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House of Commons

Friday 21 January 1994

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Northern Ireland

9.35 am

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham) : I beg to move,

That this House welcomes and supports the insistent demand of ilstthe people of all traditions in Northern Ireland for peace, properly attained ; and asserts its abhorrence and rejection of all violence, from whatever quarter, perpetrated in place of democratic persuasion.

It is a considerable honour for me to open the debate, and I shall say a little more about that in a moment.

During the morning of 15 December last year, I sat in the plenary session of the British-Irish parliamentary body in Church house. Most of those present allowed their thoughts to wander to events that were unfolding in Downing street a few hundred yards away. While we were discussing items of importance and interest to Members of this House and to Deputies and Senators from the Irish Parliament, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach, Mr. Reynolds, were signing an historic agreement--a joint declaration for peace agreed by the British and Irish Governments. Soon after midday, they made public the result of deliberations and careful negotiations stretching back to February 1992.

A lunch at the Irish embassy for members of the British-Irish parliamentary body was followed in the afternoon by my right hon. Friend's statement to the House on the joint declaration. During an hour and a half's questioning, my right hon. Friend received support from Members in almost all parts of the House and answered questions from 46 right hon. and hon. Members.

It was a good occasion and there was an optimism in the atmosphere that here at last was an initiative which might lead to an end of terror, murder and brutality in Northern Ireland, 25 years on from the civil rights marches of the late 1960s.

At the end of the statement and a further announcement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, you, Madam Speaker, drew the ballot for today's private Members' motions and, for only the second time in more than 10 years, my name was drawn. What is more, I was drawn in pole position.

It is a rare honour for a Back-Bench Member to be allowed to set the day's business for the House. I toyed with the issues presently exercising my constituents and decided that, having just completed many days of debate on the Gracious Speech and on the Budget, most of the contentious, topical issues had already been amply covered. Unlike the occasion when I was able to initiate a Friday debate on the iniquities of the Property Services Agency, no burning local issue was exercising the good folk of Gillingham, and I was briefly at a loss as to what my subject for today should be.

After a few minutes' thought, the prevailing optimism about the joint declaration reasserted itself and it occurred

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to me that today, five weeks on from the Downing street meeting, might be a suitable occasion for the House to debate the joint declaration and the current political situation in Northern Ireland in the immediate aftermath of that initiative. I reasoned that everyone would have had a chance to read properly the whole of the 12- paragraph statement and to understand its carefully crafted sentences, a chance to recognise the balance between the assurances to the loyalist community and to those who aspire to and yearn for a united Ireland achieved by peaceful means.

Five weeks should be long enough for a thorough analysis of what is on offer and I believed, naively perhaps, that it should be long enough for the leaders of Sinn Fein to convince the leaders of the IRA to announce a permanent cessation of violence so that the brief period of decontamination or quarantine before Sinn Fein is allowed to take part in exploratory talks might commence. Hence today's debate.

I am particularly honoured that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will intervene in the debate. I am also delighted that so many right hon. and hon. Members from the Province are in their seats on a Friday.

In the days following 15 December, many column inches in the press were devoted to the initiative. The principal tenor of the articles matched the mood of hope and optimism in the House on that memorable day. We also read of the chaos and disruption brought to public transport by bomb alerts on commuter networks and the underground. As there had been several bombs in recent days, police had no option but to take such alerts seriously, especially as they followed the pattern of previous Christmases, when the IRA sought to cause maximum disruption before announcing a three-day halt to its terrorist activity.

Before Christmas, there was speculation that the IRA might announce a longer, even permanent, cessation of violence to gain its place at the conference table at the earliest possible moment. In the event, the godfathers of terror proposed only their now customary three-day halt. Their cynicism was swiftly underlined by the murder of a young soldier, Guardsman Daniel Blinco, who was on patrol at Crossmaglen on 30 December. He was killed by an IRA sniper team that was known to have murdered nine members of the security forces in 16 months. Two days before Guardsman Blinco's murder, a large meeting of republicans, including Sinn Fein representatives and parole prisoners, at Loughmacrory, County Tyrone, had indicated that the joint declaration fell short of the concession that they wanted to halt the violence. At that meeting, Sinn Fein, in the form of South Armagh Councillor Jim McAllister, started the spurious call for clarification. He is quoted as saying :

"I think the overall view is that the document has a long way to go before it becomes a peace initiative. There is incredulity that we are being told we cannot have clarification. As the document stands, the general feeling is that it would be insufficient to produce an IRA ceasefire."

Since that republican meeting, the violence has continued. New year's day saw a dozen incendiary bombs start fires in shops and businesses in Belfast, causing millions of pounds' worth of damage and putting 200 jobs at risk. As if to match the IRA's renewed assault, the Ulster Freedom Fighters announced that they would respond militarily in 1994. The omens for the new year were not good.

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On Tuesday 11 January, at least two attacks on the security forces were reported. A bomb secreted in the chassis of a vehicle that had been used in an IRA mortar attack blew up within a security base in South Armagh, badly injuring two soldiers. On the same day, two policemen and a policewomen were wounded by a bomb thrown at their vehicle as it patrolled the Short Strand area of Belfast. The following day, an unarmed military policewoman was shot twice and seriously injured as the IRA ambushed a joint police and military patrol in the New Lodge area of Belfast. The only slight consolation about that attack was that two arrests were made and a weapon was recovered.

Although the loyalist gunmen appear to have been more subdued during that period, a 21-year-old Catholic was shot by UFF terrorists on 6 January in the Lenadoon area of Belfast. However, the Ulster Volunteer Force has suggested that it will abjure violence if all sides accept the joint declaration as a way forward to peace. Against a background of continuing violence since Christmas, some of the euphoria has dissipated. Some of the optimism has given way to realism and even some of the hope has moderated. What has brought that about? I suggest that it is not solely the brutality of defiant terrorism but also the smokescreen put up by the so-called political wing of the republican movement, Sinn Fein. The clarification issue mentioned by Councillor McAllister has been taken up by Sinn Fein's President, Mr. Adams, who has milked it for all it is worth. Adams's demand for clarification is clearly a demand for negotiation without having to order his friends of the IRA to give up the campaign of violence. His first reported reaction to the joint declaration was a demand for direct and unconditional dialogue with the British and Irish Governments.

It is suggested that the areas that Adams considers need clarification are, first, how the constitutional guarantee for the will of the majority will work in Northern Ireland and how the people of Ireland will exercise the right to self determination. Secondly, he demands that the British Government become a persuader in favour of a united Ireland. The third area in which he demands clarification--or rather concession--is on the question of amnesty for republican prisoners.

In his statement on 15 December, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister went to great lengths to explain precisely what was involved in the safeguards for the majority wish in Northern Ireland and how referendums, north and south of the border, might be conducted to fulfil the paragraph on self determination. The body of his statement did not touch on amnesty for prisoners, but my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) and I pressed my right hon. Friend on the question of amnesty.

It is worth putting on the record again the questions and answers in the Official Report. I asked my right hon. Friend to reassure the House that

"no commitment--explicit or implicit--has been made for any form of amnesty for those who have been convicted of the most heinous crimes in Northern Ireland, and that the judicial process will pursue, with utmost diligence, those who have continued with their crimes of violence in recent weeks".

My hon. Friend replied :

"I can give my hon. Friend that absolute commitment."--[ Official Report, 15 December 1993 ; Vol. 234, c. 1083-84.]

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My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne, whom I am delighted to see in his place this morning, asked whether my right hon. Friend's definition of a cessation of violence included

"the handing over of at least some weapons and explosives and will he assure the House that convicted murderers in Northern Ireland will serve the whole of their sentences".

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was unequivocal in his response. He said :

"I can certainly confirm that not only do I not have any notion in my mind of amnesty, but there is no suggestion of a reduction in sentences awarded by the courts. That is a matter for the courts and not something in which I wish to to interfere. Were there to be an end to violence, the crimes that are currently being investigated would still be the subject of investigation in the future--that is the way our criminal justice system operates and it will continue to operate on that basis."--[ Official Report, 15 December 1993 ; Vol. 234, c. 1089-90.]

He then commented on the surrender of arms.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) : Is not the hon. Gentleman being a little unfair to the Government? We heard many statements that the Government would not talk, directly or indirectly, to the IRA and Sinn Fein on those matters. In the event, they had to come to the House and say that they were talking to the IRA. Will not those matters be part of the debate, should the next stage of the peace negotiations take place? Our role today should be not to nail people to certain positions that they have or have had in the past, but to encourage people to approach the problem with a much more open mind than in the past.

Mr. Couchman : The hon. Gentleman makes a valuable point, but I am offering my opinions on what should happen, particularly on amnesty, and praying in aid the assurances that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave on 15 December, which he has repeated in the intervening weeks.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh) : In the hon. Gentleman's quotation of the Prime Minister's answer, the Prime Minister said that the courts would decide. Will he reflect on the fact that, within the Northern Ireland system, the review procedure is independent of the courts' decisions? That system has been operating for a considerable time and decides on the termination or length of sentences that people might serve. We should all look carefully at those mechanisms when we discuss this matter, rather than use pejorative and arbitrary terms such as "amnesty".

Mr. Couchman : I note what the hon. Gentleman says. I am sure that he will wish to enlarge on that point when he contributes to the debate.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for quoting the answer that I received when I raised the issue. In view of what has just been said, does my hon. Friend accept that some hon. Members and many people in the country believe that murder is murder and cannot be excused in the name of politics? If the Government are minded to weaken on that point, some of us will not support such a weakening.

Mr. Couchman : I take my hon. Friend's words seriously, and wish to say more about the question of amnesty, which I think will make abundantly clear my position on that vexed subject.

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) : When the hon. Gentleman gives further detail of his view on amnesty, will

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he comment on the detailed statement by the former Prime Minister of the Irish Republic, Dr. Garret Fitzgerald, who said that in July 1985 he had entered into an agreement with Mrs. Thatcher? The British Government had agreed that, if there was a cessation of violence or a major reduction in violence, there would be an early release of prisoners. Does the hon. Gentleman make a distinction between that and an amnesty?

Mr. Couchman : My belief in murder as murder remains absolute. Those who have been convicted of the most heinous crimes in Northern Ireland should continue to serve their sentences without early release.

Mr. Mallon : The Shankill butchers have had early release under review.

Mr. Couchman : I shall come to the very issue that the hon. Gentleman has raised in his sedentary intervention.

My right hon. Friend's continuing rejection of Sinn Fein's demands for an amnesty for republican prisoners will be welcomed by every hon. Member who believes in law and order. The prisoners under discussion are not prisoners of war or detainees. Those who have been convicted or who are on remand in custody are in prison because they have been convicted of committing, or are strongly suspected of committing, the most appalling crimes of brutality. Those crimes are often committed against men, women and children who are wholly innocent of any involvement in the conflict and are bystanders who have simply got in the way of thugs bent on violence in the pursuit of who knows what.

Such crimes have been committed in Northern Ireland, here in London, throughout Great Britain and on the continent of Europe. Who would contemplate awarding an amnesty for the Balcombe street gang who were responsible for at least six murders in the 1970s? Who could contemplate an amnesty for the Harrods bombers, Paul Kavanagh and Gilbert McNamee, who were convicted of killing six people outside Harrods 10 years ago? Who could contemplate an amnesty for Patrick Magee, who was responsible for the murder of four people at the Grand hotel in Brighton during the Conservative party conference in 1984? We must remember that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The loyalist terrorists currently imprisoned include such psychopaths as the Shankill butchers, Robert Bates, Sam McAllister and William Moore who, with their eight accomplices, were sentenced to 42 life sentences for the torture, murder and mutilation of 19 people, often for purely sectarian reasons. Who could offer amnesty to such men or to Michael Stone, the Milltown cemetery murderer? There are presently more than 1,500 men and women serving sentences in Ulster gaols for terror-related offences, and a further 350 are on remand. There are a small number of terrorists serving their sentences in mainland prisons.

To allow an amnesty for those prisoners would be a grotesque insult to the memory of the 3,000 people who have died during the troubles and to the many more who have been maimed or injured mentally by the actions of those terrorists who have been so careless of the impact of their murderous attacks. My right hon. Friend has not been helped by the reported words of the Taoiseach in a BBC interview on 19 December. Mr. Reynolds suggested that the future of terrorist prisoners would be part of any negotiations flowing from the joint declaration. That was

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not the only apparently unhelpful intervention from Dublin over the demand for clarification from Sinn Fein. There should be no question of any amnesty for those who have committed the most heinous crimes during the past 25 years.

Sinn Fein's demands for clarification are but a smokescreen. The joint declaration is admirably clear. My right hon. Friend's statement on 15 December was equally clear, and his answers to my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne and me could have left no one in any doubt about amnesty. It is difficult to understand why the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), who has done so much for the peace initiative, should urge clarification on the two Governments, as he is reported to have done. I also find it difficult to understand why the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, asks for clarification when the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), has made it clear that such a move would constitute negotiation before the abandonment of violence. It seems curious that the Taoiseach should have been willing to offer the demanded clarification in a speech on 10 January. In an article in the Evening Standard, Lord Callaghan, who had much to do with the troubles in the early days, has also urged clarification of genuine points of misunderstanding. I am not convinced that there is any need for such clarification.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland made a speech yesterday related to the declaration that could therefore be considered to be an elaboration of what has taken place. A well-developed speech was made by the Irish Prime Minister that seemed to be an explanation of the declaration. Might it not be relevant for such a process to continue and even for the Prime Minister to participate in that process? It would not be negotiation, but it would be a further explanation of what has already been put forward.

Mr. Couchman : I shall leave my right hon. and learned Friend to comment on the speech that he made last night. No doubt he will also have something to say about the words offered by the Irish Prime Minister last night.

Mr. Mallon : I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again and apologise for making yet another intervention.

The hon. Gentleman complains about the search for clarification and about recommendations made by my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and others to give that clarification before peace or negotiations have been established. However, he has spent the major part of his speech clarifying for the Government his position on something that may or may not take place as part of the negotiating process. Is there not an irony in his position? Not only is the hon. Gentleman clarifying or attempting to clarify a position for the Government but he is placing a marker on something that may arise in the negotiations. Is there not an irony in that?

Mr. Couchman : I think that I was unwise to give way to the hon. Gentleman.

I am not convinced of the need for such clarification. I am convinced that Sinn Fein, in the form of Mr. Adams, is playing a devious and divisive game in trying to enter negotiations having yielded nothing in the way of a ceasefire. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my

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right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State are right to have none of it. Mr. Adams should order a total cessation of IRA violence--I have no doubt that he has the power to do so. We could then let three months elapse, after which time Mr. Adams can have ample clarification in properly constituted talks, not held under the shadow of the bomb and the bullet.

Mr. Adams has suggested that the IRA is prepared to fight for another 25 years unless his demands for clarification are met. If the IRA's response is to reject the present offer, there must be an uneqivocal follow-up to the joint declaration, and all possible action on both sides of the border must be taken to eradicate once and for all the terrorist threat from the IRA.

The loopholes in the Irish extradition law that have been contentious between the countries for so long must be closed. The co-operation between the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Garda Siochana must become ever closer, particularly over intelligence matters. The efforts of both security forces to police the border must be intensified. Banning Sinn Fein in the north and the Republic must be considered. In the context of putting pressure on Sinn Fein-IRA, I am perplexed as to why the Dublin Government have chosen this moment to lift the 20-year ban on the broadcasting of interviews with Sinn Fein and paramilitary groups. That seems to be an untimely pandering to terrorists. The two Governments have set out their peace initiative and it is essential that they act in concert in all that they do to bring it to fruition.

The House does not need me to spell out how great is the prize for peace in Northern Ireland. On the day before the Downing street joint declaration, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State announced the public expenditure allocations for 1994-95 to 1996-97 and defined the Government's three public expenditure priorities for Northern Ireland as, first, defeating terrorism, with an allocation for law and order of £931 million--he regretted the need for this enormous budget when, in a peaceful and stable society, much of it could be devoted to other important social and economic programmes--secondly, to strengthen the economy, to which £455 million would be allocated--and how much greater would be the strengthening of the economy were a lasting peace to be established? There is no doubt that Northern Ireland would once again become a good place for inward investment if peace were established. His third priority was targeting social need, with extra funds under various budget heads. The total budget is £7.39 billion, a substantial part of which is spent on problems associated with the troubles.

Peace would undoubtedly allow the distribution of public resources on a different basis from the present one--a basis that would give a more positive impetus to increasing prosperity throughout the community. But the real improvement would be the enhanced attractiveness of Northern Ireland as a place for the private sector to locate, as a place for the most able youngsters, many of whom take their skills elsewhere, to carve out their careers and as a place for tourists to enjoy their holidays in the most breathtaking countryside. The committee of the British-Irish parliamentary body, on which I sit, sees immense advantages for tourism if only peace prevailed.

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It would be impudent of me, as a south-east England Member, to lecture those who know Northern Ireland so much better than I. I have taken an interest in the Province since I entered the House in 1983, partly because I represent a garrison town from which soldiers regularly serve in Northern Ireland, partly because of my many Irish friends from north and south of the border and partly because every hon. Member, whichever constituency he or she represents, should take a close interest in the tragedy that has beset a part of the United Kingdom for a quarter of a century--almost half my lifetime and twice as long as the two great wars of the 20th century, the Korean war, the Falklands conflict and the Gulf war added together.

I am not an expert on Irish history, but sometimes I think that there has been too much regard for the past and too little thought given to the future. I have returned from visits to Ireland deeply saddened that two traditions of the same religion could have led to so much strife and enmity. Even as the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland are drawn closer together through our common membership of the European Union, so would I hope and pray that the declaration of 15 December 1993 might act as a basis for people of all persuasions, north and south of the border, to come together to work for peace.

I reiterate that it has been a great honour for me to initiate our debate this morning. I hope that I have not detained the House too long.

10.3 am

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley) : The whole House, all Northern Ireland Members and hon. Members who represent constituencies on this side of the water and every law-abiding citizen of the United Kingdom are deeply indebted to the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) for providing us with this opportunity to take stock of the situation in Northern Ireland. We are especially indebted to him for his comprehensive chronological survey of the situation and, although it may be slightly different from what we would like it to be, we on this Bench pay tribute to the hon. Member.

The hon. Member for Gillingham noted the good attendance of Northern Ireland Members today and he will be gratified by the attendance of Members representing constituents in Great Britain, including three Northern Ireland Ministers and a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King). You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will be something of an expert on attendances in the House, and it is the only point on which I seek to involve you : today's attendance compares favourably with the attendance on any normal Friday.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : Or on any day.

Mr. Molyneaux : Yes, or on any day. The cameras do what they are not supposed to do : pan around the Chamber to show the lack of interest in, for example, Welsh affairs and, yes, Scottish affairs, legislation on the Mersey Docks and Harbours Board and all such enlightening proceedings. I pay tribute to all hon. Members present who are proof that Northern Ireland is not a forgotten place. The Sinn Fein-IRA buzzword at the moment is clarification. One Oxford dictionary meaning is :

"to make a liquid free from impurities."

Many IRA criminals will have experience of the illegal production of poteen. They should not need clarification of a simple matter in which the only remaining impurity is

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their criminality and conscience. The Government cannot enable them to remove that impurity--they must do so themselves ; they can simply stop murdering people. They seem to lack the courage to take that crucial decision. First, they said that they needed time to contact the various elements in their band of brothers, but we saw evidence in the "Cook Report" that one Mr. Martin McGuinness can apparently order the murder of a soldier or, when he considers it beneficial to the cause, the execution of an alleged defector. Those who saw that programme waited for a detailed account of the informer's trial. What counsel "learned in the law" appeared for the defence? Was there a jury, because Sinn Fein condemns the Diplock system and it would be unthinkable not to have a jury? Did the accused have any right of appeal?

In the absence of proof of such safeguards, why, for example, does one body that I can think of, but there are many others--Amnesty International--keep silent, as Sinn Fein wheels out that apparatus when an IRA man gets his elbow grazed? Denied, as we all are, the evidence of torture and the execution of even their own, we must conclude that one Mr. McGuinness is so much in control of the organisation that he can order the taking of life within minutes. Is not it strange that he needs five or six weeks to contact and consult those whom he unashamedly claims to lead?

Just as that ploy is seen to be rather less than convincing after all this time, the leadership of Sinn Fein-IRA invent another device. They need to evaluate and weigh the pros and cons. They say, if you please, that they have to take time to make a balanced judgment. Of course, they have taken that line before when they have had to consider their future strategy--for example, in 1967 when one of their godfathers, in a case of mistaken identity, confided in a friend of mine :

"We shall have to restart our campaign before our people are demoralised by the British welfare state."

When prominent people assured us that peace could be achieved within a week and proclaimed peace before Christmas, we did not believe a word of it ; but many innocent souls did and they were rewarded by Mr. Adams publicly thanking the thousands who marched and prayed in support of the IRA's campaign for peace. Mr. Adams and Mr. McGuinness long ago stopped blushing when they proclaim themselves to be men of peace, but they and all associated with them will never be forgiven by the thousands whom they betrayed and misled.

That disillusionment would have been greatly lessened had Mr. Adams even suspended the murder campaign while he and his so-called "army council" were studying and reviewing the situation. Instead, they issued a pre- Christmas statement, no doubt "using the recognised code word", wherever that is supposed to come from, as they have done over 20 years, wishing the people a happy Christmas, and adding, "You won't be murdered until Boxing day." One never ceases to be amazed by the gullibility of people who are otherwise intelligent. Some in the ranks of the chattering classes are now being sucked into whining about clarification, not realising that that is the only tactic that can rescue the IRA from the condemnation of world opinion. That is the operation on which they are presently engaged.

It is curious how little notice has been taken of an utterly unprincipled departure from what for decades has been the basic demand of "Brits out", summarised in the translation of Sinn Fein into the English language as "Ourselves

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alone". The mumbo-jumbo of recent months has cleverly concealed the conversion to acceptance that a British withdrawal would not suit Sinn Fein-IRA at all. They used to refer to Ulster as Britain's last colony, and asserted that they were determined and would succeed in driving out the British Army. They forgot that when Britain withdrew from a colony, it did so in response to the demands of the majority, or the greater number of the native population. On the day of ceremonial departure, Britain transferred all authority to that majority, but never to a neighbouring state.

I might be tempting the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) to ask us how that stands in regard to the Bill that he presented yesterday to terminate British jurisdiction in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield) : The right hon. Gentleman will recall that we terminated our jurisdiction of Palestine, are handing over Hong Kong to China and that we conceded to a white minority in Rhodesia at the time of the universal declaration of independence. This is a more complex matter than perhaps he allows.

Mr. Molyneaux : The simple question for the right hon. Gentleman and those who share his view remains : By "Brits out now", do they mean now, at the end of the year or--as it is in the minds of the modernised IRA--phased over a period of 11 years? The full horror of that scenario has only recently struck the IRA. A British withdrawal would leave it in an independent Ulster, not a united Ireland. It may even have crossed its mind that the ethnic cleansing that republicans have practised all along the United Kingdom frontier could suddenly become a two-edged sword. I will not go any further than that for obvious reasons. We now have the supreme irony of the IRA murdering British soldiers of the British Army, which the IRA would require to enforce phased joint authority and eventually Irish unity on British citizens of Northern Ireland. Where now stands the principled idealistic freedom fighters of Irish republican mythology? Where now stands their moral courage?

The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have rightly refused to set a deadline for an IRA response. Having provided the IRA with an opportunity to cease its criminal activity--if by some miraculous chance it were so minded--Her Majesty's Government do not need to set a date for acceptance of the offer. Could I suggest that Ministers urgently consult their French and German counterparts in regard to the techniques that they used so efficiently in stamping out their indigenous terrorists? Both those Governments have great respect for our Foreign Secretary. They know that he has the right ideas, as evidenced when he was Home Secretary. At that time, he declared that there was no point in talking to the IRA, and that they just had to be extirpated. Being a man of sound judgment and high principles, the Foreign Secretary will not have changed his views in the interval. The Government as a whole will be equally determined to do everything in their power to protect the citizens from the resumption of terrorism. If more powers are needed, no responsible Member of the House can refuse to grant the necessary authority. In that respect, the Secretary of State is to be commended for his vigorous approach to security. In his speech last evening, he said :

"If the violence continues, the work of opposing it will of course continue with the utmost vigour. We shall work to ensure that the law is strong enough to counter these criminal

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conspiracies, that the police have the necessary resources in terms of manpower, equipment and military support, and that co-operation between the two jurisdictions is as creative and pro- active as possible."

We would all support those words. The Irish Government also joined in making the offer to Sinn Fein-IRA. They, too, appeared to believe in peace by Christmas. They, too, feel badly betrayed, and I shall not embarrass them by making security demands of them in public. They know where their duty lies as a sovereign nation with pride in its international standing.

Nor is there any deadline with regard to political progress. During his pre -Christmas visit to Northern Ireland, the Prime Minister discussed the way ahead with party leaders. He agreed on the desirability of pressing ahead with the restoration of accountable democracy. He, the Secretary of State and the Minister of State have accelerated the process. Nationally, the news industry has ignored all that--perhaps in some cases suppressed it-- but the fact is that the Minister of State has been patiently proceeding with bilateral discussions since early September last year. I do not complain about the lack of media interest. We are all the more likely to make real progress if we are relieved of the need to compete in sound bites. But, for the sake of accuracy and their professional reputations, journalists might refrain from using inaccurate phrases such as "talks being in abeyance" for the past year.

Ideally, in our drive for the restoration of accountable democracy, we should aim to make progress on three fronts--first, Westminster, which is responsible for the good Government of the entire United Kingdom ; secondly, Stormont as a location for sound administrative democracy ; and thirdly, local democracy in the ranks of councillors freshly elected less than a year ago. But, as we operate in the real world, we may not find it possible to progress at the same speed on all those fronts. However, progress must be made where progress is possible. We must not be stalled by those who decline to move with the times. We should not ignore the stimulus contained in this week's Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill, which applies to Northern Ireland and bears the name of the Secretary of State. The powers to repeal and amend in the first four clauses could provide a solid launching pad for a campaign to open doors and gates that have remained closed for far too long.

10.18 am

Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke) : It is a great privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux). It will be fair to say that many people who have been following events since 15 December have been struck and impressed by the manner in which he has analysed the joint declaration and responded to it. It is a privilege to follow him in this debate.

I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) was successful in the ballot and that he chose this motion. These Friday morning debates on Northern Ireland have provided a valuable opportunity to explore issues related to the Province. Today, we have the additional bonus that the debate is taking place in the shadow of the speech by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State last night, in which he positively restated the position as he sees it in the light of the joint declaration.

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I am intrigued by accusations that last night my right hon. and learned Friend was indulging in clarification. I do not mean to suggest for one moment that anything he says could be boring, but we have heard what he said last night before and he was merely restating a well-definded position, which was first stated in the House on 15 December. Virtually every phrase in his speech can be found on the floppy disks of the word processors in the Northern Ireland Office which contain the texts of his previous speeches. It is advancing rather far to say that it was a clarification ; it was a restatement of a well-defined position.

About five weeks have passed since the joint declaration. Sufficient time has elapsed and sufficient developments have taken place since then for it to be worth while to take stock of where we stand. From that point of view, I warmly welcome the speech by the Secretary of State last night. A number of its salient features are well worth bearing in mind. First, he once again reminded his audience that the joint statement is not a settlement in itself but the framework through which peace may be found and that it is very much to be seen as complementing and underpinning the talks process. That is always worth repeating, because I have encountered a mistaken belief in many comments in the media and from constituents that the joint declaration was a settlement, which would or would not be signed and achieve the desired objective. It is a means rather than an end.

I was glad to hear my right hon. and learned Friend quote again the words of Cardinal Daly :

"The Declaration excludes no-one and predetermines no single political or constitutional future. Nothing is excluded except the use of violence for political ends."

At this stage in the proceedings one must be wary of becoming too bogged down in conditional debates about what may or may not be on the agenda in the event that Sinn Fein-IRA declare an end to violence and serious talks start.

In his speech last night to the Trinity College Dublin dining club, my right hon. and learned Friend drew attention to the fact that the joint declaration was a balanced document with reassurances to the two traditions within Northern Ireland. I noted with interest the question of the hon. Member for Newry--I am sorry ; I cannot remember the constituency--

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh) : There are certainly doubts about it at present. It used to be known as Newry and Armagh, but who knows what the future holds?

Mr. Hunter : I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. His question yesterday afternoon demonstrated an awareness that the Government's presentation had been insensitive to nationalist feelings. I deeply regret the fact that he has formed that opinion because I am sure that it was not the Government's intention or that of any hon. Member who has spoken publicly on the joint declaration.

Mr. Mallon : I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the subject as I welcome an opportunity to compliment the Secretary of State on his remarks last night on the matter that I raised yesterday. I said that in every public utterance by the Prime Minister on the subject there has not been one iota of recognition that within Northern Ireland and the nationalist community there are people who do not support violence and whose sensitivities and views have to be

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taken into account. I ask all hon. Members and the Government to examine every statement made by the Prime Minister and refute what I have said.

Mr. Hunter : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that observation, which I am sure will be borne in mind.

The joint declaration certainly contains assurances to the nationalist tradition within Northern Ireland. I believe that it also contains the assurances that Unionists can look to and expect. I have never concealed the fact that I regard myself as a staunch Unionist and I am satisfied that the document is sufficiently balanced to protect what, as a Unionist, albeit an English one, I regard as very precious indeed : the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. The document is balanced and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State can be congratulated for reminding us forcefully of its balanced nature.

Last night, my right hon. and learned Friend also spoke of the "golden threads" in the joint declaration : agreement and self determination. With those words he can be seen to echo the theme of the speech by the Prime Minister of the Republic on 10 January--when Mr. Reynolds said that there was no room for "coercion" in any new settlements that may emerge.

As for reactions to the joint declaration in the past five weeks, I do not believe that there are any real grounds for optimism, in the light of the available evidence, that Sinn Fein-IRA will renounce violence. That is deeply to be regretted. My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham summarised that matter, so I need not go into it in depth, but the search for clarification is a will-o'-the-wisp--a game of diplomacy, which is being pursued to blur the joint declaration and to initiate meaningful negotiations before the rejection of violence.

Perhaps insufficient attention has been paid to the six principles that Mr. Adams pronounced in an interview with The Sunday Tribune at the beginning of January. That interview with the editor, Mr. Vincent Browne, could not encourage one to believe that a positive response from Sinn Fein-IRA was likely. I must highlight the sentence in the article in which Mr. Adams says :

"The six counties cannot have a right to self determination, that is a matter for the Irish people as a whole".

It is regrettable that that remains his position.

The violence has continued and I therefore do not believe that one can look ahead with great optimism

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