Lords ] Considered ; to be read the Third time.
By Order. )
Order for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Thursday 23 June .
1. Mr. William Ross : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what considerations led to the decision to publish the agendas of meetings of the Anglo-Irish intergovernmental conference but not the result of exchanges.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Sir Patrick Mayhew) : The intergovernmental conference follows normal practice in these matters. The substance of discussions between Governments is confidential, no agenda being published, but after meetings a joint statement is issued.
Mr. Ross : Surely the Secretary of State would agree that the communique which is issued amounts to an agenda to be discussed at the meetings ? The people of Northern Ireland are concerned whenever they see, over a period, the vast range of subjects that are discussed, which, in the eyes of many folk, amount to a joint authority. A full minute would allay the fears and concerns of the people of Northern Ireland, so why should it not be published ?
Sir Patrick Mayhew : I think that the existing practice is the right one. There is a joint statement as to the character of matters that have been discussed and I think that that is the right way to go about it. I believe that the practice is sustained by experience as being wise.
Lady Olga Maitland : Will my right hon. and learned Friend join me in welcoming the warm tributes paid by the Dublin Government in memory of the men who died in the tragic helicopter disaster in Scotland ?
Sir Patrick Mayhew : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Certainly, I accept her invitation to express my warm appreciation of the message that was received from Mr. Spring and, I think, from leaders of all the political parties
Column 738represented in the House. It was a tragic accident, but its operational effects are being remedied by all four services involved and the work of those fine people is continuing, as they would wish.
Mr. Mallon : The Secretary of State will be aware that one of the functions of the intergovernmental conference is to protect the human rights and civil rights of everyone on the island of Ireland. Is he aware of the thuggish behaviour of many firms in the north of Ireland, including the recently taken over Ulster Farmers Bacon Factory and the recently privatised Northern Ireland Electricity Retail Co. which are offering their employees employment only on the condition that they accept a drop in salary of about £5,000, with no severance pay and redundancy provisions ? Can he ensure that, in future meetings of the intergovernmental conference, that element of human rights and civil rights is protected by both Governments ?
Sir Patrick Mayhew : That is an ingenious vehicle by which to bring that concern to Question Time. I do not think that it is a matter of human rights ; it is a matter--although I am not aware of the individual circumstances--of businesses striving to keep people in employment, but having to have regard to market circumstances in deciding whether they can pay people to remain in employment.
2. Mr. Fabricant : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what are his plans to meet representatives of BBC Northern Ireland, Ulster Television, Downtown Radio and other commercial radio stations to discuss broadcasting in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Fabricant : I am rather disappointed about that. Is my right hon. Friend aware how difficult it is for journalists to maintain impartiality, often in difficult and tragic situations ? Does he agree that the current position in Northern Ireland is both difficult and tragic ? May I ask him to see representatives of the BBC and others, such as Downtown Radio and Ulster Television, and to congratulate them on the impartial and unbiased coverage that they have given in Northern Ireland ?
Sir John Wheeler : I know that my hon. Friend takes an informed interest in the work of the BBC. Of course, all journalistic reporting from whatever source--when it is fair, accurate and objective--contributes greatly to the community and to the security situation. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friends meet members of the journalistic community in Northern Ireland almost on a daily basis, when often we find a microphone underneath our faces from people seeking comment. We have a very good and warm relationship with them.
Mr. William O'Brien : Will the Minister reconsider his answer to the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) ? There is a need for consultation, especially as it is thought that cable television will soon be introduced in Northern Ireland. It is important for the Minister to impress on any organisation that wishes to introduce cable television that it should consult local authorities and local
Column 739people fully. Will he think about approaching the BBC about being more generous and being equal with concessionary television licences throughout Northern Ireland ?
Sir John Wheeler : Some of the hon. Gentleman's points properly fall within the jurisdiction of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage. In so far as my colleagues in Northern Ireland or I have any responsibility, we are always available to meet representatives of the media industry to discuss any of their concerns that fall within our jurisdiction.
3. Mr. McAvoy : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on progress towards securing a resumption of the inter-party talks on the future of Northern Ireland and on discussions he has had with the Government of the Republic of Ireland concerning a constitutional settlement for Northern Ireland.
12. Mrs. Bridget Prentice : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about the current political situation in Northern Ireland ; and what recent discussions he has had with the Government of the Republic of Ireland and the political parties in Northern Ireland concerning a constitutional settlement.
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Michael Ancram) : Bilateral discussions are continuing with three of the main Northern Ireland parties. The Government are also consulting closely with the Irish Government on the preparation of a framework document, which would facilitate a comprehensive political settlement. Our aim remains to return to multilateral talks at the earliest appropriate time.
Mr. McAvoy : Does the Minister accept that there can be no purely internal settlement of the Northern Ireland question and, therefore, that there is a need for a formal, institutionalised Irish convention ?
relationships--relationships within Northern Ireland, those between the north and the south of Ireland and those between the Government of the Republic of Ireland and the Government here. The formula of 26 March 1991, under which talks are currently conducted, made that clear and that remains the Government's clear position.
Mr. Ancram : As I am sure the hon. Lady is aware, work is going on between the two Governments on the framework document, which is intended to set out a shared understanding of the elements of a settlement within strands 2 and 3 that have the best prospects of achieving widespread acceptance and support. It is also likely to include constitutional issues. At this stage, it is not possible for me to say when that process will be completed. Some time after it is completed, we shall wish to discuss the understandings with the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Peter Robinson : I should like to press the Minister a little further on the same subject. I wonder whether he has seen The Irish Times this morning, which contains a quotation from Mr. Dermot Ahern, co-chairman of the British-Irish Inter-parliamentary Body. He says that the Taoiseach hopes to finalise the document before he meets the Prime Minister in mid- July. Presuming that Mr. Reynolds finalises the document and it is rubber- stamped by the Government, is it to be issued to the public, so that the people of Northern Ireland may see it, or is it to be given to the constitutional parties or all the political parties in Northern Ireland ? Who exactly will receive it ?
Mr. Ancram : First, I should like totally to knock on the head the idea that the British Government are going to rubber-stamp anything. The process that is taking place between the Irish and British Governments is to see where we can find a shared understanding on the elements of a settlement that is likely to receive widespread acceptance by the people of Northern Ireland. That process is carried out intensively at this moment and it is not possible to set a time scale for it, but in due course we hope that it will form part of the process of dialogue that will, in the end, lead to a settlement in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Bill Walker : When my hon. Friend discusses constitutional change with the parties in Northern Ireland, will he bear in mind the interests of the Unionist party--particularly in Scotland--on constitutional change ? As a former Scottish Office Minister, my hon. Friend will realise what I mean when I say that the interesting election results in Scotland have recently given us cause to have concern about the Union.
Mr. Ancram : I always watch with nostalgia political developments north of the border, but my responsibilities at this time are for political developments within Northern Ireland. There are great dangers in trying to draw analogies between the situation in Northern Ireland and that which exists in Scotland.
Rev. Martin Smyth : Having confirmed that talks with some political parties have been on-going since last September, can the Minister confirm that it is still the Government's position that the constitutional settlement is within the constitution of the United Kingdom, despite the comments of Mr. Reynolds, who may now be having some midsummer madness after his recent Christmas mislongings ?
Mr. Ancram : I can make clear to the hon. Gentleman what has been clear all along : there can be no change to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland without the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland. I can go further and say that there can be no settlement under the present dialogue which does not achieve the widespread acceptance of the people of Northern Ireland. There is no question of coercion or imposition, and that is recognised as much by the Government in Dublin as it is by us.
Mr. Ancram : We have made it clear that no one exercises a veto and the important talks will proceed on the basis that no single participant can prevent the talks progressing by simply refusing to come to the table. It is
Column 741absolutely clear that if we are to achieve agreement, it must be on the basis of widespread acceptance throughout the community in Northern Ireland.
Sir Patrick Mayhew : None. The people of Northern Ireland demand that they desist, permanently, from violence within our democracy ; yet, to the revulsion of the people, they continue to murder people and to condone and justify such murder.
Mr. Alton : Does the Secretary of State agree that the biggest single factor now impeding the peace process in Northern Ireland is the massive amount of money which is made by racketeers and godfathers working within paramilitary organisations ? If Gerry Adams and the political leaders of Sinn Fein wanted to deliver a peace deal, there would remain a major task in rooting out those who have a clear and vested interest in continuing the violence in Northern Ireland. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that we must renew and redouble our energies and efforts in stopping those mafia-style activities ?
Sir Patrick Mayhew : I agree that there is a great deal of racketeering to be found on both sides of the paramilitary spectrum. I do not agree that it is the biggest obstacle to the establishment of peace. The biggest obstacle is the refusal of those who resort to violence for political purposes to give it up in this democracy. We take the greatest pains to counter paramilitary racketeering, but I do not agree that our efforts need to be redoubled. We are at the moment doing all that we consider practicable, and we keep that very much under review.
Mr. Bellingham : Can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that, after the clarification which has taken place, there will be no further dealings at all with Sinn Fein and the IRA ? Surely they now have a chance and an opportunity, and surely now the process must go on without them.
Sir Patrick Mayhew : The process will certainly go on, with or without them. It will only go on with them if they make it plain that they have renounced violence permanently and that they are committed to democratic politics. There is no question of any dealings with Sinn Fein until that has been delivered--none at all. There has been widespread approval all around the world for the comments that the British Government made on the questions which were submitted by Sinn Fein a mere four and a half months from the signing of the declaration. It is now for it to answer a question--when will it give up violence ?
Mr. Hume : I express my appreciation to the Secretary of State for the written clarification which he gave in keeping with his wish to leave no stone unturned and to bring a total end to violence in our streets. May I repeat my view that the recent democratic expression of the people was a strong expression of support for the peace process, which is about a total cessation of violence followed by an
Column 742agreement among our divided people which threatens no section of our people ? May I repeat my request and hope that the response of Sinn Fein and the IRA will respect the self-determination of the people of Ireland, north and south, on the methods used ?
Sir Patrick Mayhew : I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman said at both the beginning and the end of his question. The interpretation of election results in Northern Ireland is a specialist activity. It seems reasonable to remark that, in the recent election--to the extent that electors might have had the joint declaration in mind when electing people to the European Parliament--a margin of 20 per cent. more people voted for candidates supportive of, or acquiescent in, the joint declaration than for candidates opposed to it.
Mr. McNamara : Is the Secretary of State aware that the Opposition welcomed the replies that he gave to Sinn Fein's questions ? We particularly welcomed his recognition of its electoral mandate and the fact that the Government of Ireland Act 1920 should be on the table, that no party should have a veto over discussions and that the only condition for going to the conference table is a demonstrable total denunciation of violence. In view of the strong mandate given in the European election to those parties seeking peace in Northern Ireland, particularly that given to my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), does the Secretary of State accept that there is every reason for Sinn Fein to heed the voice of the people of Northern Ireland and the whole island of Ireland, renounce violence and take its place at the negotiating table ?
Sir Patrick Mayhew : I very much agree that Sinn Fein should heed the voice of the people. In the south it got 3 per cent. of the vote, while in the north it got under 10 per cent. There is no excuse in this democracy for proceeding to use violence for any political purpose whatever. That message is well understood by the people of Northern Ireland, who demand that violence must end. For Sinn Fein to continue to use violence, claiming to act in some way in the name of the people of Ireland, is not only fanciful but fraudulent.
Sir John Wheeler : Thirty-four people have been murdered this year as a result of terrorism in Northern Ireland, including five members of the security forces. In the period between 15 December and the end of last year, one soldier was murdered. Many attacks have been foiled
Column 743by the courage and expertise of the security forces. There will be no relaxation in the determination of the authorities to bring those responsible for terrorist crime to justice.
Mr. Molyneaux : Now that national and international opinion is at long last aligned with democracy and not with Irish terrorism, will the Minister reflect on the views of his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary who, when Home Secretary, said :
"There is no point in negotiating with the IRA. They just have to be extirpated" ?
Mr. Spring : The western part of Suffolk may be a long way from Northern Ireland, but may I relay to my right hon. Friend the expressions of shock and sympathy addressed to me by many of my constituents following the tragic helicopter crash ? Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that, despite that tragic setback, the fight against terrorism, from whatever quarter, will continue unabated ?
Sir John Wheeler : I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who seeks to take an informed interest in the security problems of Northern Ireland. The tragedy of losing 29 experienced and valuable people who have contributed so much to saving life is a great disaster and the House will think particularly of their families at this time. I assure the House that, notwithstanding the extent of that disaster, every effort to continue the fight against terrorism will continue. Even now, the replacements are going into office to take up and continue the work of those whose lives have been so tragically lost.
Mr. Taylor : In Belfast last week, the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church was held. That is the largest Protestant Church in Northern Ireland. Views were expressed by many laymen and clergy about the security situation on the ground. As the Minister will have taken them into account, how does he now respond to them ?
Sir John Wheeler : I am naturally concerned about all comment in Northern Ireland, but the House should know of the real and considerable successes that the security forces are having. So far this year, until 15 June, 220 people have been charged with serious terrorist offences, as against 172 in the same period last year, including 49 with murder or attempted murder, as against 38 in the same period last year. What matters is that people who commit those awful and evil crimes are caught, arrested and charged before the courts.
Mr. Soley : The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) referred to Irish terrorism in his question. Is not this an appropriate time to remind ourselves that, for the past two years, Unionist terrorism has been claiming more lives than republican terrorism, and not for the first time in Northern Ireland's sad history ? Is not it therefore all the more important that we now say to both the Unionist and the republican community in the north, which is where the violence originates, that there is no excuse for terrorism ? There never has been any excuse, but there is no excuse in view of the bold and, if I may say so, visionary decision of the two Governments to go for the Downing Street declaration. It has given both sides democratic
Column 744safeguards and democratic opportunities, if they follow that agenda, and the British and Irish people expect no less from both communities.
Sir John Wheeler : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has said and agree whole-heartedly with his view. Terrorism from whatever source is unacceptable. There is no excuse of any kind. So far this year, 136 so-called loyalists and 83 republicans have been charged for terrorist- related offences.
Sir James Kilfedder : Is the Minister aware that there is growing alarm at the increase in criminality and hooliganism in the North Down area ? The people of North Down are entitled to the same security as any other part of Northern Ireland. With regard to hooliganism, there are gangs of youths who travel around and harass, and in some cases terrorise, vulnerable old-age pensioners. Surely it is time to increase the number of police in the North Down area, the number of police vehicles and the number of police stations ?
Sir John Wheeler : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I can assure him that I take a special interest in the progress of the fight against ordinary crime in Northern Ireland and especially in his constituency, which I had the pleasure of visiting a short while ago, when I was able to speak to the police about their level of clear-up of ordinary crime, which is especially high--often, 40 to 50 per cent.
Rev. William McCrea : Does the Minister understand that the people of Northern Ireland are deeply worried about the deteriorating security situation in the Province, bearing in mind the figures he gave to the House ? Also, in a recent debate in the House, widespread anxiety was expressed by many hon. Members across the House that IRA Sinn Fein leader Martin McGuinness seemed to be above the law. In the light of the deteriorating security situation, is not it about time that Martin McGuinness was arrested forthwith and that the due process of law took place--or is he above the law because of negotiations with the Government ?
Sir Patrick Mayhew : No one is above the law passed by the House of Commons. All those people who should be properly investigated for alleged crimes will be so investigated. There is no question of anyone being exempted from the criminal justice process as the hon. Gentleman implies.
Mr. Enright : Has the abject failure of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) in the recent elections--in spite of his vitriolic attacks on the Anglo-Irish declaration he gained less than one third of the votes--strengthened democratically the British Government's position vis-a- vis the Irish Government ?
Sir Patrick Mayhew : I do not think that the British Government's position can be viewed as one of antagonism towards the Irish Government, although a firm stance is being taken in the current important discussions. Our position is clear : it is based on the principle of democracy. The future of Northern Ireland must be determined only by democratic means. That also happens to be the position of the Irish Government, as is made clear in the joint declaration.
Mr. Forman : In discussing security matters with his counterpart in the Irish Republic, has my right hon. and learned Friend had any cause for optimism about the role that the United States Administration could play in assisting the search for peace and security in Northern Ireland ?
Sir Patrick Mayhew : I should like to say that there is a close relationship between the security forces of the Crown and their counterparts in the United States. Indeed, I have nothing but gratitude for the across-the-board co-operation that we receive from the American authorities.
Mr. McNamara : When the right hon. and learned Gentleman next meets the Irish Government to discuss security arrangements under the confidence- building measures of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, will he discuss the proposals for the reform of the Police Authority in Northern Ireland, in particular the distinction between security and community policing and the accountability of the Chief Constable to the authority ?
Sir Patrick Mayhew : I am glad to say that I had a most fruitful and successful meeting with the authority a couple of days ago, when very broad support was expressed for the consultative document. We both looked forward to co-operating in the translating of those broad-brush concepts into the appropriate legislative language. From time to time, the relationship of the public to the police and the police to the public is discussed in the intergovernmental conferences and I have no doubt that that will continue.
7. Mr. Mullin : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what plans he has for extending to Northern Ireland the tape recording of interviews and the right of access to a solicitor for suspects ; and if he will make a statement.
Sir John Wheeler : Interviews with suspects detained under the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 are tape recorded. The Government believe that electronic recording of interviews with detained suspects in Northern Ireland under the Prevention of Terrorism Act would not at present be in the overall interests of justice. The policy will be kept under review. Access to legal advice is a statutory right for all suspects in police custody.
Mr. Mullin : In the light of all that we know, is it not extraordinary that courts in Northern Ireland are still sending people away for life imprisonment on the basis of confessions which are not recorded, which were extracted at Castlereagh, and to which the interviewees' solicitors have been routinely denied access ? Is it not about time that some of the lessons that we have learnt over here were applied in Northern Ireland--and who better to apply them
Column 746than a Secretary of State who, as Attorney- General, presided over many of the disasters in our own legal system a few years ago ?
Sir John Wheeler : I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's last comments and I am sure that the House does not either. Access to solicitors may be delayed for up to 48 hours on strict security grounds. The criteria governing a delay are laid out in section 45. A similar power to delay is also available to the police in England and Wales under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.
The court system in Northern Ireland is impeccable. The judiciary is independent and makes its decisions accordingly. As to the use of technology, that matter is kept always under review.
Mr. Trimble : Is it not inconsistent for the Government to allow criminal proceedings to be brought against terrorist suspects on the basis of tape recordings of conversations in the open air while, for the purpose of criminal proceedings, they refuse to allow tape recordings of telephone conversations by terrorist suspects ?
Mr. Stott : The Minister will be aware that Sir Louis Blom-Cooper, the independent commissioner for the holding centres, has recognised the need for proper safeguards to be introduced into the system, and he said so in his recent report. The report from John Rowe QC also suggested that terrorist suspects should be recorded on audiotape. I am disappointed at the Minister's reply. If those measures were introduced in Northern Ireland, clearly in our judgment they would build confidence in the security forces and provide police officers with protection against false allegations of physical and verbal harassment. I am at a loss as to why the Government still refuse to bring into operation these particular measures, which were recommended by their own advisers.
Sir John Wheeler : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He raises very important and serious issues with which I have a good deal of sympathy. I am particularly grateful to Sir Louis Blom-Cooper and others who carried out a review of the procedures and their recommendations and advice are treated seriously. Equally, however, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and I have to take into account the advice that we receive from the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, whose chief duty is to prevent the killing and terrorism in Northern Ireland. We must heed his opinion when he raises the importance of maintaining the present structure, but we will keep the matter under review and explore the possibilities to see what may be done.
10. Mr. Foulkes : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what discussions he has had with the Commission of the European Union on surface links between Northern Ireland and south-west Scotland.
Mr. Foulkes : The Minister will be pleased to hear that I do not intend to ask about the electricity interconnector but about the decision by the Commission to include Stranraer and Larne in the trans-European network, which I hope that he will join me in welcoming. Has he seen the report in the Glasgow Herald suggesting that the Secretary of State for Scotland is resisting a European Union plan for multi-million pound improvements to the rail link from Stranraer through my constituency to the channel tunnel ? Will he meet the Secretary of State for Scotland and try to persuade him to stop treating citizens of Northern Ireland and south- west Scotland as second-class citizens in Europe ?
Mr. Smith : I very much welcome the decision to which the hon. Gentleman refers to include the route in the trans-European network. Of course, the railway is important to traffic from Northern Ireland and I will certainly have a word with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.
Mr. Gallie : Is my hon. Friend aware of the contract recently signed between Ayr hospital and health authorities in Antrim and Larne, which will bring mutual advantage to my constituents and to those of hon. Members representing Larne and Antrim ? Does my hon. Friend approve of such links, and does he acknowledge that improved surface links between Stranraer and Larne will bring much further advantage ?
Mr. Clifford Forsythe : If European funding becomes available, will the Minister bear in mind the new industries that he has welcomed to parts of Antrim which are close to Larne ? We need not only facilities at the harbour, but facilities leading to the ports so that the traffic can travel that way. I join my colleagues in Scotland in supporting that development.
Mr. Ancram : We seek to satisfy ourselves about the potential viability of the proposed school ; about its religious composition ; and about whether suitable accommodation is being provided. We also examine carefully the overall circumstances of each proposal, including any representations received. Those procedures apply also to primary schools.
Column 748Government to support integrated secondary schools in, for example, my constituency of Fermanagh for 1 per cent. of the secondary school population when there is already over-provision of between 10 and 15 per cent. in that sector ? How does the Minister think that the 99 per cent. of people will feel when they see small schools facing the axe so that money can be given to the 1 per cent. who will be privileged with their own special school ?