Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[ Mr. Conway. ]
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Sir Patrick Mayhew): I warmly welcome the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam) to her important and demanding responsibilities. She brings with her valuable previous experience of the Province. I must also say that, although I often disagreed with him--sometimes fiercely--I have always respected the dedication of her predecessor, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), over many years. This debate comes at a very opportune time. I am glad that it has been arranged because it is high time that the House had the opportunity to review the developments that have followed one upon the other during the recess and more recently, and to discuss the way forward for Northern Ireland.
Yesterday, I was in Magherafelt in the constituency of the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea). He was present as a member of the council, and I was present at the council. There, the chairman of the district council, Mr. Bertie Montgomerie, welcomed the events of the past two months and described them as amazing. I find that that impression is widely held.
In common with every other council in the Province--I was with Strabane councillors on Tuesday--Magherafelt councillors are making common cause to build on the present peace. They are building on the bright prospects for jobs and for stability that can open up because of it.
Throughout the Province, there is also an altogether new sense of hope-- hope in place never of despair, but of a grim and dogged acceptance that violence would go on being inflicted for the foreseeable future.
What is the character of that hope? It is that this time, in defiance of all too many precedents, violence will prove to have been set aside for good; that the overlay of history will no longer dominate the political scene; and that the conflict between national identities and loyalties will at last be managed peacefully and fairly.
At first, it was a tentative, even timid hope. However, as the weeks have gone by, it is increasingly being seen as realistic, although in many minds it is a long way from being an expectation. The agony has gone on for so long that it has been hard for people to hoist in that the guns are, indeed, silent.
As the weeks have passed since 31 August--eight now--people have become less disoriented and a lot less suspicious as well. However, on all sides, suspicion and fear remain dangerous, powerful forces in Northern Ireland, and we must show that we understand that. The fears may be allayed, but they are all too easily revived. Unionists fear above all that an end to the Union will somehow be imposed on the people of Northern Ireland against their wishes, or somehow--by a kind of ratchet process--made inevitable. It will not happen; it cannot happen. But the fear is there.
Column 1019Equally, nationalists fear a secret plot to reimpose an unreformed Stormont, with one side of the community permanently dominant and the other permanently subordinate. It will not happen; it cannot happen; no one even argues that it should happen. But the fear is there. It is worth examining whether these immensely welcome developments really should have amazed us, or whether we should properly see them as simply the outcome of consistent policies followed over a long time. I am sure that the latter is the case. Let us take the Provisional IRA's ceasefire statement. Was it truly surprising, save perhaps that it did not come earlier?
Looking across the Chamber, I can see several right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who were not surprised by that statement. Once the world came to realise that the Irish and British Governments took a common position in the Downing street declaration, surely it was hopeless for anyone to go on using violence to advance his political purpose. The reason is that the Governments declared then that it was democracy that would shape the future for Northern Ireland, and that violence never worked. They declared that, whereas anyone with a democratic mandate could join in the debate and try to shape the future, no one could do so who still seemed willing to fortify his negotiating position with a bomb.
For someone to continue violence for political purposes in those circumstances is to admit to all the world that he knows that he cannot succeed democratically, yet he is not prepared to put up with the position. That is not very attractive; in fact, it looks very bad indeed. So that person has to stop the violence--and that is what the declaration did. Let me add that it simply would not have come about without the vision and courage of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister; and I similarly salute Mr. Reynolds.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): It is certainly important for us to mark the fact that terrorism did not triumph over the democratic process, and that at no stage did the British people or the British Parliament abdicate from the fight against it. But if it is important that the two Governments reached an agreement over a period--which includes the joint declaration--is not it equally important that London and Dublin continue that degree of working together? Should not that be the cornerstone of our policy? Should not we also recognise that it is not the Republic's wish in any way to take over Northern Ireland without the consent of the majority, and never has been? Is not it also important that we decide, with Dublin, the nature of the cross-border executive bodies that will give the minority community in Northern Ireland the feeling of security that it clearly requires?
Sir Patrick Mayhew: The hon. Gentleman has covered a large sector of the rest of my speech. It is, of course, important for the two Governments to go on working together. They worked together very beneficially to bring about the joint declaration; there was a constructive and useful meeting at Chequers on Monday, and I am certain that that pattern not only should but will continue. I was saying how much the declaration owed to the two Prime Ministers. Those who were present last weekend in Dungannon, Newry or Lisburn, will have seen the crowds greet the Prime Minister in the streets and shopping centres--right across the spectrum; we should reflect on the character of those towns. It will be apparent to those
Column 1020who saw those huge crowds that they knew perfectly well how important the contributions of the Prime Ministers had been.
Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh): I was in Newry at the time. As the Secretary of State said, we were pleased to be visited by the Prime Minister: he was given a warm and widespread welcome. May I make two further points, lest they go by default? The real peace people in Northern Ireland are the ordinary men and women sitting in their houses whose names we do not know and who stood up against the bully-boys for 25 years and said that they would not succeed.
May I also recognise the contribution of the leader of my party, my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), who took enormous risks inside and outside the House to play his part on behalf of our party to bring us towards a peaceful resolution?
So deep is the suspicion that I mentioned that I need to repeat once more the words used by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister a little time ago when speaking about the ceasefire declaration of 31 August. He said that no price had been paid, that there had been no secret deals, no secret assurances, no nods, no winks and no tricks with mirrors and that we had not lowered our guard. It is necessary to go on saying that and, of course, it is equally true of the ceasefire announced on 13 October--no less welcome--by the combined loyalist military command. The Prime Minister's promise that the outcome of a resumed talks process would be put to the people of Northern Ireland in a referendum was undoubtedly highly reassuring, and may well have been decisive; I do not know.
So the developments of the past two months have rightly heartened countless people. They have come from policies which we have long pursued and which have always had very great support.
Through all of these traumatic years, our resolve has remained constant. It has been to protect the people, to uphold the rule of law, never to give in to terrorism and, therefore, to give our full support to the Royal Ulster Constabulary and to the Army which acts only in its support. Mine is now the responsibility for that. Since long before I became Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I have supported the constitutional doctrine that chief officers of police are independent in operational matters. Their duty is owed to the law and to the Crown, not to Ministers. I believe that to be of great importance, especially now when crucial decisions are being taken, which must be taken on the basis of professional advice from that quarter.
Like all my predecessors, I have to see to it that the people in Northern Ireland get the best protection against terrorist crime--and it is crime-- that can practicably be provided. Therefore, the response of the security forces to the terrorist threat has always had to be proportionate to that threat and in whatever strength it may necessitate.
That is why, in January 1992, the Army battalions additional to the Royal Irish Regiment were increased in Northern Ireland from 10 to 12 in number. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State and I are grateful to my right
Column 1021hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence for his agreement that they will stay there for as long as they continue to be needed.
Methods of deployment, too, have always been dictated by the character of the threat, and that continues to be the case in today's changing circumstances.
Ms Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood): May I take the Secretary of State back a moment? At an enormously important moment in history such as this when we can make real progress, it is important for everyone to be honest and humble. In his earlier remarks, the right hon. and learned Gentleman talked as if what Britain had done in Northern Ireland had always been fine and good. Does he accept that Britain's failure to secure justice in Northern Ireland during the period of Stormont is a part of the problem and that we must all do better in future?
Sir Patrick Mayhew: If the hon. Lady, who is a close student of these matters, cares to remind herself of a speech that I made in Coleraine in December 1992, she may find that something of that character was addressed.
In some areas, it has been possible to reduce quite markedly the numbers of soldiers accompanying police patrols. It has been possible to make changes in the weapons carried by police officers on patrol in some areas. Flak jackets have in some areas been removed, and berets worn in place of helmets. Camouflage cream is generally no longer used on the streets, and so on.
Wherever practicable, there has been a general lightening in the forward deployment of the military in particular. The General Officer Commanding, Sir Roger Wheeler, has been able to make other changes in his discretion. It is, for example, very exceptional for helicopters to fly below 500 ft. As long ago as December 1992, I made the speech to which I have already referred the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short). In that speech, I anticipated that with an ending of violence, it would become possible for the Army to revert in normal times to normal garrison duties in Northern Ireland. There are garrison towns and stations throughout the United Kingdom, so that would be a return to normality. In Northern Ireland and in Great Britain, garrison towns have always been established.
It is not possible as yet, or anything like it, for the RUC to police the Province without the assistance of the Army, but steps in that direction are beginning to be taken and it is important that they should be. The Army does not want to be a policeman any longer than it has to and the RUC, although deeply grateful to the Army, would much prefer to be able to do the job on its own. People can see for themselves that that is now happening.
In that context, I want to make one thing absolutely clear to the House. In no circumstances will risks be taken by reducing security measures to a level below what is professionally seen to be necessitated by the perceived threat of terrorist crime. Nothing has been reduced or discontinued that cannot very quickly be put back should the situation be seen to require it once again. That goes in particular for my rescinding on Friday some 80 closure orders on the remaining closed border-crossing points. Again, I acted on the advice of the Chief Constable, Sir Hugh Annesley. If the situation necessitates it, the border-crossing points can be quickly closed again.
Column 1022Meanwhile, the protection of those near the border in whose interests the closures were initially made remains a prime responsibility of the RUC. The Chief Constable and the GOC are paying close attention to it.
On the RUC, I shall give one illustration of the benefits that the process that I have described is bringing in terms of enabling it to get on with the ordinary duties of policing. On Friday, I was in a police station where a police inspector said to me how much more effectively the RUC was now able to deal with ordinary policing, such as dealing with non-terrorist crime. He gave as an example an incident in which the police had recently been able to reach a house where a burglary had been reported almost before the householder had put down the telephone. The diminution in the threat accounted for their ability to do that. Accordingly, they were able to arrest the burglar. The householder said:
"if this is peace, I am for it".
What is not recorded is what the burglar said. There is, of course, very much more to it than that. Racketeering, for example, will now get even more attention from the RUC, which it will continue to need.
Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill): The Secretary of State will recall that I have questioned him previously about the incidence of protection rackets and racketeering generally in Northern Ireland. He will be familiar with the work of Families Against Intimidation and Terror in Northern Ireland and he will know that despite the ceasefire, welcome though it is, the IRA has continued to try to be the de facto civil authority in parts of Northern Ireland and has viciously attacked young men. A 16-year-old Catholic in west Belfast had his leg badly broken. The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Dr. Hendron) has raised the matter with the Department. Can the Secretary of State confirm that the Government will continue to take every possible action to deal with those who carry out protection threats and racketeering, using political ideologies and terrorist organisations? Will he confirm that they will not be allowed to operate like a Mafia?
Sir Patrick Mayhew: I am glad that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) raised that point. He is right to refer to the so- called "punishment beatings"--the presumption that those people are entitled to punish anybody, and to deal with anyone without charge, trial or appeal. So much for their view of human rights. I am glad that the RUC has been insistent that such activities should stop. It has been reported to me that, in recent weeks, their incidence has declined. There is no justification for such activities.
Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East): Although what my right hon. and learned Friend has just said about the RUC and its new duties means that Northern Ireland will be the Province with the most perfect motorists for at least the next six or nine months as a result of the RUC's vigilance, does he agree that what is now unfolding is what the Prime Minister referred to in his speeches during his recent visit--the very exciting economic prospects that
Column 1023are beginning to open up? Although it is very early days, does my right hon. and learned Friend see signs of economic optimism returning already?
Before I move on from the security aspects of the scene, I pay tribute to the gallant police officers who have served or now serve in the Royal Ulster Constabulary. They have held the line for 25 years. I believe, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister sitting beside me agrees, that without their efforts, supported prodigiously by the Army, the Province would not be at peace today. They have never weakened in their duty to the law and to the people of Northern Ireland as a whole, nor have they ever flinched in the face of the gravest danger. Theirs has been the continuing courage of cold blood, and it has been shared by their families. Their casualties have been high--296 have been killed and nearly 7,300 injured over the past 25 years. But without their service, those of the civilian population would have been far, far higher. They deserve, and I know that they get, our deep admiration and thanks.
With the peace, which we all hope will stick, the police officers of the RUC face new challenges but also new anxieties, especially about their jobs. Those anxieties deserve our understanding and sympathy and a decent and worthy response from us. And they will get them. We shall not turn our backs on the people who have seen us through.
I should like to say something now about the Army, and the Royal Marines who have served in company with it. I do not forget the contributions of the Royal Air Force, the rest of the Royal Navy and the other services. During all this time, the Army has shared the burden of policing the Province under the rule of law. Even now, members of the armed forces must outnumber the police by a proportion of about 3:2. No fewer than 648 members of the armed forces have been killed; and 5,762 have been injured, nearly all of them in each category in the Army. Like the police, they have no privileges or immunities; they have only duties, which are often very dangerous. Generally very young men and women, they have habitually worked 16 or even more hours a day in exhausting conditions. They have fulfilled that role with great discipline and courage and they are a source of great pride to our country.
Dr. Joe Hendron (Belfast, West): First, may I formally thank the Prime Minister for putting Northern Ireland at the top of his agenda? I was present when he made his speech in Belfast last week, and the points that he made were extremely well taken.
On the point raised by the Secretary of State, I totally accept the great sacrifices made by the police and the British Army in Northern Ireland. However, is not it insensitive to bring the Parachute Regiment into the streets of west Belfast? I am not noted for making things difficult for the security forces.
Sir Patrick Mayhew: I do not agree with that point, which is unusual in the case of the hon. Gentleman, who lives a courageous life in west Belfast. There is no regiment in the British Army that cannot be trusted to serve with the discipline, care and courage needed in
Column 1024Northern Ireland. May I point out to the hon. Gentleman, in case he has forgotten, that the second battalion of the Parachute Regiment has been serving in Holywood, east of Belfast, for the past two years with great distinction, engaging in a considerable amount of community work as well as its ordinary duties? It has always had one company detached up at Woodbourne, which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is not too far away from his constituency. Therefore, I do not accept his argument that the Parachute Regiment should not serve, and nor should any of us.
On the political response to the ceasefire, it has been necessary to assess the true intention of PIRA-Sinn Fein, as it is necessary also to assess the true intention of the anti-nationalist paramilitaries. The fundamental point is that we must not enter into substantive negotiations with people who may still intend to bring a gun or bomb to the table with them. Only they can know their true intentions. The rest of us must rely on their words and actions, or rather on what they do not do. Conduct speaks louder than words. I make no bones about the fact that, although Sinn Fein and the IRA have sought to convey the impression that the ceasefire is permanent, they have not yet stated that unambiguously. It is fair to say that they have not, which is why we have been very cautious. It is now recognised that we have been wise to be very cautious. However, as the Prime Minister said last week in Belfast, we have been reviewing their actions, which have been more compelling than their words. My right hon. Friend announced then that we are prepared to make a working assumption, in those circumstances, that their ceasefire is intended to be permanent. That means that we can move carefully towards the beginning of exploratory dialogue between Sinn Fein and the Government, which, for so long, we have publicly stated to be the next stage in the process.
If we can continue reasonably to assume that Sinn Fein is establishing a commitment to exclusively peaceful methods and if the IRA goes on showing that it has indeed ended its terrorism, we shall be ready, as the Prime Minister has said, to convene those exploratory talks before the year is out. They will, of course, need to embrace the republicans' proposals for depositing and decommissioning their armaments, and that also goes for the anti-nationalists. Continued retention can have no justification whatever, for republicans and loyalists alike. If, on the other hand, the evidence starts to point away from a continuing commitment to exclusively democratic methods, our working assumption will cease. It is up to them.
Just as that has been our political response to the republican ceasefire, it has been no less necessary to recognise the ceasefire announced by the others. We have needed in their case, too, to show an understanding of their desire that their political concerns should be taken into consideration, and not excluded. They, and those close to them, have genuine anxieties, not least on social matters. Those worries need to be heeded, as is the case with anxieties emanating from the other end of the paramilitary spectrum. We shall need, therefore, to consult on that, and consider it further.
I shall now mention the interests of the victims--the people who have borne the brunt. Although all the recent events have brought hope, we must surely not forget the victims and their families, who have suffered so much in the past 25 years. The staff who work in the health and
Column 1025personal social services in Northern Ireland have responded to those people's needs as caring and dedicated professionals, and I pay tribute to their work, which has been excellent. However, often victims and their families will have long-term physical and psychological scars and disabilities, which need continuing care, compassion and support.
The Government want to do more to help staff in that most important work. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State responsible for health and social services, the Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Moss), will therefore set up a special fund to provide additional help for people disabled by violence in Northern Ireland, and £1 million will be made available. I envisage that fund being used to help people with physical disabilities in the regional disablement centre, Musgrave Park hospital. It will also help people with psychiatric problems, and those needing bereavement counselling and support.
I recognise that some people still argue, in the case of Sinn Fein, for example, that, by reason of its affiliation and association with terrorists, its members should never be allowed to sit down at the conference table with Governments and parties that have always followed constitutional paths.
I well recognise the bitter feelings of many people whose husbands, wives and relatives have been the victims of terrorist violence. I have seen more than enough to be able to sympathise with them. So great is the grief, pain and anger that has been caused, that it is readily understandable for such people to take that position--but I do not find that it is typical.
To my great admiration, many people who have suffered grievously nevertheless recognise that stability will come to Northern Ireland only if all viewpoints are represented in discussion. They stipulate only that we speak to people who now reliably commit themselves exclusively to democratic purposes and means. I am sure that they are right. That is why the Government have established the stages by which Sinn Fein could, as far as we are concerned, be admitted to a resumed process of political talks. I shall now discuss that process.
The House has always warmly supported that process, so patiently introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke), and announced by him in March 1991. The objective of the process has been to achieve a widely acceptable and durable political accommodation for Northern Ireland as a whole. The House is familiar with its three-stranded process. I believe that the House has always endorsed the judgment that only by means of political talks of that composite character can there be a realistic prospect of a more stable, less antagonistic, more tranquil and more prosperous way of life in Northern Ireland.
As for the first strand, for our part we want, for example, more responsibility to be restored to locally accountable representatives in Northern Ireland, in relationships that are fair, and that reflect the principle that the principal traditions in the community should be held in parity of esteem. The British Government are responsible for Northern Ireland, as has always been recognised since the inception of the process. As for the second strand of relationships, we also think that it must make sense to make common cause with the Republic in
Column 1026areas where there is common interest between north and south. The means by which that can be achieved without impinging in any way upon sovereignty in relationships across the border, is a matter for careful judgment. We want to see whether a new formulation of the relationship between the Republic and ourselves can be arrived at, commanding broader consent than at present.
All those matters were, to varying degrees, discussed during the talks process in 1992. It is our earnest hope that that process will be resumed, again with all the main constitutional parties in Northern Ireland participating, and, if the proper conditions are fulfilled, with Sinn Fein as well.
The two Governments want to help the parties to get back round the table. We have resolved to try to develop a shared understanding of the sort of overall accommodation that might have the best chance of winning the wide acceptance across the community that it will need if it is to stick. We continue to work at that. It has come to be called the joint framework document. We have not yet reached agreement, therefore no document yet exists. I greatly hope that we can reach agreement, but it is not certain. We have made some good progress. We want to achieve agreement and to do so quickly. We want to do so not in order to present the result as some sort of blueprint with which the political parties in Northern Ireland must conform--far from it. We want to do so as a means of helping them realise that it would be worth their while sitting down around the table again because there would be a prospect of carrying the process through to success. It would be a suggestion--an offering--but because some fears have begun to centre on the framework document, we have undertaken jointly that it will be published when it is handed over to the parties. It is for exactly the same reason--because the British Government are responsible for the internal arrangements of Northern Ireland--that we shall publish our suggestions on the first strand of relationships. With the maximum degree of openness thus established, confidence on all sides should grow, which is what we hope and intend.
Sir Patrick Mayhew: If the hon. Gentleman will excuse me, I should very much like to finish my speech as I am taking too long. Meanwhile, underpinning everything is the unshakeable guarantee that the constitutional future of Northern Ireland will be determined by the consent of its people and that the outcome of the talks process will be submitted to the judgment of the people of Northern Ireland themselves.
This is a time to build. The Northern Ireland Economic Council said on Monday:
"The combination of Northern Ireland going into a seemingly sustained period of economic recovery, together with the benefits that would arise with an end to all violence and the creation of political stability, provides an economic scenario in Northern Ireland that has never been better in the past 25 years".
Column 1027I very much welcome the generous support that the international community is showing for the peace process. Both the European Union and the Government of New Zealand are increasing their contributions to the International Fund for Ireland, and the Australian Government have announced their intention to contribute to it. The Government of the United States and the European Union are also putting forward packages of economic assistance to Northern Ireland to help embed the peace and promote community reconciliation through economic regeneration. We, as the Government responsible for them, shall be seeking the views of the people of Northern Ireland, across the spectrum, on the projects that we and the European Union should back financially.
We shall convene an international investment conference in Belfast before Christmas. In settling future public spending levels in the Province, we shall continue to take full account of Northern Ireland's social needs. We shall concentrate, above all, on jobs. The potential and prospects for Northern Ireland are
extraordinarily good. It will be the desire and the will of the entire House that, this time, they shall not be blighted.
Ms Marjorie Mowlam (Redcar): I welcome the timing of the debate. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), the Leader of the Opposition, who sits beside me, said at the party conference this year, we need a new politics of courage, honesty and trust. That means being open. If the Government get things right, we shall give them credit; when they do not, we shall say so. I intend to do just that on the subject of Northern Ireland. In that vein I thank the Secretary of State for his open, honest and complimentary remarks about me at the beginning of his speech.
I also welcome the opportunity to do this job at such an important time in the search for a permanent peace within these islands. There is now the best opportunity for many years to enable normal life to return to so many people in the north of Ireland.
First, however, I extend my thanks to my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), for his tireless work in the interests of both communities over the past seven years. As many of my colleagues will know, his interest in Northern Ireland began long before that. He was a leading figure in a group of Labour Members in the Campaign for Democracy in Ulster in the 1960s. He was tenacious in raising questions in the House about discrimination against the minority community, and active in breaking the Speaker's convention that restricted discussion of Northern Ireland issues in this House.
As I am sure the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) will remember, my hon. Friend was also active in 1969, when he marched with him in the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. My hon. Friend has been a committed campaigner for civil liberties, and he divided this House after internment was introduced in 1971. He has been held in especially high regard for the role that he played in the House during the passage of the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1989, when he worked assiduously to rectify the inadequacies of the 1976 Act.
My hon. Friend has played an historically significant role in raising issues such as the administration of justice in Northern Ireland--the UDR Four, for instance--and in
Column 1028his astute and effective use of parliamentary questions. He has avidly campaigned for civil rights, justice and fair employment. I am honoured to have the chance to continue his work, and I know that he will be working in the days and years ahead on the same areas. I look forward to his support.
I should also like to record my party's thanks to my hon. Friends the Members for Wigan (Mr. Stott) and for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien). Their hard work in Northern Ireland is readily acknowledged, not least in the letters that I have received in the past few days from various organisations testifying to their assiduous efforts. Following the changes to Labour's Front-Bench team that have just occurred, it might be helpful if I took this opportunity to reaffirm to the House Labour's full support for the Downing street declaration, and to acknowledge its crucial importance in changing the context in which the peace process in Northern Ireland can be advanced. The Opposition endorse the aim of the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach, outlined in the declaration, to foster agreement and reconciliation leading to a new political framework, founded on consent and encompassing arrangements within Northern Ireland, for the whole island of Ireland and between Ireland and Britain.
I should like also to reaffirm Labour's historic commitment to the unification of Ireland by consent--always the crucial word. I reaffirm our support for the principles contained in the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which states that there can be no change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland without the consent of a majority of its people. Labour also welcomes the Government's recognition in the Downing Street declaration that it is right for the people of Ireland alone to exercise their right of self-determination; and the Irish Government's recognition that this right must be exercised with, and subject to, the agreement and consent of a majority of people in Northern Ireland.
We welcome the cessation of violence by all the paramilitary organisations, and acknowledge that the next couple of months are crucial to moving the peace process forward--although everyone in the House knows that there are many thorny questions to be dealt with. It is essential, however, that the peace process keep moving forward. We have to keep on trucking, and unless we do, it will be
counter-productive for everyone involved.
No one will have anything to gain from prevarication or procrastination in the hope of a change of Government. Labour, in opposition and in government, will seek to facilitate and encourage a balanced constitutional settlement leading to an agreement that will have the support of both traditions.
We believe that such a settlement requires five features. First, there will have to be provisions that ensure that constitutional legislation in both Ireland and Britain is mutually consistent, and consistent with the principle of majority consent.
Secondly, there must be provision to establish strong devolved government in Northern Ireland--a devolved assembly which will need to be based entirely upon proportional representation to ensure that each party is fairly represented. That principle is now broadly accepted in Northern Ireland.
Thirdly, there must be provision to ensure that each community receives parity of esteem and equity of treatment. Those principles will have to be reflected in a
Column 1029fair employment policy, policing and the administration of justice. They will require imagination and willingness to break the shackles of our past.
Fourthly, as the Downing street declaration envisaged, deepening cross- border co-operation in Ireland and the encouragement of institutions which reflect that, are simply common sense, irrespective of where one stands on the national question. Those arrangements need infringe no one's sovereign statehood.
Fifthly and finally, any constitutional arrangements that are established must be securely and appropriately guaranteed and protected by both Governments. In that respect, we welcome the recent statement by the Irish Foreign Minister, Dick Spring, in his address to the United Nations on 28 September. He argued that an agreement was needed in which
"the exercise of sovereignty, by whichever government, will at all times, now and in the future, be qualified by scrupulously equal treatment of the two northern communities and their rights, identities and allegiances."
We agree that a balanced constitutional settlement must achieve that objective. That process was assisted by the Government's announcement on Friday, which we supported, and especially by the package of security and investment measures which are crucial to the process of moving towards a stable peace.
If that future is to be one of peace and prosperity, both Governments must take the necessary steps to encourage both the restructuring and the regeneration of the Northern Ireland economy. The Opposition welcome the statement earlier this week in the annual report of the Northern Ireland Economic Council, which said that public spending should be maintained at current levels if the peace process is to be moved forward.
We all want to see a permanent cessation of violence, and we must recognise that, as a result, over time that will bring structural changes in public expenditure. There will be a need for the reallocation of public spending not only to tackle the structural weaknesses in the Northern Ireland economy but to respond to changes in the public sector and to the need to stimulate greater private sector investment.
There is no doubt in my mind that Government subventions are a significant determinant of demand in the Northern Ireland economy. We should like assurances from the Government that, in the wake of the ceasefire, the Treasury will not, as it has done elsewhere on public expenditure, be keen to see immediate cuts. We should like a clear statement from the Minister that the Treasury will keep its hands off current public expenditure in Northern Ireland.
Peace as well as conflict present difficult economic adjustments. It is essential for the Government to consider now the implications of economic policies and priorities for an increase in employment opportunities and standards of living for everyone in Northern Ireland. We acknowledge the conference that the Secretary of State is organising in December, but we are interested in the steps beyond that that the Government plan to take.
It is crucial to address the problems of long-term unemployment. It is appalling for anyone without a job, from whichever side of the divide, to contemplate continuing in the long-term unemployment that exists in both communities but especially in the nationalist
Column 1030community. The fears of people in the police and security forces about future employment are apparent from talking to them, and, as everybody knows, people's fears and insecurities about future employment are powerful and potentially destructive feelings at the best of times. But when going through a process of political change, those insecurities are considerably magnified.
The Government must not fail to address the problems of unemployment, the consequent social deprivation and the structural change in the employment market in Northern Ireland. To fail to do so would be potentially harmful to the peace process.
There has been much recent talk about a peace dividend, but the Opposition recognise that failure to address issues of investment and structural unemployment could lead to an economic peace deficit. Consequently, we welcome the setting up by the European Union of the task force to help regenerate the Northern Ireland economy, and we also welcome the endorsement by the Council of Europe, the Commission and the Parliament of the Downing street declaration and the peace process.
We look forward to the peace summit in December in Essen, where measures to regenerate the Northern Ireland economy will be considered. Northern Ireland has great assets in its young talent and its natural environment, and they must be developed in the interests of stable peace and lasting prosperity. Tourism is a classic example, because in Northern Ireland it generates £120 million of GNP and employs about 10,000 people. There is no doubt that the onset of peace can enable the full potential of Northern Ireland's natural inbuilt heritage to be realised in the medium to long term, and that has potential employment opportunities for another 8,000 to 10,000 people.
As the peace process accelerates, it is vital for all parties to look to the future and to consider everyone else's fears and anxieties, and not simply to reiterate past positions and stay in their trenches.
Several hon. Members rose --