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Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton) : I have been following the hon. Gentleman's contrast between the problem in rural areas and the problem in urban areas. I am sure that he will agree that the absolute levels of crime are higher in urban areas. I imagine that he is not suggesting a shift of policing from the urban to the rural areas. He has just stated his spending demands. His party has made spending demands for education, social security, health and many other areas. Has he squared all that with the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) ?

Mr. Tyler : I have indeed. I have looked at the figures for Northumbria. The investment of vast sums of money in new prisons and other detention centres is on a scale far greater than the cost of preventing crime. The cost of crime is one of the scandals of today.

Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, East) : Will the hon. Gentleman treat the House to the conclusions that he has drawn from his consideration of policing in Northumbria ?

Mr. Tyler : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, although it has put me off the tack. I was demonstrating that the cost of prevention is smaller than the cost of building all the prisons and other institutions that the Home Secretary seeks to impose on Britain.

The conclusion in Northumbria--I have the figures here--is that the rural areas show a dramatic increase in all types of crime. While I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) that historically the urban areas have high levels of crime in real terms, we are fast catching up, as he will know from his own

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constituency. That is also true of the rural areas of Northumbria. There is no longer any great divide between urban and rural areas.

Mr. Nicholas Brown : Will the hon. Gentleman give way ?

Mr. Tyler : No, I will not give way again. Some hon. Members will have seen recently that the problem of drugs and drug-related crime has come to the rural areas, where 10 years ago drugs simply were not a factor. I accept that other hon. Members may not have had that experience, but those of us who have followed the police authorities' work over the years have to accept that serious crime is no longer confined to the urban areas but has spread to all parts of the community.

The Government pulled a rather gimmicky answer to rural crime out of the hat at their party conference--the idea of bringing back parish constables on the 18th-century model--and I do not deny that there may be some virtues in that scheme. However, it would be a disaster if the idea were used as an excuse for keeping the regular forces below the required establishment and struggling to make ends meet. It would be even more of a disaster if it were used as a cut-price alibi for not investing properly in rural policing.

In many parts of the country--other hon. Members will have the same experience--we have an excellent tradition of voluntary support given to the regulars by the special constables. It would be most unfortunate if the new gimmick were used as an excuse to divert attention from the good special constabulary from which we have benefited in all parts of rural Britain and, indeed, in urban areas. With their proper training and their dedication under oath, they have given a great service to the community and should continue to do so. In some parts of rural Britain, policing simply would not be effective without special constables. Again, I can instance rural parts of Hampshire, where the use of conspicuous patrol cars has substantially reduced the rate of burglaries. What is so special about that is that it relies on the special constables who are an integral part of the scheme.

I know that some theorists believe that all the problems will be solved by simply locking up or threatening to lock up more people, but the practical experience of people involved in policing throughout the country is that the theorists are sorely mistaken. There is no such simple magic-wand answer. People are afraid of crime and of the fear of crime. The answer to that is more bobbies on the beat deterring criminals as well as renewing confidence in the community. That is not a simple solution either, as the Audit Commission has made clear, and it is not the whole answer. Yet trying to operate well below the establishment that the chief constable knows to be necessary clearly reduces the effectiveness of every department of every police force.

Between 1982 and 1992 the crime rate rose twice as fast in the most rural forces as in the city areas. That is a simple fact which I draw to the attention of Conservative Members, especially the hon. Member for Taunton. I know that he shares my concern. Meanwhile, the officer-public ratio is 30 per cent. worse in rural areas despite the difference in convenience in terms of policing logistics.

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There is also a problem on the fringe of some city areas. The constabulary often has to pull out of rural areas for specific events or big problems in the town centre. The Bitten division of the Hampshire constabulary is controlled from central Southampton, so the outlying rural areas around Hedge End and West End have seen officers sucked into central Southampton to deal with specific problems. At those times, the chief constable has little room for manoeuvre if incidents occur in the more rural areas. If the shortfalls are not corrected, the trend towards less crime prevention, a lower clear-up rate and ineffective crime deterrence will accelerate.

Crime and fear of crime in the countryside are a serious problem not only for the elderly, to whom the hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Porter) referred, but for all of us. It deserves realistic resources, not just rhetoric. It may have been a shock to some Conservative Members to read the public opinion poll this week which showed that the Conservative party was no longer believed to have effective policies on crime. That is a direct result of some of the problems that have occurred in the more rural areas and the failure of the Home Office to provide the resources that we need.

On one side, we have the forces of dogma, myth and ideology drawn from the ranks of the theorists. On the other side are the forces of professionalism and practicality drawn from the ranks of the police, some of the Home Office advisers and those who understand what is happening in the rural areas. It is no surprise to find that the more realistic former Home Secretaries such as Lord Whitelaw are in our camp.

So where does that leave the present incumbent ? Anyone who has ever admired that extraordinary architectural edifice the Home Office will know that it is a badly designed ivory tower. I hope that, during the Easter recess, the Home Secretary will come down from his tower. I hope that he will have time, if there is an Easter recess after this debate, to hear for himself from people in the countryside who are trying to cope with the rising tide of crime.

4.58 pm

Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton) : I want to take the opportunity of this Easter Adjournment debate to thank my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary for his firm stand in Brussels on the allocation of votes in the matter of the enlargement of the European Union. Other have done so and I know that others will also do so in the debates that follow this one. I wish him well when he defends Britain's best interests again on Tuesday and holds firmly to his position, as he has stated he has every intention of doing.

This is a vital issue and the pressures to weaken--placed on him by the European Commission, France, Germany, other of our community partners and the Foreign Office--will be so great that he will need not only his good judgment but the knowledge that he has the support of most hon. Members, Labour as well as Conservative. He has the support not only of those of us who were sceptical about the Maastricht treaty and the assurances that it was not a step on the road to the federal super-state--which only the Euro- fanatics and the Liberal Democrats want--but of a considerable body of his supporters and admirers who voted for the Maastricht treaty believing that it would not lead to a supranational European federal state.

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Those people were reassured daily that the powers of the Westminster Parliament would not be further undermined by concessions on the veto or on qualified majority voting. Those Conservative Members who trooped loyally through the Lobby in support of the Maastricht treaty knew very well that the overwhelming majority of people who sent them to Westminster had no wish to see Parliament's powers further surrendered to an unelected bureaucracy in Brussels, or even to a European Parliament, over which we in Britain have no control and only very little influence.

I know that my right hon. Friends the Leader of the House and the Foreign Secretary agree that the

"principle is, and will remain, a simple one. Where we can work together as Europeans, we do so ; where we cannot work together, for lack of agreement or where there is no need to do so, we are free to go our own way."--[ Official Report , 30 March 1993 ; Vol. 222, c. 170.]

I know that my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Leader of the House will acknowledge that

"no United Kingdom Government of any political colour would agree to matters that we would regard as being of great consequence or which had a significant effect on our national interest being decided by qualified majority voting."--[ Official Report , 4 May 1993 ; Vol. 224, c. 144.]

I know that my right hon. Friend would give that commitment on behalf of the Government.

I know, too, that my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Leader of the House will agree that

"the Maastricht treaty marked the point at which, for the first time, we began to reverse the centralising trend, and moved decision-taking back towards the member state in matters where Community law need not, and should not apply."

I know, too, that that my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Leader of the House would want qualified majority voting on foreign policy issues to be permitted

"only if all member states agreed by unanimity in advance. That is a double lock".--[ Official Report , 19 December 1991 ; Vol. 201, c. 489.]

On such issues

"it simply would not be appropriate or suitable, and we would not agree to it. The circumstances in which qualified majority voting can be used are set out in the treaty. There is no suggestion that it should be applied".-- [ Official Report , 19 November 1993 ; Vol. 233, c. 119.]

It was not suggested that it should be applied to foreign policy issues. I know that my right hon. Friends will agree to those statements because they are the statements that they themselves and others of my right hon. and hon. Friends the Ministers have made. They are only some of the assurances given to the House by my right hon. Friends as we debated those vital matters in recent months. I respectfully remind my right hon. Friends in the Government of what they have said and of the assurances that they have repeatedly given to this House, because I do not believe for one moment that they will want to eat their words. They will not want to go back on them or to betray their intention to resist further moves to weaken Parliament's sovereignty.

When my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary goes into battle on Tuesday, he needs to know that, in honouring the Government's assurances-- that there will be no extension of majority voting to other matters or weakening of the extent to which we have already accepted majority voting-- he will have the support not only of the Conservative sceptics but the Conservatives who followed him nightly into the Maastricht Lobby. He may also have

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the support of much of the Labour party. He will certainly have the support of the overwhelming majority of people who sent us to this place.

5.4 pm

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting) : I want to raise the subject of coach safety and seat belts. I expect that all hon. Members can recall the accidents last year involving coaches and the sad loss of life that followed. At that time, statements were made by Ministers and the Department of Transport. They commented on coach safety rules in this country and in Europe. I am sure that many hon. Members will remember the calls made at the time for much tighter controls on safety regulations and, in particular, for the compulsory fitting and wearing of seat belts.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House tabled early-day motions on the subject--it in no way became a political issue. The early-day motions--one of which was signed by more than 60 Members, including myself--referred to the injuries that occur each year in the United Kingdom. Some 4,000 passengers in coaches suffer injuries following collisions. Dangers face young children when they use minibuses or school transport.

Passengers were seriously injured in those road and coach accidents, although, thankfully, they were not killed. An interesting report published by the Consumers Association showed that 12 per cent. of coach deaths could have been avoided if the people involved in those tragedies had been wearing seat belts. I and other hon. Members, including yourself, Madam Deputy Speaker, can doubtless recall our long discussions in years gone by on the compulsory wearing of seat belts in motor cars. There was great opposition to that, but I do not think that anyone would now dispute that the fact that car drivers and passengers are required to wear seat belts has saved a great many lives.

I raise the subject because we are approaching the spring and summer, when hundreds, possibly thousands, of coaches will come on to our roads, many from European countries. They will carry many thousands of passengers each week. A few months ago, following the tragic coach accidents to which I referred, we heard from the Department of Transport, but, since then, we have heard very little about coach safety or about seat belts. I am not saying that nothing is being done, but I should like to know, as would other hon. Members, exactly what is being done.

A constituent of mine was very badly injured in a coach accident and, two years later, is still critically ill. His family have left me in no doubt that he firmly believes that, if he had been wearing a seat belt in the coach, his injuries could have been prevented. I have done some research, following my constituent's sad experiences. Two special types of seat belt could be used. First, there is a seat belt that is similar to the type that are used in aircraft, with which we are all familiar. Secondly, there is a seat belt that is similar to the type that are used in motor cars. However, I am told that each type of belt presents its own problems. The type of belt that we are used to wearing when we travel in aircraft--one receives instructions to ensure that seat belts are fastened--would not be suitable in a coach because, sadly, most of the injuries that passengers suffer in coach accidents are to the spine or the head. That often results in brain damage.

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The problem with the other type of belt, similar to the type that are used in motor cars, is the fitting of such a belt to an anchor point in the coach, because the present flooring of modern coaches is not strong enough for that anchor point to be installed. I, other Members and the general public would like to know the Government's thinking on that issue, because it leads to another problem. It would add substantially to the weight of coaches to fit the flooring to which that type of belt could be anchored.

In the past few days, I have asked a number of questions about bridge safety. I am told that there are weight restrictions on about 60 bridges in the United Kingdom. I will not go into detail, but coaches in Europe are heavier than coaches generally in the United Kingdom and, as a result of the age and structure of many bridges in this country, certain coaches, because of their weight, are not allowed to use those bridges. Therefore, the anchor point for what is generally suggested by experts--the car-type seat belt--would place additional weight on the coach, which in turn would not allow them to use certain bridges in many parts of the country.

I realise that hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to take part in this short debate so I will only make two more points. The first is about cost. We are aware that substantial costs will be involved. It would be interesting to hear from the Department of Transport, which is responsible for those proposals for improving coach safety and seat belt regulations, who will help to pay the costs. Will it be the Government ? Will it be local authorities ? I refer to local authorities especially with regard to school transport, because I understand that there are special problems with school transport. For example, would each youngster travelling in a minibus or school coach be required to wear a seat belt ? That, I am told, could result in considerable expenditure. Having said that, I do not think that anyone disputes the urgent necessity for that issue to be considered in detail.

I conclude, largely echoing my opening comments, that last year there were tragic accidents, both for adults and, sadly, for a group of young people, in minibuses. I am sure that we all want progress in that area, but we have had no statement for a considerable time. Indeed, we have had no debate in the House on that issue. I do not expect the Leader of the House to be able to reply to my comments today, but I feel that I have a right to make them.

I hope that, in the near future, a Minister from the Department of Transport will make a detailed statement on coach safety and seat belt regulations. Members of the House, many organisations who are involved with consumer affairs or car manufacture and, I am sure, the general public would like to hear a statement from the Government about their thinking on those issues.

5.14 pm

Mr. David Amess (Basildon) : Before the House adjourns for the Easter recess, I wish to make four brief points.

The first point concerns hospital radio. I have the honour to be the unpaid parliamentary spokesman for hospital radio broadcasting. Hospital radio has been trying to obtain its own frequency for a long time. As hon. Members know, it is the largest voluntary organisation in the country without paid workers.

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Recently, the Radio Authority issued a consultative document entitled "The future use of 105-108 MHz." Comments on that document have to reach the Radio Authority by 22 April. All hon. Members have been written to on that subject and I am delighted to say that there has been a large response. It is a crucial opportunity for hospital radio to secure its own frequency. I hope that hon. Members will encourage Major-General Baldwin, chief executive of the Radio Authority, to choose option C. That offers a new network lattice of services. It is vital to hospital radio for radio stations to be allowed up to 10 km on FM.

The second point that I wish to raise is the Fenchurch Street line. It must now be about two years since I and other Essex colleagues made a disastrous journey on the Fenchurch Street line with the present chairman of British Rail. His manner and his response to hon. Members on that occasion was little short of a disgrace. Since that time, I and others have felt strongly that the Fenchurch Street line should be privatised. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be able to tell me when the announcement will be made about the privatisation of the Fenchurch Street line.

It is a great discourtesy to all hon. Members affected by the line--I have three railway stations in my constituency : Pitsea, Basildon and Laindon-- that we were given no notice that Fenchurch Street station would be closed for seven weeks in the summer for engineering work. It seems to be a coincidence that the closure would take place in July, when the House will be in recess. No hon. Members were written to ; no meeting was sought.

I happen to have to hand a customer newsletter, in which I am told :

"We know this work will cause severe disruption for many of our customers, and we have looked at other options."

Severe disruption ? The railway station will be closed for seven weeks. Some of my constituents have been told, "Take your holidays." I do not know how employers will judge their employees if they go on holiday for seven weeks.

All hon. Members who favour the privatisation of the Fenchurch Street line well understand that heavy engineering work has to be conducted, but we do not understand the cavalier attitude of British Rail and its great discourtesy in not consulting Members of Parliament about the difficulties that will confront their constituents in those seven weeks. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will convey my anger, and that of other Essex Members of Parliament, to the chairman of British Rail.

My third point concerns Essex county council. I and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House have the tragedy of sharing the consequences of the incompetence of the rotten, socialist Essex county council. The county council is a love affair between the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats. They are disastrously engaging in power sharing. There is no area in which we have felt their wrath as much as in education.

I had the privilege of participating in an Adjournment debate with my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, South and Maldon (Mr. Whittingdale), who touched on the matter of Hockerill comprehensive boarding school. Forty children from my constituency attend that school. The school wishes to become grant-maintained, but wicked Essex county council proposes to phase out the existing

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boarding subsidy without giving transitional support, for which there is a precedent, if the grant- maintained application is successful.

Wonderful Barstable school in my constituency is a grant-maintained school. There are a number of outstanding insurance claims which were incurred when the school was under Essex county council. The council is now wickedly passing the buck to the grant-maintained school. Chowdhary school in my constituency is a wonderful school, which is attended by 107 pupils. It offers a unique type of education which many parents in my constituency very much believe suits their children. Again, Essex county council--Labour and the Liberal Democrats together--is considering closing this school. Yet the chairman of the governors, who stood as a Liberal Democrat candidate against one of my Conservative county councillors--I am pleased to say that he was defeated--is campaigning to save the school, although it is Essex county council, with Labour and the Liberal Democrats working together, which wants to close the school. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will reflect on that. Wonderful Lee Chapel South primary school in my constituency has now suffered the removal of the lollipop lady. Parents are rightly outraged at this, which is a matter for Essex county council and the police. This Monday, I acted as the lollipop man. If I have time in future, I shall join other parents protesting outside the school and asking that the lollipop person be restored.

My fourth point concerns sex selection. Last February, I introduced a ten- minute Bill which would have prohibited sex selection. A number of feminist Members of Parliament opposed the Bill and it was defeated by 18 votes. If we are to believe newspaper comments, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) has said--I do not know whether he was quoted accurately--that he is not in favour of sex selection.

This morning, I took part in a television programme, which was the first opportunity for me to debate the matter with the owner of the grubby little sex selection clinic in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst). The owner of the clinic had the gall to say that the people who use his services sign a piece of paper agreeing that, if the wrong implantation is made, they will not be allowed an abortion. Emotively, a number of people who were receiving the treatment were present with him in the television studio.

What the clinic owner does not tell the people who are receiving the treatment is that it costs £650 on the first occasion, another £450 on the second occasion and more on subsequent occasions. This is the worst kind of commercialism. I believe that the overwhelming majority of people are against the principle of purchasing the sex of one's child. Above all, the nonsense of the practice is that the clinic itself claims only a 50 per cent. success rate. Is the man mad ? There is a 50 per cent. chance of having a boy or girl, regardless.

I hope that every child, regardless of sex, is loved. The overwhelming majority of people, when they experience the joy of a new life, are not bothered about the sex of the child as long as it is healthy. I very much hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will reflect carefully on my correspondence with Department of Health Ministers on the subject and on the response given to me after my ten-minute Bill.

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I was told by hon. Members that I should not have had the arrogance to introduce the Bill, but that I should have waited for the report from the committee considering the matter. I have waited. The committee reported that it certainly would not license the practice in its own clinics. When the managers of the British Medical Association said that they were in favour of the practice, their members came out against it. The Labour party spokesman on health, the hon. Member for Brightside, is against it. The BMA is against it and the committee is against it. What do my Government intend to do ?

5.25 pm

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone) : On 15 December 1993, after long deliberations, the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach of the Irish Republic, Mr. Reynolds, signed the Downing street declaration. They predicted that it was the basis on which the two Governments would be able to initiate a peace process. Mr. Reynolds went further when he declared that he would not sign the document unless he had confidence that it would achieve acceptance by the IRA and deliver a cessation of violence by Christmas.

The great suspicion among the Unionist community, based on years of experience, is that anything to which the Republic puts its hand in respect of Northern Ireland is frequently devious and intended to undermine. That is a sad and unfortunate reality, which is not always recognised on this side of the Irish sea. Yet for us to have decided summarily to reject the declaration would without doubt have been judged harshly in the House. It would have been claimed that we had thwarted the opportunity to provide the IRA with the means to move from violence to democracy.

Lest there be any misunderstanding, I make it clear that neither I nor the party that I represent has even the slightest obligation to let the IRA off the hook, but we recognise our responsibility to 90 per cent. or thereabouts of our community who have a real desire for peace. That community, of course, has for the past 25 years made it clear that it cannot be peace at any price. The Government must be no less resolute, assiduous and honourable on that point.

If the declaration had succeeded, that would have been fine. Ulster Unionists, unlike another Unionist party, do not require the community to be kept in fear and trepidation to provide it with a raison d'e tre. Scaremongering to build up European election credibility is hardly going to save Ulster. What was necessary was that Ulster Unionists should carefully monitor the process, ensuring that what had been agreed was not given a new interpretation to accommodate those who were able to bring violence into the equation. After 25 years, we knew the IRA well enough to believe that the declaration would self-destruct under the pressure that it would bring to bear.

There is a major aspect of the declaration to which Ulster Unionists take serious exception, which is the totally unjustified assumption that, some day, the people of Northern Ireland will inevitably wish to become part of a united Ireland. The assumption is fundamentally incorrect, both now and for the foreseeable future. That is not Ulster Unionist intransigence, but the freely expressed will of the people of Northern Ireland. It is not a sectarian issue as those who glibly cite demographic trends would wish us to believe. Right across the community, there is a large

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majority who, whatever they may presently consider to be Northern Ireland's shortcomings, have no aspiration to achieve a united Ireland. There is no popular demand for Dublin rule.

Despite its fears and past betrayals, the Unionist community would do nothing to frustrate the Government in their efforts to bring violence to an end, but the harsh reality is that the Downing street declaration has been rejected by Gerry Adams and his Irish Republican Army. We warned that that was so in early January, again when Adams went to the United States, and at the time of the Sinn Fein conference. Do we need to say it again ? It does not matter now whether the declaration was a good idea. It was killed off by the Provos before the end of last December.

So where do we go from here ? Absolutely nothing has emanated from the Provisional IRA to suggest that it is war weary. It still has more than 100 tonnes of Gadaffi weaponry in hides, mainly in the Irish Republic. While that is so and the Government permit the command and control structure of the organisation to remain intact, cannon fodder will always be available among the misguided youth. That harsh fact must be addressed.

Bluntly, there is no future in pandering to the IRA. We have all taken political risks in trying to point it down the road to political sanity, but without success. We cannot afford to waste the lives that have been snuffed out and the bodies and minds that it has broken. Nor can we offer any further sacrifice to its madness in the hope that those evil people will be redeemed.

So where else can we look for support in the battle against the men of violence ? Anyone who took part in the 1992 Brookes-Mayhew process will remember the negative contribution of the Irish Republic's delegation, and will have reached the conclusion that there is virtually no scope for any Government from the Republic to enter serious negotiations with Ulster Unionists. They are constrained by their inability to live with the political reality of the 1990s and to move out of the myths of the past.

While there is no doubt that the men from Leinster house talk a good game and that those in the present coalition see themselves as being the strongest Government in the history of the state, one has only to recall what happened to Albert Reynolds at the Fianna Fail annual conference last year. When he was seen to question the worth of the so-called "Adams-Hume initiative", the backwoodsmen of his party rallied against him and we had a demonstration of the power of hard and implacable republicanism. Whether Albert Reynolds has the ability to differentiate between one part of his anatomy and another, he can recognise his Achilles heel.

Perhaps that is the reason for Dublin's inability to cope with the political reality of what Ulster Unionism means. There appears to be a belief, even among the more enlightened elements such as one might associate with Mr. Spring's Irish Labour party, that it is necessary continually to appeal for Unionists to talk. One never quite knows whether that is intended to create an aura of goodwill for Great British consumption or an impression that the Unionists are impeding progress. In 1992, Ulster Unionists did everything in their power to get the Dublin Government to talk and found that they had nothing to say.

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Even when we went to Dublin and tried to deal with issues that we thought may have been on their agenda, the Dublin team proved to be politically impotent. For example, Ulster Unionists tabled an outline for a Bill of Rights. That detailed document was promptly ignored by the Irish. We later tabled a paper that addressed in practical terms the possible grounds on which a north-south relationship could be developed. The Irish delegation did not even want to discuss that, either. On the advice of his Department for Foreign Affairs, whose officials hated every minute which they had to spend outside their comfortable little world of Iveagh house in St. Stephens green, Mr. Reynolds could do nothing other than rush his team back home and bring the process to an abrupt end.

Mr. Reynold's only reason for closing the door on those talks in which we had invested so much time and effort was that he felt that he should have a conference under the aegis of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. I challenge anyone to examine the subject matter and importance of that conference to see whether any issue discussed was so significant that it merited the deliberate destruction by the Irish of the 1992 talks process.

It is time for the Government and, equally important, Her Majesty's official Opposition, to send a clear signal to the Irish that they are both openly committed to the democratic process in Northern Ireland and that, while it would be a welcome bonus to have the genuine friendship of a neighbouring country, it cannot be constructed on the basis of megaphone diplomacy or the variable activity that often articulates co-operation but seldom produces the goods.

For example, the Government of the Irish Republic have had more than eight years since the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement to sort out their extradition procedures, but have singularly failed to do so. They knew of the flaws in legislation that they introduced several years ago but failed to do anything about it at the time. Now we are told that the problem has been resolved but that resolution is yet to be implemented. I stress that there will be no satisfactory extradition while the Irish constitution continues to incorporate the irredentist territorial claim enshrined in articles 2 and 3-mark my words well.

The idea that, by constantly whittling at our democratic rights, the IRA, the Irish Republic or anyone else will pare aware the resolve of the people of Northern Ireland to determine their own future is a folly. Ulster Unionists are not in the business of violence ; we are neither half-hearted Unionists nor half-Unionists like the Democratic Unionist party, which toys with the idea of some sort of Ulster independence but which weakens Ulster's case by hollow rhetoric. By tradition and through the ballot box, we will maintain the British tradition of accountable democracy. I urge the House not to cast aside lightly that honourable objective.

The adage adopted in the 1992 talks that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed" defines a foolish and elusive objective, as it sacrifices things that may be worth while now in favour of some utopia at the end of the rainbow. It asks, "How long is a piece of string ?", and only a fool would hazard a guess. It is linked to that other cliche about three-stranded talks, which is another good way to create a vacuum rather than make progress.

Strand one is about the internal administration of Northern Ireland--that accountable democracy to which I

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referred earlier. It cannot be delayed to suit the mercurial disposition of outsiders. It is wrong to condemn Northern Ireland to a state of limbo. Let us get on with it.

Strand two was about relationships between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, but that was where we found a total lack of reality. The Republic adopted the attitude, "We must talk first about what we nationalists want and, if we can agree that, we might--just might--talk about what Unionists want." In effect, that simply means talking about one thing : more. It is open-ended and destructive. Ulster Unionists have talked, can talk and will talk to anyone operating within the normal democratic process, but we might reasonably ask for some indication that there is a serious agenda, not just an intention to increase the aggravation.

Strand three is about the relationship between the two sovereign Governments. As the Prime Minister has been known to say in this House, that is not a matter for me. Ulster Unionists cannot dictate to whom Her Majesty's Government will talk. We can, however, caution that nothing can be agreed which would ignore the rights of the people of Northern Ireland. Only once democratic principles prevail and Governments meet their obligations to eradicate terrorism can we hope to make progress. Ulster Unionists will certainly not be found wanting.

5.39 pm

Mr. Michael Bates (Langbaurgh) : I believe that the House should not adjourn for Easter until it has discussed a matter of vital importance to my constituents. For this Parliament, which believes in free speech and in freedom of association, there can be few more repugnant sights than institutionalised apartheid. That is why we--rightly--took stringent measures against South Africa, where people were not prepared to play sports with other people because of the colour of their skin or because of their background. We repudiated that idea absolutely.

Yet it is with regret that I must report to the House that a system of apartheid is alive and well and living in Cleveland, where there is discrimination not on the ground of the colour of someone's skin but because of the colour of a person's school tie.

Macmillan city technology college serves the area of Middlesbrough and it has brought opportunity to many in that area. Its football team, reported the Darlington and Stockton Times this week, is about to win the Middlesbrough cup--without playing a single game. That is because it is the only team playing in the competition ; no other school was prepared to play football with the CTC team--not because of any argument, not because of incapacity, not because there were no football teams, but simply because this is a city technology college. So the LEA schools have refused to take part in sports with it.

This is the worst sort of apartheid, because it plays politics with children. Those who took this decision are not the children or the football teams : these children probably live next door to each other. The fault lies with the sports teachers, the head teachers, the unions, the local education authorities, all of whom are backing this system of apartheid.

At one point we were told that the apartheid had stopped. On 21 May 1991, my predecessor, Richard Holt--a doughty fighter for my constituency if ever there was one--took up the issue in the Chamber, saying :

"When my hon. Friend"

referring to the Minister for Sport

Column 1052

"leaves the Chamber, will he pick up a telephone and ring the chairman of the Sports Council and tell him that he will not pay one penny piece to Cleveland county council until my constituent, Mr. J.G. Campbell, and his son are treated fairly ? The boy, who is a captain of the Middlesbrough football schools XI, has been denied the opportunity to continue to represent his home town and possibly to go on to greater things in football because the mean, vindictive and spiteful Cleveland county council will not recognise the Macmillan city technology college for the excellent place that it is."--[ Official Report , 21 May 1991 ; Vol. 191, c. 772.]

Sadly, Richard Holt died soon afterwards, but in the ensuing by-election the issue was very much to the fore. Quite rightly, the parents of the children concerned and the press expressed their worries about the discrimination against a schoolboy whose only sin was that he wanted to play football for his town but was not allowed to.

Miraculously, during the by-election, there was a change of heart in the Labour party--perhaps it found the heat a little too much to bear. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), the then education spokesman of the Labour party, arrived in the constituency in November 1991 to declare that he condemned this type of activity and discrimination. As a result, Cleveland county council apparently experienced a Damascus road conversion and the city technology college was allowed to join the Middlesbrough schools football association. The discrimination was supposed to end there, and the council took all the credit in the press for this change of mind. It claimed to have backed down on humanitarian grounds.

On 21 November 1991 my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (Mr. Devlin), who takes a close interest in this matter, tabled an early-day motion in these terms :

"This House notes with considerable satisfaction the decision by Cleveland schools sports council to reverse its mean and vindictive ban on participation in county sport by Macmillan college, Middlesbrough ; further notes that this will enable the school to take on its neighbours in competitive sport and will enable talented youngsters to play sport for their town ; further notes that this change of heart has only come about because of the embarrassment of the national Labour party in the Langbaurgh by election when they had previously regarded the matter with indifference, in spite of a Langbaurgh child being banned from playing for Middlesbrough ; regrets that the school sports council made their recent decision only after great pressure from parents, the local press and hon. Members of this House ; and further regrets that Richard Holt is not still alive to see this end to victimisation take place." Unfortunately, it has not ended, as the press reports have made clear. The CTC is allowed to be part of the schools football association, but the unions, the head teachers and the governors are preventing the football teams from taking part in competitive sport with the children from Macmillan.

The Secretary of State for Education condemned Cleveland in the House for condoning this type of discrimination. That sparked immediate outrage and denials that any discrimination was going on. The hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) felt moved to action, in the form of early-day motion 808, tabled on 10 March, just a week ago. It condemns the Secretary of State for Education for daring to suggest that a disgraceful form of educational apartheid exists in Cleveland. Little did the hon. Gentleman know that the policy continues, and that the people who are losing out are the children. What sort of prejudices must be growing in the minds of the children in these schools ? What will they grow up thinking when they find that they cannot play football with a CTC just because it is a CTC ? It is all very strange. These people will have to answer for themselves.

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