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Column 805IRA and the Government. Having seen the evidence and heard the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, people here and outside in Northern Ireland, in the Republic and in Great Britain will think that he is to be trusted and supported, and that what he has done is right.
Can I go further and say to those who are not here the torturers and murderers, and those who make women into widows and children into orphans that they still have the responsibility, which they appeared to show in February, that they realise that the past 20 years and the 3,000 lives have not got anywhere near their aims, and they will not get near their aims ? The sooner they bring an end to violence, get into talks and become constitutional parties, the better it will be for everyone.
Sir Patrick Mayhew : The message that my hon. Friend has given to those outside, especially those who use or justify terrorism, is an important one. It comes with great authority because of his record of service in Northern Ireland and continuing interest thereafter. I am grateful for what he said at the beginning of his question. I have watched with admiration his contributions to various programmes, and I am extremely grateful for his support.
Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East) : In his statement, the Secretary of State used the terms "Sinn Fein" and "IRA" as though they were interchangeable and simply different faces of the same creature. If that is so, is he treating all the papers that he published today as coming from and being directed at the same organisation ? Can he give an assurance that all the papers and contacts, with the reports of the messengers, have been published ? Since the roots of this lie further back than February, will he publish all the papers from at least 1990 until the present time ?
Sir Patrick Mayhew : I do not propose to accede to the hon. Gentleman's last request. I agree that there is a distinction to be made between Sinn Fein and the IRA. Sinn Fein is a political party. In many instances, members of Sinn Fein are spokespeople for the IRA. But the two organisations are not the same, although there is a substantial overlap.
The bundle of documents that I have published include the messages that we received they were mostly orally transmitted, as is clear from the beginning from Martin McGuinness and others. We think it right to characterise that as messages coming from the leadership of the IRA, and replies consequential of the first message in February have been sent through the chain of communication to the same people.
Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale) : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that many people will not be surprised, nor wish to have been told, that private indirect communication links have existed for some time ? Does he agree that, if eventually we are to get formal negotiations started on the conditions laid down by the Government, the violence should have come to an end ? It is almost inconceivable for those negotiations to open without some preliminary discussions of that sort earlier.
Finally, will he tell the House what he meant when he said at the beginning of his statement that the links have existed for some time ? Is it true that the links have existed for many years, and if so, how many ?
Sir Patrick Mayhew : As the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) saays, the links have existed for some 20 years, and they have shown their value. I recognise what my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) said about the great value of the opportunity to pass communications in each direction if we are ever to reach a stage at which negotiations can take place.
I believe that that was rightly expressed in the leading article in The Sunday Times yesterday, which said that the time for negotiations has not yet arrived. That time can arrive only when an end of violence has genuinely occurred, but before that, there must be a means by which the two sides can pass messages one to the other, and do it in secret.
Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr) : Does the Secretary of State accept that, following the exchanges that have occurred this afternoon and the publication of documents yesterday, the majority of my constituents in Birmingham will basically say, "Thank God someone was searching for peace" ? Searching for peace does not mean that one is soft on terrorism. That has clearly come across this afternoon, and I say thank God for that too.
A couple of weeks ago in my constituency, two local councillors from Northern Ireland told me that the people of Northern Ireland are afraid that the House of Commons is not interested every time there is a debate or questions asked about Northern Ireland, the benches are green. The exchanges and the attendance this afternoon will signal to the people of Northern Ireland that the House of Commons, while it is not the place to negotiate, wants not peace at any price but peace that is honourably sought by all parties.
If we can still, in the words of one of the leaders in the newspaper this morning, hear the sound of silence of the Armalites for the foreseeable future, will the prospective exploratory meeting that was promised in the November exchange to start the week after we return in January still take place ?
Sir Patrick Mayhew : I shall deal with the last part first. I am not interested in ceasefires, with their implicit threat of a resumption, unless something is yielded in the meantime. There must be an assertion that violence is at an end, and that must be made perfectly clear.
I agree with what the hon. Gentleman says about the need for people in Northern Ireland to believe that the House of Commons is concerned about them. Today, I entirely recognise that it is abundantly clear for all to see the concern that exists. Perhaps I will be forgiven if I go back to what I said towards the end of my statement. I quote : "Murder in Northern Ireland is no more tolerable that murder anywhere else in the United Kingdom. We must never lose sight of the fact that it is the terrorists who must answer for the deaths, destruction and misery over the past 25 years."
We must never allow ourselves to become inured to what might sometimes be suspected that there is a tolerable level of murder and violence. There is no acceptable level of violence. I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman said about the message that goes forth from the House today.
Several hon. Members rose
Column 807brisk questions and brisk answers so that I cancall all those hon. Members who are currentlystanding.
Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East) : I endorse what has been said by hon. Members on both sides of the House. As a member of the British-Irish parliamentary body, I must say that, far from apologising, the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister should be not proud that is the wrong word but glad that this has now been revealed through one circumstance or another, because this is the way forward, and the opportunity is great.
Can my right hon. and learned Friend I entirely accept that he is speaking theoretically at this stage indicate possibly and putatively what might be the scenario leading to the next stage of possible peace talks developing ?
Sir Patrick Mayhew : Speaking briskly, that must depend on how the IRA behaves. We have made clear what is an absolute requirement by way of precondition. It is for the IRA to say and show whether that will happen. As to the rest of the question, I believe that what we have said in the bundle of documents provides an answer.
Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford) : The way forward in Northern Ireland is to ensure that there is trust in our Government within the community, irrespective of which party forms that Government in the United Kingdom. The Secretary of State dismisses too lightly the reality that there is little trust in the Government in Northern Ireland at present.
When people heard him say on that BBC television programme on 16 November that there were no contacts, and then we saw the revelations this weekend, people lost trust and confidence. Younger people then move towards the loyalist paramilitaries. That trend is becoming more dangerous, and should not be ignored by this Parliament. Will the Secretary of State urge the Government to try to restore greater confidence among the majority Unionist community by reaching policy decisions which will gain their support ? Secondly, are the Government in contact, through intermediaries or otherwise, with the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Ulster Defence Association or the Ulster Freedom Fighters ?
Sir Patrick Mayhew : I note what the hon. Gentleman says about the breakfast programme. I have read the question that I was asked, and the reply that I gave. I am not going to describe the character of the chain of communication, but I am entirely satisfied that what I said was accurate. I believe that I am entirely justified in saying that.
Naturally, I recognise the importance of trust, but that trust would not have taken a turn for the better if it were known that I had quite unnecessarily volunteered the existence of a chain of communication. That chain, at that time, was being used for a process which offered the possibility it is not for me to say whether it was a probability of ending the violence which has lasted for 25 years. I would have wantonly destroyed that chain by destroying its secrecy.
I entirely agree with what the hon. Gentleman said about the importance of trust. As for contact with the organisations to which the hon. Gentleman referred, the situation is precisely as I have described it. There will be
Column 808no negotiations with them, and there is no similar chain or channel of communication with them, as has been the case for so long with the leadership of the IRA.
Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud) : May I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his statement, for which I greatly admire him ? Is it not immensely sad that he should be criticised most strongly by those who potentially have the most to gain ?
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Why should hon. Members and the public be denied the full information on the peace debate while the Government are secretly negotiating with Sinn Fein ? At the same time, the Government are condemning those people such as myself who wanted to urge on the peace process by entering into negotiations with that very body. Is it not time, since the process is now in the open, that the absurd restrictions in which actors mimic the voices of the representatives of Sinn Fein should be removed ? Is that a card which the Secretary of State is holding in his negotiations ?
Sir Patrick Mayhew : I have watched the hon. Gentleman pointing his finger at Conservative Members for all the time that we have been in the House together. That does not make more sensible a question that is based upon a false premise, which is that we have been negotiating with Sinn Fein. That is absolutely wrong.
The hon. Gentleman's point about whether the broadcasting restrictions should remain is a separate matter, and that is for the Secretary of State for National Heritage to decide. I will point to out to the hon. Gentleman that much tougher restrictions have been in place in the Republic for longer.
Mr. Winston Churchill (Davyhulme) : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the overwhelming majority of hon. Members will feel that he and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister have acted with honour and responsibility in the matter ? Furthermore, is it not the case that they were quite right to respond as they did to the remarkable message from the IRA of last February ? No blame can be attached to them for the fact that they were less than frank with the House in pursuing the initiatives for peace, with which we wish them well.
Given the Government's prompt and fulsome response earlier this year and more recently, is it not clear that the burden of responsibility for the continuation of carnage on both sides of the water rests squarely with the provisional IRA ? The IRA could have peace tomorrow if it was to set aside the Armalite and put away the bomb. Is that not the next step on the agenda ?
Sir Patrick Mayhew : My hon. Friend, of course, is absolutely right, and that is the crucially important point. We are in a democracy, and those people know perfectly well that they cannot get their way by the democratic process. Therefore, they bring bombs and bullets to give force to their argument. They must never be appeased, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am grateful to him for what he has said.
I take issue gently with his assertion that we have been less than frank to the House. We have not volunteered it would have been wanton to do so the existence of a secret chain of communication that has a value which is
Column 809recognised by all hon. Members. That chain would have been destroyed had we volunteered that it was in existence and that it was being used currently for the purposes which the House now knows about.
Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East) : The Secretary of State will be aware of the warm reception which he received earlier this year in my constituency. I must say with some regret that many of those people who welcomed him warmly have a deep sense of betrayal and bitterness with regard to the recent disclosures.
Has the Secretary of State, on reflection, been too economical with the truth with regard to the contacts with the IRA and with Sinn Fein ? What assurance can he give which would enable me to encourage my constituents to welcome him warmly should he visit us again ? Will the Secretary of State restate the conditions under which the meeting that is scheduled for January might go ahead ?
Sir Patrick Mayhew : The hon. Gentleman reminds me of the welcome that I received when I went to his constituency. I am glad that some of the welcome was for me. I thought that it was more for the Prime Minister, who was also present. I look forward to visiting his constituency again.
The hon. Gentleman said that I had been economical with the truth. The House will know that he means that I have been dishonest with the people in Northern Ireland. I have not, and it would be better if the hon. Gentleman said so.
I have already said why I reject that charge. In the light of Madam Speaker's ruling, I am not going to take time to say it all again. Time has elapsed and the offer, which was made in circumstances which were perfectly clear and which were dependent upon a declaration that violence was at an end, no longer stands, because that declaration has not come. If it were to come, the matter would be reopened.
Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam) : May I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his endeavours in maintaining contact ? I agree totally that, had he not done so, it would have been a great dereliction of his duties.
Does he agree that, while the IRA says it wishes to end conflict, those fine words are not matched by fine deeds ? Murderous events have happened ever since. Therefore, will he continue with his endeavours to combat terrorism, with all the methods at his command ? In whatever develops, will my right hon. and learned Friend bear in mind the fact that 65 per cent. of the people in Northern Ireland voted for the Union with Great Britain in the previous general election ?
Sir Patrick Mayhew : My hon. Friend takes such an interest in Northern Ireland matters, and is such a frequent visitor, that she speaks with particular knowledge. She could perhaps slightly increase the strength of her case. I believe that 67 per cent. voted for one of the three parties which support the maintenance of the Union as an act of policy.
Sir Patrick Mayhew : I beg my hon. Friend's pardon. There are in fact four parties. I am getting into deeper and deeper water. My hon. Friend speaks with great authority. The fine words, as she put it, of the IRA and the leadership of the IRA have not been matched, and perfectly inexcusable outrages have occurred. That is why I assure my hon. Friend that the Chief Constable and the General Officer Commanding, with the full support of the Government, will bear down as hard as is possible by all lawful means upon those who resort to violence.
Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) : It would have been preferable if the documents had been available to us at an earlier stage so that we could have studied them. However, I have already noticed two points. The document setting out the Government message of 17 July says : "consideration was being given at the highest level to a far-reaching response."
What was that response, and was it delivered ?
Secondly, there is reference to "unauthorised contacts" with Sinn Fein/IRA, in addition to authorised contact. I understand from the briefings given by the Northern Ireland Office to the press that that unauthorised contact included members of MI6, or the Secret Intelligence Service, during 1991 and 1992. Is that the same as the contact that Mr. McGuinness claims that he had with what he called a British Foreign Office official in the spring of 1990 ?
When did the unauthorised activity by the secret intelligence service begin, when did it end, what measures have been taken to bring the SIS under control, and what disciplinary action has been taken with regard to the officers who engaged in that unauthorised activity ?
Sir Patrick Mayhew : I am not prepared to say more than I said at a press conference in Northern Ireland yesterday, which is that it has come to our notice that there were probably two instances over the past three or so years where unauthorised contact was made by somebody in an official position.
Sir Patrick Mayhew : It was unauthorised by the British Government. Nothing derived from that contact in each instance that affected any message subsequently sent in the manner that I have described to the House by the British Government to the leadership of the IRA. I am not prepared to say any more than that.
As to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, a reply to the message of 10 May was not, in the event, sent, for the reasons that are set out in the document of 17 July.
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) : My right hon. and learned Friend will be conscious of the deep desire in all parts of the House that his stewardship should be crowned with the success of a just and lasting peace that is not an accommodation of terrorism and that is fully in line with the principles of constitutional democratic government.
In the pursuit of that objective, for which most reasonable people will give him a wide degree of latitude and discretion, can he bear in mind the fact that, time and time again since 1969, successive Secretaries of State have realised that seeking to reduce the alienation of the violent
Column 811minority which constitutes the IRA/Sinn Fein should never be sought at the expense of alienating the Loyalist majority in the Province ?
Sir Patrick Mayhew : My hon. Friend eloquently expresses the hopes of all of us, but it is no good addressing the problem in a way that results in the transferring of violence from one end of the political spectrum to the other. That is what would happen in certain circumstances.
I readily acknowledge the need to reassure those who constitute the greater number of people living in Northern Ireland those who wish to see the Union within the United Kingdom maintained that the Government will continue always to stand behind the democratic wishes of the people of Northern Ireland. That is the fundamental reassurance they need, and it is one that has been given as authoritatively as possible. It is meant by the Government and every Minister.
Mr. Geoffrey Hoon (Ashfield) : Will the Secretary of State explain why he has refused to publish the exchanges between the Government and the Provisional movement in the period before 22 February 1993 ? In particular, will he give further consideration to whether he should publish the text of any message sent by the British Government immediately before that date ?
Sir Patrick Mayhew : I can assure the House that the message received in February, which begins the published body of messages, was not one that had been prompted by us or heralded. It would not be right to publish, to however far back I was asked to publish, all the records of the messages sent back and forth by that means of communication. It would not be in the public interest to do so. It might very well encroach upon intelligence matters that, as will be widely understood, should not be published. I shall give further consideration to the matter, but I do not hold out any expectation, or offer any commitment, that I would think it right to do so.
Mr. Quentin Davies (Stamford and Spalding) : The House has always had a high regard for the integrity and judgment of my right hon. and learned Friend, and that has been clearly reflected this afternoon. Does he agree that the IRA is a criminal organisation, and one involved in the very worst form of crime murder and it should be dealt with only on that basis ?
Does he also agree that, while it is legitimate to use the democratic process to campaign for a united Ireland, it would be a devastating day for democracy if the idea ever
Column 812arose that a group that owed its power not to the ballot box but to the bullet could influence the future shape of political and constitutional arrangements ?
Sir Patrick Mayhew : My hon. Friend is right, and that is at the basis of the defence that is necessary for democracy. It is always expensive to defend democracy, but the country has had some experience of that, and knows that the price is always worth paying. The Provisional IRA resorts to criminal methods and therefore can be characterised as a criminal organisation, and it must never be enabled to influence constitutional development by resorting to violence. In thanks for the kind words with which my hon. Friend began, I bow towards him.
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) : I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend is pleased to know that I appear to be the last Back Bencher rising to ask him a question in this marathon. Does he accept that it now appears, regrettably, that the whole business, from the first message in February from McGuinness to the statement made this morning by Adams, has been nothing more than a political ploy ? There has never been any hope of the IRA giving up violence.
Does he accept that what happened arose entirely from Sinn Fein's desire to make political capital ? Does he therefore agree that the extraordinary reaction the hypercritical and naive reaction of almost all the press, many politicians and some hon. Members today, criticising the Government, has played into the hands of the IRA, has given Sinn Fein its political capital and is giving comfort to those evil terrorists who are the enemies of the House, the United Kingdom and the people of Northern Ireland ?
Sir Patrick Mayhew : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It may prove to be the case that nothing will come, and that nothing ever would have come, from the message that we received in February. That was not an assumption that was open to us, in duty, to make. There was always hope that it would, but so far that hope has been dashed. It may be that it was nothing more than a political ploy. All must hope that that was not the case. It was not open to us to treat it on that basis.
The concluding part of my hon. Friend's question related to the way in which the Government's response has been addressed. Yesterday, at a press conference in Northern Ireland, I mildly observed that, from the tone of some of the questions addressed to me, it might be thought that it was not the IRA but the Government who had bombed the Shankill.
Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek your advice about the responsibility of Ministers to the House for their actions. How can I ensure that the Secretary of State for Scotland takes responsibility for what, in recent days, has been, by any account, a serious scandal reaching right into his office ? Today's momentous statement arose directly from a leak to a newspaper yesterday, and it was right and proper that the House should have heard that statement and had the chance to question it, but revelations in Scottish newspapers at the weekend about the existence of certain documents and the statements of the former chairman of the Greater Glasgow health board are in many ways comparable in their seriousness.
It is four weeks since the general manager of the Greater Glasgow health board, the largest health authority
Mr. Robertson : The Secretary of State for Scotland is responsible for the department that covers the Greater Glasgow health board. It is four weeks since the dismissal of the general manager, but we have not heard a word from the Secretary of State on the matter. It is three weeks since the Scottish Office re-employed the gentleman concerned, yet we have heard nothing. The revelations at the weekend, which as I said are comparable to those that led to the statement today, point directly to the complicity of Scottish Office Ministers in the termination of the employment of the general manager of the Greater Glasgow health board.
Surely hon. Members have a right to hear the Minister who is in charge of that department, who holds high office. There should not be a lengthy period of silence, with no opportunity for hon. Members to learn what events led to these accusations being made.
Madam Speaker : The hon. Gentleman is aware that I do not give procedural advice across the Floor of the House ; nor have I been told that a Minister is seeking to make a statement. The hon. Gentleman might seek the information that he requires from the Table Office. If he comes to see me, I might be able to help him on procedural matters, but I should have thought that he, as a long-standing Member of the House, would be aware of how to proceed with such matters in the House.
Mr. Peter Mandelson (Hartlepool) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Last week, the Secretary of State for National Heritage announced changes to the Broadcasting Act 1990 that would allow mergers and takeovers between large ITV companies. Those changes
Column 814would raise serious issues and would transform the face of ITV. Hon. Members were not given an opportunity to express their views, because the Secretary of State did not make a statement.
I gather that the House will not debate the amending order before the new year. Despite that, Carlton Communications and Central Television announced today, in advance of Parliament discussing and determining the matter, that they will go ahead with their merger. The immortal words of the Carlton spokesman were that they did not feel that there was any need to hang around, because the vote will go through anyway. That is preposterous and unacceptable to the House. I should be grateful if you, Madam Speaker, would express your concern about the matter and tell us what you can do to protect and safeguard the rights of the House.
Madam Speaker : I think that the hon. Member is aware that an affirmative resolution is required to change the present legal position on mergers between television franchise holders. Talks being held outside do not, of course, affect the rights of the House, and whether a breach of the law has occurred is a matter for the courts. Hon. Members will have an opportunity to debate the matter in due course.
Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin) : Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. The proposed merger between Carlton and Central Television directly affects every hon. Member who represents a midlands constituency. Central Television is a midlands-owned company, with midlands-owned production facilities. Carlton is a London publishing company ; it is not a producer.
Inevitably, genuine fears are being expressed by many people in the midlands that there will be an increase in the job losses that have already occurred among skilled production staff and that there will be no prospect of the midlands being a centre of television excellence because of the inevitable drift to the south, which is the purpose of the break-up of the industry. The consequence of the Secretary of State for National Heritage not having made a statement is that there will be a dribble of different proposed mergers and takeovers between now and Christmas and beyond, with no prospect of proper parliamentary scrutiny.
This matter affects hon. Members on both sides of the House and the many constituents whom we represent, and before the break-up of the regional television structure, which has served Britain well, there should be proper scrutiny of the proposal.
Madam Speaker : The hon. Gentleman should raise these matters at business questions. He is seeking a statement in the House and answers from the Secretary of State, not an answer from me. I have dealt with the original point of order. He must now pursue the matter at business questions.
Order for Second Reading read.
Madam Speaker : Before I call the Secretary of State, I ask hon. Members, in the circumstances, to exercise restraint in their speeches. I have allowed an important statement to run so that each hon. Member who wished to ask a question could do so. I now seek hon. Members' co-operation by keeping speeches short so that each hon. Member may be called.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard) : I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time May I begin by expressing the hope that a day that has so far seen a good measure of agreement across the Floor of the House will continue in that vein at least for today's stage of the Bill ? The Bill seeks to reform the law governing Sunday trading in England and Wales. This is a matter that touches directly right hon. and hon. Members and their constituents. It arouses passionate interest in the House and beyond. We can look forward to many interesting debates on the Bill as it makes its way through the House.
The Bill is, in many respects, unique. It contains three options for reform regulation, deregulation and partial deregulation, as proposed by the Shopping Hours Reform Council. It is the essence of the Government's position in presenting the Bill that we shall argue neither for nor against any of the options for reform, although I make no secret of the fact that, as an individual Member of Parliament, I favour deregulation. As a result, I hope to be somewhat briefer in introducing the Bill than is usual.
The origin of the Government's policy lies with the report of the committee of inquiry into proposals to amend the Shops Act 1950, the Auld committee. As is well known, that committee came to the view that no system of regulation would be fair, simple and readily enforceable and the House endorsed the report's findings by a vote of 305 to 185. A Shops Bill was introduced in 1985 to give effect to that report's findings, but it failed to commend itself to the House, despite the fact that it had successfully completed its passage through the other place.
The Government then attempted to find consensus on the way forward a search that proved ultimately fruitless. There was passionate support for options for reform but there were passionate antagonisms to each of the options, and there was little common ground. When Parliament rejected the Government's Shops Bill in 1986, it set itself and the Government a rare problem. Few, if any, hon. Members believed that the Sunday trading provisions of the Shops Act made sense. Most hon. Members, if not all, wanted the muddle over Sunday trading to be resolved, but there was no obvious agreement about what should replace those provisions.
This Bill was devised to unravel that riddle. It does so in a unique way. It presents Parliament with a choice between the leading options for reform. Each option has been drafted by parliamentary counsel. Each reflects the