[Lords] (By Order)
Order for Third Reading read.
To be read the Third time on Thursday 9 May.
(By Order) Read a Second time, and committed.
(No. 3) Bill-- [Lords] (By Order)
[Lords] (By Order) Orders for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Thursday 9 May.
Mr. Marshall : Is my hon. Friend aware that, despite the intervention of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), in a recent referendum in Castlereagh, the people voted 4 : 1 in favour of the Sunday opening of municipal facilities? Does my hon. Friend agree that a law that is frequently broken and rarely enforced brings the
Column 416rule of law itself into disrepute and that the Shops Act 1950 should be amended to take account of the needs and opinions of the 1990s?
Mr. John D. Taylor : Does the Minister accept that the Sabbath is still a special day in Northern Ireland, which is welcomed by the vast majority of the people who live there? Will he assure the House that Sunday opening will not be imposed on Northern Ireland or on its local authorities and that this will remain an option for the local community?
Mr. Hanley : Should any change be contemplated for Northern Ireland, consultations with the interested parties, including the district councils and, of course, Members of Parliament, will take place at the appropriate time. In the meantime, the law is the law.
Rev. Ian Paisley : I welcome the fact that the Minister has said that the law is the law, but how many breaches of Sunday observance have there been among shops in Northern Ireland? Should not this side of the United Kingdom put its house in order before it begins to interfere more in Northern Ireland, without consulting its people? Should not the ordinary people have a say in what is done on Sunday, which is a special day to them?
Mr. Hanley : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question, but I am afraid that we do not have any information about the number of breaches of that law. It is almost impossible to tell. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that any change will be accompanied by wide consultation with all the parties concerned.
2. Mr. Arbuthnot : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps he is taking to encourage business in Northern Ireland to promote community relations ; and if he will make a statement.
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Dr. Brian Mawhinney) : The Government believe that it is vital for all sectionof the Northern Ireland community to become involved in promoting community relations. I shall be meeting groups of business men and women over the coming weeks to explore what further steps can be taken by the business community to help to encourage greater cross-community contact, mutual understanding and respect and appreciation for cultural diversity.
Mr. Arbuthnot : Is my hon. Friend aware that in the careful progress that is being made towards talks between the parties in Northern Ireland, he carries with him the best wishes not only of the House, but of all those who would like to see an end to violence and division in Northern Ireland?
Dr. Mawhinney : I know that I speak for my right hon. Friend when I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. As he will be aware, the talks to which he referred started on Tuesday. I believe that they carry a large measure of goodwill both within Northern Ireland and beyond.
Column 417Mr. Trimble : Is not one of the best ways to promote good relations in business to ensure that the true facts about the religious balance in employment are fully known? Does the Minister agree that the recent survey by the Fair Employment Commission showed that the global position within Northern Ireland is that there is no significant imbalance in employment? Inevitable rationalisation will follow the merger of the Trustee Savings Bank and Allied Irish Banks. Will the Minister ensure that it is done in such a way that a fair balance of employment is produced in the new firm?
Dr. Mawhinney : As the hon. Gentleman probably knows, he is asking questions which are important but which stray way beyond my responsibility and into that of my hon. Friend the Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham), the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who will have heard the hon. Gentleman's question.
3. Mr. William Ross : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what discussions he has had recently with the Government of the Irish Republic regarding the removal of articles 2 and 3 from the constitution of the Republic.
Mr. Ross : The right hon. Gentleman can be reassured that the Unionist parties at least will raise the matter, even if the other parties do not. Does not his reply signify clearly that no request to remove those obnoxious articles from its constitution has ever been formally made to the Irish Republic? Will he confirm that removal of those articles was held out as a carrot in the early stages of the consultations about the Anglo-Irish Agreement but was soon lost in the mists when the agreement was signed, regardless of what the Republic wanted? Surely it is time that those obnoxious articles were removed once and for all.
Mr. Brooke : The hon. Gentleman asks me about my conversations. I have said before in the House that I do not believe that the territorial claim in the Irish constitution is helpful. The hon. Gentleman would be surprised if, subsequent to my observation, others had not disagreed with me on occasions when the Irish Government and I met.
Mr. Peter Robinson : Has the Secretary of State heard or read the remarks about articles 2 and 3 of the constitution of the Irish Republic made by a Minister in the Government of the Irish Republic, Mr. Desmond O'Malley? Did the right hon. Gentleman find those words useful? Would he encourage other members of that Government to reach the same conclusion? When the Secretary of State next meets that Government, will he take that stand?
Mr. Brooke : One of the virtues of the talks on which we are about to engage, is that they embrace not only the main constitutional parties in Northern Ireland but the Government of the Republic, whose delegation will be made up of more than one party. Any number of different
Column 418strands of opinion will be brought to our discussions. I shall be surprised if any issue that anyone has ever regarded as relevant to this subject is not aired at some stage in our proceedings.
Dr. Mawhinney : We continue to discuss with Irish Ministers measures to enhance security co-operation and, in particular, to reduce the threat from terrorism faced by vulnerable individuals and communities in the border area. Where improvements are possible, both Governments are committed to securing them.
Mr. Townsend : I recognise that communications between the two police chiefs have greatly improved in recent years, but is the Minister satisfied that enough is being done on the military front in terms of liaison officers, joint patrols and procedures for hot pursuit? Will my hon. Friend comment on the recent leaking of high security documents from the Garda, which unfortunately found their way into the hands of the IRA? What talks have taken place with the Garda about that matter?
Dr. Mawhinney : My hon. Friend is right to point up the good relations and standard of communication between the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland and the Garda commissioner. It is clear to all that security relations between the two have improved considerably and are good, but that does not mean that they cannot be improved. Both Governments are committed to seeking that improvement all the time. The leaked document was clearly a matter of concern. That concern was relayed to the Irish Government. We were happy that they shared our concern and moved immediately to set up an inquiry under a senior officer. We have asked to be informed of the result of that inquiry when it is available.
Mr. Maginnis : Is the Minister aware that on the occasion of the removal of two permanent vehicle checkpoints--PVCPs--in county Fermanagh, it was necessary, because of the high level of threat from the IRA, to have 500 extra troops brought into Northern Ireland to protect those who were dismantling the checkpoints? Is he further aware that it was disgraceful that as soon as the checkpoints were dismantled and my constituents were left more open to attack from the IRA, those 500 troops were withdrawn? Was not that a betrayal of the people in my constituency and an abrogation of the responsibility of the British Government?
Dr. Mawhinney : No, I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that it was a betrayal of his constituents. He has been assiduous in representing their best interests, and I am happy to acknowledge that. For our part, we too have been seeking co-operation with the security forces to ensure that the people have the framework of peace and stability to which they are entitled. The logic of the hon. Gentleman's question is that the departure of the troops after the two PVCPs changes was not a reflection on security policy, because the
Column 419suggestion was that they were there to do a specific job. General security is a matter of continuous review and I assure the hon. Gentleman that we take it most seriously.
Mr. Kilfedder : As every terrorist atrocity further divides the community, will the Minister point out to the Dublin Government that to develop a rapprochement between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, they must take much more effective measures against the IRA operating along the border, and secure their side of the border if the people alongside it and elsewhere are to live in peace?
Rev. William McCrea : Does the Minister realise that the people along the border in my constituency are living in absolute fear for their lives? Many of the attacks on the Castlederg area have been made by people who have left the Irish Republic, in which they have found a safe haven, have done their dastardly deed and have gone right back into the Irish Republic. Does he realise that nothing has hindered them in any way, certainly no action by the southern authorities?
Concerning the leaks that have already cost the life of one of my constituents in Castlederg, is the Minister aware that we are alarmed at the improved relationships between the Garda and the IRA? Does he accept the inquiry which, it has been suggested, is sufficient? I assure him that the people in my constituency, who are living in fear for their lives, will not accept the inquiry that has been set up in the Irish Republic and that nothing but a full independent inquiry will be accepted.
Dr. Mawhinney : It is recognised that the hon. Gentleman and his constituents have suffered greatly in recent years, as have the constituents of the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis). I am satisfied that the inquiry will be full and rigorous. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in not condemning it, at least until we have received its report.
Mr. Hume : When discussing matters of this type, will the Minister remind the House, and particularly some of those who have been asking questions, the facts about from where violence comes? Will he confirm that virtually 100 per cent. of all people convicted of acts of violence in Northern Ireland are from Northern Ireland?
Dr. Mawhinney : As the hon. Gentleman says, most of the violence in Northern Ireland is generated within the Province. Moreover, the terrorist organisations--both the Provisional IRA and the Loyalist paramilitary--bear the responsibility for the death and destruction that take place in the Province. They must be called to account, both legally and morally, for their actions.
Mr. Brooke : Since I answered a similar question on 14 March, 12 people have been killed as a result of the security situation in Northern Ireland, 10 of whom were civilians and two members of the RUC. Of those 12, seven were killed during the month of April, five of them civilians. In that month, 38 people were injured in incidents directly related to terrorism.
But for the constant vigilance of the police and Army, those figures might have been even higher. I know the House will join me in praising the brave men and women of the police and Army, who daily put their lives at risk to protect the whole community.
Mr. Taylor : The figures that the Secretary of State has just given are alarming because they confirm the apprehension of people in Northern Ireland that there has been a considerable increase in terrorist killings in the Province. Does the Secretary of State accept that the IRA has increased its campaign of killing because of the progress towards internal talks in Northern Ireland? Does he also accept that it is likely that it will further increase its violence during the period of those talks? If he accepts those fears, what will he do to improve security during the 10 weeks of talks?
Mr. Brooke : I know that the right hon. Gentleman will share my view that one death is one death too many. I agree that the statistics that I read out are dire, but the House will wish to condemn any death as a result of violence. As for his suggestion that there has been a rise in violence, I fear that that rise has occurred on both sides of the community. Some people might think that it has some relationship to the talks in which we are engaged. Warnings have been issued about the possibility of a heightening of violence because of the talks. However, I give the hon. Gentleman an absolute assurance that my security advisers are apprised of that and have every intention of ensuring that the security level is appropriate during the talks process.
Mr. Duffy : Is the Secretary of State aware that one overall objective in common that may transcend any differences that may arise from the talks that began this week is how to put an end to the violence and how to achieve conditions in which the two communities can live peacefully? However, any headway in that direction may trigger an explosion of violence, as the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) warns. I should like, therefore, to press the Secretary of State a little further. What steps is he considering to allay the fears that there may be a collision between the security forces and the paramilitary as the talks progress?
Mr. Brooke : I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern but I repeat that my security advisers, the Chief Constable of the RUC, with the General Officer Commanding acting in support of him, are fully apprised of the nature of the threat in which they will be engaged in assessing. There are ways in which one can raise the security level for short periods of time in an appropriate manner. If it is necessary to do so because of any threat of violence to the talks, that will be done. However, I hope that the resolution of those engaged in constitutional
Column 421democracy in the Province to ensure that those talks progress and bring the hope of which the hon. Gentleman spoke will itself be a deterrent to the men of violence.
Mr. Molyneaux : Given the oft-repeated assurances of security co- operation between the two Governments, does the Secretary of State know of any good reason why the Irish army fails to protect the forces of the British Army from attacks launched from across the frontier, whatever the terrorists' nationality?
Mr. Brooke : It is probably inappropriate for me to speak on behalf of the commissioner of the Garda because the matter is obviously outside my jurisdiction. However, it is perfectly clear from my conversations with the Chief Constable and the commissioner in the context of the conference, that there is common cause between both of them and both their forces against that threat. If, as the right hon. Gentleman implies, an attack is made on a permanent vehicle checkpoint, that is a matter of concern to the commissioner of the Garda, even if that attack comes from north of the border.
Mr. Bowis : Does my right hon. Friend agree that terrorism feeds on myths and money? Can he report progress on the cutting-off of resources from abroad, and those from within that come from extortion and racketerring?
Mr. Brooke : I know that my hon. Friend would not wish me to go into precise details, but, as a generalisation, the principal financial resources of the terrorists in Northern Ireland, on both sides of the community, tend to be generated in Northern Ireland--as a result of financial crime or racketeering--or in the Republic of Ireland or, I fear, in Great Britain. The amount of resources from outside the islands is relatively modest in terms of the total enterprise, which further encourages Her Majesty's Government to bear down on the terrorists' present sources of finance. If we can place our fingers on their financial windpipe, we shall have increased the likelihood of ending terrorism.
Mr. Mallon : Is the Secretary of State aware that the widow and family of Mr. Fergal Caraher, who was killed in an incident at Cullyhanna at the end of last year, have been unable to obtain the autopsy report? Has not the family suffered enough already? Will the Secretary of State use his considerable influence to ensure that the autopsy report is made available to it immediately?
Mr. Brooke : I want to express my appreciation to the hon. Gentleman for the assistance that he has given to people in his constituency to encourage them to come forward and give evidence in that case. If there are ways in which we can further that ability, I would support them.
Mr. Brooke : The hon. Gentleman is perfectly correct to draw attention to the repulsive series of sectarian attacks on taxi drivers--an example of terrorism at its worst. An urgent review of regulations is being conducted to ensure that any possible risk posed to drivers by Government regulations is minimised, consistent with public safety. Let us be clear that terrorists, not regulations, are responsible for the murder of taxi drivers.
Mr. Peter Robinson : Will the Secretary of State confirm that he has received from the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary a request to increase the establishment of the force? When might the Chief Constable receive a response?
Mr. Brooke : I can confirm that I have received from the Police Authority for Northern Ireland a request for a substantial addition to the full-time complement of the RUC and its reserves. That request is receiving urgent and sympathetic consideration and I am determined that there should be no undue delay in bringing the matter to a conclusion. I fear that I cannot today give a firm answer about when a decision will be reached. There are currently 12,778 members of the RUC, including the RUC reserve, serving in Northern Ireland.
Mr. McNamara : Does the Secretary of State accept that we welcome his statement that security levels will be kept appropriate to the threat, especially during the talks? That must be important to all concerned. Does he agree that the partial ceasefire called by the paramilitaries would be much better received if it were to become permanent and complete ; that the problems of Northern Ireland will be solved only by peaceful political means ; and that only those who accept that view can make a positive contribution to the future of the island of Ireland?
Several Hon. Members rose --
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Richard Needham) : The Government have published a White Paper and draft legislation. Work is progressing to schedule on the establishment of a regulatory regime, the drafting of contracts and the restructuring of the industry.
Mr. Forsythe : Will the Minister confirm that the original recommendation of the Government's advisers, Rothschilds, and of Northern Ireland Electricity's advisers, Barclays de Zoete Wedd, was to privatise Northern Ireland Electricity as a single entity flotation with share ownership in the Province? Will he explain his unseemly haste in rushing this important matter through the House by an undemocratic Order in Council, against the wishes of the public representatives of Northern Ireland and the people of Northern Ireland?
Mr. Needham : On the second part of the question, this is, as the hon. Gentleman knows, a transferred matter. I hope that there will be a lengthy and full debate on it in the Northern Ireland Committee. Nothing will be decided over the course of the summer as a result of the current talks which would in any way affect what happens.
Column 423As for the hon. Gentleman's first question, there is no question of the Government's wanting to create a private monopoly out of a public one--the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) made that point in comments reported yesterday. The Government are trying to produce in Northern Ireland a plurality--a mix--of sources of electricity generation which will give the people of Northern Ireland the most competitive price for domestic, commercial and industrial use.
Rev. William McCrea : Does the Minister accept that the people of Northern Ireland are wholly opposed to the privatisation of Northern Ireland Electricity? Does he accept that it has more to do with political dogma than with reality? When all the people of Northern Ireland and all its constitutional parties are against the move, why do not the Government yield to the pressure from Northern Ireland?
nationalisation? Does he want 50 per cent. overcapacity above maximum demand? Does he want 70 per cent. of generation in Northern Ireland to continue to depend on oil? One result of the nationalisation policy is that £93 million worth of equipment is sitting under tarpaulin. Until privatisation started to be discussed, there was no discussion of gas, little discussion of an interconnector and the lignite option had been put on one side. Has nationalisation worked for the consumer in Northern Ireland? The answer, as I am sure the people of Northern Ireland, looking at their bills, would agree, is no.
Mr. Beggs : The Minister must be aware that the high cost of electricity in Northern Ireland cannot be blamed on the Northern Ireland Electricity service because it was his Department and previous Departments that approved the over-dependence on oil. The Minister knows very well that the cost of electricity in Northern Ireland could have been reduced by the completion of phase 2 of Kilroot, but that NIE has not had the money to proceed with it. As we are very concerned that the Minister's Department has spent £3.5 million in the past two years on consultants' reports, £500,000 of which was related to the privatisation of electricity, will he tell us how much was spent on obtaining from consultants the report that enabled him to advance the privatisation proposals in their present form, which will never be accepted by anyone in Northern Ireland?
"Northern Ireland industry and Northern Ireland consumers have been crucified."--[ Official Report, 20 March 1991 ; Vol. 188, c. 289.] No doubt he said that in the context of the existing Northern Ireland Electricity service. The hon. Gentleman has criticised the management, the cost of electricity and the lack of a gas supply and he has spoken about the lack of the lignite option. However, he has had a Pauline conversion on the road to Larne and now wants a continuation of the existing system. That does not make any sense for the Northern Ireland consumer.
Mr. Kilfedder : Over the years the Government have frequently castigated Northern Ireland politicians for not being able to get together and reach agreement on anything. Now that the constitutional parties represented in the House have reached agreement, should not the
Column 424Government reward them and encourage them to reach further agreement on other matters by withdrawing this contemptible measure?
Mr. Needham : It appears that they have agreed to continue with a form of nationalisation, which certainly has not served Northern Ireland industry. Perhaps hon. Members should ask the workers at Harland and Woolf, Shorts, Montupet, Fruit of the Loom and Daewoo what they think about having to pay prices that are sometimes 30 per cent. above those large users in the rest of the country.
Mr. Jim Marshall : The Minister's statement in reply to an earlier question was one of the most outrageous that the House has heard. I remind the Minister that it was his Government who refused to build a gas pipeline and to make money available for the development of phase 2 at Kilroot. There is widespread condemnation, not just by politicians but by all sections of the community in the Province, of the Government's proposals, particularly the specific proposals for the privatisation of Northern Ireland Electricity. Will he at least think again about postponing any final decision until the constitutional talks have come to fruition and, we hope, reached a successful conclusion? In such circumstances, politicians in the Province would be able to make the final decision.
Mr. Needham : I said to the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) that nothing that will happen in the summer will in any way stop any new arrangement after that being the subject of a separate decision. However, that is no reason for us to stop seeking ways to make sure that the Northern Ireland consumer has as plural and as big a mix of sources as possible. I remind the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) that in 1975 his Government gave permission for the purchase of equipment for phase 2 at Kilroot. Since then that equipment has sat under tarpaulins and, in any event, it would not necessarily reduce electricity prices in Northern Ireland. It excludes the discussion of matters such as interconnectors and a gas supply from Scotland. It was a typical example of a nationalised industry making a poor decision with bad planning and coming up with an option which, if it had excluded flue gas desulphurisation, would have been a dirty option to boot.
Mr. Hume : The Secretary of State and his Ministers have made intensive and praiseworthy efforts to get agreement among politicians in Northern Ireland. When we do reach agreement, will the Secretary of State and the Minister encourage us to continue by agreeing with us, particularly on a matter that affects every home in Northern Ireland? We are against the privatisation of Northern Ireland Electricity. What consideration do the Government give to the fact that all parties in Northern Ireland have asked for this matter to be reconsidered?
Mr. Needham : I am sorry to repeat myself, but there is no question of what we are doing over the next few months altering our position. I hope in the next few months to persuade the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends that the best way forward for his constituents and his business people is to go down the route that we propose. That route will give his constituents and investors much lower electricity prices and a much better service than those which they receive under the present nationalised regime.
Column 425Mr. Speaker : Question No. 9, Mr. Bellingham.
Mr. Bellingham : I am grateful to the noble Lord for that helpful reply. May I congratulate him on the excellent work that he is doing in the Province, which has the full support of so many of my hon. Friends. Can he tell the House about the role played by LEDU in supporting small firms? Does he agree that Northern Ireland will not solve its economic problems unless it has a thriving small firms sector and an enterprise culture that flourishes?
Mr. Needham : I agree with my hon. Friend that it is crucial that we have a successful small enterprise side to the economy. LEDU has so far opened 30 centres and has provided some 1 million sq ft of space for small businesses and over 2,000 jobs. Furthermore, today it has announced the figures for last year, when it promoted just under 7,000 jobs, which is 1,000 beyond its target. By all the statistics that we have, the Northern Ireland small business sector is doing extremely well.
Mr. Jim Marshall : Does the Minister accept that, welcome though the initiatives are to small businesses, they are doing absolutely nothing to halt the avalanche of job losses that we have seen this year? The Minister must recognise that nearly 2,000 jobs have been lost in the first four months of the year, with nearly 1,000 job losses being announced in the past week. Does he realise that unless there is a change in Government policy or in Government, or preferably both, there will be no substantial change in the employment position in the Province?
Mr. Needham : The increase in unemployment in Northern Ireland from March 1990 to March 1991 was 0.4 per cent. compared with 66 per cent. in the south of England. The numbers in employment in Northern Ireland in the same period increased by 3,000 or 0.6 per cent., whereas in the rest of the country they decreased by 1 per cent. If we look at what small businesses are doing in the "Make Belfast Work" area, we see that they are more successful at reducing the numbers of the long-term unemployed there than elsewhere in the Province. All the economic commentators within Northern Ireland and
Column 426outside are pointing out that Northern Ireland is riding the recession better than any other region ; we are very pleased about that.
Rev. Ian Paisley rose --