Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris): Order. Many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate, so I ask for succinct speeches. 4.46 pm

Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster): I am flattered to be called so early in the debate. In deference to other hon. Members who wish to speak, I shall restrict myself to specific topics. As I am the first Back Bencher to be called in the debate, I shall make some well-deserved nice remarks about the Government and thank the Opposition parties for their support in the process, which so far is going so very well.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was in his place a moment ago, and is well aware of my support. I was one of the first to write to him about his Guildhall speech. He has occasionally been criticised for going too slowly, and perhaps at times I have been a little impatient, as have other hon. Members. However, so far so very good. Our congratulations on the success so far by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State are the best judgment that we can offer. I wish them well as we now enter possibly more difficult successive stages in this historic operation.


Column 1031

I said that I would mention specific topics, and I should like to speak about the nature of the cessations of violence with, of course, particular reference to Sinn Fein/IRA, and to address the immediate problem of weapons and explosives. Last but not least, I shall speak about pace and progress in the immediate future. I shall not even begin to take up all the parameters of this vast subject, but shall concentrate on those specifics.

The nature of the cessations of violence is extremely relevant to what follows, and especially to the attitudes that we adopt to judge such key issues as the surrender of weapons and explosives. On the basic situation-- I am mainly addressing the IRA--we need to be realistic, and should perhaps remind ourselves what has been achieved. I dare say that it is more profound than usual, but basically it is an IRA ceasefire in the terms that have been expressed.

I shall remind the House of those terms by using direct quotations. At the outset it was stated that there was

"a complete cessation of military operations . . . it is unconditional and open ended."

When he addressed the remarks by the Irish Taoiseach, Mr. Adams said:

"The assumption of permanence is correct."

Last but not least, the statement by Mr. Adams and my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) outside Government buildings in Dublin perhaps took it even further, saying:

"We are all totally and absolutely committed to democratic and peaceful methods of resolving our political problems".

In the light of that, let me, as a Conservative Back Bencher, make a few comments about what appears to be the IRA/Sinn Fein position. I am not being semantic, but, as far as I understand it--I do not have as exact an understanding of IRA constitutional rules as some others do--the IRA cannot actually use the word "permanent" because it has had no Army Council meeting. IRA spokesmen are obliged to do that if they are to use the word "permanent", as that would mean the end of what they would term "the struggle". There is nothing they will do, or be prepared to do, that could be said to amount to a surrender. Therefore, without the word "permanent", and with no council meeting or surrender, we begin to understand the terminology that I have outlined to the House. IRA leaders have, however, declared an intention to make it permanent, and deserve an acknowledgement of their considerable contribution to the position. They appear--it has to be put to the test--ready and willing to negotiate and build a permanent peace.

I welcome the other cessation and ceasefire--that of the loyalist paramilitaries--and I particularly welcome its terms. Hon. Members will agree that the terms were generous, to say the least, and that the only condition, which relates to a resumption of violence on the other side, is completely understandable. On the paramilitary side, everyone is ready to talk.

My second point concerns an immediate problem that applies to both sides: the surrender or decommissioning of weapons and explosives. That has to be a matter for our preliminary talks with Sinn Fein. Unless we get over that problem, we shall not get very far with anything at all. It is of paramount importance to getting Sinn Fein into substantive talks at a later stage or whenever we can. We want those weapons handed in. At the end of the day, we


Column 1032

must have them in, but Sinn Fein is unlikely to bring them in without some progress being made, either generally or in negotiation. Hon. Members will have heard that point being made by a Mr. McLoughlin on the "Today" programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning. He made the position very clear. It will not be easy, and will need some patience on both sides.

What can we do about it? Perhaps all we can do at the beginning is to stick rigidly to the logistics. At least we have to talk about it and to quantify the agreed and accepted amounts of arms and explosives. We can categorise-- I welcome something that crept in with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at Question Time last week--and differentiate between weapons that are undoubtedly offensive, such as Semtex explosives and detonators, and those which can be used for defensive purposes.

We have to consider the manner of handing over weapons and to whom they are handed over. There will be no Falkland Islands stockpiling of weapons and no surrender of weapons. Some people have the idea that it will amount to that, but it will not.

We have to try to establish a political sequence linked to progress, which can lead increasingly to the handover of weapons and the gradual involvement of Sinn Fein in the process. Obviously, the eventual aim is to get it involved in the substantive talks. Finally, as far as the pace of progress is concerned, I must repeat that the caution of Her Majesty's Government has proved to be completely correct. The main players have to remain on board, and the pace cannot be too fast for those main players. I welcome the attitude throughout--I have done so publicly before, although it is not always recognised that I do this--of the Official Unionist party. It has behaved in a statesmanlike way, as have other Northern Ireland parties.

We need a steady momentum. There need be no rush, but everybody--including Sinn Fein--has to feel that, at whatever pace, we are getting somewhere. We have to remember that each side has to be kept on board. No great rush is necessary, provided we all have confidence that we are getting somewhere.

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam): I thank my hon. Friend for giving way at this crucial moment, but will he make it clear whether he envisages talks continuing, or at least starting, while not a single weapon has been handed in? If that is the case, could it not be interpreted that Sinn Fein would have the upper hand and could instigate a process of blackmail?

Mr. Temple-Morris: I was trying to make it fairly clear that I was talking about talks about talks. As for talks about weaponry, surrender, logistics and so on, I set out a whole sequence. Only when we have accomplished an agreed handing over, or at least an agreed sequence that everyone accepts and that will have involved a large-scale handing over, will talks be practicable, because the Official Unionist party and other parties in Northern Ireland have to be prepared to talk to Sinn Fein. I am not addressing the House in a cloud of imaginary optimism; we have to be practical.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow): Unless I misheard the hon. Gentleman, I


Column 1033

thought that he was trying to draw a distinction between defensive and offensive weapons. What does he mean by defensive weapons?

Mr. Temple-Morris: I was trying to make it clear that that distinction appears to be creeping into the frame. It is for those who take part in the negotiations to determine it. I would guess that, on the loyalist side, it would be extremely difficult for everybody to hand in firearms which they would class as defensive. In practical terms, to expect everyone in Sinn Fein-IRA to respond to an amnesty with every weapon might be a little optimistic.

I am making no distinctions in terms of the desire to get everything handed in, but we should remember in the back of our minds that the absolutely lethal offensive weaponry that would be used right at the front line should there be a resumption of violence and should we fail in all this, would be Semtex and detonators.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann): Would the hon. Gentleman regard the knee-capping of someone as an offensive or defensive act, and would he regard the weapon used as one that should be surrendered?

Mr. Temple-Morris: That is a smart point to make in a debating society, and I commend the hon. Gentleman on making it. We all deplore such acts, and as soon as he makes some slight

acknowledgement of the desire of the vast majority of the House for peace and his considerable potential contribution to it, which would not include such comments, the quicker we will be able to make progress. It is not very clever to raise that which we all deplore. Let us get on if we may, now that I have given way a number of times. I just want to make my final point about confidence-building measures which do not all involve formal talking. Obviously, we have to talk as soon as possible about talks--and formally-- but on the way there, by way of building up confidence, a crucial contribution can be made by all concerned. My last answer went some way to pointing out the attitudes which could be involved.

Because we are just dealing with speeches and actions, not agreements, things are a bit easier at this stage. In that context, I welcome the measures that have already been taken to lift the broadcasting ban and the exclusion orders, as well as the decision to open the cross-border roads. I also welcome the reduced level of police and military activity, with which my right hon. and learned Friend dealt today.

I do not want to discuss policing in detail now, but it is part of the confidence-building process, and decisions on it have practical implications.There is nothing more prominent, more in the front line or more pertinent now and in the future than the policing of Northern Ireland.

In my humble view, we will not establish a permanent peace without some changes in the Royal Ulster Constabulary. That must be accepted. Despite that, we must still end up with an effective police force for Northern Ireland. In that respect, both communities and both sides will need to give. More signs of a willingness to do so by either side would be welcome, and would be the best signal we could have to suggest that we might be on our way.


Column 1034

Parity of esteem is a key part of policing and is important in general. A diminution of majorityism and a feeling that both communities belong to the whole are vital ingredients. In terms of building confidence at this stage, it is also important that, last but not least, the framework document is published. I desperately hope that we will reach agreement on that.

I understand why my right hon. and learned Friend said that that agreement had not been reached and was by no means automatic, but it is vital to confidence-building and in general. It is most vital in terms of the constitution and the sort of assembly and Executive that will be proposed for Northern Ireland. Developments on that are pivotal to progress.

Although it is right to pause to offer congratulations to everyone on where we are now, we are but at the beginning. I wish the Government, which has the support of the Opposition--one is very grateful for that support when one merits it--all good fortune and good luck in an historic task.

5.1 pm

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith): I am delighted to be called in the debate and I shall keep my remarks as brief as possible.

I am sure that my feelings about the progress achieved in Northern Ireland are shared by all those who have been involved in its affairs for many years.

My involvement started with my election to the House in 1979. Throughout those years, many people told those of us who took an interest in Northern Ireland that, at the end of the day, the republicans would say this or the Unionists would say that. Everyone said that there would be no end to that day, that it would go on for ever and that we should not make any assumptions about the violence coming to an end. What so many of us had hoped for and dreamed about has come true in the past few months and weeks. In all honesty and fairness, I must say that the Government and the Prime Minister--I am not one of the right hon. Gentleman's greatest fans--deserve our unstinting congratulations.

I first became hopeful in 1985, with the British-Irish agreement, and those hopes shot through the roof with the Downing street declaration. They were visionary steps forward and I compliment the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and others involved on their achievement. I should love to list some of the other people who were involved, not least the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and his party and the Unionist population, who recently have changed their position quite significantly. Time does not permit that, but I should just like to say that our hopes are invested in the Northern Ireland people, who have borne the brunt of the violence. Their future, however, is partly entrusted to us, which is why we must deliver on the important Downing street declaration.

I have always argued that I am not a historian and that I do not understand, nor seek to know in great detail, the history of Ireland. That statement sometimes surprises people, but I have always believed that our duty as politicians is to solve political problems. To do so, we might need some understanding of history, but if we tried to understand the entire history of Ireland we would spend the rest of our lives studying it. We would never solve the problem.


Column 1035

The essential problem was that a significant minority of the state of Northern Ireland did not accept the government of that area. One of the most important developments on the Unionist side, to which I wish to pay tribute, has been the way in which the Unionist population and, I think, now, their political leaders, seem to accept not only that they cannot return to life prior to 1969, but that they do not want to. It is important to recognise the significance of that sentiment.

Although it was always easy to condemn the violence in Northern Ireland, because it was obviously wrong, we would make a serious mistake if we assumed that it had no cause. The Unionist domination of Northern Ireland up to 1969 meant that it was a one-party state. However, I believe that that one-party state did not even serve the Unionist population very well. It broke down in 1969, but it has taken us a long time to address the deep feelings, bitterness and distrust that followed as the two communities struggled to gain domination.

In many respects, the problem with the Unionists is that they feared what would be done to them if they were subsumed into a united Ireland, in much the same way as the minority community in Northern Ireland continued to remember what was done to it when it was subsumed within the majority in Northern Ireland. Because of that struggle for power and that fear of reprisal, we must build confidence in both communities.

In the 1980s, I pointed out to the leaders of Sinn Fein that the violence that they were pursuing was not only wrong in principle but counter- productive, given what it set out to achieve. I also knew, however, that the violence was due in large part to what had happened in the past. Too often we in Britain forgot that many nationalists, republicans and Catholics suffered at the hands of Unionist violence, which we did not always condemn equally. It is always important to do so, because violence from either side is totally unacceptable, and always has been. I am pleased to repeat that assertion.

I also have some pleasure in saying that the Labour party's policy has been proved right. It is one of those rare examples of a political party having a policy that has stood up to the test of time rather well. I had a hand in devising our 1981 policy document on Northern Ireland, which made it clear that there could be a united Ireland only with the consent of the majority of the people. It said that there could be no veto on political progress by any group. It also said that there needed to be greater cross-border co- operation and harmonisation between the two parts of Ireland. All those recommendations are in the Downing street declaration or in the British- Irish agreement, and I welcome them warmly.

It is clear to me that Sinn Fein is committed to peace--that is clear from its actions and, increasingly, from the words of its leaders. Its leadership and that of the Unionist paramilitaries recognise that they cannot possibly go back to life as it was. As Sinn Fein's leaders have said, they want to be involved in the democratic process. That is important. We should make it as easy as possible for the Unionist and republican paramilitaries to give up violence and become involved in the political process. For that reason, it is a little early to talk of the surrender of weapons by either side. I accept that that proviso is important, but if we allow talks to founder because of it, we will not gain the confidence that is necessary within Northern Ireland to enable the talks to make headway.


Column 1036

We must all remember that the followers of Sinn Fein and the Unionist paramilitaries do not necessarily share their leaders' commitment to the peace process. They are bound to have doubts and anxieties and no doubt some will consider that they have been betrayed by their leaders. If those leaders are to continue to lead effectively, and if we are to avoid a drift back into violence by either side, we must make it as easy as possible for those leaders to benefit from their involvement in the political process. It is clear to me, however, that the leaders of Sinn Fein consider a return to violence on their part as inconceivable.

We must seize this moment. The developments that the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister announced at the weekend were exceptionally important and exactly what was needed. I had been concerned that progress had not been sufficient, but the decision to open all the cross-border roads and the associated measures was exactly right and well timed.

The marvellous reception that the Prime Minister received in Newry and, indeed, that the Secretary State for Northern Ireland received in Strabane, where he was acknowledged by even Sinn Fein councillors, was no accident. Movement was recognised. It goes without saying that the Unionist population showed their support for what the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have done.

The reassurance of Britain is important. That is why I was delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam) made it clear that there are no hidden deals, that Labour Members agree with the Government on this matter and that there will be no transfer of sovereignty without consent. That is a common position between the parties and, funnily enough and despite popular reports to the contrary over the years, it always has been.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), who has taken the lead for the Labour party very well, also made the all- important point very clear--again, it frequently was not acknowledged, but I heard him say it at a number of conferences and in a number of speeches-- that if there were peace and agreement in Northern Ireland, to which both communities were committed and which they wanted, we would not let our party's policies stand in the way. That was always the line that we took and it was exactly the right line. It would make no sense at all for Britain to say that we were going to impose our views on the people of Northern Ireland once they had agreed a settlement. After all, we have all been working for a settlement over the years.

The role of the British is now crucial. I recently heard an economist at a conference say that a statue should be erected in Northern Ireland to the great unknown British taxpayer. There is a lot in that statement. The cost of running Northern Ireland is immense. One of my views over the years has been that if we could resolve the problems in Northern Ireland, the burden of carrying it would lessen and there would be marvellous opportunities for the people of the north. There is a peace dividend to be had, but it will not arrive quickly.

It is sometimes assumed that once people stop fighting and troops are withdrawn, a pocket of money will suddenly be available. It will not, but there is a process by which, initially, there may be more unemployment. For example, people working in security organisations may lose their jobs. We need to plan the use of the peace


Column 1037

dividend to ensure that such people are retrained and kept in employment. Although I have never believed that the underlying levels of high unemployment in Northern Ireland have been the cause of the violence, they certainly have not helped. There have been quite good recruiting serjeant majors for paramilitary groups on the Unionist and republican sides.

I shall now do what I think is the duty of Opposition parties--make a few suggestions and perhaps press the Government to go a little further in certain areas, which I hope would help both Unionists and nationalists alike. We have to choose from different menus, as it were, to help both, but they are both important.

I want to start with an area that has always been profoundly important to me. I was slightly disappointed--this was about the only disappointment that I felt during the Secretary of State's speech--that we did not hear a statement about the future of emergency legislation in the United Kingdom as a whole. The Secretary of State will know that, for the first time since the second world war, Ireland has abolished the emergency legislation. One of the matters that involved me in the Northern Ireland debate was the way in which we were undermining our own democracy by the use of exceptional powers, such as the prevention of terrorism Act and the emergency powers legislation. I have made the point many times that the prevention of terrorism Act involves internal exile. A former Minister, Lord Coleraine, if I remember rightly, used that term after I had used it. It is the first time that we have had that power since the days of Henry VIII. It is an exceptional power and we need to clarify its future, even though we may not be able to get rid of all those Acts quickly. It would be welcome if the Government made a statement saying that if the peace process continues as it is at present, it would be our intention to get rid of the emergency legislation as early as possible.

A small example of that intention could relate to the Diplock courts in Northern Ireland. There has always been an argument for scheduling cases in --to describe a case as being of a terrorist type and putting it on the list for inclusion under that schedule--rather than, as at present, having to schedule them out. The argument for that change must now be overwhelming. It is very difficult to argue that we must go on assuming that all cases in the Diplock courts are of a terrorist type. Similarly, although I will not develop the point for reasons of time, the admissibility of evidence rules need to be brought into line with what we expect from a sophisticated democracy with a commitment to the rule of law.

It is important to continue the process of getting the troops off the streets, with one exception--those areas bordering the peace lines, where the communities say that they want the troops to remain. That is important for both Unionists and republicans in those areas, who feel very insecure at times. If they want them, the troops should stay on the streets of those areas.

We need to consider checkpoints, look-out posts and security bases and generally try to downgrade or mothball them. I recognise the difficulties of moving too fast, but people who live in Armagh especially, or somewhere like that, where the peace process has worked, may ask what they are seeing in return. If they are dominated by a large Army base, which even now is being redeveloped, rebuilt and enlarged because of mortar attacks on helicopters and


Column 1038

so on, it is difficult to see the reason for continuing that process when we are trying to convince the population-- not the leaders, but the population--that we are serious about responding to the current window of opportunity. It is a small point, but I remember all the fuss and hassle when the Gaelic Athletics Association pitch was half absorbed in, I think, Crossmaglen. Such changes, by which we can allow the population to use their leisure areas again, could help to reassure the population of those areas.

We need to look at increased resources, especially in housing and jobs in a number of areas. I accept fully the Fair Employment Act and everything that goes with it, but in a number of Unionist areas housing is quite often worse than in neighbouring Catholic areas because of the success of the Housing Executive. There are areas, even in west Belfast, where that is true, so we need to use what money we can--I urge the Government not to cut public expenditure in Northern Ireland--to prevent some parts of the Unionist community from feeling that the money goes to Catholics and not to Protestants. That is one of the arguments that the paramilitaries use when recruiting. I urge that we use European and other money to develop one of the key prospects for the future in Northern Ireland--the Dublin-Belfast link. It is noticeable that, of the six largest United States personal computer producers, four are located in the south. The opportunities in the north for software development on a similar basis as that between London and Bristol or, indeed, between Edinburgh and Glasgow, which in many ways are similar cities to Belfast and Dublin, are such that they may enable us to create a necessary high-tech belt. I strongly suspect that the Europeans would be able to put money into that.

I thought that I heard mumbling from the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) about further links with Scotland. I am fully in favour of that. It is a great idea, but, as I said in the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs, just because there is a cultural, political and social link with an area, it does not mean that an economic future lies there. I may well have an affinity with Canadians, Australians or Americans, but that does not mean that I do not recognise the economic importance of Europe. In a sense, that is true for the people of Northern Ireland in relating to the people of southern Ireland to create an economy that works for all the people. By all means change articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution in the framework document, and I suspect that there is the will to do so, but, in recognition of that, we have to deal with the remaining parts of the Government of Ireland Act 1920. I have said on many occasions that it is a little odd that Britain says in one of our Acts of Parliament that Northern Ireland will stay in the United Kingdom for as long as it likes, because, of course, it is really a statement of insecurity. It allows the United Kingdom to say, "You can stay if you like, but we would not put it into Acts of Parliament relating to England, Scotland or Wales because they do not feel insecure."

Mr. Trimble: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Soley: I shall give way in a second.

There has to be new legislation and I hope that, in the process of making it, we can make it clear that we accept that the border cannot be changed without consent, but


Column 1039

that we in Britain, as in the British-Irish agreement and the Downing street declaration, are prepared to look at change.

Mr. Trimble : I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman, but I found his comments rather confusing. He said that there had to be changes to the Government of Ireland Act 1920, but he then quoted the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973. I agree with him that the 1973 Act does nothing to strengthen the Union, but does he agree that section 75 of the 1920 Act is of no importance whatsoever?

Mr. Soley: I am inclined to agree with that, although not everyone would. That is why I said that it needs to go. I do not believe that there is a difference. I was simply saying that some people perceive it to be stronger than I believe it is. The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) was right to say that it is not that important. However, it is important to say that it can go. I hope that I have made myself clear.

I understand that cross-border institutions should not be given Irish executive power. However, it is critical that we ensure that they can work if, for whatever reason, they are not being made to work in Northern Ireland. In that sense, the British still need to recognise that we have a role as a direct-rule power. That is important.

I was going to intervene on the Secretary of State about my next point, but I will make it now. I understand that the strand 1 talks are extremely important. I can see that the framework document is even more important. I hope that I am making this point unnecessarily, but I hope that the Government are aware that those two things must work in tandem and that they must in no way be in conflict. I have kept my comments as short as I can. For many years, I have spoken on a matter that has troubled me deeply, not just because of the violence, death and horror--which we saw primarily on the streets of Northern Ireland but also in southern Ireland and Britain --but because I have watched our great democracy eroding many of our greatest civil liberties and being found guilty before the European Court of Human Rights in respect of issues that often arose from Northern Ireland on more occasions than any other country in Europe and when we were the country that drafted that very code of human rights.

It is deeply sad that such a great democracy as ours should allow itself to slip back because of the crisis in Northern Ireland. We now have a chance to begin to undo that and I fully commend the Government for their achievements so far. I simply ask them to go that bit further and, above all, to begin to restore our democracy to what it used to be.

5.21 pm

Sir James Kilfedder (North Down): I agree with the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) that a statue should be erected to the British taxpayer. The only trouble is that the IRA would vandalise it or, despite the peace process, blow it up. The IRA has nothing but contempt for the connection with Britain.

Tribute should be paid to the British people because, despite 25 years of terrorism which was also brought to this mainland, the British people have stood firm,


Column 1040

shoulder to shoulder, with the decent people of Northern Ireland in the fight against terrorism. That point should be placed on the record.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam) on her appointment as shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Her appointment is well deserved and she has my good wishes. I pay tribute also to the Prime Minister who, on taking office as Prime Minister, dedicated himself to ending terrorism in Northern Ireland. He deserves the plaudits of the people of this country for being a man of vision and honour. It is regrettable that the press devotes so much time to other matters and not to the serious matter of the peace process in Northern Ireland.

When the Prime Minister announced the Downing street declaration 10 months ago, some people did not believe that it would lead to peace. That declaration, agreed by both the British and Irish Governments, has established that the will of the majority in Northern Ireland will prevail and that if the people of Northern Ireland wish to remain within the United Kingdom, that wish will be respected by the people of this country and by the Government of the Irish Republic. However, it is important to emphasise that the majority to which I have referred comprises both Catholics and Protestants. It is not simply a Protestant majority. That idea is sometimes put abroad mischievously. Roman Catholics as well as Protestants voted in the last referendum to maintain the British connection. That was the only way in which the number of votes could be accounted for.

That majority in Northern Ireland wishes Ulster to remain fully within the United Kingdom. It is equally important to stress that it is the wish of most Unionists to develop harmonious relations in our Province with all the people of Northern Ireland and their elected representatives, working together to improve the quality of life for all in the Province without regard to religion or politics. About a year ago, I criticised the frequent use of the expression "two communities in Northern Ireland" because, in my opinion, there is only one community even though, over the past years, there has been an unhappy division, mainly as a result of the terrorists who wish always to divide the people and sometimes as a result of politicians who always believe that, by dividing the people, they can ensure their position in the political life of the country. If peace prevails--and I pray that it does--I have a vision of an Ulster at peace with itself. That will take a long time, as some hon. Members have said, and I hope that people will not be disappointed at the slowness. However, we must build up confidence, not only within Northern Ireland, but between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

I believe that the people of Northern Ireland wish to have nothing but the very best relations with people in the Irish Republic. That is perhaps not always understood in Dublin, but I believe that it is absolutely true. Indeed, if someone were to give me a ticket for the Dublin train, despite the sleaze factor which is abroad at the moment, I would be happy to go to Dublin and see any Dublin


Column 1041

Minister. That does not weaken my position as a Unionist because I believe that the way forward is for everyone to work together on an informal basis.

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down): In view of the hon. Gentleman's willingness to take the train to Dublin, will he accept the very generous invitation that he has already received to participate with the rest of us in arguing the debate on peace and reconciliation by attending the forum opening in Dublin tomorrow morning?

Sir James Kilfedder: I said that I would take a trip to Dublin and of course I would return again. However, I have no wish to attend the forum to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I am prepared to engage in any talks with constitutional politicians and anyone who repudiates violence. When those talks begin in Northern Ireland, I am prepared to participate in them. I will not join what is largely a republican organisation in Dublin, although I wish it well and I hope that it fully understands the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland. When the real talks begin--

Mr. Mallon: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir James Kilfedder: No, I promised to take only 10 minutes. I doubt whether the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) is offering me anything other than an invitation to attend tomorrow's meeting.

The fight against terrorism over the past 25 years required great courage, restraint and dedication on the part of the Ulster people and on the part of the security forces. I join the tribute which was paid by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland--I admired the way in which he paid it--to the security forces and the police in Northern Ireland. I echo his words when he said that he had admiration for their service and he thanked them for what they had done over the past 25 years.

That was a terrible battle against terrorism in respect of which most people in Northern Ireland were totally impotent. As civilians, they could do nothing but watch what happened as a result of terrorism on their television screens or, worse still, endure it if they were there when a bomb went off or a bullet killed an innocent person.

With peace, we must fight with the same determination for the peace to prevail. We need to nurture the peace process. I have doubts about it. Like the Prime Minister, I am wary and cautious about it, but I am not going to condemn it because of those reservations: I wish to nurture it and I believe that most people in Northern Ireland would wish to see the peace process go ahead and succeed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) said that Sinn Fein had definitely and permanently ended the violence. I was appalled to hear on BBC radio this morning a statement by the chairman of Sinn Fein to the effect that the present ceasefire is only temporary--I think that he used the word "pause"--and that there will not be permanent peace until the IRA-Sinn Fein have all their demands met. That is not the language of peace. That is not an indication of permanent peace. It is blackmail, telling the people of Northern Ireland, the


Column 1042

House of Commons and the Government that they must submit to the demands of the IRA or they will return to the gun and the bomb. Sadly, after 25 years, the IRA realised that it was getting nowhere with terrorism and that it was being defeated by the restraint, courage and determination of the Ulster and British people. The IRA has nothing but contempt for fundamental democratic rights. Having failed in its horrendous campaign of terrorism, it now hopes, in peace, to obtain what it failed to get with the gun. It is vital that the IRA hands over all its Semtex, detonators, arms and ammunition, which was largely provided by Colonel Gaddafi. While such weapons of destruction remain in the hands of the IRA and loyalist paramilitaries--I include them as well--there is little prospect of meaningful discussion and little prospect of permanent peace in Northern Ireland.

It would be possible to devote an entire speech at great length and involving many hours to the negative aspects of the present situation--that is, the threats, to which I have already referred, and the present recruitment of youngsters by the IRA. I do not understand why, if peace has come, it is still recruiting people. I refer also to the work of IRA punishment squads, shooting youngsters in the knees, and so on. We must adopt a positive approach. We must all do our best to nurture the peace process and build bridges.

The way forward is to have a devolved assembly at Stormont. It would provide an arena in which all political parties would be represented. They would be able not only to speak in the Chamber of the Stormont Parliament but to meet in the dining room, smoking room, bars, and so on and get to know each other. Half the trouble in Northern Ireland is that politicians do not meet frequently. A political arena would help to bring about the harmony that we so desperately need in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir James Kilfedder: No, I must finish.

An arena would certainly create the political stability that we need. Stability is certainly required in Northern Ireland, because we need more jobs and we need to deal with the unemployment problem. That is the way forward. I thank the Prime Minister for embarking on the peace process, and I wish him and the Government well. 5.32 pm

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill): The hon. Member for North Down (Sir J. Kilfedder) is a distinguished former Speaker of the previous assembly in Northern Ireland. I share his hope that, once again, there will be decentralised devolved government in Northern Ireland, so that Northern Irish people together will be able to take decisions there which far too often we have dealt with in this place in a casual way, in one-and-a-half- hour debates and unamendable orders which have prevented the normal business of politics from taking place. By putting Northern Ireland business in such a straitjacket, we have impeded the process that we all want to encourage.

I join others who have expressed their unqualified admiration and support for the Prime Minister, the Taoiseach, the Tanaiste, the Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and the right hon. Member


Column 1043

for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), for the way in which they have combined to try to bring about the peace process. I also welcome the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam) to her Front-Bench position. I join those who have also paid tribute to her predecessor, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), for the distinguished role that he has always played in our Northern Ireland debates.

I particularly congratulate the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister on daring to think the unthinkable. For too many years we have been caught up in the idea that it is impossible to make progress. Coming from a city such as Liverpool--I have the honour to represent a constituency that was once, in part, in the south-west Lancashire division, which Mr. Gladstone once represented--I can be forgiven for recognising the problems of sectarianism in an especially acute way.

A century ago, Gladstone commented that the problem in Ireland was that, when one thought that one had an answer to a question, the Irish would change the question. The Secretary of State must feel sometimes that the goalposts have kept moving during his time in that position. If we could have our time again and could go back to the second Home Rule Bill which Mr. Gladstone piloted through the House but which was rejected in the other place, hon. Members might reflect that many of the tragedies and divisions in Northern Ireland since that time could have been avoided.

The future is what calls us today. On a personal note, with a mother from the west of Ireland who once taught the former Speaker of the Dail his Irish as a boy, and with children who, I am proud to say, have Irish citizenship--as I have--as well as British citizenship, I recognise the importance of my pride in my Irish origins as well as my pride in my British origins. Only when we recognise the enormous contribution and worth of both traditions--the hon. Member for North Down said that there is one community, but there are two traditions--will we see real progress.

I do not think that any united Ireland or United Kingdom solution exists. We must have shared goals, shared power and shared responsibilities. Throughout these islands there is a need for plural systems of democratic, effective and accountable government based on modern concepts of citizenship and the rule of law. That raises fundamental issues for us all. In Ireland, it raises fundamental questions about articles 2, 3 and 4 of the Irish constitution. Hon. Members will accept that, since the 1972 referendum, the previously privileged position of the Roman Catholic Church has been removed. Nevertheless, there are many issues which disturb people in the north about the way in which the Irish constitution still lays claim to the territory of Northern Ireland. Such matters will have to be addressed honestly in due course.

There are many shared ideals north and south of the border, particularly the strength of family life north and south of the border, authentic human values, and the sanctity of human life, which is held in such great regard both north and south of the border. As sectarianism becomes less important, there will be many shared goals, particularly as many committed people north and south of the border see the need to turn the tide of secularism which would otherwise engulf the people of the whole of the island of Ireland.


Next Section

  Home Page