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Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that many people will welcome the introduction next week of the Football Spectators Bill? It would be a grossly missed opportunity if we were to let a
Column 504parliamentary Session go by without having that enabling legislation. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, if Lord Justice Taylor produced an interim report saying that the national membership scheme would not be the best way forward, there would be no necessity to use the enabling legislation that we shall be passing through the House?
Mr. Wakeham : Business questions are not the right time to discuss the substance of the Bill. Such points can be made in the debate. Like my hon. Friend, I recognise that the basis of the membership scheme was the previous report by Mr. Justice Popplewell.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : May we have a debate in the near future on race relations, bearing in mind the serious rioting in Bradford last Saturday in connection with a campaign about the book "The Satanic Verses", and the fact that organisations such as the Bradford Council of Mosques are pursuing that campaign with apparently no regard for the damage being done to race relations? During such a debate, the Home Secretary could elaborate on any links that there might be between groups of Iranians promoting violence and that campaign. We could also emphasise the fact that "The Satanic Verses" is published under the law and that people want the right to read the book and to have that right sustained.
Mr. Wakeham : I have some sympathy with part of what the hon. Gentleman has said. Certainly I cannot condone any acts of violence, from wherever they come. I recognise that Iran could do a great deal if it were to renounce publicly the use or the threat of terrorism or violence. It behoves everybody on all sides of the argument to stick strictly within the law and not to resort to violence.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : Has the Leader of the House noticed that you, Mr. Speaker, in your wisdom, have granted my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) an Adjournment debate next week on the conviction of Colin Wallace? Who will answer that debate? May I suggest that it would most properly be answered by the Attorney-General?
May we have an assurance that, whichever Minister answers the debate, he will at least have read the book, which I mentioned during Northern Ireland questions this afternoon, by Paul Foot, "Who Framed Colin Wallace?" Could that Minister politely approach No. 10 Downing street, possibly through the Lord President, to get a comment that can come only from the Prime Minister on what Mr. Foot has written about the late Airey Neave? The best speech that I ever heard the Prime Minister make was from the pulpit of St. Martin -in-the-Fields when she paid tribute to her friend. Some of us believe that what has been said about Airey Neave in the book must be cleared up one way or the other.
Mr. Wakeham : I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an answer to the question of who will respond to the debate next Thursday, but I can give him the undertaking that the points that he has made will be drawn to the attention of whichever Minister replies to it and I can assure him that the Minister will give a satisfactory and correct answer.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West): Once again, may I ask the Leader of the House for an early debate on animal conservation, especially in the light of the worrying figures that have just been published about the dramatic
Column 505decline in the world's whale population? May I draw his attention to my early-day motion 1009 on bull-fighting in Spain?
[That this House expresses its continuing disgust at the so-called sport of bull-fighting in Spain ; believes that the breeding and slaughter of bulls for spectator enjoyment is cruel and uncivilised and should have no place in modern Europe ; calls upon the Spanish government to ban bull- fighting ; and urges all British tourists concerned about animal welfare not to holiday in Spain until bull-fighting is banned.]
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that that is a particularly nasty form of sport? I hope that he will go along with my recommendation about not taking a holiday in Spain, were he to be considering a holiday in Spain in view of the time that he might have on his hands later. We are on his side, and if letters of support from this place can help him, we are ready to write them. Will the Leader of the House tell the Prime Minister when she goes to the Madrid summit in Spain to make sure that she declines any invitation to a bull fight and that she uses her iron handbag to good effect on the Spanish to try to persuade them to ban that nasty and despicable so-called sport?
Mr. Wakeham : With all the hon. Gentleman's charm, I did not know that he also wrote letters. I am glad that I do not receive too many of them. Among all the verbiage, he raised a serious point about bull-fighting in Spain and referred to his early-day motion 1009. We understand the feelings expressed in that early-day motion, but animal welfare in Spain is entirely the responsibility of the Spanish Government. The Spanish authorities are aware of the strength of feeling about bull-fighting among some people in the United Kingdom. Question Time
Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should be grateful for your guidance. Following the deliberately evasive answer given by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to my question during Question Time, I should have liked to give notice that I would seek to raise an Adjournment debate at the earliest possible moment. Is it in order for me to give such notice now?
Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not true that informal contacts are a very important part of the political process and that, as such, they should be treated with utter confidentiality? Is there any possibility of the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) being reminded that the very distasteful way that he related that which was confidential at a dinner hosted by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has harmed the political process? Is it not the duty of the House to protect not just what happens on the Floor of the House, but those informal contacts and discussions that are so essential to our lives as politicians?
Mr. William Cash, supported by Mr. John Redwood, Mr. James Cran, Mr. Roger Knapman, Sir Rhodes Boyson, Sir Marcus Fox, Mr. Christopher Gill, Mr. Graham Riddick, Mr. John Bowis and Mr. Nicholas Bennett, presented a Bill to reaffirm the commitment of the United Kingdom to the European Community ; to reaffirm the scope and limits of the competence of the European Community Treaty including the Single European Act ; to affirm the rejection by the United Kingdom of the economic and monetary union and of political union within the European Community ; to reject the Charter of Fundamental Social Rights proposed by the European Commission ; to reaffirm the Luxembourg Accord and the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament ; and for other purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 7 July and to be printed. [Bill 165.]
That the Brunei (Appeals) Bill [Lords] be referred to a Second Reading Committee.-- [Mr. Sackville.]
That European Community Document No. 8066/88 on waste be referred to a Standing Committee on European Community Documents.-- [Mr. Sackville]
That the Estimates set out hereunder be referred to the Scottish Grand Committee :
Class XVI, Vote 1, Agriculture Support, Scotland
Class XVI, Vote 2, Agricultural Services and Fisheries, Scotland Class XVI, Vote 3, Regional and General Industrial Support, Scotland
Class XVI, Vote 4, Training Agency, Scotland
Class XVI, Vote 5, Regional Assistance, Scotland
Class XVI, Vote 6, Roads, Transport and Environmental Services, Scotland
Class XVI, Vote 7, Local Transport, Water, Sewerage & Environmental Services, Scotland
Class XVI, Vote 8, Housing Scotland
Class XVI, Vote 9, New Towns and the Urban Programme, Scotland Class XVI, Vote 10, Privatisation of the Electricity Supply Industry, Scotland
Class XVI, Vote 11, Administration of Justice, Scotland Class XVI, Vote 12, Police Grant, Legal Aid & Criminal Injuries Compensation, Scotland
Class XVI, Vote 13, Legal Proceedings, Scotland
Class XVI, Vote 14, Prisons, Hospitals and Community Health Services, Etc, Scotland
Class XVI, Vote 15, Education, Arts, Libraries &
Column 507Social Work, Scotland
Class XVI, Vote 16, Student Awards, Scotland
Class XVI, Vote 17, Health (Family Practitioner Services), Scotland
Class XVI, Vote 21, Scottish Office Administration
Class XVI, Vote 26, Privatisation of the Scottish Bus Group-- [Mr. Sackville.]
That the draft Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 13th June, be approved.
This is the fifteenth time that I or my predecessors have come before the House to invite it to renew the system of direct rule that was introduced under the 1974 Act. I noted the comments of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) last year, when he described direct rule as patronising, undemocratic, unaccountable, remote and inefficient, and said that it had gone on too long
Mr. King : I am delighted to have the hon. Gentleman with me. Every democrat in this House will endorse the feeling that this is not a satisfactory democratic system. It was intended to be temporary and it is on all our consciences that as yet we have not found a better alternative. I hope that I do not embarrass the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North by referring to him again, but he referred to that as the highest common factor on which there could be agreement for the government of Northern Ireland.
I agree with that assessment, other than in one respect--and this does not condone the system--that being his description of the system as "inefficient". I do not think that it is inefficient and I shall seek to put before the House some of what I believe to be the real achievements of the past year. That is not to say that I am in any way seeking to justify the system. Despite the regrettable absence of a more democratic and accountable system, as far as is possible we are seeking to provide for the Province as efficient, as accountable and as open a system of government as we can--and in that I include not just myself, but my colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office and those with responsibilities in the Northern Ireland departments. I shall, as I did last year, comment on the economic and security aspects and then deal with some of the political issues.
When I opened the equivalent debate last year, I was able to draw the attention of the House to the fact that unemployment in the previous year had fallen by 10,000. I am proud to stand at the Dispatch Box this year and draw the attention of the House to the fact that in the past year the headline total has fallen by a further 10,000.
The Northern Ireland Economic Council said in its 1989 report that the local economy had performed better in the last year than at any time during the 1980s. The figure for investment by Northern Ireland companies was the highest ever last year, at £400 million. That is the mainspring of the improvement in the economy--I shall come to the question of inward investment--because the most important contribution is coming from the success and expansion of companies already located in the Province and from people there starting their own businesses. We have also had some encouraging new industries. Since we debated this matter last year, I was able to announce the investment by Montupet, which will be
Column 509moving into the old De Lorean factory. Hon. Members may be aware that the company is now starting recruiting for that important establishment, which will employ 1,100 and which offers an exciting prospect for the future as a major employer in Northern Ireland. I hold the same view about our first investment by a major company from the far east, which we have achieved in the shape of Daewoo. It is interesting to record, when people wonder how Northern Ireland can perform--I hope that every Northern Ireland Member will take pride in this fact--that it was only in November that I joined in the ceremony of cutting the first turf on a green field site in advance of the construction of that factory.
Since then, 100,000 sq ft of new production facility has been constructed and the first dispatch of video recorders has been made from that factory. Considering that we started from scratch in the middle of November, that is a fair indication of what Northern Ireland can achieve. I hope that that will prove to be the first of a number of valuable new investments.
When I stood at the Dispatch Box last year, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Sir M. McNair-Wilson) intervened to ask if I had anything to say about whether the Government had any intentions over the possible privatisation of Shorts. The House will be aware that it is only a few days since I was able to stand here, after having scarcely embarked on that process at this time last year, to announce what I hope will prove the successful completion of that exercise. In respect of both Shorts and Harland and Wolff, I had real concern last year lest neither of those companies would be able to continue. It is no secret now--we are able to tell the truth--that Shorts was running losses at a level that were unsustainable. The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) will remember that, because he intervened in that debate to urge on me the "ultimate dream", about which we had reservations. I made clear to him at that time my concern for the future of the yard, which faced the prospect of no orders at all and a rapid demise.
I genuinely believe that the acquisition of Shorts, if it is successfully completed by Bombardier of Canada, and the involvement now in Harland and Wolff both of Mr. John Parker and his management and employee buy-out project, together with the crucially important private sector involvement of Mr. Fred Olsen and his investment, offer better prospects for Harland and Wolff--and, with Bombardier, better prospects for Shorts--than have existed for a long time. Far from being concerned about their possible collapse, I now look with considerable optimism at the prospects that they may have before them. Of course nothing can be taken for granted. Many hurdles must be crossed, but the opportunity now exists. If those companies were to start growing, particularly Harland and Wolff after a period of such prolonged contraction, the impact that it would have on the general strength of the Northern Ireland economy can be well understood.
There have been developments in the past year. There was the exciting announcement of a £100 million investment by British Telecom, supported by the European Community, in the new fibre-optic link. It will provide a service to the whole of Northern Ireland and could provide more jobs in the service sector. The
Column 510Government have announced jobs in the Department of Social Security, and offices in Lewisham, Brixton, Hither Green and in other parts of London will be directly linked to the service in Belfast. That will initially provide 350 jobs and, we hope, in time lead to 500. There may be one or two more interesting announcements shortly, showing the way in which we can take advantage of new technology and obtain jobs for Northern Ireland.
In the past year, we have seen a further expansion in retailing activity. There has been an improvement in retailing facilities, and there have been major construction projects, both outside and inside Belfast, and certainly in the constituency of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume). There is new optimism and a new sense of opportunity. Although there is certainly a long way to go and a very big hill to climb, bearing in mind the level of unemployment in certain parts of the Province, perhaps for the first time people are beginning to see a real way of tackling problems. It is against that background that I look with optimism to the economic prospects for the Province.
Those achievements have occurred in spite of and in staunch resistance to the campaign of terror that still seeks to ruin the lives, jobs, hopes and future of many young people in Northern Ireland. That campaign can damage the economic prospects not only of everybody in the Province but of people throughout the island of Ireland.
We must, as we have on other occasions in the House, pay tribute to the security forces' tremendous courage and determination over the past year and the work that they have done in preventing casualties and deaths. This is the first time that I have stood at the Dispatch Box and not had to report any deaths due to terrorism during the period since I last answered questions on security matters. That is not because the danger is over. Hon. Members will have noticed that I drew attention to the fact that the threat still remains, and there is still a need for vigilance and the closest co- operation with the security forces. Through their determination to resist these onslaughts, the people of Northern Ireland have shown where they stand. We shall certainly seek to ensure that they have the sort of support from the security forces to which they are entitled. The debate last year was just after the summit meeting between the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach. They drew attention in their communique to their wish for close co-operation in the fight against terrorism. I want to put on record again our appreciation of the very good relationship between the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Garda Siochana, and the substantial work that has been done, not least in arms finds and the successful seizure of primed bombs, primed mortars and caches of explosives and weapons by the Garda. Certainly we can look back on real achievements by the security forces.
That is not to say, sadly, that this year has not been marked by some tragic incidents arising from the terrorist campaign. We forget them perhaps all too easily. I have to refresh my memory of Ballygawley ; of Benburb where a granddfather and his grandaughter were tragically in the wrong place at the wrong time when coming home from bingo ; of the good neighbours in the constituency of the hon. Member for Foyle whose reward from the IRA for concern about a neighbour who might be in distress was their own death ; of the tragic murder of Chief Superintendent Breen and Superintendent Buchanan ; and of the murder of the young girl in Warrenpoint. Some of those incidents the IRA might have regarded as successful
Column 511attacks in its awful vocabulary, but others it has recognised as mistakes in its craven apologies, yet all of them show the awfulness of the terrorist campaign.
Against that background, we have sought to ensure that not only the security forces but the instruments of law are fit and proper to enable us to protect the community against the assaults that it faces. We face a sustained attack not merely on the community but on the whole system of justice, whether by the attempts to murder judges, the attempts to murder witnesses, or the attempts to intimidate the whole community so that the terrorists may be above the law. At the centre of my concern has been not only the consideration that in any society it is important that innocent people are not convicted, but the important responsibility of the Government to ensure that guilty people have a reasonable prospect of conviction. We have faced the determined attack on the whole system of justice by trying to ensure that terrorists cannot put themselves beyond the possibility of successful prosecution and conviction.
I mention that merely to put in context the background against which we made changes during the past year. One move was the introduction of genetic fingerprinting to strengthen forensic evidence. We also made changes to allow inferences to be drawn in certain circumstances when people remained silent. We also took steps to ensure that when people are convicted of serious crimes they serve a proper sentence and that if they become reinvolved they will face the full rigours of the law.
Hon. Members will know that a feature of our approach to the prison regime and sentencing in the past year has been to give sympathetic consideration particularly to some who were caught up in the early troubles when very young and who found themselves facing a severe sentence, which meant that effectively they spent all their youth in prison. But that sympathy does not extend to those who become reinvolved after serving a determinate sentence. I have given fair warning to any who think of getting involved again in evil paramilitary terrorist activity that sympathy will not extend to them.
A feature of the past year has been to recognise that in our approach against terrorism we need to use not merely the instruments available to the security forces, but to recognise the need to tackle the evil in every aspect and to deal especially with the terrorists' resources which sustain so much of the terrorism. Some hon. Members have some understanding of the measures that we have taken and the arrangements that we have made to ensure that we are now assembling a much more effective response to gangsterism, smuggling, protection rackets, extortion and intimidation. A feature of the year ahead will be the growing evidence of a more effective counter-attack in those areas, in which we have the very full, active and interested co-operation of the Irish Government, who suffer especially from many of the losses associated with smuggling.
Against that background, I was considerably interested in certain aspects of the recent election results. It is difficult to tackle intimidation when people, with little protection, are understandably, in fear of standing up for what they believe. We can take some real comfort and encouragement from the fact that in the privacy and secrecy of polling booths people are increasingly walking away, especially from the principal party, Sinn Fein, which has been an open advocate and supporter of violence. I note that Mr. Morrison's vote in the European election fell
Column 512from 91,000 to 49,000--virtually halving. I am encouraged, too, that in the Republic Sinn Fein's pitifully small and inadequate achievement of 1.9 per cent. in the previous general election moved downwards to 1.2 per cent. in the last election. That shows the complete absence of political support throughout the Republic for the evil intentions to which Sinn Fein subscribes.
Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South) : In recent weeks I have been in the middle east, where the point was made to me that there is a comparison between the problems there and those in Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State has just made the point that Sinn Fein, the political wing of the provisional IRA, gets an extraordinarly low vote, and, in the country from where the violence emanates, the SDLP has done so much better. Does that not show what nonsense it is for people in this country to say that we must talk with Sinn Fein, because often in the past we have said that there should be no talks and leaders have become Prime Ministers? Parties must get votes and Sinn Fein has done extremely badly. I hope that the Foreign Office will point that out in many parts of the middle east.
Mr. King : I know that that is a favourite analogy that Sinn Fein would seek to make with those, as it were, who have been imprisoned by the British in the past and have then come out to take up respectable democratic positions. There are two fundamental differences. First, they have found themselves in prison because they were leading protest movements in circumstances where they were denied the vote. As we know, in the circumstances of Northern Ireland there is a full opportunity for people to vote for and to support their party. Secondly, not only were those organisations with which Sinn Fein seeks to compare itself denied the vote, but, when they got the vote, they got the majority of the votes. I am on record as saying after the last election that their derisory level of support would not begin to justify a local campaign of civil disobedience, let alone remotely justify the sort of terrorism and violence which Republican terrorists commit. Against that background, we have seen real progress in the economy and in the movement away from support for violence.
I sense that, in Northern Ireland, there is a greater optimism and a real sense of hope. I believe that many others share that feeling. We have sought to reinforce it by a positive campaign aimed to help those areas of real need, particularly in the bigger cities. We have also considered how to help those areas where, undoubtedly, the unemployment levels are far too high and where that optimism and hope have not yet been felt.
In the past year we have made progress elsewhere as well. We have continued our steady work under the Anglo-Irish Agreement and, as I recently reported to the House, we have reviewed the workings of the conference during the past three years. I have published a record of develoments since that conference began. The House will have seen that the Anglo-Irish Agreement is not the great dangerous conspiracy that certain people have tried to dress it up as, as though it was a pernicious attempt to undermine the fabric of society, but that it has resulted in steady, useful and co- operative work. There is increasing recognition of areas of common interest between North and South.
Column 513I was struck by the fact that the central issues under debate in the recent Irish elections were, without entering into their merits, unemployment, worries about emigration and the state of the economy. Those are the very issues that are of concern to people in Northern Ireland and, given our level of unemployment, it is extremely understandable. We recognise the need for a stronger economy and both Governments recognise the need to wipe out terrorism, which is such an obstacle to improving the opportunities for people in both our countries.
Stripped away from all the rhetoric and the shouting that accompanies some comments about the Anglo-Irish Agreement, I believe that people increasingly recognise that the conference has not been the greatest bogey suggested by some people. We have worked steadily together. I accept that some Unionists do not particularly like the agreement, but the honest ones say that it has not proved to be the great disaster that they feared and that they can see some benefits deriving from it. Many people in Northern Ireland put the problems of terrorism at the top of their list of concerns, and if the Anglo-Irish Agreement has helped to establish a much better relationship between the RUC and the Garda that is of obvious benefit.
In this debate we are seeking to renew the system of direct rule, but, having recognised the progress that has been made in the past year, I also recognise where progress has been virtually non-existent--in the political arena. In this Chamber now are the only people who can change that. We can easily say that we should just go on as we are. Some people may argue that, in the end, the Government will tell them what they have decided they want to do. Perhaps those people will shout, scream and complain about it, but then say that they do not need to suggest anything themselves.
I have heard one or two stories suggesting that I have some sort of hidden agenda, that there is some secret plan that I have tucked away and that come October, I shall impose it on everyone. Colleagues in this House know me well enough to know that I will tell them straight what the situation is : there is no such plan. I do not believe that there is any point in having a plan unless I have a clearer idea of what the people would be willing to accept and what might provide the basis on which people could move forward. There is no point in the British Government handing down tablets of stone which give the parties an opportunity to squabble and row about them. The right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), who has much experience in this matter, knows exactly what I am talking about. I have respect for his experience.
Sir Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury) : Surely there is one change as a consequence of the results of the district council elections when there was a high turnout in the Province. It showed that the people of Northern Ireland are concerned about their local government. It is also true, however, that in the past 17 years no attempt has been made to reform the structure of that local government, although in this country we have had no fewer than four local government Acts, one of which went through the House only last night. Why do we expect the political parties to do in their Province that which in this country we do first by an inquiry set up by an independent group, which brings forward proposals that are then debated,
Column 514argued about and ultimately made into legislation? Why do we not use the same procedure in Northern Ireland? Why do we always say that the obstacle lies with those of us who have our various party political allegiances, which, of course, limit us anyway, when we could so easily go out to independent people who could undertake the initial task and inquiry for us instead?
Mr. King : I am grateful to my hon. Friend because he approaches this matter in a constructive manner and he has put forward proposals as to how we might tackle it. We need to address those issues. We may now have an opportunity, if people wish to take it, with or without Government, by independent inquiry or in whatever form, to make progress. My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Sir M. McNair-Wilson) took one message from the local council elections, and I was equally impressed by another. We are here with Unionist Members who will not talk with any Minister. At the moment, they are still stuck with a situation whereby they are unable to represent their constituents. They were the only people in this House who declined to represent their constituents' concerns about education, health or other issues that are of great importance to every hon. Member. Those Unionist Members feel paralysed and unable to address such matters on behalf of their constituents, but a new opportunity arose at the local council elections. I was struck by the number of councillors wo have chosen to elect a member of one party as chairman or mayor while also accepting the legitimacy and respectability of another party through their willingness to support a member of that party as vice-chairman, deputy mayor or whatever. I am not sure of the previous situation, but such co- operation is something that can be undertaken across the parties.
At local government level, it seems that people have demonstrated that they are there to serve their electorate's concerns. Without abandoning their own responsibilities and their principles they have shown that they will do their best to serve the interests of the people in their community. I welcome that. If it is possible to do that in local government, is it impossible to do it in the Province as a whole? I know that it is not, because I was much assisted in the difficult issue of Harland and Wolff when the leaders of the parties came together and had meetings with me. I asked those leaders to come with me to talk with the Prime Minister and to represent directly to her the concerns of the people of Northern Ireland about that issue. I make no secret of the fact that those meetings were helpful to me in achieving my desired goal. The Prime Minister was able to hear at first hand some of the concerns about this issue.
It is important to remember that, because of the exercise undertaken, Harland and Wolff saved 2,500 jobs. But we have 105,000 unemployed people in Northern Ireland and we cannot stop there. We need now to address the wider issues. I hope that Unionist leaders will not stand back and say that they were willing to do it for Harland and Wolff, but they will not help if there is a problem in Londonderry or elsewhere. I believe that they are prepared to stand up and say that they will join in discussing such important issues. The hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) has asked why we cannot get together to promote the Province. The outside world is still trying to represent Northern Ireland as a permanent scene of division and
Column 515battle, and the hon. Gentleman is right to say that we should show that people can come together and are willing to work together for things that are of benefit to the entire community. I am not saying that I do not want constructive and, at times, pretty strong criticism. I believe that the elected representatives have a role to monitor and to hold the Executive to account. They have a duty to challenge the Secretary of State and to question his actions. At other times, they should come together and work for the Province. I hope that, following these developments, we can find ways in which we can work together for the benefit of the people in the Province. I hope that hon. Members will take the opportunity to come to me, or my colleagues with responsibility for education, industry or health, to talk through the issues that are of direct concern to them and their constituents.
One interesting point about Northern Ireland which is not sufficiently stressed is the unaccountability of direct rule. Unionist Members nod their heads, but direct rule is not as unaccountable as they seek to make it. Northern Ireland Members have far greater access to the Northern Ireland Ministers who take the decisions than have any other hon. Members. There are about 650 hon. Members and, often, there may be 500 different Members wanting to address a Minister on a particular subject. I hope that the hon. Members feel that the Ministers are pretty quickly available to see them when they wish to do so.
Northern Ireland Members should not say that their constituents are unrepresented. They will be unrepresented only if their representatives are not using the channels which are more accessible to Northern Ireland Members than to any other Members by virtue of the presence of direct rule, which means that there are six Northern Ireland Ministers and only 16 Northern Ireland Members of Parliament. That gives Northern Ireland Members an unequalled opportunity to represent their constituents, particularly with the open door policy, which I want my right hon. and hon. Friends to maintain. However, that opportunity means nothing, and will be of no benefit, if it is not used.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury, who takes a keen interest in these matters, said that surely it must be possible to make progress and, of course, he is right. There is absolutely no problem about designing structures and coming up with different concepts for the administration of Northern Ireland. I have deliberately chosen my phrases and, as my hon. Friend knows, I avoid the slogans of the past. I do not talk about power sharing or what is widely acceptable to both communities, but about ideas that might have a chance of working. I am prepared to consider any approaches or options which people want to put forward.
Does the refusal to talk spring from a tremendously strong and firmly held principle or is it a sort of paralysis which comes from not being sure about the way in which anybody wants to go? One issue that worries me is that I have never been convinced that people are clear about what they want to do. If they cannot make up their minds, they will be unable to make any contribution to constructive discussions.
We shall continue to do our best, and I have sought in the account which I have given to show that we have done our best to discharge our responsibilities. Today I have been able to report to the House some measures of achievement, and those, allied to the spirit, courage and
Column 516determination of the people of Northern Ireland, are the reason why there is a greater sense of optimism and hope in the Province now than there was two or three years ago. However, we must still overcome the problem of finding out how we can establish a more democratic approach.
The solution to the problem lies not in structures or blueprints, but in willingness. I begin to feel that local councils are showing us the way. It would be tragic if Unionists, as Members of this Parliament of the Union, felt that at this level of parliamentary representation we could not reach a level of co-operative and constructive discussion.
I hope that this debate will show that the opportunity will be taken and that we can point a way forward. I have made it clear that I am prepared to discuss any genuinely constructive and helpful approaches which people wish to make which will be of benefit to the people in the Province. If we believe in democracy, we must be prepared to make that effort. Terrorism cannot win, and 20 years on nobody has any excuse for not knowing that terrorism will not win. In the end, democracy must win, and it can do so if it is given the chance. We shall continue to discharge our responsibilities under direct rule.
I look forward to the day when good will and the constructive approach of the elected representatives in the Province will at last offer the prospect, not merely of progress, but of progress with democracy and justice, which is in the interests of everyone in the Province.
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North) : I listened to what the Secretary of State had to say about not having a secret plan for October. I hope that nobody else has a secret plan for him for October because one feature which he has brought to the role of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, even though I have frequently disagreed with his decisions and actions, has been a dedication and concern for the Province. That must be recognised by people who might find some of his decisions, perhaps because of his ideological background, somewhat surprising.
Nobody in this Chamber today can be satisfied that we are once again discussing the renewal of direct rule over Northern Ireland. If we look at the title of the provision, the Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order 1989, and think of those 15 years, we could say that rather than an interim measure it has, instead, become the manifestation of our failure to find any democratic solution which is acceptable in Northern Ireland.
I shall not be surprised if, later, the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) suggests that the interim nature of the 1974 Act is a major factor in the continuing conflict in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne) indicated assent.