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House of Commons

Thursday 1 February 1990

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


British Railways

(No. 2) Bill--

Read a Second time and committed.

Cattewater Reclamation Bill

Humberside County Council Bill

Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 8 February.

City of London (Spitalfields Market) Bill

(By Order) Order for consideration for Lords amendments read.

To be considered on Thursday 8 February.

Birmingham City Council

(No. 2) Bill-- (By Order)

City of London (Various Powers) Bill

(By Order) Order for consideration read.

To be considered on Thursday 8 February.

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British Railways Bill

(By Order)

Considered ; to be read the Third time.

Vale of Glamorgan (Barry Harbour) Bill

[Lords] (By Order)

Adelphi Estate Bill

(By Order)

Exmouth Docks Bill

(By Order)

Hythe, Kent, Marina Bill

(By Order)

London Docklands Railway Bill

(By Order)

London Underground (Victoria) Bill

(By Order)

Penzance South Pier Extension Bill

(By Order)

Shard Bridge Bill

(By Order)

Tees and Hartlepool Port Authority Bill

(By Order)

Ventnor Harbour Bill

(By Order)

London Regional Transport (Penalty Fares) Bill

(By Order)

London Underground Bill

(By Order)

Midland Metro Bill

(By Order)

South Yorkshire Light Rail Transit

(No. 2) Bill-- (By Order) Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 8 February.

British Railways Order Confirmation Bill

Order for consideration read.

To be considered on Thursday 8 February.

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Oral Answers to Questions



1. Mr. Gill : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what representations he has received about his recent statement on devolution.

7. Dr. Godman : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what progress has been made in the discussions concerning the devolution of political power within Northern Ireland ; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Brooke) : My speech in Bangor, Co. Down, on 9 January addressed the possibilities and prospects of transferring some degree of political power, authority and responsibility to politicians in Northern Ireland. There has been widespread reaction, none of it wholly unfavourable. Much now depends on the willingness and ability of local politicians to find a way forward together. The Government are ready to help in any way they can to bring about talks between the parties. The next step is likely to be further discussions between the Government and the parties.

Mr. Gill : When my right hon. Friend looks at the new map of Europe, does he see any evidence that direct rule satisfies the needs of the people for democratic and popular government? Does he agree that the legitimate ambitions of peoples and nations to regain their institutions is important and that the closer Governments are to the people that they serve, the more economic, accountable and responsive they will be? Does he recognise that those are rhetorical questions--

Mr. Speaker : Order. Such a long question is a very bad start to Question Time.

Mr. Brooke : I recognise that my hon. Friend's questions are rhetorical. Recently the Irish Times carried a cartoon, half of which was devoted to a crowd in eastern Europe saying to someone on a balcony, "Negotiate, Power to the people, Elections, Freedom." In the Northern Ireland version, I appeared to resemble the person on the balcony. I was saying the same things, but the crowd was saying nothing. I look forward to a reply.

Dr. Godman : Does the Secretary of State agree that matters in Northern Ireland are not helped by the obdurate behaviour of Allan Dukes and Fine Gael? That questionable behaviour brought about the cancellation of yesterday's Intergovernmental Conference. What further steps is he taking in the presentation of his case for devolution, in the light of the recent findings of the Belfast Telegraph- BBC "Newsnight" survey which showed that only 21 per cent. of the people of Northern Ireland have any faith in a power-sharing arrangement? Will he give some sustenance to his colleagues in the Scottish Office on the principle of political devolution?

Mr. Brooke : As a former member of the Whips' Office, I make no comment on the practices of Opposition parties in the Dail. I studied the survey in the Belfast Telegraph,

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but the hon. Gentleman may be forgetting that some of the questions had a second choice attached to them as well as a first.

Mr. Gow : Is my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland in favour of a legislative assembly--

Hon. Members : Scotland?

Mr. Speaker : Order. These are Northern Ireland questions.

Mr. Gow : Is my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland in favour of a legislative assembly in Belfast?

Mr. Brooke : My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I agree that we need to look at appropriate constitutional practices in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Mr. Clifford Forsythe : As Northern Ireland is the only part of the British isles which does not have proper local government, is not there an urgent need to restore power to our local councils?

Mr. Brooke : The hon. Gentleman may not have meant to refer to the British isles, but, as he knows, conversations are going on about whether further powers may be transferred.

Mr. Stanbrook : Joking apart, the quickest way of breaking up the United Kingdom is by going for a policy of legislative devolution. How does my right hon. Friend justify his policy for devolution in Northern Ireland and reconcile it with the Government's opposition to devolution in Scotland?

Mr. Brooke : I was not joking when I said that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I agree that we need appropriate constitutional arrangements in Scotland and Northern Ireland. We have been exploring with politicians and parties in Northern Ireland how there might be a transfer of power and responsibility. In my speech in Bangor I simply gave what I thought was the considered view of the parties to whom we have spoken.

Mr. Hume : With regard to the Secretary of State's request to the parties of Northern Ireland today, will he confirm that on each occasion that I and my SDLP colleagues have met the right hon. Gentleman we have made unequivocally clear, without preconditions, our willingness to engage in talks on any subject with all the parties in Northern Ireland, and that further to that, in order to meet the express sensitivities of the Unionist parties, we are willing to seek with them an agreement which, by addressing all the dimensions of the problem, would transcend in importance any previous agreement ever made?

Mr. Brooke : I endorse what the hon. Gentleman has said, save to say that saying that his position was wholly without preconditions might be overstating it a little.

Mr. Kilfedder : I commend my right hon. Friend on his speech in my constituency. As the leader of one of Northern Ireland political parties, I am willing to participate in the talks that my right hon. Friend has mentioned and to sit at the table for as long as is necessary

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to produce, if possible, some constitutional progress, and I urge all leaders of constitutional parties to participate in those talks.

Mr. Brooke : As I said when I had the pleasure of visiting the hon. Gentleman's constituency and welcoming him in the audience, I was delighted to be there, and I welcome the letter that he has since written to me stating his willingness to participate.

Community Workshops

2. Mr. Beggs : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will defer for a period of 12 months his proposals for the community workshops in Northern Ireland.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Richard Needham) : No. I have listened carefully to the representations made to me in recent weeks and at my meeting on Monday with the workshops I told them of changes that the Government were prepared to make to meet their concerns.

Mr. Beggs : I thank the Minister for his response and I want to record the appreciation of the delegation from the workshops. The Minister was receptive and responsive to their needs and fears about their future, but will he give me an assurance today that the operation of workshops will be monitored closely during the next 12 months to ensure that there will be no insolvency and that they will be protected and supported so that they can provide and maintain jobs and training in areas of high unemployment?

Will the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland consider setting up a mechanism whereby the Under-Secretaries responsible for education and economic development could regularly meet the authorities representing further education in Northern Ireland to consider the main problems that they face and to endeavour to resolve them?

Mr. Needham : On the first part of the question, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall work together and monitor closely how the community workshops get on. I have arranged a conference with representatives from them in the autumn, when we can all get together and discuss how progress is being made. The insolvency issue has a wider dimension because it is part of the regulations covering all company law, but we shall discuss it and see what can be done. I shall pass on the request in the final part of the hon. Gentleman's question to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Stott : I reinforce the request made by the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs). Does the Minister agree that, having reached agreement with community workshops about the new youth training programme, his colleague in the Department of Education should turn his attention to the devastating effects that the proposals would have on further education- based YTP? Is it not the case that the Government intend to save money and that, as a result, the more expensive and high-quality further education- based YTP will disappear, leaving many of Northern Ireland's young people disadvantaged in the training they receive?

Mr. Needham : The basis of our proposals for the workshops is to improve the quality of training received

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there. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are some good workshops in Northern Ireland and some that need to be brought up to the quality of the best. By introducing the new scheme we are ensuring that much more is done on employers' premises to get the youngsters involved in those workshops ready for the world of work, that we are sure will come about in the 1990s. Obviously, that requires an input from the further education colleges to give the generally broad training skills that young people need in the workshops.

Rev. Ian Paisley : I endorse what the previous speakers have said about the thanks that are due for the reappraisal of the scheme. Will the Minister give an assurance that if, with regard to solvency, the scheme does not come up to his expectations, he will look at it again?

Mr. Needham : I will discuss the matter carefully and see what can be done. I do not have a magic wand to solve the insolvency problem, but I am sure that, working together, we can find a sensible way round it.

Republic of Ireland

3. Mr. Hunter : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he will next meet Ministers of the Republic of Ireland ; and what matters he proposes to discuss.

Mr. Brooke : I expect to meet Mr. Collins shortly to discuss a number of important issues that were on the agenda of the postponed Intergovernmental Conference on 31 January.

Mr. Hunter : When my right hon. Friend next meets Ministers of the Republic will he express the disillusionment felt by many people about the Anglo-Irish Agreement--a one-way road if ever there was one? Will he also express the significance that many people see in the fact that all constitutional parties in Northern Ireland now look for the end of direct rule?

Mr. Brooke : It would be a little hypocritical of me to express precisely the views of which my hon. Friend speaks, as I find the Anglo- Irish Agreement an extremely good vehicle for the conduct of business between Irish Ministers and me. As to his question, I have noted--as I am sure many hon. Members have--the results of the Belfast Telegraph poll.

Mr. Mallon : Has the disgraceful matter of the delay in holding inquests in the north of Ireland been raised in discussions with Irish Ministers? I know that the Secretary of State, as a man of compassion, will understand the suffering and distress that the delay causes the bereaved families. Will he extend those discussions with the Irish Government and his colleagues to ensure that inquests are held within a reasonable period, that Northern Ireland inquests have the right to bring in verdicts not findings and that all material witnesses can be compelled to attend and give evidence?

Mr. Brooke : I have, on past occasions, discussed inquests with Irish Ministers. I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, although I do not know that the Government would wish to be involved in advancing each of his proposals.

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Rev. William McCrea : Does the Secretary of State find it strange that there was no problem yesterday in suspending the meeting between Ministers from London and Dublin to save the Eire budget, yet it appears impossible for the Government to suspend the Anglo-Irish Agreement to save the lives of people in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Brooke : I understand that the conference was cancelled yesterday because of pairing difficulties in the Dail. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State and I are both former pairing Whips and thus have sympathy with that problem. I once brought the present Foreign Secretary home from Nepal for a vote that we won by 262-0. It made so deep an impression on him that he included it in his latest novel, although he reduced the majority to 17, thus proving again that truth is stranger than fiction.

Mr. William Ross : When the Secretary of State meets his opposite number in the Irish Republic, does he intend to discuss the implications of the Colin Wallace affair--and if not, why not? Do not certain aspects of that affair impinge upon the Northern Ireland Office?

Mr. Brooke : Before coming to the House today, I inquired whether the Irish Government, through the secretariat, had raised that matter since my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces answered a written question on Tuesday. I understand that the Irish Government have not, so far, raised that matter, but I shall be meeting Irish Ministers again in the future, when it may arise.

Mr. Andrew MacKay : When my right hon. Friend next meets Mr. Collins and his colleagues, will he tell them that, contrary to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter), a great majority of hon. Members, especially Conservative Members, still believe in the Anglo- Irish Agreement? Will he also tell them that a great majority of Members support everything that he is doing to try to bring devolution to Northern Ireland, as that will be in the interests of its people and will give them greater local power?

Mr. Brooke : I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support.

Mr. Jim Marshall : As one former Whip to another, I wish to ask a question of the Secretary of State that will show that truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction. When the right hon. Gentleman next discusses economic matters with his Irish counterparts, will he confirm that when Shorts was privatised the Government retained ownership of four leasing companies? Will he give the reasons for doing so? Was it because of taxation or was it because Bombardier refused to accept any potential loss on those leases? Is any employee of the four leasing companies retained by the Government also working for the newly privatised Shorts company?

Mr. Brooke : The points about Shorts to which the hon. Gentleman referred were part of the original negotiations and arrangements. In the context of the leasing companies, it was not easy to calibrate the consequences. Shorts Brothers, under Bombardier's ownership, has an agreement with the Government for the management of those arrangements, which were built into the deal that we made.

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Preventive Health Care

4. Dr. Goodson-Wickes : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what plans he has for the promotion of preventive health care ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Needham : The Government have made health promotion a major priority in developing health and social services in Northern Ireland.

Dr. Goodson-Wickes : My hon. Friend recognises the increasingly important part played by preventive medicine in the National Health Service throughout the country. Can he reassure the House that the funding for such a programme in Northern Ireland is on a par with that in the remainder of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Needham : Indeed, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. We intend to spend £900,000 in the coming year on health promotion in Northern Ireland, which is an increase in budget of about 50 per cent. It has always been said that there was a higher chance of having a heart attack after an Ulster breakfast than after breakfast anywhere else in the world. It is certainly true that there is a very good chance of being well treated in Ulster. During the past five years the incidence of heart attacks has been reducedby about 15 per cent. One reason for that is the Government's emphasis on and determination to follow a health promotion campaign.

Rev. Martin Smyth : Will the Minister expand on his answer to me of 14 November and explain how the new remuneration system for doctors will help to prevent heart disease, promote the cessation of smoking, and alleviate stress-related complaints?

Mr. Needham : The general practitioners' new contract will help to achieve exactly what the hon. Gentleman seeks, as it requires them to offer patients aged between 16 and 74 consultation when they require it. Bonuses will be paid to doctors who achieve particular immunisation rates. The whole point of the new contract is to meet the targets that the hon. Gentleman mentions. I am sure that in fulfilling that new contract, the vast majority of the medical profession in Northern Ireland will improvethe health of the Province's population by extending the preventive aspects of their work.

Road Casualties

5. Mr. Kilfedder : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the number of road casualties in the Province at the current time and in previous years.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Bottomley) : In the 1960s, Northern Ireland had the best road safety record of any region or part of the United Kingdom. Since 1986, it has had the worst. Northern Ireland can return to having the safest roads. That is the aim of the road casualty reduction programme launched last autumn. One hundred and eighty-one people died on the roads in 1989.

Mr. Kilfedder : I congratulate my hon. Friend on promoting the "Don't drink and drive" campaign, which has helped to reduce the number of casualties, but does he agree that praise is due also to others who have

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contributed to the reduction in the carnage on the roads--including the media, which gave publicity to the road safety campaign?

Mr. Bottomley : If people can have their consciousness and awareness raised with the help of brewers, pubs and off-licences, fewer of them will be offered drink before driving--and drink is still the biggest factor linked with death on the roads. It is important to reach the target of cutting road deaths in Northern Ireland from an average of 210 to 140 per year. That saving of 70 lives per year would probably be very welcome in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Clifford Forsythe : In view of the Minister's obvious and much- publicised concern for road safety, will he explain why his own Department's officials do not seem to share his views? They refused to allow the completion of the bypass of Killead and the dangerous A26, and they are very much against road crossings--particularly in Fountain street, Antrim.

Mr. Bottomley : Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will meet me so that we can discuss those issues. One problem is that a number of hon. Members keep away from Ministers. Perhaps we can start working together instead.

Rev. William McCrea : Given the Minister's interest in road safety in Northern Ireland, does he agree that his Department should demonstrate more concern for achieving uniform salting and gritting of roads in the Province? Drivers passing from one council's area into another are lulled into a sense of false security and then become involved in accidents. Will the Minister take a personal interest in that matter?

Mr. Bottomley : Yes, I will. However, I should not want the hon. Gentleman to promote the idea that road casualty reductions are a matter of concern to me only. Road safety councils throughout Northern Ireland have been working on that problem far longer than I have. One reason why road deaths are down from 300 to 200 and will, we hope, reduce further, is because of all their work. Of course, I shall try to ensure that there is consistency in road salting, but I ask all drivers to prepare for bad road conditions and not to assume that the Government can wave a magic wand and save them from the consequences of their own driving.

Republic of Ireland

6. Mr. John Evans : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he intends to announce any further initiatives to promote economic co-operation with the Government of the Republic of Ireland specifically in the border areas.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. John Cope) : The Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference initiated last year a systematic programme of assessment of all the main sectors, to determine where the process of social and economic co-operation can most fruitfully be expanded. The first result of that work is a joint Northern Ireland- Republic of Ireland paper outlining possible programme measures that both Governments would wish to see supported under the European Community's transfrontier initiative. The paper is in the final stages of agreement and will, I hope, shortly be submitted to the Commission.

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Mr. Evans : As areas on both sides of the border are suffering serious economic deprivation, which is leading to depopulation, do the Government have any plans post-1992 to discuss further with both the Irish Government and the European Commission proposals for improving prosperity in those areas?

Mr. Cope : Yes. The paper is about improving prosperity in the border areas that the hon. Gentleman mentions and covers many economic activities. It deals also with making use of wider co-operation in helping all parts of the island of Ireland.

Mr. John D. Taylor : Is the Minister aware of the damage being done to the economies of border towns by the refusal of the Government of the south of Ireland to allow their citizens to visit those towns for shopping expeditions? When did he last raise that issue with the Government of the south of Ireland? Will the Northern Ireland Office be represented at the forthcoming case in the European Court at Luxembourg?

Mr. Cope : We raised it at our last meeting with Irish Ministers. But more importantly, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, it is coming before the European Court. The United Kingdom Government will be represented at those hearings.

Mr. McGrady : I refer the Minister to the reply I received from the Secretary of State on 14 December at column 1156 in Hansard where he gave a not unfavourable reply to the request to set up a cross-border economic committee to look into the consequences of the Single European Act with particular reference to the harmonisation of VAT, fiscal rates and a common currency. What progress has been made since that date?

Mr. Cope : We did not quite agree with the agenda, but, apart from that, most of the matters mentioned by the hon. Gentleman are being discussed through the European Community.

Intergovernmental Conference

8. Mr. Ernie Ross : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the last meeting of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference.

12. Mr. David Nicholson : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on his most recent meeting with Cabinet Ministers of the Republic of Ireland.

Mr. Brooke : I last met Ministers from the Irish Republic at a meeting of the Intergovernmental Conference on 30 November 1989. The joint statement issued afterwards was placed in the Library. A meeting of the Conference was due to be held on 31 January but was postponed due to the unavailability of Irish Ministers.

Mr. Ross : How would the right hon. Gentleman have explained to the Irish Government how that part of the Anglo-Irish Agreement that seeks to improve public confidence in the security forces would have been advanced by the Government's handling of the Colin Wallace affair?

Mr. Brooke : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will make a statement on that matter

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later this afternoon. For me to engage in what Irish Ministers and I would have said to each other yesterday is not perhaps the most constructive use of the House's time.

Mr. David Nicholson : Does my right hon. Friend agree that increased prosperity will contribute to the defeat of terrorism in the Province and the Republic? What progress is being monitored in discussions about the increase in inward investment to the Province and the Republic and how does the Northern Ireland Development Board, whose success we all admire, work with its counterpart in the Republic?

Mr. Brooke : I am glad to agree with my hon. Friend about the contribution that jobs and fuller employment make towards the security situation in Northern Ireland. As to collaboration with the Republic, both the Republic and ourselves are vividly aware that we are in competition for inward investment and sometimes find ourselves directly competing.

Mr. Molyneaux : At the last Conference did the British team put forward suggestions for the consideration of a new and more workable Agreement? Did they urge the necessity of the reasonable request for the suspension of the present Agreement for a limited period? If they did not, will they do so at the next meeting in view of Mr. Haughey's more flexible attitude?

Mr. Brooke : Immediately after the last Conference I said that suspension had not been discussed. However the right hon. Gentleman will be aware of paragraph 29 of the review of the Agreement that we published last year which stated that both Governments would be prepared to consider without preconditions any propositions put before them. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is right in thinking that it is a subject which we will discuss at future Conferences.

Mr. Bill Walker : Did my right hon. Friend discuss at the Intergovernmental Conference the proposals for some form of local government in Northern Ireland? If he did, did those attending the Intergovernmental Conference think it was a good idea, and if they did not, can they tell us why?

Mr. Brooke : That subject has not been discussed at the Intergovernmental Conference since I became Secretary of State.

Mr. Duffy : This week's RAF involvement in air-sea rescue missions off Westport and in the Irish sea raises once again the question of the adequacy of the emergency services on both sides of the Irish sea and as between the north and the south of Ireland. Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that the quality and liaison of such services are a proper subject for the Intergovernmental Conference? As such air-sea rescues increasingly now involve foreign vessels, especially Spanish fishing vessels, will he explore with his colleagues in Dublin the need for international funding of such provision, the burden of which is mostly now borne--magnificently, of course--by the Royal Air Force?

Mr. Brooke : The hon. Gentleman makes a constructive suggestion. I do not know whether it would fall naturally within the agenda of a Conference, but it is quite clearly something which could be discussed in the margin of a Conference even if it were not on the agenda.

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Mr. McNamara : The Secretary of State referred earlier to a statement that will be made later today, but in the answer given earlier this week a matter referred to which was the responsibility of the Secretary of State--the role of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. In the light, therefore, of truth being stranger than fiction, and of the Colin Wallace allegations, will he now order a complete investigation into Mr. Wallace's allegations concerning the Kincora boys home? Will he also give a complete guarantee that Mr. Wallace will not be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act for any information concerning that affair and concerning the security forces that he might give to the RUC? Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman now undertake to give serious consideration to the evidence published by Mr. Paul Foot and the forensic report drawn up by Mr. Radley suggesting that Mr. Wallace's memorandum concerning the events in the Kincora boys home is genuine?

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