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Mr. Brooke : I am most appreciative of the terms in which the hon. Gentleman couched his remarks about the two soldiers who were killed yesterday. As I said earlier, they died in defence of ordinary, decent people in Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman quoted Mr. Hill,
Column 1150the Church of Ireland rector, who said in a statement that some aspects were technical matters which he did not understand. I pay tribute to the flexibility deployed by the Army on the border. The fire to the truck which made the original assault was returned from a patrol, not the vehicle checkpoint. The hon. Gentleman asked about my various observations. At no stage in the initial interview did I say that the IRA could not be defeated. I have consistently made it clear that if the IRA is to be defeated, all aspects of Government policy in reinforcement of the military must be deployed.
Mr. McNamara : Will there be a thorough review by the Secretary of State's Department and the Ministry of Defence of the security arrangements at border checkpoints as the IRA seems to feel that it has a particular weapon with which to deal with such checkpoints. I shall take the Secretary of State up on the subject of policy relating to Ulster Defence Regiment accompaniments by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. If the policy is to do that as much as possible, why cannot a record be kept of operational decisions when the policy has been implemented?
Mr. Brooke : We always seek to learn from any experiences that we have, and border policy is kept under constant review. I have noted what the hon. Gentleman has said. In the context of accompaniment, not just of the UDR but of the Army generally, it is recognised that for both operational and resource reasons there may be times when the patrol cannot be accompanied. The patrol will frequently have to go out because no RUC officer is available. One consequence flowing from our study is that we have significantly improved our statistics.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Dr. Brian Mawhinney) : The Government recognise the importance of religious education and have reaffirmed this in the provision of the draft Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 which was approved by the House last night. The order also provides for the drafting of a core syllabus for religious education, which will provide a valuable opportunity for represenatives of different denominations to co-operate in devising a syllabus containing the basic tenets of the Christian faith shared by the children of both communities.
Mr. Allen : Does the Minister agree that many of the world's leading religions--Christianity, Buddhism, Islam and others that my colleagues could mention--all practise highly civilising values if carried out in the true spirit of the religion? Will he condemn the use of Christianity, whether it be Protestantism or Catholicism, as a backstop to the bigotry which leads to so much discontent and death in the Province? Will he ensure that all religions are taught in religious education classes so that the community can learn the best from the culture and religions of other parts of the community?
Column 1151Christian belief. I am pleased that the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland practise their Christian faith, of whatever denomination, in both the letter and the spirit of that faith. The hon. Gentleman is also right that some people use religion as a weapon, and I share his concern that that should not be the case, particularly in our schools. We seek commonality between our young people's views so that they may learn to build on that positive aspect of the Christian faith.
Mr. Andrew Mitchell : Does my hon. Friend accept that many hon. Members welcome the opportunity of greater integration in education in Northern Ireland? We also welcome what he said yesterday when we debated the order on education in Northern Ireland. Does he agree that many parents would like to see those opportunities extended or at least would like to see greater co-operation between different denominations and different schools?
Dr. Mawhinney : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. I agree that an increasing number of parents in Northern Ireland wish to have the option of integrated schooling made available, but we shall not impose it. It will be for parents to choose, but the Government believe that parents have a right to that choice. The Government also recognise the importance of my hon. Friend's other point--that for the foreseeable future most young people will not be educated in integrated schools. For that reason, we are introducing new courses in education for mutual understanding, cultural heritage and a common history curriculum to try to achieve the aims that my hon. Friend and I share.
Rev. Martin Smyth : Does the Minister accept that there are sincere Christians in Northern Ireland who accept state provision of education but are concerned that some of the lessons may impinge on their understanding of biblical truth and therefore ask for the right to let their children opt out of such lessons? Will the Minister grant that freedom of conscience?
Dr. Mawhinney : I am aware of the cases to which the hon. Gentleman draws attention. I am also aware of the importance of ensuring that young people have a broad, balanced and coherent education. That is what we seek to achieve through the new curriculum.
8. Mr. Mallon : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he last met the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary ; and what decisions were made concerning the prevention of confidential security information being made available to terrorist organisations.
Mr. Cope : I have regular and frequent meetings with the Chief Constable and other members of the security forces. The subject matter of such meetings is properly confidential. I am, however, satisfied that appropriate measures to safeguard material that might be of use to terrorist organisations have been put in place by both the police and the Army.
Mr. Mallon : The Minister will be aware of the bizarre circumstances that led the police to carry out a search for illegal arms, ammunition and terrorist paraphernalia at one of their own stations, at Kells, County Antrim on 12
Column 1152October 1988. Will he confirm that two police officers serving at Kells resigned from the force, three were transferred to other stations, and one, named McAuley, was charged with the possession of arms and ammunition illegally held on behalf of a Loyalist paramilitary grouping? Can the Minister say whether the investigation carried out by Mr. Stevens involved interviewing the two officers who resigned and the three who were transferred? Was McAuley interviewed and, more importantly, were all the police officers who served at Kells during the two years prior to that date also interviewed?
Mr. Cope : I can confirm that the RUC demonstrated its evenhandedness and its preparedness to consider anything that might have gone wrong int its operation in connection with the RUC station at Kells. Nothing was found in the RUC station at Kells that gave rise to any doubt. As the hon. Gentleman says, certain officers resigned and so on. The Stevens inquiry is looking into all aspects of collusion which are drawn to its attention, but I do not wish to comment on that until Mr. Stevens has completed his investigations.
Rev. Ian Paisley : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It relates to the supplementary question by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon). The matter being discussed is currently before the Northern Ireland courts.
Mr. Speaker : The hon. Member well knows, and the House knows, that if a matter requires the immediate intervention of the Chair I must take the point of order-- [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman may reflect that that is exactly what happens during debates at any other time.
Mr. Brooke : There have been four meetings of the Intergovernmental Conference recently. At the last conference we discussed ways of furthering cross-border co-operation in economic and social fields and set in train a programme of work to develop plans in those areas.
Mr. MacKay : Would my right hon. Friend agree that the Anglo-Irish Agreement has replaced megaphone diplomacy, by and large, with informed, low-key discussions between the two Governments on matters of mutual interest and concern? That must surely be in the interests of all who live in Northern Ireland, in the rest of the United Kingdom and in the Republic of Ireland.
Column 1153Mr. Brooke : During the four months in which I have been involved with the Anglo-Irish Agreement I remember two occasions when megaphones were used--once by me and once by an Irish Minister. On the next occasion, we agreed that it would be more sensible to continue to operate through the conference, as my hon. Friend has suggested.
Mr. Hume : Has the question of funding Conway Mill been discussed in the Anglo-Irish Conference? Does the Minister recall a reply that he made to me on that question, when he said that they were not funded because of allegations of indirect or direct assistance to paramilitary organisations? Does the Minister accept that in the context of Northern Ireland those are serious and dangerous allegations? Does he recall my telling him that when I put the allegation directly to the organisers, they categorically denied it, and with all my experience of Northern Ireland I believe them. They also told me of their willingness to open the organisation's books to the Government, or to anybody nominated by the Government. In all fairness and justice, should not that offer be taken up?
Mr. Brooke : To the best of my knowledge, there has been no discussion of Conway Mill at any of the four conferences at which I have been present, but I congratulate the hon. Member on his ingenuity in reaching the subject of question No. 18. Policy on that issue--on which, as the hon. Gentleman said, I have already given him an answer--was determined by my predecessor, the present Foreign Secretary, and that policy still stands.
Rev. William McCrea : After four years of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, will the Minister tell the people of Northern Ireland and right hon. and hon. Members why the promise made to the people of Northern Ireland has not been kept? The agreement was brought into existence to bring peace, stability and reconciliation to the people of Ulster, yet in the House today the Secretary of State has given us a catalogue of murder, death and destruction.
Mr. Brooke : No one would be better pleased than I if the working of the conference, and the agreement, had produced total peace and stability, but there is no doubt in my mind that the co-operation that we have across the border with the Irish Government makes such a future more likely.
Mr. John D. Taylor : In view of the increasing disillusionment in the House with the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the awareness that there must be a way forward to a better alternative, is the Secretary of State aware of the Ulster Unionists' proposals that, during the heavy programme of the Dublin Government's European presidency, there will be an opportunity for a temporary gap in which talks could take place to bring about that alternative? When a reasonable proposal comes from the Ulster Unionists, the time has surely arrived for Dublin and the Secretary of State to do better than just saying no.
Mr. Brooke : I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman's premise that there is disillusionment, but I can respond, as I responded earlier, to the spirit of the second part of his question. The Government are interested in interpreting and managing the agreement flexibly, with the idea that if there were an uneven gap
Column 1154between meetings of the conference in the first part of 1990, there would be an opening for talks if all parties agreed.
I am mildly surprised that the right hon. Gentleman referred to a reasonable suggestion from the Ulster Unionists as though that were unusual. I regard any suggestions that they make as reasonable.
Mr. Leigh : Under the workings of the agreement, has my right hon. Friend discussed the new Anglo-Irish parliamentary body? Does he consider it a good omen for Anglo-Irish relations that the Irish parties have sent such a strong team, including the former Taoiseach and Foreign Affairs Minister? Will he express the hope that Unionist Members will send representatives to work on the parliamentary body as there is nothing to be gained from remaining in the bunker and everything to be gained by talking?
Mr. Brooke : I expect the next meeting of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference to discuss a range of subjects, including security co-operation, relations between the community and the security forces, and cross-border social and economic co-operation.
Mr. Canavan : In view of the continuing concern of the Irish Government and, indeed, many people in this country about the case of the Birmingham Six and the fact that the recent change in prison category status seems to be a tacit admission by the British Government that the Birmingham Six are not, and never have been, members of the IRA, will the Secretary of State consult the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister with a view to getting the case reviewed or reopened to ensure that justice is done and is seen to be done?
Mr. Brooke : The case of the Birmingham Six is not a normal or natural part of the agenda, although I have to confess that the ingenuity of both Governments in working the agreement means that there are occasional references to subjects which lie outside the agenda. I have on a previous occasion brought the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, arising out of a conversation at the conference.
Column 1155meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening, a reception will be held at No. 10 Downing street on behalf of the Royal National Institute for the Blind.
Sir Hugh Rossi : Is my right hon. Friend aware that a great many people are dismayed at the threats by ambulance men to refuse to answer emergency calls except on their own arbitrary terms, despite the generous increased offer that has been made to them?
The Prime Minister : Yes. In some places the emergency service is working well, but in others the position is as my hon. Friend has said. The offer that has been made to the ambulance men is for increases of between 9 and 16.3 per cent. over a period of 18 months. For example, in London leading ambulance men and women have received an offer of a backdated increase of 12.1 per cent., with arrears of £957 already due. Qualified ambulance men and women with the extra medial qualifications--the paramedics--have received an offer of a 16.3 per cent. increase. For them, back pay already accumulated would be about £1,290. Those are good offers and one would hope that they would be accepted.
Mr. Kinnock : The Prime Minister knows very well that if she allowed the dispute to go to arbitration there would be an immediate and complete return to work by all ambulance staff. Why will she not let the matter go to arbitration, especially if, as she has just said, she thinks that the offer is such a good one? Why does she not have the confidence to let the matter go to a third party?
The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman has asked that question several times before. He knows full well that these matters are negotiated in the Whitley council and that there is no provision there for compulsory arbitration.
Mr. Kinnock : The Prime Minister said this morning that she would be "so pleased" if the ambulance dispute was settled by Christmas. When that would give her and the country such pleasure, why will she do absolutely nothing constructive to bring the dispute to a close?
The Prime Minister : The pay offers are between 9 and 16.3 per cent. With the backdating and lump sums which have already accumulated, they are good offers. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would be sufficiently concerned that the emergency services are not operating well to urge the ambulance men to accept those offers so that normal service can be resumed.
Mr. Kinnock : Statements like that from the Prime Minister, who has the power to resolve the dispute, are meaningless. If she will get her right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health to tell the Health Service managers to send the dispute to arbitration, the dispute will end by four o'clock this afternoon. Why does not she do that?
The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman makes himself very clear. He is not prepared to urge the ambulance men to return to work despite an offer of between 9 per cent. and 16.3 per cent. and the fact that there are lump sums waiting to be picked up which vary
Column 1156between £650 for leading ambulance men and women outside London to nearly £1,300 for paramedics in the ambulance service within London.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett : Has my right hon. Friend noted the outstanding success of the water privatisation share issue, which has transferred the industry from state control to true public ownership? Will she join me in congratulating the millions of new shareholders who ignored the threats that their dividends would be confiscated and that the industry would be renationalised, as promised by the Labour party?
The Prime Minister : Yes, I gladly join my hon. Friend. The water privatisation has been extremely successful. People have been very willing to take up the good offers in the knowledge that privatisation will produce a much better service with improvements for drinking water, rivers and the environment generally. I gladly join my hon. Friend in congratulating my right hon. and hon. Friends on the way in which the share issue has gone through. I congratulate all those who will be shareholders for the first time, thus extending the property-owning democracy.
Mr. Howells : Will the Prime Minister consider devolving power to the people of Wales in the early 1990s, as the majority of Welsh Members in this place are in favour of a Welsh Parliament? Will she ensure that the voice of Wales, as a nation, will be heard in Europe because we, the Welsh, believe that we should play a major role in the Community in the 1990s?
The Prime Minister : I saw the early-day motion in the names of the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members. I seem to remember that this issue has come before the House before, and that the people of Wales voted overwhelmingly against having a devolved Assembly, and I see no reason to change that view. It seems that they think that they are well represented in the House and by the Government.
Mr. Dykes : In view of my right hon. Friend's powerful efforts in this connection, and because of the dramatic meeting which took place yesterday, will she consider this afternoon sending an urgent message to President de Klerk asking for the immediate release of Nelson Mandela before Christmas?
The Prime Minister : I share my hon. Friend's pleasure at the meeting between President de Klerk and Nelson Mandela. I hope that Nelson Mandela will be released as soon as possible. I agree that it would be a great advance. It would help to bring an end to violence and to start negotiations on a South African constitution which will be fair to all people. I shall consider doing what my hon. Friend seeks.
Column 1157Q4. Mr. Tom Clarke : To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 14 December.
Mr. Clarke : In view of the steel industry privatisation, are the Government prepared to use their golden share in the interests of the work forces at Ravenscraig, Clydesdale, Dalziel and Imperial? In view of the outstanding productivity achievements of the workers at those plants, will the Prime Minister assure them and the Scottish people that their steel industry is safe in her hands?
The Prime Minister : As the hon. Gentleman says, the steel industry is privatised. It has done very well under privatisation. The taxpayer has not had to stump up enormous subsidies for it. Indeed, it has contributed to the Treasury and thus to the social services. We should not consider using a particular share to frustrate any commercial decisions which need to be made. They must take their due and proper course.
Mr. Brown : Has my right hon. Friend noted the promise in eastern Europe of one man, one vote--a promise that is now extending from the Volga, from the Oder and even more from the Danube? Is my right hon. Friend disappointed that that promise is not being fulfilled from the Mersey?
Mr. Barnes : Has the Prime Minister seen The Guardian today--it may not be her favourite read--which shows that one of her advisers is again in trouble for secretly financing an extreme Right-wing secret newsletter, run by a former MI5 agent, which claims that Labour Members are Communist sympathisers? As I am one of those Members-- [Interruption.]
The Prime Minister : No adviser, employed either by me or by No. 10, is doing any such thing, as the hon. Gentleman well knows. People are free to write what they please--just as free as those who edit Tribune.
Mr. Bowis : My right hon. Friend will be aware of the tragedy in Sri Lanka and the slaughter both within and between the communities of that wonderful country. Is she also aware of the need for all countries to support the Sri Lankan people in bringing the communities together? Is she aware of the Sri Lankan Government's request that English be restored as the common language? Will she give every aid to the Sri Lankans, especially through the provision of English language teachers?
The Prime Minister : I share my hon. Friend's concern about matters in Sri Lanka, which I discussed very recently with former President Jayawardene, who did so much to resolve problems in that country. I know that English is a great unifying language in that country, and we put in a great deal of money--about £500,000 per year--through the British Council for the teaching of the English language. We must exercise a certain amount of caution about where we put teachers until the troubles in that country are at an end.
Mr. Smith : Will the Prime Minister tell the House when she first knew about the deception perpetrated on the public, the taxpayers and the work force at Rover by the sweetners offered to British Aerospace by the Government? When did she first know? Is it not time that she, her Government and her ex-Ministers came clean with the public about the damaging way in which they handled that matter and about the damage inflicted on the industry and on my constituents?
The Prime Minister : I reject the premise behind the hon. Gentleman's question. I believe that his constituents and all those who work for Rover had a very good deal when it was sold to British Aerospace-- [Interruption.] It was a good deal for the taxpayer, who had already had to spend-- [Interruption.]
The Prime Minister : The taxpayer had already spent £3 billion on supporting the company and might well have had to find a further £1.6 billion. It was a very good deal for the dealers' network and also kept the Honda link. It was a good deal for everyone concerned and that is precisely what Opposition Members cannot stand.
Mr. Churchill : Bearing in mind that the peoples of eastern Europe are discarding the discredited nostrums of Marxist Socialism, will my right hon. Friend redouble her efforts to ensure that Marxism never again gains a foothold in Britain?
Column 1159The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Mr. Boateng : What words of seasonal comfort does the Prime Minister have for people who will be using a rail network that is increasingly underfunded and understaffed and on which there is increasing concern about safety? What words of comfort has she for users and workers when she is cutting the revenue by some 25 per cent. and when there is every reason to expect further reductions in passenger safety and security? Does the right hon. Lady agree that that is not only no way to run a rail network, but also no way to run a country?
The Prime Minister : Of course I will respond to the hon. Gentleman's question. Under the success of our economy, the amount invested in British Rail and in London Underground will be higher than ever before.