(No. 2) Bill-- (By Order) Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question proposed [26 February], That the Bill be now considered.
Debate further adjourned till Thursday 17 May.
Order for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Monday 14 May at Seven o'clock.
Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [27 February], That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Debate further adjourned till Thursday 17 May.
[Lords] (By Order)
Orders for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Thursday 17 May.
Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [29 March], That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Debate further adjourned till Thursday 17 May.
[Lords](By Order) Orders for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Thursday 17 May.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Richard Needham) : The relevant law is contained in the Shops Act (Northern Ireland) 1946, and is similar to the law applying in England and Wales.
Mr. Marshall : Does my hon. Friend agree that a law which prohibits the sale of the Bible but allows the sale of girlie magazines, which allows the sale of gin but not of condensed milk and which allows the sale of chocolate but prohibits the sale of sugar, is illogical, immoral and fortunately, rarely enforced? Should not the Shops Act (Northern Ireland) 1946 reflect the realities of life in the 1990s instead of the prejudices of the 1940s?
Mr. Needham : I accept that many elements of the Sunday trading laws are ridiculous. One can buy food for an ass but not for a cat in Northern Ireland on a Sunday. However, there is no significant political pressure for changing the trading laws on Sunday in Northern Ireland, least of all from Unionist Members of Parliament. Although we shall keep the matter under review, it would be unwise for us to do anything without seeing what happens in the rest of the country.
Rev. Martin Smyth : Does the Minister agree, as I am sure the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) does, that the real problem involves traders who for profit motives rather than community interests want to trade on the Sabbath day? Was not that problem with us long before Nehemiah was governor of Jerusalem, and is not it likely to remain? The real issue is to apply the law and maintain the sanctity of that day.
Rev. Ian Paisley : Does the Minister agree that those anomalies refer to England and Wales as well as to Northern Ireland? When poking fun at Northern Ireland, he should also poke fun at the parts of Great Britain that come under the same laws. Will he give the House an assurance that if the Sunday trading law is considered in a Bill for the rest of Great Britain, the people of Northern Ireland will have the same opportunity of having a proper Bill and not something pushed through the House by an Order in Council which would be unacceptable in Northern Ireland?
Mr. Needham : The hon. Gentleman is aware that it is a transfered matter, so any changes will be dealt with under the transferred procedure. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I never poke fun, least of all at him.
Column 379the Shops Act 1950. The Government are continually preaching that we should abide by the law and obey it. Is it not time that the Government themselves ensured that the Shops Act 1950 was properly upheld and enforced as an Act of Parliament?
2. Mr. Cran : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what further talks he has had with representatives of the political parties in Northern Ireland regarding the transfer of certain powers to local authorities.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Brooke) : I have been having discussions with the leaders of the main constitutional parties in Northern Ireland about the possibilities of transferring greater power to locally elected representatives. I have made it clear that the Government would give serious consideration to any workable proposals for more local involvement in the government of Northern Ireland if they seemed likely to command widespread acceptance.
Mr. Cran : Does my right hon. Friend agree that far too much power is exercised in Northern Ireland by Northern Ireland Ministers and that, perforce, not enough is exercised by local people in the Province? Because the transfer of powers is well understood and accepted, and because the constitutional arrangements are there to accept, does my right hon. Friend agree that now may be the time for Northern Ireland politicians to sink their differences--which we all accept have been very real--in the interests of transferring power, which would be in everyone's interest?
Mr. Brooke : My hon. Friend is right in saying that Northern Ireland Ministers hold considerable power in Northern Ireland. It is within the knowledge of the House that we have been seeking to persuade locally elected politicians in Northern Ireland to accept that we might transfer some of that responsibility elsewhere. It is, inevitably, a two-way process and requires involvement in talks and consultations.
Mr. Clifford Forsythe : The Secretary of State intends to introduce compulsory competitive tendering in local councils in Northern Ireland. What plans does he have to prevent paramilitary involvement in those services in future?
Mr. Kilfedder : The truth is that the onus is on the Government to act. They must get off their knees and not let Dublin stymie political progress in Northern Ireland any longer by setting down conditions for such progress. Without further delay, the Government must now restore the Northern Ireland Assembly which they brought scandalously to an abrupt end in a way that was a disgrace to them. They also entered the Anglo-Irish Agreement which was a betrayal of the Ulster majority. Surely the
Column 380Government should now recognise that betrayal and return powers to elected representatives in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Brooke : I recognise the hon. Gentleman as a distinguished Speaker of the Assembly to which he refers. Conversations relating to the transfer of power to locally-elected representatives are covered in article 4 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement which acknowledges the possibility of such developments occurring, but the involvement of the Irish Government in such conversations, as stated in article 4, would relate to the attitudes and modalities to be expressed. The decision about the talks themselves rests wholly with the parties in Northern Ireland and with the Government.
Mr. McGrady : Does the Secretary of State agree that although in certain enlightened councils in Northern Ireland, especially those on which minority parties have a substantial say, progress has been made, in the mainstream of local government sectarian practices and attitudes are still very much to the fore? That is especially true of the Belfast corporation, which should be the flagship of local government in Northern Ireland. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the committee structures have been arranged there to prevent proper participation by the minority parties and that they have been deprived of offices and proportional representation? Even this week, financial resources have been denied to community services in minority areas. In those circumstances, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the return of functions to local government in Northern Ireland is still inappropriate and is best left to an overall agreement between the parties in due course?
Mr. Brooke : It will not have escaped the attention of the hon. Gentleman that contacts between Ministers and Belfast city council have been limited in recent years. In those circumstances, it would be wrong for me to pass comment on those with whom I have not been directly in contact. The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that if we were to advance on the transfer of power, we should need to see widespread acceptance of the principles involved.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Bottomley) : We propose to consult on the introduction ofthe hand -held breathalyser for use by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The major drop in drink-driving is coming from the allied efforts of the drinks trade to encourage all hosts to provide an attractive range of alcohol-free drinks and non and low-alcohol lager and beer for drivers ; to support passengers in choosing in advance a driver who does not take alcohol, and to prompt potential drivers to decide whether to drive or to drink alcohol.
These approaches, with the necessary and welcome enforcement work by police, will help to reduce the number of times a police officer has to knock on a stranger's door to announce that a mother or father, or a son or daughter will never return because of a drink-driver crash.
Column 381Mr. Colvin : I was interested to hear my hon. Friend's reply. What consultations did he have before reaching his decision? I accept that there has been a downward trend in drink-driving offences since the introduction of low-alcohol drinks and the campaigns run by the on-licence trade, but what is the trend in drink-related accidents? If that is also downward, is it really necessary to introduce the breathalyser in the Province?
Mr. Bottomley : I pay tribute to those in the drinks trade--the on- trade, vintners, off-licences and brewers--for coming together to help to support the efforts to cut casualties. In the United Kingdom as a whole, and in Northern Ireland, the trend in drink-related deaths is clearly a downwards trend, and pedestrians are benefiting just as much as drivers and their passengers. The reason for introducing the hand-held breathalyser is that it provides a screening device and only those who fail the screening test need to be taken to the roadside evidential machine. That means that the RUC will be able to process more people more quickly and so get off the road faster, which in Northern Ireland is sometimes important.
Mr. A. Cecil Walker : Is the Minister aware of the number of breathalysed drivers driving written-off vehicles imported from the mainland, repaired by cowboy garages and unleashed on the Northern Ireland community?
Mr. Bottomley : That is something which we shall want to keep under control, but with the vehicle-testing system in place, vehicle defects contribute to less than 10 per cent. of crashes, whereas road conditions contribute to about one third and driver error to 95 per cent. of crashes. I should welcome the hon. Gentleman's support in dealing with the driver error problem, which is by far the largest.
4. Mr. Molyneaux : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what representations he has made to the Commission of the European Community for financial assistance for the provision of a natural gas supply to Northern Ireland.
Mr. Needham : The town gas industry in Northern Ireland is virtually closed down and there seems little prospect of re-establishing a viable gas industry. However, the possibility of burning gas in power stations is being examined in the context of overall energy provision for Northern Ireland and officials of the Department of Economic Development are in touch with the European Commission.
Mr. Molyneaux : Is the Minister aware that buried in the ground in Northern Ireland are 1,600 miles of perfectly good sound pipeline? Is he further aware that it would be comparatively easy to connect the gas supply from Great Britain--in the first instance to industry in Northern Ireland and thereafter to domestic consumers? Can the Minister say how, in the long -term, the Government can defend the exclusion of Northern Ireland from continental sources of energy?
Mr. Needham : We will, of course, accept energy at a competitive price wherever it comes from. The right hon. Gentleman is fully aware that, at its peak, gas only accounted for some 4 per cent. of energy use. To restore the infrastructure to which the right hon. Gentleman
Column 382refers, which is not in perfect condition, would cost some £300 million, whereas to build Kilroot II would cost £300 million and give us 18 per cent. of our energy requirement. I am afraid that it makes no sense whatever to bring back the natural gas industry in Northern Ireland--either to the domestic or to the industrial consumer--but it is certainly worth considering whether gas can be used for electricity generation.
Mr. Dickens : Will my hon. Friend accept from me, as a former director of a Northern Ireland company, that Northern Ireland industry would very much like a natural gas supply to make it more competitive with the rest of the world and to enable it to stand more on its own two feet-- as will become apparent when the question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) is answered?
Mr. Needham : What Northern Ireland industry needs is competitive energy. However beautiful natural gas may be, if it is very much more expensive than other forms of energy, it makes no sense to bring it back, and I am afraid that that is the position.
Mr. Jim Marshall : Does the Minister accept that we all wish the Province to have access to the cheapest form of energy for both domestic and industrial consumers? In the Minister's reply to the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), he referred to the comparative costs of natural gas and electricity. To put an end to the continuing debate, will he give an assurance that he will publish the basis of the answers that he has already given? Clearly, the evidence exists. To ensure an open debate, it would be in the best interests of Northern Ireland to publish that evidence and information.
5. Mr. Jack : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how much economic assistance Northern Ireland has received (a) from Her Majesty's Government and (b) from the European Community since 1979.
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. John Cope) : Since 1978-79, the average amount by which Northern Ireland public expenditure has been financed by revenue raised in Great Britain has been approximately £1,400 million a year. Over the same period, Northern Ireland has received an annual average of some £66 million from the European Community's structural fund as well as further amounts which cannot be separately identified under, for example, the common agricultural policy.
Mr. Jack : I thank my right hon. Friend for those impressive figures on economic assistance from the British taxpayer and the European Community. To what purpose is that money put? Can my right hon. Friend reassure me that the quality of industrial investment as a result of that assistance is high? Will he take it from me that we are grateful for the support that his Department continues to give to Northern Ireland, in spite of security and political problems?
Column 383and the Community respectively. Clearly, the money is used for a wide range of purposes, including economic development, to which my hon. Friend referred and, to some degree, security and other such matters. Of course, we do our best to make sure that all economic investment is of the best quality. The House will be aware of the Government's recent proposals to improve the quality.
Mr. Grocott : Can the Minister confirm that Northern Ireland Ministers believe that it is extremely important that there should be Government intervention and support, and a regional policy? How does he cope in Cabinet battles with the ideological gulf between his view and that of the Prime Minister?
Mr. Cope : Of course, we think it important that there should be support of one kind or another. As I said, the money to which I referred is used across the board, not only for economic development. If the hon. Gentleman studies the new proposals of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and of the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham), who looks after economic development, he will see that we are doing our best to target the money on precise job creation projects.
Rev. Ian Paisley : Can the Minister explain to the House why the Irish Republic receives from the European Community an average of £3 million per day and why there is such a differential between that and what is paid to Northern Ireland? Will he also explain, on the question of additionality, how much money that comes from Europe for Northern Ireland goes directly to Northern Ireland? I ask that in view of the answers that have been given to me by Ministers on those questions.
Mr. Cope : The European Commission and European Community divide the money according to objective economic criteria. Commissioner Millan and his colleagues have made it clear that that is the basis on which the money is divided for the structural funds. The gross domestic product per head in Northern Ireland is more than 75 per cent. of the average in the European Community. It is higher than that in the Republic of Ireland and higher than that for any other objective single region. That is why we do not have the same amount per head as, for example, the Republic or other countries. We are entirely within the rules of additionality laid down by the European Community.
Mr. Foulkes : I am glad that Sir Myles is dedicated to improving services--it is more than can be said for InterCity. Will the Minister tell the House what action the Northern Ireland Office is taking about the axing of the Stranraer to Euston sleeper, which is as vital for Northern
Column 384Ireland as it is for the south-west of Scotland? If, as I suspect, his answer is that the Northern Ireland Office has done little or nothing on that, will he get together with the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Transport, and tell British Rail to put the service back into operation immediately?
Mr. Bottomley : If more people had used the service, it would have been more commercial. The Department in Northern Ireland made representations to British Rail. It takes seven and a half hours to get from London to Stranraer and costs £53 second class. I have no doubt that anyone travelling with the hon. Gentleman would find that as time and distance passed they would become sleepy so there would be no need to pay the extra £20 for the sleeper. Most people who go to Northern Ireland now fly.
Mr. Beggs : I welcome the views expressed and the support of the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), but I very much regret that, as he said, the Northern Ireland Office has failed to weigh in and support the promotion of that service. We consider that it is important to maintain it. When the Minister meets the chairman of Northern Ireland Railways will he suggest getting together with the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Transport with a view to promoting the service because it could be of great economic advantage to south-west Scotland and Northern Ireland?
Mr. Bottomley : Perhaps I could ask the hon. Gentleman to come and see me, and we might do a joint survey on how many times hon. Members representing Northern Ireland have used the service in the past year. That would give an indication of what weight we should put behind the representations that have been made.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Dr. Brian Mawhinney) : We believe that the main obstacle is the absence of talks with and between the Northern Ireland political leaders about political matters. However, there is now a significant common understanding on the issues such talks might address and I am hopeful that the conditions for holding such talks may exist soon.
Mr. Taylor : Does the Minister agree that while the different political parties in Northern Ireland understand each other's position, the Government's position is as clear as mud? Will the Minister come clean on the long-term policies of the Northern Ireland Office? Is he aware that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has confirmed in writing that his objective is devolution, but that two fellow Members in the ministerial team have been canvassing in Upper Bann for a candidate who is opposed to devolution and wants integration? When will we get consistency in the Northern Ireland Office?
Column 385Northern Ireland to allow locally elected representatives to have a greater say in the decisions that govern their constituents' lives. With regard to Upper Bann, I am told that the right hon. Gentleman is wrong yet again. His party is having some difficulty in convincing the electorate about why its members are always to be found in the voting lobbies with the socialists.
Mr. Peter Robinson : As a general principle, does the Minister agree that in entering negotiations no party should be at a disadvantage? To ensure that the Unionists are not at a disadvantage at the negotiating table would the Minister accept that the Anglo-Irish Agreement should not be operating at full belt?
Dr. Mawhinney : I certainly accept the hon. Gentleman's first point that no one party should be at a disadvantage. With regard to his second point, he will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has recently made it clear that in the context of such discussions on possible future arrangements for the government of Northern Ireland, we would give serious consideration to any implication for the agreement that such arrangements might have. I can confirm that in the context of those discussions, we would also consider including any proposal for an alternative to the agreement that the Northern Ireland parties might put forward that would advance the underlying objectives that I believe we all share.
Mr. Hume : Does the Minister agree that anybody who is serious about making political progress in Northern Ireland would want to address the relationships that go to the heart of the problem and have never been satisfactorily addressed? Those relationships are within Northern Ireland, within Ireland and between Britain and Ireland. Does he agree that if the Unionists, who say that they are British, do not trust the British Government to negotiate those relationships on their behalf, either with ourselves who share the North with them or with the Irish Government who share the island, then logically they should be willing to negotiate those relationships themselves?
Dr. Mawhinney : I think that it is common ground between the Government and all the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland that the relationships to which the hon. Gentleman refers must be addressed. That must be done first in the context of Northern Ireland, which means that the representatives of the Nationalist and Unionist traditions must sit down together, with the Government or without, to address those issues. In addressing them, other relationships will, of course, come into play.
Mr. Andrew McKay : In view of the remarks by the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) and the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), does my hon. Friend agree that less charitable people than I might think that one of the main obstacles to political progress in the Province is the intransigence of some of the political parties there?
Dr. Mawhinney : We have been seeking to address the political future of Northern Ireland, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has devoted much time and energy to that. We have done that, recognising the legitimate concerns and aspirations of the various parties, and we have been seeking to cause arrangements to be put
Column 386in place that will enable them to talk together constructively with Government about an objective that I believe is shared by the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Cope : At the last meeting of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, Ministers had a constructive discussion of arrangements for dealing with fugitive offenders. Officials were instructed to undertake a review of the situation and to report back to a future conference. My right hon. Friend will consider all proposals arising from this review.
Mr. Corbett : I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he share the confidence of the Irish Government that the 1987 extradition Act will remedy the defects of the last three cases which were before the Irish Supreme Court?
Mr. Cope : The last three cases were, of course, disappointing, but we have to accept that they were the judgments of an independent judiciary on the basis of the then law. As the hon. Gentleman acknowledges, the law has since been changed. The whole point of the study to which I referred is to consider whether the arrangements are now satisfactory for the future.
Mr. Stanbrook : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the arrangements regarding the extradition of ordinary decent criminals-- [Interruption] --are working perfectly satisfactorily? However, where the person sought to be extradited is an alleged IRA criminal, the law, the courts and the Government of the Irish Republic put every obstacle in the way.
Mr. Cope : I would not entirely agree with the last part of my hon. Friend's supplementary. The phrase "ordinary decent criminals" is well understood in Northern Ireland and is in frequent use--I have become used to it myself--but it obviously came as a novelty to some hon. Members. The position in relation to terrorists has improved since 1985. That does not mean, of course, that the position is now perfect. That is why we are carrying out the study.
Mr. William Ross : Surely the right hon. Gentleman understands perfectly well that after the McGimpsey case, which clarified the position in the Irish Republic, it was a foregone conclusion that any extradition requests brought under the 1965 Irish Act on extradition were bound to fail. Does he recall that when the 1987 Act was being passed in the Irish Republic the Prime Minister said that it would make matters worse than under the 1965 Act? In the light of that, what possible confidence can the right hon. Gentleman or any hon. Member have that we will get any IRA murderer extradited from the Irish Republic to face justice in this kingdom?
Mr. Cope : I do not think that there is a sound legal basis for the hon. Gentleman's assertion about the effects of the McGimpsey case judgment on extradition. In view of the legal advice that I have received, I cannot support his assertion. In terms of his general question, I can tell him that of course there have been three refusals of
Column 387extradition for terrorists to which I have recently referred, but that compares with 38 refusals in the years preceding 1985 and, obviously, preceding the new legislation. Four terrorists have been returned to Northern Ireland since 1985, compared with only three in the preceding 15 years, so the position has improved. Of course we are not entirely satisfied--that is why we are having further discussions with the Government of the Republic of Ireland.
Rev. William McCrea : How can the Minister assure my constituents that the Irish Republic is a friendly neighbour to Northern Ireland when at this moment it is harbouring known terrorists who have killed some of my constituents? Does the Minister accept that the present extradition arrangements are the laughing stock of the world?
Mr. Cope : I do not accept that. If the hon. Gentleman has information and evidence to give to the Royal Ulster Constabulary which will assist us in catching criminals, wherever they may be on either side of the border, we shall be grateful to receive it.
Mr. McNamara : Is the Minister aware that we welcome the establishment of a committee to consider the effects of extradition? We hope that it will reach a conclusion that will be acceptable to the vast majority of people within all of our islands. Have the right hon. Gentleman and the Secretary of State considered taking the initiative with other colleagues in the Government and looking again at the actual convention on the suppression of terrorism to try to limit the effects of political exemption and to make its scope much narrower and much more acceptable to the majority of fair-thinking people?
Mr. Cope : Yes, but the convention does not translate precisely into current legislation in many countries, not only the Irish Republic. It is a matter for agreement between the two countries involved. That is of the first importance. However, we shall pursue all those matters in the talks to which I have referred.
Mr. Hanley : Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is no place in the European Community for any country that protects those who commit political crimes? Would not it be a good idea, during the Irish presidency, to suggest a change in a constitution which helps to protect those who commit such crimes?
Mr. Brooke : I last met Ministers from the Republic of Ireland on 20 April, following the Intergovernmental Conference. The subjects discussed then included the political situation in Northern Ireland, cross-border security co-operation, arrangements for dealing with fugitive offenders, the question of confidence in the security forces and the system of justice and cross-border economic co-operation.
Mr. Canavan : Does the right hon. Gentleman accept the valid and constructive criticism of the Anglo-Irish Agreement that it has failed in its declared objective of bringing peace precisely because it contains no coherent strategy for the peaceful reunification of Ireland? Will he assure us that meaningful dialogue towards that end will continue between the British Government and the Government of the Irish Republic, whatever the outcome of his forthcoming discussions with Unionist leaders--including the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), who is not exactly renowned for his contribution to the peace movement?
Mr. Brooke : I pay tribute to the security co-operation between this Government and the Government of the Irish Republic in matter pertaining to cross-border activities. The hon. Gentleman's view of the purpose of the Anglo-Irish Agreement--at least in the gloss that he placed upon it--is novel, and not one which I share with him.
Mr. Latham : Is my right hon. Friend aware that most people on this side of the St. George's channel--and, I suspect, many on the other side-- welcome the recent visit to Belfast by Prime Minister Haughey to talk to business men there and regard that sort of contact as extremely sensible and fruitful?