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House of Commons

Thursday 17 February 1994

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- -- in the Chair ]


Bournemouth-Swanage Motor Road and Ferry Bill

(-- By Order )

Sheffield Assay Office Bill

(-- By Order )

Federation of Street Traders Union (London Local Authorities Act

1990) (Amendment) Bill-- ( By Order )

University of London Bill

(-- By Order )

Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 24 February.

Oral Answers to Questions


Cross-border Co-operation --

1. Mr. Robathan : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what progress he has made in discussions with the Government of the Republic of Ireland on cross-border security co-operation ; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Sir John Wheeler) : The British and Irish Governments reiterated at the intergovernmental conference on 28 January that they place the highest priority on developing further the effective co-operation which already exists between the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Garda Siochana.

Mr. Robathan : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and encouraged by what he has said. He will know that, last night, another British soldier was severely injured in Belfast. Will he confirm to the House that the bulk of explosives and weapons that are used by the IRA and many of the terrorists come through the Irish Republic ? What progress has been made with the Irish Republic to ensure that some of those weapons and explosives are prevented from coming through and being used by the IRA ?

Sir John Wheeler : I share my hon. Friend's concern about the injuries sustained by a young soldier late last night. It was a wicked, evil attack on a young man carrying out his duty in the name of democracy and freedom. I am glad to tell my hon. Friend that co-operation between the Garda and the RUC is excellent. There have been a number of important finds of weapons and explosives by the Irish authorities. For example, this week alone near Mullingar in County Westmeath, the Garda and the Irish army

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recovered a heavy machine gun, two spare barrels, a rifle, a pistol and assorted ammunition, including 1,700 rounds of heavy-calibre ammunition. That and other recent finds demonstrate clearly the Irish Government's commitment to fighting terrorism. I assure the House that co-operative work between the RUC and the Garda has never been better.

Mr. Maginnis : I can understand the Minister's diplomacy and his desire to be courteous to the Garda Siochana--no one disagrees with that-- but what steps does his Department take to monitor the activity and the degree of co-operation between the two police services ? For example, we all know that South Armagh is at present a hotbed of IRA activity. Can he give me any idea of how many people have been charged during the past 12 months in the Monaghan-North Louth area ? From his monitoring, can he give me any idea of the extent to which there is cross-frontier co-operation on intelligence ?

Sir John Wheeler : I assure the hon. Gentleman that the co-operation between the RUC and its immediate counterparts in the border police stations of the Republic is extremely good. I can also tell him that the work that is done by my Department and through the intergovernmental conference ensures that co-operation is pursued to the utmost degree. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman precise statistics about the areas that he mentioned, but I shall see that he has them as soon as possible.

Mr. Brazier : Does my right hon. Friend agree that considerable concessions were made to Dublin in the Anglo-Irish Agreement and that in the historic declaration just before Christmas we received considerable assurances from the Dublin Government that they would support the necessary security measures, which would continue to be necessary if the IRA rejected the declaration, as now appears more and more likely ? Does he further agree that Britain has every right to expect not only declarations of support from the Irish Government and commitments from the Garda, but that resources will be committed to enable effective support for our security forces along the border and further into Eire ?

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Speaker : Order. May I make it clear to the House that I do not want statements from either Back Benchers or Ministers. It is now Question Time and I expect to have brief exchanges during these important Northern Ireland questions.

Sir John Wheeler : The co-operation exists. It is improving and finds by the Irish police authorities continue. There were finds in county Louth on 16 January and county Monaghan on 21 and 24 January, when mortars, weapons and equipment were recovered. That will continue.

Mr. Mallon : In the recent security discussions with members of the Irish Government, was reference made to the fact that, in recent months, murderous attacks have been made by loyalist paramilitary groups on 18 members of our party, all of whom were elected representatives ? Does he agree that it is the duty of all of us to give every help and protection to those people who have been working tirelessly for peace through the political process ? Does he further agree that some of the insidious and disgraceful remarks made by hon. Members, such as those made by the

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right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) yesterday about Irish people working on the channel tunnel, are, in effect, an incitement to such murderous attacks ? Will he, with me, condemn that ?

Sir John Wheeler : I agree with the hon. Gentleman on the first part of his question. The threats and attacks against those who have been elected through the democratic system in Northern Ireland are taken seriously. I am currently studying with great concern a number of cases involving SDLP councillors. The remarks of other right hon. or hon. Members are a matter for them, not for me.

Peace Initiative --

2. Mr. Riddick : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the Government's peace initiative.

5. Mrs. Gorman : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what progress has been made by his latest talks with Dublin on the future of Northern Ireland.

9. Mr. Hain : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will report the latest progress towards a peace settlement.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Sir Patrick Mayhew) : We have been working closely with the Irish Government to see that everyone fully understands the joint declaration. The declaration, by which we both stand, demonstrates that there is no obstacle in the path of anyone who wants to argue a political case, provided only that he rejects the use, or the threat of, violence in its support. It rests squarely on the principles of agreement, consent and democracy, and it provides a framework and a process for peaceful democratic progress. The two Governments also are maintaining, with the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland, their commitment to the urgent search for an overall political accommodation through the three-stranded talks process.

Mr. Riddick : Does my right hon. and learned Friend share my distaste at the way in which Gerry Adams was feted on his recent trip to America, and on the "Walden" programme last Sunday ? I urge my right hon. and learned Friend to keep the broadcasting ban in place, not least because Sinn Fein dislikes it so much. Is not it outrageous for Gerry Adams to claim that the key to peace in Northern Ireland lies with the British Government, when the IRA and Sinn Fein have been responsible for the mayhem, misery and murder in Northern Ireland over the past 25 years ?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : The last part of what my hon. Friend said is right. Last year, 86 people were killed by terrorists in Northern Ireland, while no single death was caused by any member of the security forces, which underlines exactly what my hon. Friend said. I regretted the treatment that Mr. Adams predictably received in the United States. I believe that now, people in the United States, as here, are waiting to see whether the promise to give up justifying violence will be delivered. The broadcasting ban is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Heritage Secretary, who made a statement on 4 February in which he said that it will remain in place, but will be kept under review in the light of changing circumstances.

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Mrs. Gorman : Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that, when the talks in Northern Ireland began, the Irish Prime Minister, Mr. Reynolds, said that the window of opportunity then could bring peace before Christmas ? As that does not seem to have happened, should not we reiterate the fact that Northern Ireland and its people are as much a part of the United Kingdom as the people of Essex or any other part of the United Kingdom and they are not up for grabs or negotiation ?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : I saw a report that Mr. Reynolds had expressed the hope which my hon. Friend mentioned. Unfortunately, that hope has not been fulfilled, although it should have been. There is no excuse for continuing violence and there never has been. As the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) recently said, the declaration has destroyed every declared reason for the continuance of violence that has ever been put forward by the IRA and those who represent it.

As for the conclusion of my hon. Friend's question--that people living in Northern Ireland are part of the United Kingdom--of course that is so and the joint declaration reiterates that constitutional guarantee.

Mr. Hain : May I urge the Secretary of State to leave no stone unturned in an effort to get the republican movement involved in the talks ? While we all accept the rejection of violence as a precondition for everybody's participation, is not it absolutely essential that the Government do not stand on ceremony over issues such as clarification when it is vital for peace to get Sinn Fein to the discussion table ? I remind the Secretary of State that Ministers, through the United Nations, are currently talking to the Bosnian Serbs, who are responsible for one of the most evil acts of genocide in history. Besides that, the IRA's atrocities, evil though they are, pale into insignificance. It is vital that we do not nitpick at this stage but get Sinn Fein to the discussion table to make progress with the declaration, which I welcomed at the time.

Sir Patrick Mayhew : I shall not join the hon. Gentleman in comparing one act of political violence with another. All political violence is atrocious and totally unacceptable. It is important to note the distinction between Bosnia and our own country. If one negotiates with people who bring bombs and guns to support their arguments in a political democracy, apart from anything else one fatally undermines those who may share their broad overall objective but subject that to the discipline of constitutional politics. We have never done that and we never shall. There is now no justification whatever for Sinn Fein to continue to exclude itself from the forum in which the constitutional position of Northern Ireland is open for debate.

Rev. Ian Paisley : Does the Secretary of State remember that, at the previous talks, neither the Union nor the Government of Ireland Act 1920 was on the table ? In view of his widely reported statement at the weekend that one of the outcomes of talks based on the declaration could be a united Ireland, does that now mean that the Union and the 1920 Act are on the table and will be discussed at those talks ?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : As I said at the very first meeting of the talks process--at which the hon. Gentleman was present--it has always been perfectly clear that, at the end of that process, the British Government would rise from

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the table as much committed to the Union as they were when they sat down. That is because there is no prospect in the immediate future or the medium term of the greater number of people in Northern Ireland wishing to see the Union finished. Equally, however, it has always been understood--the declaration also makes this clear--that democracy and nothing else will determine the future of Northern Ireland. That has always been the British Government's position and I find it impossible to understand those who take offence at it.

Mr A. Cecil Walker : Will the Secretary of State admit that the peace initiative is going nowhere ? Will he now take steps to set up a Northern Ireland Assembly to cater for all the needs of all the people of Northern Ireland ?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : The re-creation of a Northern Ireland Assembly is one of the ways in which devolution and the restoration of democratic responsibility can come to the people of Northern Ireland. Article 4 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement shows that policy is supported by both Governments. The talks process is the correct forum in which ways of achieving that can be explored. As to the first part of the question, I do not agree that what the hon. Gentleman calls the peace process--I think he means the declaration--is going nowhere. It is a statement of the fundamental principle that democracy will decide the future of Northern Ireland, and it will stand.

Mr. Canavan : Does the Secretary of State agree that the prospects for peace would be better if there were more public confidence in the security forces ? Therefore, in view of the Amnesty International report referring to evidence of collusion between British security forces and loyalist paramilitary organisations, including the supply of intelligence, arms and even personnel for loyalist death squads, will he consider setting up an independent inquiry ?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : I take all Amnesty reports seriously, and we shall therefore consider that one carefully. It produced no fresh evidence in addition to that which has been examined already in support of the assertions that gained such publicity. Of course it is right that the security forces should command the confidence of the public. I see the Chief Constable and the General Officer Commanding frequently. I notice that in the past year the number of complaints against the police force in particular has fallen substantially and that is important. I make one last point about the Amnesty report : it was disappointing that, rather than calling upon the paramilitaries to desist their attacks upon the security forces, it called only for them to desist their attacks on what it called innocent civilians, and that was a pity.

Lady Olga Maitland : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it would be helpful if President Clinton repeated his support for the peace initiative when the Prime Minister goes to Washington, thus denying Sinn Fein the support it expects in America ?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : President Clinton probably needs no encouragement for that, as he has been outspoken and warm in his support of the declaration. With that goes his recognition that there is no conceivable arguable ground for the continuance of violence for political purposes, unless those who use violence for those purposes acknowledge that they cannot get what they want by democratic means and therefore use violence.

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Mr. McNamara : Is the Secretary of State aware that the Opposition welcome the meeting that is to take place on Saturday between the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach and trust that they will use that occasion to confirm their intention of seeing through the principles in the Downing street declaration ? Does he accept that it is of vital importance that both Governments should be seen to be acting in concert, that nothing should be seen to be driven between them and that no unilateral action should be taken by either of those parties, given the three strands of the relationship ?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : It is important that the two Governments should be seen to be standing together in support of the principles set out in the joint declaration. That is exactly where we stand. It is also important that the talks process should continue and that there should be no hiatus. Nobody is waiting upon a Sinn Fein decision, in the sense that some policy has been put in abeyance. As long ago as last April, I said on behalf of the Government that I would seek to put forward ideas that would give direction and focus to the talks process. That initiative has been welcomed by the main constitutional parties participating. Unfortunately, the Democratic Unionist party is not participating. It is open to anybody to use such an initiative ; I believe that I am perfectly justified in doing so and that it will have beneficial effects.

Mr. Garnier : What steps is my right hon. and learned Friend taking to acquaint the people of the United States, rather than the President and the Government, with the true nature, history and habits of the Irish Republican Army ? What steps is he taking to ensure the better understanding of the Government's most laudable peace initiative and declaration in that country ?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : The people of Ireland, north and south, are only too familiar with the history and character of the Irish Republican Army and do not need instruction from me. As to the second part of the question, I have taken considerable pains to see that the people of Northern Ireland understand the declaration. I have published 200,000 copies and made them available everywhere. In a number of speeches and articles I have used the text of the declaration, showing what it is, what it achieves and what it does not do and that has been generally thought to be rather helpful.

Inter-party Talks --

3. Mrs. Roche : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what recent discussions he has had with representatives of the political parties in Northern Ireland and the Government of the Republic of Ireland concerning the resumption of the inter-party talks process.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Michael Ancram) : My right hon. and learned Friend is meeting the leaders of the three Northern Ireland parties who have recently been involved in exploratory talks with me to discuss ideas with them for giving direction to further bilateral discussions across all three strands. He has invited the Democratic Unionist party to participate in those proceedings also. At the last intergovernmental conference on 28 January, both Governments confirmed their commitment to the three-stranded talks process and underlined the urgency and importance of the search for political agreement.

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Mrs. Roche : In a recent article in The Irish Times , the Secretary of State quite rightly said that it was not a question of promoting one tradition at the expense of the other. Given that welcome statement, will the Minister guarantee that, in any such talks, equal emphasis will be placed on north-south institutions, ensuring that they work jointly and are strong and effective, as well as ensuring that links are maintained with Great Britain ?

Mr. Ancram : The talks have always been across the three relationships, which is why they are known as the three-stranded talks. In a sense, each of those strands is related to the other. None of them can stand in isolation : one relates to north-south relationships, the second to internal relationships and institutions in Northern Ireland and the third to the relations between the two Governments of the Republic of Ireland and of the United Kingdom. All those strands will be considered in any talks process.

Rev. William McCrea : Does the Minister believe that the Secretary of State was assisting the process of peace by sending the details of his proposals to a foreign country--the Irish Republic--before informing the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland, especially those who are participating in his three-stranded talks ?

Mr. Ancram : The ideas that are at present being given to the leaders of the three constitutional parties that are prepared to take part in the process stem from our assessment of the exploratory talks and what had gone before in relation to where the parties stand on the three strands. As they are partners in the process, it would have been strange if we had not made known those ideas to the Government of the Republic of Ireland. That was why it was done.

Dr. Hendron : Does the Minister agree that, while the violence continues on both sides--the Provisional IRA tried to kill a young soldier earlier today, loyalist paramilitaries are firing rockets and bullets and have tried to kill a number of people in my constituency and elsewhere--it is immoral for the political parties not to come together ? Will the Secretary of State encourage the parties to come together for inter-party talks with the two Governments, based on the three-stranded approach ?

Mr. Ancram : I unreservedly condemn the acts of violence to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I agree that nothing can be allowed to stand in the way of seeking a political settlement within the three relationships that I have described. That is something which we are trying to take forward, and in an intensified way. Our hope is that, as that process continues, those who are on the outside, either because they wish to be or because they will not renounce violence as we have asked them to, will change their minds and become part of that process as well, because a political settlement that will bring peace and stability to Northern Ireland must have widespread acceptance. That is what we would obviously seek.

Rev. Martin Smyth : Does the Minister accept that there is an absolute need to be clear on issues ? We have already had a misunderstanding today when the Secretary of State, in answering a question about the United States, referred to Northern Ireland. Therefore I ask, while we are going on the three-stranded approach, whether they will be on the same pattern as previously--nothing is agreed until

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all is agreed ? What would happen to the business in the House if that were carried through in the light of the present difficulties in getting the usual channels to work together ?

Mr. Ancram : The talks are continuing under the agenda set on 26 March 1991 by my right hon. and learned Friend's predecessor. The purpose was to embrace the three strands in the discussions. At the time, round- table discussions were envisaged ; we have made it clear that at present we do not think it right or wise to return to that arrangement because the basis for round-table agreement does not yet exist, but we wish to embark on such discussions eventually--under the agenda to which I have referred.

The talks are not an end in themselves, but a means of achieving a lasting settlement. That must be their purpose, and it is certainly the British Government's intention.

Sir Thomas Arnold : Does my hon. Friend draw a distinction between consulting the Government of the Republic, and viewing that Government as a party to the inter-party talks process ?

Mr. Ancram : The Government of the Republic are a party to the three -stranded talks, and always have been. The reason for acquainting them with the ideas was the fact that they stemmed from exploratory discussions that I have been having with the parties. We wanted to take those ideas further, and showing them to the Government of the Republic was a matter of courtesy, given the relationships that exist.

Mr. Alton : May I put the question of courtesy aside, and revert to the question asked by the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) ? Surely the Minister accepts that political parties represented in the House of Commons should have received the details at the same time as our partners in Dublin. Does he not recognise that the systematic alienation of parts of the loyalist community is now a problem as serious as the alienation of republicans ? What is he doing to try to engage loyalist paramilitaries in the important peace initiatives ?

Mr. Ancram : The position regarding loyalist paramilitaries is the same as that regarding Sinn Fein and the IRA : if they renounce violence, they can become part of the democratic process. As for trying to bring in other parties, I have said repeatedly--as has my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State--that we hope that the party of the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster will return to the talks process. The door remains open, and we will welcome them if they wish to enter ; but as long as they stay away from the process, it is not surprising that we will not show them our ideas.

European Regional Funding --

4. Mr. Foulkes : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what discussions he has had with the Commission of the European Union concerning financial support for projects in Northern Ireland from the European regional development fund and other funds.

Sir John Wheeler : My right hon. and learned Friend and ministerial colleagues are in contact with the Commission as and when the interests of Northern Ireland require it.

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Mr. Foulkes : Is the Minister aware that I have here a list of environmental, infrastructure and industrial projects for which European money is urgently needed to create jobs in Northern Ireland ? Why is he wasting £61 million on the interconnector with Scotland, which threatens jobs in Northern Ireland ? Will he now abandon that plan, and save us the expense and bother of the public inquiry in Scotland which was announced yesterday ?

Sir John Wheeler : I cannot respond to that question ; it is a matter for other Ministers. I can tell the House, however, that our structural funds plan for 1994-99--in which I know the hon. Gentleman takes a sincere interest--has been placed before the Commission. We have not yet received a formal response, but we hope to do so soon.

Sir James Kilfedder : Why does the Northern Ireland Office seem to discriminate against the good people of North Down by failing to press the Commission to direct a greater share of European funds and investment to my area, to create more employment ? Is the Minister aware that there is considerable unemployment in North Down, particularly among school leavers and graduates ? The people of North Down feel that they are being penalised because they live in religious and political harmony.

Sir John Wheeler : The interests of North Down are always in the minds of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and my other ministerial colleagues. I very much hope that some of Northern Ireland's 52 per cent. portion of the United Kingdom's allocation of structural funds will find its way to North Down by one means or another.

Mr. Beggs : Does the Minister accept that my colleagues and I are very disappointed and dissatisfied with the way in which United Kingdom representation to the Commission is being made on behalf of Northern Ireland ? We are concerned that we are not receiving adequate funds to develop the infrastructure around our ports, or those of south-west Scotland and the north-west of England. What does the Minister propose to do before there is economic devastation to Belfast, Warrenpoint and Larne harbours ? When will he robustly seek to ensure that we obtain proper funding and that funding that is being poured into Wales and the Irish Republic is not used to disadvantage our ports ?

Sir John Wheeler : Funding into Northern Ireland from the Exchequer and United Kingdom taxpayers will be about £18 billion in the next six years, in addition to the £1 billion that comes from the EC structural funds. As to the Northern Ireland ports, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that if any of those ports is eligible we shall seek to ensure that we obtain the maximum possible benefit for the Northern Ireland ports.

Mr. Hume : Does the Minister agree that it was a serious injustice and a serious error by the Government that Northern Ireland was excluded from the new cohesion fund ? Given that fund is committed to both transport and environment, does he agree that Northern Ireland has exactly the same problems in both those areas as has the Republic, as we are both part of the same offshore island ? What has he done about it, and will he do anything about it ? It is a very substantial fund, from which we have been excluded. Sir John Wheeler : I can tell the hon. Gentleman that Northern Ireland receives very substantial sums indeed and I and my colleagues are always looking to see whether we can acquire any additional form of funding from any other source to sustain the programmes that we wish to be developed in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Stott : One of the projects that has received European regional development fund funding and is of crucial importance to the island of Ireland is the upgrading of the Belfast to Dublin railway line. Is the Minister in a position to tell the House what progress has been made in the upgrading of that line, as well as the upgrading in the rolling stock ? The Minister may well be aware that Sir George Quigley, the chairman of Ulsterbank, has set up a study group to recommend how to put in place a Belfast-Dublin growth corridor, with all the possible economic spin-offs that will occur if that were put in place. The upgrading and modernisation of that rail link are integral and crucial to that concept.

Sir John Wheeler : It is important that the project to which the hon. Gentleman refers should be sustained and encouraged. It is my understanding that £70 million is available between the two Governments to further the work and I very much hope that it will continue.

Health and Social Services Boards --

6. Mr. Trimble : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement on the appointment of non-executive directors to HSS trust boards.

Mr. Ancram : Non-executive appointments to HSS trust boards are made by the Department of Health and Social Services with the approval of my right hon. and learned Friend. The Department seeks to achieve equality of representation in terms of gender and community background, but does not normally consult publicly on its proposals.

Mr. Trimble : Can Minister add a little more to clarify the criteria on which he operates? May I direct his attention to a trust in my constituency, Upper Bann, the recently appointed chairman of which is a Mr. David Cook--a rather strange appointment, in view of the fact that the regional health and social services council, which is supposed to be the watchdog organisation to keep an eye on the boards and the trusts, is chaired by Mr. Cook's wife. Is that not rather an incongruous appointment ? Or is that a result of the difficulty which the Minister is in because, as he probably knows, half-presentable members of the Alliance party are rather thin on the ground in that region ?

Mr. Ancram : Mr. Cook's appointment was subject to the approval of the Secretary of State, who was both aware of, and took into account, Mrs. Cook's position in reaching his decision. The role of the health and social services council is, basically, to represent the views of the population covered by an HSS board and its contacts are primarily with purchasers rather than providers of services. The skills and experience that Mr. Cook brings to the board will be invaluable in the early days of operational independence, when strong leadership will be vital. I may say to the hon. Gentleman, who I suspect has, behind the last part of his question, the veiled complaint that Unionists are not being appointed, that there is no policy relating to

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appointing representatives of political parties. Two active Ulster Unionist party councillors are non-executive directors of HSS trust boards.

Mr. William O'Brien : Is not it time that the Government realised that the way in which people are appointed to trust boards is regarded in Northern Ireland as disgraceful, unacceptable and undemocratic ? During the debate in the House on Monday, no one from my party, and not even the representatives of Northern Ireland, supported the appointments to trust boards. Is not it time that the Government reviewed the whole set-up and allowed some elected members on to the trust boards who will be accountable to the people whom they serve?

Mr. Ancram : I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. Those who are appointed bring various important qualities to the boards. They have to have some or all of the following attributes : an understanding of top management in large organisations ; a relevant specialist skill or knowledge ; experience of the voluntary sector ; live or work in the area to be served by the trust--at least two on each trust do so--and willing to make the necessary time commitment. Such attributes will serve the health service in Northern Ireland very well.

Cross-border Co-operation --

7. Mr. Soley : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what proposals he has to make on increasing cross-border co-operation.

Sir Patrick Mayhew : These are matters to which the Government will continue to attach high importance. The political talks process provides an opportunity designed to establish the best means of further developing co- operation to mutual benefit, north and south. I also look forward to promoting it at meetings of the Anglo-Irish intergovernmental conference.

Mr. Soley : Leaving aside political matters, does the Secretary of State accept that the existence of the border has been a major hindrance to the normal economic development of the north and south of Ireland ? Would not it be a good idea if, with the European Union, we invested much more in developing border links, especially in terms of transport, roads, energy and other infrastructure projects, in order to make the border as irrelevant in economic terms as is the border between, say, France and Belgium ?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : It was very surprising that so little north- south trade was taking place until a few years ago. Whether that was because of the existence of the border or because of what it represented and was caused by, I do not know, but I am very glad that trade is increasing significantly. There is much to be gained for the mutual advantage of north and south from the structures and institutions that will encourage that development of cross-border links.

Mr. Molyneaux : Does the Secretary of State welcome the paper which the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and I presented to the then Prime Minister on 28 August 1985 in which we said that, if we were members of a devolved administration, we would discuss with Irish

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Ministers matters of mutual interest and concern, provided always that United Kingdom sovereignty remained undiminished and that any illegal claims were removed ?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : Without having every passage of the 1985 document in my mind, I certainly welcome any step that is intended to develop co-operation in economic and other matters between the north and south parts of that island, between Northern Ireland and the Republic. I have always believed that it can be undertaken entirely effectively without in any way impinging on the sovereignty of Northern Ireland, which remains part of the United Kingdom in international as well as national law.

Mr. McNamara : Does the Secretary of State accept that, to be effective, any cross-border institutions involving trade, the economy or the infrastructure should have a strong executive role on the basis of ground rules laid down by both Governments ?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : What I do think is important is that any organisation--a board, a structure or whatever it is called--that has such an objective should have a very clear jurisdiction. It is very important that there should be a clear jurisdiction with very clearly defined lines of authority or vires coming from wherever is appropriate, whether from Westminster, Dublin or any subsequently established legislative body. I hope to see them established and I believe that, once they are in place, they will be seen to be playing an effective part. It is a matter for strand 2 discussions in the talks.

Political Parties (Violence) --

8. Mr. David Shaw : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland which political parties in Northern Ireland have now notified him that they have a policy of not supporting violence.

Mr. Ancram : The policies of the different parties in Northern Ireland are well known not only to the Government but to the community at large. What everyone in Northern Ireland wants to hear is that those who support violence will now turn away from it for good and accept that the only way to advance political argument in a democracy is through peaceful, constitutional means. The joint declaration offers a clear opportunity for all violence to be brought to an end.

Mr. Shaw : Can my hon. Friend confirm that the majority of the people of Northern Ireland want the peace process to continue and to move forward and, through their political parties, support non-violence ? Do not the majority of the people now feel that the time is rapidly approaching where parties such as Sinn Fein, which do not support the abolition of violence, should be excluded from the peace process ? Should not we be moving forward and getting an agreement on which the people of Northern Ireland can depend for peace ?

Mr. Ancram : First, I can certainly confirm that the constitutional parties reflect the desire of the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland to achieve a peaceful accommodation and settlement. Secondly, I must make it clear that Sinn Fein is not part of the process at the moment because it has not renounced violence on a permanent or even a temporary basis. The choice for Mr. Gerry Adams is clear. If Sinn Fein wants peace, it must renounce

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violence and renounce it permanently ; that is logical. If it has sufficient confidence in its own beliefs, it must come into the democratic process and, like any other democratic party, seek to sell its ideas through the democratic process rather than at the end of a gun.


Engagements --

Q1. Mr. Welsh : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 17 February.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : This morning, I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Mr. Welsh : Does the Prime Minister accept that the withdrawal of guns from Sarajevo is not the end of the story if they are freed for use elsewhere in Bosnia ? Does he accept reports from one of my constituents that Bihac has been under constant shellfire since the day after the Sarajevo massacre, that 18 people died in a direct hit on a hospital last Monday and that there is hand-to-hand fighting ? In wishing him success in Sarajevo, can I ask him what follows from that ?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman is entirely right that, although Sarajevo is central to our concerns at the moment, there are many other areas of grave difficulty besides Sarajevo. The only satisfactory conclusion that we will get is by pursuing the political negotiations to achieve a satisfactory, agreed political settlement. Those political negotiations will proceed. The United States is clearly going to take a higher profile than previously in the peace negotiations and that will be extremely welcome.

Q2. Sir Ralph Howell : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 17 February.

The Prime Minister : I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Sir Ralph Howell : In view of the Government's excellent record of and commitment to safeguarding the value of pensions, is it not remarkable that last night the Opposition voted against uprating ? Is this not a case of fine words and weasel actions ?

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