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Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam) : Will my right hon. Friend consider a debate next week on human rights ? Last week, I raised the issue of the 625 Kuwaiti detainees still held in Iraq. This week, three Kuwaiti Members of Parliament have been in London visiting colleagues on both sides of the House. They are concerned that oil embargoes on Iraq could be lifted before the detainees are released. Bearing in mind that this country has ancient and loyal ties with Kuwait, would it not be in order for us to discuss that ?
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have always thought that the point of the business statement was to ask the Leader of the House to arrange debates or statements. Clearly, you have been concerned that Ministers should reply relating to their responsibilities. A few moments ago, I asked the Leader of the House a brief and direct question : whether he would arrange for a debate if the Secretary of State for Social Security chose to introduce certain regulations.
The Leader of the House referred me to the Secretary of State for Social Security on Monday. As the Secretary of State has no responsibility for arranging debates, and the Leader of the House has that responsibility, I wonder whether, on reflection, the Leader of the House might now choose to answer my question, rather than referring me to somebody who has no responsibility in that area.
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton) : For your assistance, Madam Speaker, and following your characteristic generosity, I am not quite sure what I forgot, but I did think that the hon. Gentleman was basically making a point about whether he thought that such regulations ought to be introduced. That matter would be for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security. Were those regulations to be introduced, and were they to be affirmative regulations, obviously I would wish to arrange for a debate.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Will you consider preparing and giving general guidance to the House on when you expect ministerial statements to be made ? As you will appreciate, there have been a number of inquiries this afternoon about whether statements will be made on matters of policy which have been announced outside the House. There is, I think, some confusion generally in the House about when we should expect ministerial statements.
I particularly take the example of the postal services, where, as has been pointed out, we had a statement in response to a newspaper leak. However, when the Green Paper was prepared, it was issued to journalists without an opportunity for the House to examine it. As you will understand, Back-Bench Members from both sides of the House--particularly from rural areas, although not exclusively so--think that this is a matter of great concern, not just for the reputation of Parliament but to our constituents. Can you give guidance to those on the Treasury Bench, as well as to Back Benchers, as to when you expect ministerial statements to be made ?
I certainly could not take on the responsibility of anticipating when the Government were about to make a statement. The Government inform me when they wish to make a statement. The House is informed during the lunch period, so that all Members are fully aware an hour or two before a statement is to be made.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(3) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.) That the draft Education (Inter-authority Recoupment) Regulations 1994 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. MacKay.]
Question agreed to.
That the draft Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 24th May, be approved.
The draft Order renews the temporary provisions in the Northern Ireland Act 1974, under which the government is carried out by direct rule for a further 12 months. Believing strongly, as I do, in the virtues of local democratic responsibility I regret intensely that it should be necessary to renew it yet again. I know that, however, to be the case, and I accordingly shall follow precedent by referring the House to some aspects of the Government's stewardship in Northern Ireland during the past year. My speech must be appropriately brief. Security matters remain in the forefront of our minds, particularly after the recent disgusting atrocity in Loughinisland. But the House has taken a recent opportunity, in our debate on the emergency powers provisions, to discuss this topic. There has been progress by the security forces in many areas, but terrorist crimes, both loyalist and republican, continue to deny the people of Northern Ireland what they most desire--the enjoyment of their right to live their lives in peace.
The House will recall all too vividly some of the revolting things the people of Northern Ireland have been forced to suffer during the past year. For example, in the latter part of 1993, in the space of seven days in October, 23 people lost their lives. None of us will forget the bombing on the Shankill road, in which 10 people were killed, or the equally ruthless massacre of seven people at Greysteel.
No matter how vainly repetitious it may seem, it is necessary for the House once more to condemn, without qualification, all those and the other attacks which have taken place. There is no acceptable level of violence, and we must never give the impression that there is. I admire immensely the steadfastness and resolution of Northern Ireland's people. I also wish to pay a special tribute to the disciplined courage and professionalism of the security forces who protect the people. Last year, 14 police officers and soldiers were killed while carrying out their role of protecting the community. Five have been killed this year.
Nor do we forget the arduous work of the prison service. What we are sometimes in danger of forgetting is the successes continually achieved by the security forces in the fight against terrorism. In 1993, more than 350 people were charged with terrorist-related offences, including more than 50 with murder and attempted murder. So far this year, 233 people have been charged with terrorist offences. Only this week, seven people have been charged, including two with murder.
The Chief Constable estimates that four out of five attempted attacks are thwarted. Much of the work of the security forces, by its nature, can receive little publicity, but the Royal Ulster Constabulary never gives up. We give it the fullest practical support and backing, and I salute its work, and the work of those who support it, today.
Column 959Today, we will also have in mind those who so tragically died in the helicopter crash on the Mull of Kintyre on 2 June. The deaths of so many first class police officers, Army officers, civil servants and air crew constituted a grievous loss. Our sympathy for those bereaved unites us all. I have received many touching letters. But the work of those fine people continues.
From the particular issue of security, I turn now to our co-ordinated approach to the political, economic and social problems that confront the people of Northern Ireland. Adverse economic and social conditions--which affect both sides of the community--can be used to suggest an ostensible, although always a spurious, pretext for terrorism. There is therefore a particular need for the promotion of a buoyant economy, increased job opportunities, and greater prosperity, and a need for all in the community of Northern Ireland to have equal opportunity to enjoy those benefits.
I shall refer to our progress in those matters in a moment, but first we must remember that terrorism abhors harmony and thrives on discord. There is therefore a particular need for the promotion of a political settlement- -one that is broad in character and will attract widespread support, by reason of its characteristics, right across the community of Northern Ireland. It is to this area of patient and often frustrating endeavour in the past year that I now turn. It remains the Government's firm belief that any settlement likely to achieve such acceptance and support must address all the main relationships : those within Northern Ireland ; those within the island of Ireland ; and those between the two Governments in Dublin and London. It was for that reason that, with the other participants, we agreed in 1991 that the political talks should be structured in three strands, reflecting those sets of relationships. Nothing would be finally agreed in any strand until everything was agreed in the talks as a whole.
Some have claimed, and continue to claim, that seeking an overall settlement in this way is far too ambitious, and that the process should move forward one step at a time. It is quite clear to us, however, that, because of the differing ideals and differing ultimate objectives of those who have participated in the talks, agreement on one set of relationships is only likely to be reached if the context for it is provided by agreement on the three sets of relationships as a whole. We believe that to be a political reality which cannot be wished away, and one which all of us involved in the process must recognise and work with.
Since September 1993, the Government have been conducting bilateral discussions with three of the four main constitutional parties. We should like to see all four involved. Our purpose has been to explore the basis upon which we might all together sit down again for further dialogue. The present aim is to establish areas of common agreement ; explore areas of continued apprehension or disagreement and to try to identify the degree of flexibility that may be needed on all sides to resolve those difficulties.
We have been discussing the Government's ideas for giving direction and renewed impetus to the talks process. For our part, it is my hon. Friend the Minister of State who has been principally engaged, but the Prime Minister and I have also participated. We are each of us grateful for the sincere participation of our colleagues in this process.
Column 960On the basis of the talks that occurred in 1992, and those that are going on now, there is a good measure of contingent agreement on strand 1 on the nature of new democratic institutions for Northern Ireland.
Strand 1 is especially significant today, because, if, as I believe is achievable, final agreement is reached among the main parties on the exercise of local democratic responsibilities, then, in the context of an overall settlement, the Government would implement the new arrangements agreed, and today's order would need no successor. But to be lasting, any such local democratic institutions must be widely acceptable throughout the community of Northern Ireland and must therefore give a genuine and fair share of democratic responsibilities to both sides of the community.
It is clear, however, that what common ground exists among the parties on strand 1 is contingent on a satisfactory outcome to the process as a whole, including strands 2 and 3. To help progress to be made in those two strands, in both of which all the main parties accepted that the two Governments should each be involved, we are currently working with the Irish Government on a framework document. As always, that has given rise to apprehensions about what may be afoot.
First, therefore, I repeat without equivocation that the future of Northern Ireland lies in the hands of its own people. There will be no change in its constitutional status as an integral part of the United Kingdom save in accordance with the democratic wishes of its people, and no political settlement without the participation of the main political parties in arriving at it, and the widespread acceptance of the people of Northern Ireland to the outcome. Secondly, let me address fears about what is spoken of as "joint authority". I think that that means that the British and Irish Governments would jointly run the affairs of Northern Ireland over the heads of the people. It is feared that the two Governments seek or plan to impose that. There is no truth in that at all. To impose such a structure against the will of the people of Northern Ireland would be incompatible with the principle of consent. For that reason, it would, in my belief, be unacceptable to this House. Additionally, however, it is not sought by the Irish Government, let alone our own. As Mr. Spring said on 25 April,
"Joint authority is not being considered".
It is quite a different matter to examine, as the four parties and the Governments all did in 1992, ways in which, without impinging in any manner on sovereignty, some north-south body could enable common cause to be made in areas of common interest. That would be to the general good of both parts of the island of Ireland.
However, acceptability remains the key test. I believe that such a body would be acceptable, not only in Northern Ireland but in the Republic as well, only if it operated in areas clearly delegated to it by the appropriate legislatures in each jurisdiction. For the same reason, it would have to be accountable to democratic institutions in Belfast and Dublin, with decisions taken on the basis of agreement between the representatives of both parts of the island.
Provided, of course, that there is widespread agreement in Northern Ireland, there is no reason why a body constructed in that way should not assume a variety of delegated functions and responsibilities, including executive functions. That does not confer joint authority on the Dublin Government over Northern Ireland or anything like
Column 961it, any more than Stormont conferred such authority when, in 1952, it set up the Foyle Fisheries Commission to regulate the river that is bisected by the border. All that falls squarely within the ambit of strand 2.
Nor is there any question of us working on a deal to be imposed on the political parties or Northern Ireland people. That would be incompatible with the foundation principle of consent. Our aim is to help the process forward through discussion and agreement with the parties and, ultimately, the people. As the Taoiseach clearly put it on 24 May :
"We recognise that the only agreement which will last is one that the Unionist and Loyalist community have freely participated in making".
It is, of course, possible to work upon some people's natural fears by making unfounded assertions about the discussions known to be taking place between our own and the Irish Government. It is not only possible ; it is easy. To some, it seems irresistibly tempting. But it is also irresponsible. What we are about is endeavouring to achieve a shared understanding between us of the elements of a political settlement which, in our view, is most likely to command widespread support across the community in Northern Ireland. We wish to do that, not to give Dublin a role in running the internal affairs of the north but to help all the participants reach an overall agreement in the knowledge of the two Governments' views, where those may be relevant and only where those may be relevant. I would expect any outcome to include the following elements : a shared and mutually acceptable understanding of those important constitutional matters known to be in issue ; the establishment of locally accountable democratic institutions in Northern Ireland which provide an appropriate and worthy role for representatives of both main parts of the community ; new arrangements for contact, co-operation and working together within the island of Ireland ; and new arrangements between the two Governments. I believe that, with reality and good will, all those should be attainable.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Does the Secretary of State agree that those objectives are desirable, and would be so to any fair- minded person in Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom or the Republic ? Does he further agree that, if we want the support of the international community in the fight against terrorism--and I believe that we have that support--it is important for the international community to understand the willingness of the British Government and the Irish Government to work together jointly, and to recognise that there are certain responsibilities in the island of Ireland on which, from a purely common-sense point of view, it is right and proper that Northern Ireland and the Republic should be working together ? If the international community understands what is desired by both Governments, all the more reason for us to have their continued support.
Sir Patrick Mayhew : I agree that there is support in the international community for the fight against terrorism, and I think that much heart has been taken in the international community by reason of the evidence afforded by the joint declaration that the two Governments stand side by side on such important matters. I think that there is a genuine understanding that, in aspects where there is common interest, it makes good sense to make
Column 962common cause. It is also widely understood that it would not be acceptable for that process to impinge on sovereignty. That is a matter which must be determined by the consent of the people involved.
In the broader field, practical co-operation on a range of economic and social issues has continued in the past year. The Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Garda Siochana work closely together, facing as they do a common terrorist threat. That has, unquestionably, saved lives on both sides of the border.
In the past year, considerable progress has been made towards tackling deficiencies in the extradition arrangements between our two countries. The two Governments are resolute and stand shoulder to shoulder in their rejection of violence.
By far the most significant development in the past year has, of course, been the joint declaration. That represents a public commitment by the two Governments to a shared understanding of the political realities in Ireland today, and to a common approach to the problems of Northern Ireland, based on the principles of democracy and consent. It has the overwhelming endorsement of the people of Ireland, north and south, and the strong support of the British public.
The joint declaration has put the spotlight on the terrorists and their apologists. It must now be clear to everyone that there can be no excuse-- no justification whatsoever--for political violence in this democracy. The joint declaration acknowledges and safeguards the interests of both sides of the community in Northern Ireland, according parity of esteem to each. There is no compromise on any issue of principle that is essential to the position of either tradition.
I return to the performance of the economy in Northern Ireland in the past year. Once again, there is good news to report. The economy has come through the recession well, and is performing strongly in the recovery. A few statistics serve to illustrate the picture. Manufacturing output continued the strong performance of the previous year, growing by 3.6 per cent. during 1993 compared with growth of 1.6 per cent. for the entire United Kingdom. In the year to May 1994, unemployment fell by 5.2 per cent. and, at 13.1 per cent., is the lowest for three years. Of course, those levels are still far too high, and we shall continue our efforts to reduce them further. The Industrial Development Board had one of its most successful years in 1993-94, promoting a record 2,309 inward investment jobs. Since April, two further major projects have been announced--the offer by TransTec from Great Britain of 181 new jobs in Londonderry, and the proposal of Hualon from Taiwan to create 1,800 new jobs near Belfast, with another 500 or so jobs associated with the construction.
I can also report some impressive results from the small business sector, for which the Local Enterprise Development Unit is responsible. The year 1993-94 was a record year, with more than 1,300 new businesses established. The continuing success of Northern Ireland Electricity Plc, and news of another record-breaking year for tourism in Northern Ireland, add to the general atmosphere of optimism on the economy.
Finally, on social development, the "making Belfast work" initiative, which began in 1988 as a direct response on the part of the Government to the deep-rooted deprivation in parts of Belfast on both sides of the community, has continued to provide many employment
Column 963and training opportunities. Parts of Belfast and of the rest of the Province face high levels of long-term unemployment ; 60 per cent. of those who are unemployed have been so for at least one year, compared with 35 per cent. in the rest of the United Kingdom. Such unemployment is a blight, affecting the hopes of the people on both sides of the community, and we are actively taking steps to deal with it wherever it occurs.
For all its initiatives, "making Belfast work" has, in this financial year alone, received a further £24.6 million. That represents an increase of £1 million on the allocation for 1993-94. On 26 April, I gave a commitment that the initiative would run for at least another three years.
I conclude by looking to the future. I have faith in a better future for Northern Ireland. I think that we now have an unparalleled opportunity for peace and stability. The joint declaration created a new context for political progress and has met with support across the community in Northern Ireland, and nationally and
internationally. Sinn Fein now knows how it can enter the political process. It should renounce violence now and join in the political process. But whatever it decides, we shall carry on, with or without Sinn Fein.
We shall carry on working with the Irish Government for the shared understanding about which I have spoken, which is most likely to produce a settlement. We shall continue to talk to the main Northern Ireland constitutional parties, with a view to securing an agreed settlement. We shall maintain the political momentum. We shall, with the Irish Government, resolutely continue to fight terrorism. This is a different picture from that of a year ago. We have further rational grounds for hope that, through consent and democracy, a settlement will be reached. Until that happens, however, Northern Ireland should remain under direct rule, so I commend the order to the House.
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North) : I join the Secretary of State in extending our support to the security forces and to all who are engaged in impartially upholding the rule of law in Northern Ireland. They deserve our support ; too often they deserve and receive our sympathy when they suffer casualties and bereavements.
Like the Secretary of State, I regret the fact that we are again debating an extension of direct rule in Northern Ireland. It is a palpable sign of failure on the part of politicians that we have been unable to address and, if not solve the problem, at least arrive at a settlement that would be acceptable to the peoples of Ireland, Northern Ireland and all these islands.
No party in this House or in Ireland views direct rule as a solution to the problem in Northern Ireland. The fact that we are again renewing the status quo merely serves to underline our collective failure in Britain and Ireland to find a constitutional settlement that has widespread support in both communities. We regret the need to renew the Northern Ireland Act, but we must also object to the ridiculously short time that we have to debate it today. The lack of time granted by the Government for this debate represents their failure to acknowledge the gravity of the political situation in Northern Ireland. The recent spate of killings, and especially the atrocities at Loughinisland, highlight the urgent need to find a political settlement.
Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley) : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would want correctly to describe why we have this amount of time. We had assumed that we would be given three hours--in other words, half a day--for the debate, but owing to a misunderstanding, and because the agenda was switched at least three times towards the end of last week, I was given to understand that the official Opposition wanted a vote on the second motion, which is why the debate was truncated. I am not accusing the Labour party ; I am just explaining what happened. It is, as the hon. Gentleman says, regrettable.
Mr. McNamara : I am glad that our wish to have a vote on the second order, which we regard as most important, has been met. It was, however, foisted on the Opposition and on the House with no warning, and after the shadow Cabinet had discussed the business for the week. I need not pursue that matter further other than to say that as we have only a short time for the debate I shall seek to keep my remarks relatively brief so that all those hon. Members who wish to speak may do so.
The British and the Irish Governments must continue to work together to agree a joint framework document to put to the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland. Under article 2 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the two Governments have pledged to make determined efforts to resolve any differences. It is vital that both Governments remain united in pursuit of a settlement which grants parity of esteem to the aspirations and beliefs of both communities in Northern Ireland.
I hope that the Minister of State, when he replies to the debate, will be able to give the House the timetable for the joint framework document and say whether the date of the proposed Prime Ministerial summit has been put back to the end of July or is still on course for about the third week of July. Will he also say whether the nub of the disagreement between the two Governments is the nature and powers of cross-border institutions and whether any framework document which is agreed will be published so that the people of Britain and Ireland can also judge the proposals ? I realise, of course, that they will have to go to the parties first, but it should be possible for the people most concerned, the people in Northern Ireland, to see what the two Governments are discussing.
The Labour party's policy is to support the concept of a united Ireland by consent. That policy has been endorsed by successive party conferences since 1981. However, the Labour party would not seek to impose that policy preference on the peoples of Ireland. The Labour party would and should accept any agreement which has the support of the people of Ireland, north and south.
Therefore, we welcomed the British Government's commitment in the joint declaration to give legislative effect to any measure of agreement on the future relationships in Ireland which the people living in Ireland themselves freely determine without external impediment.
We hope that the inter-party talks can be resumed at the earliest possible date, based upon the principles contained in the joint declaration. We particularly welcome the Secretary of State's statement, in relation to Sinn Fein's questions, that the only condition to be met in order to arrive at any discussion of the future of Ireland and Northern Ireland is a permanent cessation of violence. That is of the utmost importance.
I welcome also the fact that the Secretary of State said today that the talks should maintain the three-strand
Column 965structure agreed in 1991 covering the relationships between the communities within Northern Ireland, between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and between Britain and Ireland. The principle that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed must be maintained. Agreement must be reached on each of the strands before any strand is implemented.
In particular, strand 1, dealing with relations within Northern Ireland, cannot be decoupled from strands 2 and 3. The Secretary of State made that clear today. Each strand is interlocked and interrelated. The establishment of a Northern Ireland Assembly without agreed cross-border institutions would not be a viable option.
We are in favour of the establishment of a devolved power-sharing Assembly for Northern Ireland in the context of the wider constitutional settlement. It would ensure greater direct accountability for the peoples of Northern Ireland and a more democratic decision-making process. A power-sharing Assembly should help to improve relations between the communities as parties would be encouraged to work together co-operatively to improve the conditions of all Northern Ireland citizens.
An Assembly with genuine power-sharing mechanisms can guarantee that the voice of the minority community will be heard. As the Secretary of State has asserted in the past, there can be no return to simple majoritarian rule. That excludes both the Stormont-type regime and a system which is based on pure proportionality. A Northern Ireland Assembly cannot be successfully established in isolation. It must be part of a settlement that grants parity of esteem to the nationalist community and includes an institutionalised Irish dimension.
Mr. McNamara : The point that I am making is that there has to be power sharing ; that majority rule such as there was in the old Stormont is not acceptable. I do not think that anyone expects to see that return. A system based on pure proportionality, which would not mean equality between the communities, would also not be acceptable.
There can be no purely internal settlement because the Northern Ireland conflict is not primarily internal to Northern Ireland--it has an external dimension. Presently, a majority in Northern Ireland define themselves as British citizens and want to remain within the United Kingdom, while a large and growing minority see themselves as Irish and want to be constitutionally and institutionally linked to the Republic of Ireland.
Almost 40 per cent. of the Northern Ireland electorate voted for nationalist parties in the European election. If we are to have peace in these islands, the British and Irish dimensions of the conflict must be recognised. Northern Ireland is the site of two competing sovereignty claims. Both Britain and Ireland have conflicting title deeds. Under
Column 966the Government of Ireland Act 1920 as amended, the British Government claim unqualified sovereignty over Northern Ireland. On the basis of that claim, the Secretary of State is allegedly still pressing for amendment of article 1 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement explicitly to define Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom.
Under articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution, the Republic claims Northern Ireland as part of its natural territory. Those articles do not represent an aggressive territorial claim on another nation state because article 29 of the Irish constitution specifically commits the Irish state
"to the principle of the pacific settlement of international disputes".
Articles 2 and 3 represent a symbolic expression of the legitimate aspirations of 40 per cent. of the Northern Ireland electorate, while section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act 1920 expresses the national allegiances of 60 per cent. of the electorate. The British and Irish territorial claims mirror and entrench the divided allegiances in Northern Ireland.
Mr. McNamara : No, I will not give way. [Hon. Members : "Why not ?"] Because other hon. Members want to contribute to the debate, for which only one and a half hours is allowed. If they are lucky enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, they will have an opportunity to make their observations on my remarks.
Articles 2 and 3 of the 1920 Act as amended are now on the negotiating table. That represents a major breakthrough in British-Irish relations, because both Governments appear to recognise the need for balanced constitutional settlement. Both territorial claims must be addressed if we are to seek to resolve the conflicting national aspirations of the peoples of Northern Ireland.
It must be recognised that amending articles 2 and 3 is a decision for the Irish people and is not within the gift of the Irish Government, and that a referendum on articles 2 and 3 is unlikely to be passed except as part of a wider settlement that the people of the Republic believe is acceptable to northern nationalists.
The right of the Unionist community to remain in the United Kingdom while they form the majority in Northern Ireland has been recognised by the British and Irish in the Anglo-Irish Agreement--a binding international treaty--and, recently, in the joint declaration. The Unionist population have a cast-iron guarantee that Northern Ireland will not be united with the rest of Ireland without the consent of a majority in Northern Ireland. In return for the security that that guarantee grants, the Unionist population, both Governments and the nationalist population of Northern Ireland are entitled to expect some flexibility from Unionist politicians, and recognition of the nationalist identity and the aspirations that they believe should be given institutional expression.
A no-surrender mentality can never bring reconciliation. We will see a resolution of the conflict only when all parties recognise that we are not playing a zero sum game. It is possible to compromise without losing one's cause or beliefs. All sides gain if there is a permanent cessation of violence and an accommodation of differences. The Labour party believes that there must be some form of institutionalised Irish dimension in any political settlement. Formal and institutional recognition must be given to the sense of Irish identity held in the nationalist
Column 967community. Institutions must be established that allow authority, power and responsibility to be shared between the peoples of Northern Ireland in full co-operation with the Governments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. There should be no transfer of sovereignty without the consent of a majority in Northern Ireland, but the British and Irish Governments must share responsibility for developing a constitutional framework for a political settlement in the absence of agreement in Northern Ireland.
The joint declaration by the British and Irish Governments contains principles that should form the basis of a just and durable settlement for the peoples of Northern Ireland. The Labour party would prefer the agreement to be made between the parties in Northern Ireland on a constitutional settlement that secures widespread support ; but no party or organisation has the right to hinder political progress. As the Secretary of State said in his reply to the Sinn Fein questionnaire, no party has a veto.
If the constitutional parties are unable to resolve their differences, the two Governments have a duty to the citizens of these islands to address the underlying causes of the conflict and agree a settlement that grants both communities rights and aspirations, parity of esteem and practical expression. We believe that those should be the principles underlying the discussions that will take place between the parties, and the underlying and underpinning matters contained in the framework document that the two Governments will present.
Following the expressions of hope that we have heard from the Secretary of State, I myself hope that this may yet be the last time we have to ask the House--regretfully--to renew the legislation. 4.40 pm
There is no viable or responsible alternative to endorsing the extension order ; to do otherwise would be to plunge the government of Northern Ireland into chaos. That is not to say that we warmly welcome and embrace the continuation of direct rule. There are many manifestations of its defects--of the democratic deficit--and we look to the creation of circumstances in which the order can be consigned to history. That is a major objective of Government policy. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State is fully aware of the strength and depth of Conservative support for the policy that he is pursuing. That policy has three main pillars, all of which deserve the plaudits that they are receiving. The first is the constitutional guarantee that Northern Ireland is de facto and de jure part of the United Kingdom, because that is the democratically expressed wish of the majority, and will remain so as long as that is the case. On the other hand, we accept the entire legitimacy of nationalist politicians who seek a united Ireland. Let that debate be resolved through the democratic process.
The constitutional guarantee, endorsed by the Republic of Ireland, is therefore the first pillar of Government policy that deserves support. The second is the strong emphasis on seeking agreement on the structures of government in Northern Ireland, and related matters, through consent.
Column 968There is no room for coercion. In the not very recent past, we had three-strand talks : there were three strands because there are three relevant sets of relations. We welcome the fact that the Government are seeking to recreate a climate in which meaningful talks can take place between the constitutional parties of Northern Ireland and we especially welcome the Minister of State's quoted statement that "Nothing will emerge as a result of the talks process that will fail the fundamental test of widespread agreement."
Consent is the only way forward. We interpret that as a statement in crude shorthand that both sides of the major political divide in Northern Ireland have the right to object to, or accept, whatever may emerge from the talks process.
Mr. Winnick : No one disputes the right of the majority in Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) made that perfectly clear : in no way does he dispute the right of the majority not to be forced into a united Ireland. Does the hon. Gentleman accept, however, that there can be no veto on other matters either when two Governments can reach agreement--as is quite likely, and as we hope that they will--on various questions, including joint bodies, and when sovereignty is not an issue ? As with the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, the two Governments should be in a position to decide on matters where there is no question of sovereignty being taken from the people of Northern Ireland.
Mr. Hunter : I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman is directing that question to the right person ; I think that it should probably be fielded by the Secretary of State or a Minister of State. As I see it, the principle is clear, having been agreed by the Governments of both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. There is no room for coercion on any matter : widespread agreement is the only way forward. It is perhaps simplistic to speak in terms of a veto, although I acknowledge that I did so briefly a moment ago. We must look for a consensus of constitutional, responsible feeling and thought, emerging from a meaningful negotiation. We are not predetermining anything : nothing is ruled in and nothing is ruled out, as the saying goes.