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House of Commons

Thursday 22 November 1990

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


British Railways (No. 2) Bill

(By Order)

Order for consideration, as amended, read.

To be considered on Thursday 29 November.

Heathrow Express Railway Bill

[Lords](By Order) Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 29 November.

Oral Answers to Questions


Anglo-Irish Agreement

1. Mrs. Mahon : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he will be meeting the Irish Prime Minister to discuss the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Brooke) : I expect to meet Mr. Haughey shortly.

Mrs. Mahon : Will the Secretary of State confirm to the Irish Prime Minister that whoever is successful in the forthcoming election of the Prime Minister of this country will support the Anglo-Irish Agreement? Does he agree that it is a good thing for Britain that a Prime Minister who has thrived on conflict has gone and that that gives hope for future peace in not only Ireland but the Gulf?

Mr. Brooke : On the basis of my previous conversations with the Taoiseach, I have no doubt that we shall discuss, among other things, the political situation in the United Kingdom. The British Government signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement and will continue it. I entirely repudiate the hon. Lady's latter remark.

Mr. Peter Robinson : Will the Secretary of State tell the House whether in previous meetings Mr. Haughey raised the cause of the UDR Four? Or has he raised only the so-called injustice in the Birmingham and Guildford cases? If Mr. Haughey raised the case of the UDR Four, did he ask for any details about the delay in announcing the results of the ESDA-- electrostatic data analysis--tests? If Mr. Haughey has not asked about it, will the Secretary of State tell the House what the delay is?

Mr. Brooke : I do not recall discussing any of the matters that the hon. Gentleman mentioned with Mr. Haughey, so he has not asked me the questions that the

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hon. Gentleman asked. The hon. Gentleman takes his supplementary question a little wide of the original question.

Mr. John D. Taylor : As both the Prime Ministers who initiated the Anglo-Irish Agreement will soon be out of office, as most people throughout Northern Ireland remain opposed to the agreement, and as the agreement has maintained a political stalemate in Northern Ireland, would not the Secretary of State do better to concentrate on talking to the political parties in Northern Ireland rather than negotiating with Dublin? Last week the Dublin Minister for Foreign Affairs revealed that the Anglo-Irish Agreement is not operating and that he was not consulted before the presentation of the emergency provisions legislation.

Mr. Brooke : As to the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion that we should proceed without the Irish Government, it would be necessary to establish whether others would be content with the restricted agenda that would apply. On his question about the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the emergency provisions Bill, we had an opportunity to discuss it in advance of the Bill's introduction.

Mr. Stanbrook : Will my right hon. Friend tell the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic that if he wants to help to promote peace, stability and reconciliation in Northern Ireland, he should take steps to remove from the constitution of the Irish Republic the constitutional claim over Northern Ireland and, therefore, United Kingdom territory?

Mr. Brooke : My views on articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution are already on record in the House, but the provisions of the constitution make no difference to the fact that in United Kingdom domestic law and in international law Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. Successive Irish Governments have acknowledged the words of article 1 of the agreement that any change in the status of Northern Ireland would come about only with the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland.

Mr. McNamara : Is the Secretary of State aware that although there are many areas where we in the Labour party have opposed the Government's policy on Northern Ireland over the past 11 years, we recognise the importance of the present Prime Minister's brave efforts in seeking to resolve some of the problems of Northern Ireland by signing and upholding the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and that that is to her credit? Will he assure us that he and Mr. Haughey will be determined to impress on all the parties to the negotiations the urgent necessity of serious political talks?

Mr. Brooke : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he said about my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and her contribution to the affairs of Northern Ireland during her most distinguished premiership. I do not know exactly how wide my conversations with Mr. Haughey will range, but we and the Irish Government remain united in our desire to see talks move forward.

Mr. Hunter : Since the Anglo-Irish Agreement has not brought peace, stability or reconciliation to Northern Ireland, would not it be better for my right hon. Friend to

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devote his energies to establishing a meaningful dialogue with the mainstream of Northern Ireland politics, the Ulster Unionists, who are our natural allies?

Mr. Brooke : I speak for myself and for the Government as a whole when I say that a benefit of the conversations that we have had in the past year has been the widening ripple of dialogue and I hope that that will continue into 1992.

Castle Court, Belfast

2. Mr. Harry Barnes : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has received any representations from traders and shopkeepers in the Castle Court area of west Belfast for compensation for lost trade and disruption due to current redevelopments ; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Richard Needham) : Representations have been received, but theris no provision for owners of property adjacent to private developments to receive such compensation.

Mr. Barnes : As you know, Mr. Speaker, I am not the Member for Belfast, West and this is a constituency case which I took up only because the elected representative refuses to take his seat in Parliament, which he should do, especially to deal with cases such as this. The Castle Court development has led to problems for shopkeepers in the area who have suffered considerable damage, loss and near-bankruptcy and who face prosecution for accidents that occur outside their shops. If the Minister can sort out the Prime Minister, why cannot he sort out this problem?

Mr. Needham : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue. As he knows, both rates and rents were reduced by one third. The fact is that Castle Court is now up and running and proving to be a real success is bringing tens of thousands of people to the city centre. The best way to increase trade for the Belfast traders is to get the terrorists out.

Rev. Martin Smyth : Although I am aware of the positive points to which the Minister referred, and that shopkeepers and traders can have some compensation, is not it a fact that those who have looked for employment in the Castle Court complex have been told that it is only for people from north and west Belfast? Is not it a tragedy that people who have been forced out of north and west Belfast cannot get employment at Castle Court?

Mr. Needham : That just is not true. Thousands of people are employed in Castle Court by a large number of retailers. Anybody who wants work there will be treated under the fair employment legislation which exists throughout the Province.

Community Groups

4. Mr. Parry : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on his Department's policy on vetting of community groups.

10. Mr. Corbett : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on vetting of community groups by his Department.

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The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. John Cope) : The policy remains as set out on 27 June 1985 by my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State.

Mr. Parry : Will the Minister set up a proper system of appeals so that groups that have their funding withdrawn can defend themselves against specific accusations rather than be subject to anonymous and unspecific denunciations? Is the Minister aware that many bodies in the Province are dissatisfied with the present position?

Mr. Cope : Further representations can be made, and often are, on individual cases. We keep them under review.

Mr. Corbett : If the Minister was right in his decision to remove funding from Glor na Gael, why did the Royal Ulster Constabulary permit it to carry out a street collection in Belfast at almost the same time? Will he think again about some form of appeal system so that when the Government decide either to withdraw or to refuse funding from such organisations at least they know the accusations against them and have a chance to comment on them?

Mr. Cope : The case concerning the committee of the west Belfast organisation mentioned by the hon. Gentleman is now before the courts and it would be improper for me to comment.

Rev. Ian Paisley : Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that he will continue to look carefully at all community grants and that he will ensure that no money is given to any that have links with terrorist organisations?

Mr. Cope : That is what we seek to do and what the policy sets out.

Mr. Molyneaux : Is not there a need for much stricter control of grants to community bodies of all hues, given that there is reason to believe that much of the money is siphoned off by paramilitary organisations?

Mr. Cope : The control is as strict as we can make it, but if the right hon. Gentleman has specific suggestions or information about particular grants, of course, we are always willing to listen.

Mr. Hume : Will the Minister join me in welcoming the new-found interest in the Province of Northern Ireland represented by the attendance here today?

Does the Minister agree that, if we face up to reality, it is the Government's policy to promote the preservation and development of cultural diversity in Northern Ireland? Does he agree that the Glor na Gael organisation does outstanding work to protect and promote the Irish language? Does he also agree that Conway mill in west Belfast provides community-based jobs? Does he further agree that it is impossible for any community-based organisation in Northern Ireland not to have some members who are supporters of paramilitary organisations, but that that does not mean that the funding goes to them? Does he agree that one cannot go to church in Northern Ireland without the presence of some people who support paramilitary organisations, but that that does not make the churches subversive organisations?

Mr. Cope : On the first part of the question, I welcome the interest in Northern Ireland affairs ; we always do.

The main part of the hon. Gentleman's question emphasises the difficulties that we face when making such

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decisions--which we recognise. Each decision is reached independently and, although it is extremely difficult, we do our best to take it judged on the best information we have.

Mr. Stott : In view of the widespread concern about the arbitary use of power associated with the removal of funding from community groups, the use of section 42 of the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1976 and the widespread belief that decisions are sometimes based on mistaken information--a concern which has emerged today in the Northern Ireland press--will the Minister take action to ensure that the security advice on which he acts is accurate?

Mr. Cope : We do our best to ensure that all the advice we receive on that and on other matters is accurate. It is not easy to make such difficult decisions. I have seen the accusations that appeared this morning in some newspapers in Northern Ireland, but those newspapers are wrong to suggest that this is some sort of blanket affair. The decisions are reached on individual cases and the Secretary of State in particular takes great care to ensure not only that the information is accurate but that public money does not benefit paramilitary groups.

Local Government

5. Sir Hal Miller : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what progress is being made towards devolving local government in Ulster.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Dr. Brian Mawhinney) : The Government have no present plans for giving more powers to local authorities in Northern Ireland, but would not rule out any workable proposal here, provided that such a proposal guaranteed fair and equitable treatment for everyone in the local authority area and seemed likely to receive widespread acceptance.

Sir Hal Miller : If we are having difficulties with the Anglo-Irish Agreement or its successor, should not we make a much more determined effort at local level?

Dr. Mawhinney : We are not having difficulties with the Anglo-Irish Agreement-- [Interruption.] I pay tribute to the determination of my right hon. Friend to bring all the political parties together round the table. He has made considerable progress in that regard, although deep difficulties remain. But my hon. Friend should be in no doubt that when we say that we are determined to seek ways to give locally elected representatives a greater say in the decisions that affect the lives of their constituents, we mean it.

Mr. Clifford Forsythe : Does the Minister agree that councillors should have more input into road and planning decisions in their areas? Is he aware that if councillors had that greater input, it might stop planners allowing industrial estates to be built, for example, on top of hills in the middle of areas of special control? Is he further aware that it might even persuade the public to accept that it is not true that if one has money, one can build wherever and whatever one likes and then take the matter to court and fight it, but that someone who has no money will face the full majesty of the law that is ranged against him?

Dr. Mawhinney : The hon. Gentleman knows that I have started an undertaking to meet local authorities in

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Northern Ireland to hear their views, as has the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham). We listen to what locally elected representatives tell us and I refer the hon. Gentleman to earlier remarks that I made on the issue. A necessary precondition for the return of greater powers to local authorities would be a system of ensuring fair and equitable treatment to everyone in all local authority areas.

Rev. William McCrea : Will the Minister announce to the House and the people of Northern Ireland when the Government intend to bring to an end the despicable and disgraceful situation in which Sinn Fein mouthpieces for terrorists are allowed to sit as elected representatives in councils in Northern Ireland?

Dr. Mawhinney : The hon. Gentleman knows that we have already taken steps in that matter. Although I have some sympathy with his position, the issue goes much wider than the question.

Mr. Jim Marshall : Does the Minister agree that tinkering with local government powers in the Province offers no long-term solution to the problems there? Does he further agree that the only way forward is to have agreed political structures for the Province as a whole?

Dr. Mawhinney : The hon. Gentleman knows that we have been seeking with great dedication--again, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend--ways to put in place some sort of structures. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman agrees that it is vital for locally elected representatives to have a greater say in the decisions that govern the lives of their electors. That principle will have to guide us in the days ahead, not least if we are unable to overcome the difficulties that presently confront us.

Food Safety

6. Mr. Colvin : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he intends to introduce the Food Safety (Northern Ireland) Order ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Needham : Consultation on the proposal for the draft Food Safety (Northern Ireland) Order was completed on 31 October. Arrangements are now being made for the draft order to be laid before Parliament early in 1991.

Mr. Colvin : As my hon. Friend will be aware, that order requires, among other things, the compulsory training of staff handling food. Is he aware that that requirement could bear heavily on pubs, restaurants and hotels where there is a high turnover of staff? Will the Government be giving help towards the cost of that training, bearing in mind the fact that those places, in which people can meet and socialise on a totally non- sectarian basis, should be encouraged rather than overburdened with unnecessary bureaucratic rules? When the Minister gets back to Belfast, will he be visiting a local pub and drinking a toast to Britain's longest- serving and most successful Prime Minister?

Mr. Needham : I agree with my hon. Friend that it is of great importance to make sure that more people go to pubs and fewer go to the wrong sort of clubs. It takes about six hours for a person to be trained to reach the

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standard of the hygiene certificate that is required. It is not expensive and I hope that all employers, pubs and hotels already undertake proper hygiene training, anyway.

Mr. Maginnis : Is not the Minister seized of the urgency of the need to deal with the unfit meat trade, in which meat from fallen and diseased animals is still regularly entering the human food chain? Will he commit more resources and give better powers to local government to deal with the unscrupulous traders who sell meat unfit for human consumption?

Mr. Needham : As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government are to make available extra funds to environmental health officers-- [Interruption.] I shall, of course, pass the hon. Gentleman's comments to my noble Friend Lord Skelmersdale, who is responsible for the relevant legislation.

Mr. Speaker : Order. May I ask hon. Members below the Gangway to desist from holding private conversations? The trouble is that I can hear snatches of those conversations, which on some occasions are quite interesting and amusing, but not today.

Farm Subsidies

8. Mr. McGrady : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what special financial assistance the Government will allocate to the agricultural industry in Northern Ireland, in the light of the general agreement on tariffs and trade negotiations and the Council of Ministers' proposed reductions in farm subsidies.

Mr. Brooke : Any assistance to the agricultural industry will be a matter for consideration by the Council of Ministers in light of the result of the GATT negotiations.

Mr. McGrady : Does the Secretary of State agree that farmers in Northern Ireland are now facing the worst potential financial crisis since the agricultural depression that occurred between the two world wars? In that context, I found his answer disappointing. Will the right hon. Gentleman join me in condemning the decision to withdraw grants from co- operatives in Northern Ireland which market beef, sheep, cereals and potatoes because Northern Ireland is an objective 1 area in the EEC and we shall remain in competition with other objective 1 areas which will receive those grants? Will the Secretary of State condemn that decision?

Mr. Brooke : I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about farming in Northern Ireland because of the circumstances confronting its farmers in the current year. I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's proposition to the attention of my noble Friend Lord Skelmersdale, who is responsible for agriculture in the Province, and will discuss it with him.

Mr. Latham : Is it my right hon. Friend's position, not only for Northern Ireland but for the whole of the United Kingdom, that the GATT agreement can be accepted by the British Government as part of the EEC position only if it represents a satisfactory deal for our farming industry and, incidentally, for the textile industry, which is also important in Northern Ireland?

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Mr. Brooke : I wholly agree with my hon. Friend, not only about our attitude towards the negotiations conducted within the Community framework, but about the extreme importance of the Uruguay round.

Mr. William Ross : Did not the Commissioner, Mr. MacSharry, say when the 30 per cent. cut in the subsidy was announced that no farmer would be worse off? How on earth can the Commission and Her Majesty's Government live up to that commitment? The people of Northern Ireland, and especially those in the farming community, are most anxious to hear what extra money is to be made available.

Mr. Brooke : I am conscious that statements were made in the aftermath of the Agriculture Council, which agreed on the Community's negotiating position in the GATT round. We must wait until that GATT round is concluded before deciding precisely what we can do, especially in relation to farmers.

Rev. Ian Paisley : In view of the Secretary of State's answer to the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) and his affirmation that he understands the seriousness of the position of farmers in Northern Ireland, will he outline the proposals that he has suggested to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should be put before the Council of Ministers so that this financial difficulty can be alleviated?

Mr. Brooke : No proposals have yet been made about how farmers might be compensated. In the negotiations, the United Kingdom argued--and it was agreed--that detailed decisions would be premature. The possibilities include production neutral income aid to the most vulnerable producers and measures with environmental or conservation objectives. I very much enjoyed the opportunity of meeting farmers from the glens of Antrim earlier this month when we discussed this matter.

Mr. Cryer : May I assure you, Mr. Speaker, of my support in trying to keep some of these noisy people subdued? Their behaviour is quite disgraceful.

Will the Minister assure the House that textiles will not be used as a bargaining counter in respect of agriculture in the GATT negotiations, because not only would that damage Northern Ireland, where textiles still provide some jobs, but, as the Minister recognises, it would damage the textile and clothing industry of the United Kingdom which employs 500,000 people in all and is an important source of jobs in cities such as Bradford which I help to represent?

Mr. Brooke : I am, of course, familiar with the importance of the textile industry to Northern Ireland, but overall responsibility for the GATT negotiations lies with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. The matter is not specifically related to this question about Northern Ireland farmers.

Doctors, Bangor

9. Mr. Kilfedder : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will give doctors in the Bangor health clinic the right of referral of patients to Bangor hospital.

Mr. Needham : The arrangements for the admission and care of patients in Bangor hospital are, as with all other hospitals in the board's area, under the control of

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individual hospital consultants. GPs from throughout the area have the right to refer patients to any consultant via out-patients, domiciliary visit or direct contact.

Mr. Kilfedder : Is the Minister aware that all the doctors share my view that the length of time that patients have to wait for hospital appointments is scandalous in the Bangor area, which has an enormous and increasing population? Is not it equally disgraceful that there is no casualty department in the Bangor hospital and that 18 surgical beds are to be closed? [Interruption.] I regret to say that the Official Unionists are making a mockery of this question.

Mr. Needham : The consultants, who are, after all, the people most concerned with referrals to the hospital, are in favour of the temporary closure of the ward. It was very underused and there was no acute care in the hospital after 5 pm. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that health care in his area is of the highest order-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. I ask the House to listen to Northern Ireland questions. This is a rare opportunity to ask questions about the Province.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) for his help. He might help me even more if he came and sat up here.

Political Parties (Discussions)

11. Mr. Andrew MacKay : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on his discussions with political parties in the Province during the last month.

Mr. Brooke : Since the summer recess, I have had a number of meetings with the leaders of the main constitutional political parties in Northern Ireland and the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Ireland. All have expressed support for the view that formal talks should be launched soon which would address all relevant dimensions to the political problems of Northern Ireland, including the prospects for transferring substantial power, authority and responsibility to locally elected representatives in Northern Ireland on a widely acceptable basis.

Mr. MacKay : Does my right hon. Friend agree that even though those talks might not reach a positive conclusion, the fact that they have been going on for so long offers the first positive hope to come out of the Province, in political terms, for a long time?

Mr. Brooke : I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comment. I hope that his view is shared by Members of Parliament from the other constitutional parties in the Province. I certainly found the dialogue extremely fruitful.

Sir Russell Johnston : Will the Secretary of State advise his Cabinet colleague the Secretary of State for Scotland to follow his example in respect of consulting other political parties about devolution?

Mr. Brooke : My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I are agreed that different constitutional arrangements may be needed for different parts of the kingdom. It is important that appropriate arrangements be available for those parts.

Mr. Mallon : Will the Secretary of State confirm that during his discussions with the Northern Ireland parties

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and with the Government of the Republic of Ireland there is genuine concern to ensure that we make political progress? During those discussions, did he see any traces of the terminal disease called creeping integration?

Mr. Brooke : The fact that the talks have been going on for a long time has proved an opportunity for almost every subject to be discussed. I dare say that the subject mentioned by the hon. Gentleman has been raised at some stage during the past 10 months.

Mr. McNamara : In his speech in the Low Countries the Secretary of State identified a number of areas where the main difficulties now arise. Does he now feel that he will be able to make positive progress in those two areas?

Mr. Brooke : It may well become necessary to pause and take stock, but we have not yet reached that point. As I have indicated elsewhere, I currently await a response from the Irish Government to certain proposals that I have put to them. Thereafter, I would expect to have a further round with the Northern Ireland parties. I continue to find constructive my experience with all my interlocutors.

Irish Republic (Political Progress)

12. Mr. Winnick : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on recent discussions over political progress he has had with the authorities in the Republic.

Mr. Brooke : My discussions with the Irish Government have produced a significant measure of agreement on a basis for talks which would address the various relationships relevant to the political situation in Northern Ireland. The Irish Government are, at present, considering proposals which I put forward at the last

intergovernmental conference for resolving the main outstanding issues.

Mr. Winnick : Does the Secretary of State agree that it is absolutely essential to have the closest possible co-operation between the Irish Republic and this country?

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