is open, willing, able and ready to take part in any discussions that will lead to a resolution of the problem? Will he further be honest enough to agree that one of the

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real problems that must be dealt with in the north of Ireland is the whole position of security and justice and that is what we should focus attention on rather than some of the platitudes that we have to listen to from time to time?

Mr. King : I have been working for justice, fairness and equality of treatment. Legislation is before the House at the moment to improve equality of opportunity in employment and I attach great importance to that. I welcome what the hon. Gentleman has said about his party's willingness to talk. In the various suggestions about how talks should take place, the key issue is how people within Northern Ireland are going to exist together and the relationship between them. That must be resolved before we worry about anything else. I hope that people will address those relationships directly and concentrate on that aspect.

Mr. McNamara : Is the Secretary of State aware that we all welcome the fact that spring came suddenly to the Anglo-Irish Agreement yesterday, that everything seems to be going well and that part of that atmosphere is due to his efforts and to those of the Irish Foreign Minister? Will he also confirm that in terms of talks taking place between the constitutional parties and the importance that that has for security in Northern Ireland, it would be far better if the press exercised some self-censorship-- although it must make its own judgments--and let people get on with things instead of seeking to exploit them and perhaps set them back?

Finally, since the Secretary of State believes that the law should be fairly and impartially carried out in Northern Ireland, when shall we know the results of the disciplinary inquiry into the conduct of 20 policemen following the Stalker-Sampson report?

Mr. King : I do not wish to comment on what the press should or should not talk about and the times when it should or should not reveal evidence of discussions that are taking place. However, I recognise that one of the problems in Northern Ireland is that it is difficult to go anywhere without a television camera pointing at one and to find the opportunity for the quiet reflection that some of us might appreciate. Everyone in Northern Ireland knows that that is a fair comment.

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's earlier comments on the progress of the Anglo-Irish conference and I am grateful for them. On his latter point, I can say that disciplinary hearings are likely to take place shortly.

Housing Associations

3. Rev. Martin Smyth : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about the future relationship between housing associations and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Richard Needham) : The activities of registered housing associations are funded by the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Housing Executive has proposed to me that it should take over this responsibility. However, the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations has made a counter proposal and I intend to have early discussions with both bodies.

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Rev. Martin Smyth : I thank the Minister for that response. Does he accept that the housing associations have been doing invaluable and innovative work, and that they are worried that, if the Housing Executive is called to manage the housing associations, because of pressure on its budget, the housing associations will be squeezed, whereas so far they have been receiving fair understanding from the Department?

Mr. Needham : I agree that the housing associations do valuable work. I have listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said and I shall listen carefully to all the points that are made to me in the present consultation process.

Rev. Ian Paisley : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that openness about the Housing Executive would be a good thing? Is he aware of the Fair Employment Agency's report into employment in the Housing Executive? Why has that report been hidden and not published? There has been immense activity and discussion about that matter in the Housing Executive. Surely the general public should know what the finding is.

Mr. Needham : That is a matter for the Housing Executive, not for me. I am sure that the report will be considered and published, as such reports always have been.

Mr. McGrady : Is the Minister completely satisfied that housing associations' allocations in Northern Ireland are in accordance with the selection procedure--priority need--of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive listing? If not, what further monitoring and action will take place to counteract any impropriety?

Secondly, if the housing 1990 proposals come into being and houses from the Housing Executive stock are transferred or sold to housing associations, how will the Minister guard the rights of sitting tenants and those who, because of their accommodation needs, have priority on the Housing Executive lists at that time?

Mr. Needham : If the hon. Gentleman knows of any particular problems because the housing associations have not allocated houses as they should, I am prepared to discuss them with him and to listen to the points that he makes. Whether the Government will read across the Housing Act 1988 is again a matter for discussion and consultation. Those matters are being considered and I welcome the hon. Gentleman's views on any points across the Floor of the House, and across a desk as well.

Schools (Co-operation)

4. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps are being taken to encourage contacts and co-operation between schools of differing denominations ; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Dr. Brian Mawhinney) : The major steps in this programme are being taken through the cross-community contact scheme and the education for mutual understanding programme.

In addition, under our proposals for education reforms, education for mutual understanding will become a compulsory cross-curricular theme. I have recently

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announced the establishment of a working party to produce a statement of objectives for EMU, and I expect to receive its report by 30 April 1989.

Mr. Greenway : I welcome that answer. Does my hon. Friend agree, having heard once again of a constant spate of murders in Northern Ireland- -many of them sectarian--that all branches of the Christian Church should teach the fact that people should love their neighbours and never kill them? Would it not be valuable to impress that teaching upon all children, whatever their denomination and whatever school they go to?

Dr. Mawhinney : My hon. Friend, who has a deep interest in these matters, is, of course, right in his designation of murder and terrorism. He will be encouraged to know that an increasing number of people in Northern Ireland wish their children to develop a relationship with each other which cuts out any concept of bigotry or sectarianism. I hope that he will be further encouraged to know that yesterday in Northern Ireland I met representatives of the four main Churches to see how we might carry those discussions further.

Mr. Alton : In welcoming the Minister's commitment to integrated education and the efforts that he has put into those schemes, can I draw his attention to the recent survey carried out in north Armagh, which showed that 46 per cent. of Catholics, and 36 per cent. of the population as a whole, favoured integrated education? The reason that they gave was the balanced curriculum that is available in such schools. In view of that survey, does the Minister think that it would be worthwhile approaching again the Catholic hierachy in Northern Ireland to convince it of the merits of such proposals? Does the Minister believe that everything possible should be done to allow schools to opt out of their present status and become integrated schools, if that is their wish.

Dr. Mawhinney : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. What he has said in his question reflects what we are seeking to do in our education reform proposals. We plan to introduce a broad, balanced and coherent curriculum for children in all of our schools. We plan to introduce opt-out facilities so that parents can move schools from existing frameworks into an integrated framework if they so wish. We plan to assist parents who would like to start new integrated schools. We plan to lay on the Department of Education a statutory responsibility to promote and encourage integrated education. All of those proposals will facilitate the very sort of parents to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I shall not impose the plan, not least because, if I were to try, it would not succeed. It is important that the Government should facilitate those parents who wish to avail themselves of this opportunity. As he said, they are an increasing number.

Mr. Maginnis : Does the Minister regret that he refused funding to Dungannon district council for an officer who would be concerned with community relations, basically on the grounds that neither I nor my Unionist colleagues would make the empty gesture of going to Stormont to meet him in order to hype up the effectiveness of the Anglo-Irish Agreement? Does he believe that it is helpful for him to frustrate the efforts of district councillors for his own selfish reasons?

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Dr. Mawhinney : That is a somewhat idiosyncratic explanation of the situation. What I have made clear to Dungannon district council is that, if it wishes--with the clearly demonstated political backing of the majority and minority parties in that area--I would be prepared to consider providing funds for a pilot scheme for the employment of a community relations officer. There is no point, however, in carrying forward what might be a significant pilot scheme in the Province unless it is seen overtly to have the backing of all of the major political parties in local government.

Rev. Ian Paisley : Will the hon. Gentleman inform the House of the make-up of the committee which he has mentioned? Could he tell the House too, why three members of the Alliance party are on that committee?

Dr. Mawhinney : The composition of the committee is on the public records, as the hon. Gentleman knows. I cannot tell him its composition now, but he has a copy of that record. If he wishes, I shall write to him.

The committee was composed of people who had expertise and were teachers in the primary and secondary sectors. It reflected the interests of the maintained and controlled grammar school section and of those from outside education who had some knowledge and expertise in these matters. I was not aware of the political affiliation of any members of that committee. Furthermore, the hon. Gentleman will have noticed, as I did, that there has been no publicly voiced criticism of the composition of the committee.

Prison Reform Groups

5. Mr. Redmond : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what representations he had recently received from prison reform groups.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Ian Stewart) : My right hon. Friend and I receive representations from many public, private and professional bodies in Northern Ireland on a wide range of matters affecting prisons.

Mr. Redmond : Why is the reconviction rate for male adult offenders in Northern Ireland 42 per cent. as against 57 per cent. in England and Wales? Why are the Government set on changing the maximum remission in Northern Ireland from half to one third, which is contradictory to the recommendations of the Carlisle committee on the reform of prisons in England and Wales?

Mr. Stewart : The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that, in many cases, it is much more difficult to establish evidence and to obtain convictions in Northern Ireland, particularly in relation to crimes involving terrorist activity, than it is in the generality of offences committed in Great Britain.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned remission. The onus is on him and those who object to the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Bill to argue why, if somebody commits a terrorist offence in Northern Ireland and receives a sentence for it, he should spend less time in prison than he would if he committed the same offence and received the same sentence in Great Britain.

Mr. Ron Brown : Will the Minister advise his colleagues in the Home Office that Irish individuals who are convicted

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in Britain should have the right to serve their sentences in their homeland? After all, that right is part of a Council of Europe convention, and it should be supported by the Government.

Mr. Stewart : Requets by prisoners in Great Britain for permanent transfer to Northern Ireland are considered in the light of various well- known criteria. They include the length of the prisoner's sentence, his residence when he was convicted, and his behaviour in prison. We consider all such requests on their merits. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will find reassurance in what I have said.

Democratic Reform

6. Sir Michael McNair-Wilson : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what proposals he intends to introduce to ensure that the people of Northern Ireland have a similar range of democratic institutions at local and regional level to those found in other parts of the United Kingdom.

Dr. Mawhinney : The Government want to see elected representatives playing a greater role in the administration of the Province. We have been stressing, therefore, the need for the constitutional political parties to talk together, and with the Government, about their own proposals. It is only on an agreed basis that any new structures will work.

Sir Michael McNair-Wilson : Does my hon. Friend agree that there is an obvious and woeful lack of local government in the Province? Does he agree also that the Duisberg talks at least show some measure of cross- party support for a form of devolved administration in the Province? If that is the case, is it enough for the Government to leave the political initiative in the hands of local parties in Northern Ireland, without at least giving them some idea of the framework within which such talks could be brought to a useful conclusion?

Dr. Mawhinney : My hon. Friend will agree that most people are impressed and encouraged by the evident willingness of parties in Northern Ireland to talk and to seek common ground. There is no dearth of proposals in Northern Ireland on how to move forward. We now need to get people to sit round a table and examine such proposals. The Government would wish to play any part that they could in helping to accelerate that process.

Mr. McCusker : Would we not be better starting a little closer to home when we consider democracy for Northern Ireland? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that a Committee of the House is considering legislation that applies only to Northern Ireland and it includes only three representatives of the people of Northern Ireland, whereas 12 or 13 years ago when the first fair employment Bill was before the House, five of the 12 Members from Northern Ireland were on the Committee compared with the present three out of 17?

Dr. Mawhinney : First, as the hon. Gentleman knows

Mr. McCusker : The Minister is not responsible for anything.

Dr. Mawhinney : On the contrary, subject to the wishes of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, I am

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responsible for quite a bit. What I am not responsible for is the appointment of people to Committees of the House. However, I welcome the fact that three Members from Northern Ireland are serving on that Committee.

Mr. Budgen : How much longer must the people of Northern Ireland wait and how many more clever experiments will be imposed on them before the Government recognise that a clever constitution based upon devolution will not work? Would it not be better to give them the modest benefits of an extension of local government?

Dr. Mawhinney : I hear what my hon. Friend says. I remind him that in 1987 both he and I fought a general election with a pledge to "continue to work within the Province for a devolved Government in which both the communities can have confidence and will feel able to participate".

Teacher Training Colleges

8. Mr. Harry Barnes : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if, in light of the recent initiatives taken by the Department of Education in Northern Ireland, in relation to programmes for mutual understanding, he has any plans to integrate the teacher training colleges in Northern Ireland.

Dr. Mawhinney : No, Sir.

Mr. Barnes : We should all realise the importance of integrated education in Northern Ireland. It can probably be advanced only slowly. With the exception of teacher training, nowhere is it more important than in higher education, where it operates extensively. Do the Government propose to do anything about assisting the integration of teacher training by moving slowly over difficult problems but providing finance, setting up a working party and doing all they can to extend the principles of mutual understanding by extending integration?

Dr. Mawhinney : The hon. Gentleman's question weaves two strands. Some time ago a working party was set up. It reported and it was not possible to make progress in the direction of the hon. Gentleman's question at that time. I have no plans to re-establish such a working party. Of course, the Government accept the importance of integrated education. Indeed, the two teacher training colleges have been seeking to find some common ground on the training of teachers in education for mutual understanding. I have encouraged that and will seek to continue to encourage it.

Mr. Bowis : Given the importance of the future generations of Northern Ireland learning from their history and not reliving it, will my hon. Friend pay particular attention to the teaching of history and, coupled with that, the review of the curriculum for history? Will he ensure that violence and extremism on either side of the divide are not encouraged to be part of that teaching?

Dr. Mawhinney : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend and I can tell him that, subject to the will of the House, under our new proposals, for the first time in Northern Ireland, schoolchildren from ages five to 16 will be taught history under the same programme of study.

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