Previous Section Home Page

Column 1070

Dublin. If we can work on that basis, we shall perhaps at long last end the sickening violence which has disfigured Northern Ireland.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Time is up.

7.29 pm

Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke): For the sake of brevity, I must be selective. The much welcomed peace process is now nearly eight weeks old. It is far too early to predict the outcome. It is too early to talk in terms of being optimistic or pessimistic. Those are vagaries. We must, however, ensure that our thinking is firmly rooted in realism and reality. There is a very long way to go. Some of the early signs are not very promising. There are many pitfalls to be avoided.

There is good news. The good news, of course, is that a genuine peace process has started. The bad news is that, despite many pleasing sound bites, there are strong reasons for being deeply suspicious about the policies, the motives and the objectives of the IRA. Due to all that, the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have, in my judgment, been absolutely right. Their cautious, step-by-step approach has been fully justified. The peace process can maintain its momentum only if it retains the confidence of both sides of the deeply divided community in Northern Ireland. That is why the Prime Minister has been right to move slowly and cautiously, to warn against euphoria and over-hasty action--all of which could jeopardise the process.

The Government's policy has been right from the start. They were right in February last year to enter into the exchange of messages with the IRA after that message was received which began:

"The conflict is over but we need your advice on how to bring it to a close . . . "

The Government were right to embark on the lengthy dialogue with Dublin which led to the Downing street declaration. The Government were right in that Downing street declaration to assert the concept of consent rather than coercion as the way forward and to underwrite Northern Ireland's constitutional guarantee. The Government have been right since the ceasefire to move the peace process forward, but to do so cautiously and slowly.

We must have no illusions about the IRA ceasefire. When Mr. Adams announced that ceasefire on 31 August, the Provisionals were neither war-weary nor militarily defeated. The IRA had not lost the "arms struggle", nor had it lost its appetite for it. If the IRA so wished, it could tomorrow inflict death and destruction in virtually any part of the United Kingdom, just as loyalist terrorists could do so in Northern Ireland if they so chose. The IRA has not permanently renounced violence. There has been much reference already in the debate to the disagreeable interview with Mr. McLoughlin on this morning's "Today" programme, which illustrates the point. The cessation of military operations is a long, long way from the renunciation- -permanently--of violence. I fear that some Irish republicans can and probably will resume violence if the IRA's present option does not deliver the goods that they seek. The ceasefire statement signalled the Provisionals' belief that, while present circumstances prevail, they can better achieve their objectives by suspending military operations rather than by continuing them. The IRA objective remains to obtain a seat at the

Column 1071

negotiating table and hope that it can so orchestrate events that external pressure will convince the United Kingdom Government to make concessions, to compromise their commitment to Northern Ireland. Alternatively, the IRA could interpret UK intransigence as justification for resumed violence.

We must stand fast against IRA demands for an amnesty for prisoners. We must insist on the surrender of IRA and loyalist weapons and explosives before there can be meaningful talks. Most especially, we must take note of the fact that the IRA has rejected Northern Ireland's constitutional guarantee and the Prime Minister's promised referendum in the north in absolute terms. When Mr. Adams declared on 19 September that

"the British government's imposed veto based on this artificial majority is undemocratic and unacceptable",

he was restating the Provisionals' willingness to impose a united Ireland, against the wishes, if need be, of the majority of people in the north.

The Government have followed the right course of action. The Government are charting the right way forward. It is right that we move towards "talks about talks" with the Provisionals. It is right that we search for an agreed Ireland under the three strand headings, clearly stressing that strand No. 1 has less to do with the Republic than the other strands. Above all, time and again, we must repeat our irrevocable and absolute commitment to the constitutional guarantee which we have given to the people of Northern Ireland. There will be no change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, nor will any cross-border structures or institutions be created unless that is the wish of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland. That is the way forward.

7.35 pm

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann): The speech of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) was delivered with his habitual acerbity, but it contained an important and unequivocal acceptance of the principle of consent and it recognised further that that meant that Northern Ireland would continue to be part of the United Kingdom. I hope that that means that he will accept and participate in any future institutions in Northern Ireland. I do not want to trail over the past, but the problems of Stormont were to a considerable extent due to the hostility and obstruction of nationalists. If, in the future, nationalists will be positive, they will be welcomed and mutual esteem will be generated from there. The Secretary of State's speech made reference to the joint framework document and acknowledged that there were difficulties with regard to that document. Unfortunately, he did not go into detail on that matter and I would have welcomed more from him. Perhaps we shall hear more about that from the Minister in his winding-up speech. I shall comment on what appeared to be some of the constitutional issues with regard to that joint framework document with which there appear to be difficulties at the moment. The Irish Prime Minister, Mr. Reynolds, has talked about the need for what he calls a balanced constitutional settlement. So far as we can determine, however, the proposals being advanced by the Irish Government are not balanced and would not lead to a settlement.

Column 1072

The Irish position with regard to articles 2 and 3 of their constitution is not satisfactory. Judging by press reports, they are apparently offering to insert into article 3 a qualification that unification, if it is to come about, will be by consent. That is not an acceptable position. Merely amending article 3 is not enough. It is not clear whether an amendment to article 3 would enable the Irish Government formally to acknowledge that Northern Ireland is de jure part of the United Kingdom, because it would leave intact the assertion in article 2 that the national territory is the whole of Ireland. Furthermore, it would preserve the territorial ambition or aspiration and so it would hold out no prospect of a stable relationship. Unless the territorial claim is explicitly renounced, the Irish Government are, in effect, serving notice that they will still continue to try to realise that claim or ambition and are merely forswearing a means which is not currently in their capacity. The Irish try to justify that position by saying that they need article 2 to define the nation and they advance what to me seems the ridiculous argument that if they repealed article 2, towns in Northern Ireland would somehow cease to be Irish or that northern nationalists would not be entitled to be recognised in some way as part of the Irish nation.

If that is a real concern--I wonder whether it is merely a tactical argument--there is a solution. There is no difficulty, I should have thought, with drawing a distinction between the nation and the state. That is done in many other European countries, where a part of the nation lives outside the borders of the state. Indeed, that may be hinted at in some respects in the Irish constitution, which contains headings referring to the nation and the state, so that some sort of distinction along those lines may be implicit in their constitution. Unfortunately, the Irish constitution as currently drafted does not draw a clear distinction between the nation and the state. Indeed, the territorial claim comes in the section headed "nation" rather than "state".

There may be a solution to this point if the Irish were to clarify their constitution. They could do so in a way that recognised that northern nationalists were a part of the nation, provided, however, that the state was clearly defined as being only the present geographic entity known as the Republic of Ireland and that there was no implication of a territorial ambition -- and, of course, provided that the Ulster British people were not insulted by being described as part of Mr. Reynolds's Irish nation. If there is legitimate Irish concern, it could be met in that way.

The Irish also apparently wish to see changes to the Government of Ireland Act 1920. They say that they are seeking only symbolic changes to that Act. That is a position and a claim by the Irish which I have always found somewhat difficult to follow. The Irish seem to believe that section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act 1920 in some way contains a British claim to Northern Ireland. That is simply nonsense. There is no British claim to Northern Ireland. Section 75 of the 1920 Act is not a substantive section. It is purely a saving clause. It makes it clear that the Parliaments being created by the 1920 Act would not detract from the authority of this House. The authority of this House in no way derives from section 75. It derives from the Act of Union. Section 75 of the 1920 Act is not significant.

Column 1073

Section 75 of the 1920 Act has been kept on the statute book for reasons that are not altogether clear. The Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 repealed virtually all of the 1920 Act. Only three or four provisions from the 1920 Act remain on the statute book. They include some financial provisions which are of no great significance, section 1(2) which defines Northern Ireland and is the only important part of the Act, and section 75. Section 75 could be repealed and disappear tomorrow and make absolutely no difference to the constitutional position.

In some respects, repealing section 75 would be preferable to the sort of amendment that we suspect that the Irish are seeking. The text of a proposed amendment to section 75 was leaked some time ago to the press in Dublin. It was leaked by one of the three civil servants who are members of the liaison group with which Her Majesty's Government are supposed to be in negotiations and discussions. It is a remarkable reflection on the character and integrity of the people with whom Her Majesty's Government are discussing matters that a civil servant involved in the liaison group leaked that document to the press.

The leaked document is horrendous. It would turn section 75, which is purely a saving clause, into a substantive provision which could seriously damage the Union and would create great difficulties for future legislation and practice. The document contains the kind of gobbledegook and nonsense that one might allow to pass in an ephemeral document, but which if translated into law would cause enormous difficulties for this House and for a future Administration. I hope and trust that it will be the Government's position that an amendment in the terms of that leaked to the press will be firmly dealt with and sat on. I should like to hear comments about that in the Minister's winding-up speech.

The Irish are also pressing for cross-border institutions. On that point, the Irish Prime Minister has referred on several occasions to the Council of Ireland, which was provided for in the Government of Ireland Act 1920. Monday's Irish Times quotes the Irish Prime Minister as saying that meaningful north-south institutional links with executive functions

"were part of the original compromise on partition in the Government of Ireland Act 1920 and in the Treaty."

He is quite wrong. The 1920 Act, which merely provided for devolution within the United Kingdom to two regional assemblies, did indeed contain provision for common administration of railways, fisheries and contagious diseases in animals by a Council of Ireland. However, those were matters of no great political significance. In Nicholas Mansergh's recent book "The Unresolved Question", which was published in 1991, the only reference to the Council of Ireland is an unidentified quotation--I think that it is actually from Asquith--in which the Council of Ireland is described as

"a fleshless and bloodless skeleton."

In fact, the council never functioned. The Northern Ireland Parliament appointed members to it in June 1921, but no members were appointed by the southern Parliament. The treaty of December 1921 provided for the abolition of the council with regard to the south. So much for the claim by the Taoiseach that that was part of the treaty.

Column 1074

For the north, the council remained in limbo until it was wound up by the 1925 agreement. Interestingly, the 1925 agreement provided for joint meetings of the two Governments--the Stormont Government and the Dublin Government--to discuss matters of common interest.

It may interest hon. Members to know that two meetings took place under the provisions of the Northern Ireland Act 1925 agreement. There was a meeting of Agriculture Ministers and a meeting at which the Dublin Cabinet Secretary attended a meeting of the Stormont Cabinet. However, those provisions were ended by the Irish Government. Cosgrave, the Irish Prime Minister, said at the time that it was too much of an embarrassment for him to meet his northern counterparts. By containing the territorial claim, the 1937 constitution ended the possibility of further meetings. That remains the case until the 1937 constitution is ended.

Mr. Reynolds's error with regard to the Council of Ireland may be a result of his ignorance. However, the references in the earlier parts cannot be described as ignorance. The conclusion that I draw from the inaccurate description by the Irish of what they are proposing is that they are not negotiating in good faith. The Irish sometimes--

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes): Order. The hon. Gentleman's time is up.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise, particularly to hon. Members from Northern Ireland, for impinging even briefly on the debate, but a matter of considerable importance has arisen and I seek your guidance.

Earlier this week there were reports in the Evening Standard about lobbying that had taken place in support of Ebbsfleet and Blue Circle with regard to the choice of an intermediate station on the proposed channel tunnel link. The central allegation was that the lobbying firm of which the right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Dame A. Rumbold) is a director had used its influence to secure meetings with Ministers right up to the level of Prime Minister. Tonight the right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden has resigned as director of the lobbying firm concerned. In view of the gravity of the allegations and the fact that there appears to be a correlation between them and the fact that she now recognises a conflict of interest as she has resigned, it is of the utmost importance that we have a statement at the earliest possible opportunity on the circumstances surrounding the matter and, in particular, that we have a statement from the Prime Minister about what meetings took place and what influence was exerted on behalf of Ebbsfleet and Blue Circle.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West): Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I represent the Stratford area, which is one of the areas being considered for the intermediate station. Will you please advise me how I can possibly represent my constituents fairly and equitably if someone else can use influence with Ministers in a way that I cannot as I cannot therefore represent my constituents in the way that I would wish to?

Will this point of order be reported to Madam Speaker tomorrow, so that we shall have a chance of asking for a statement from the new Secretary of State for Transport and so that I can know that the interests of my

Column 1075

constituency and of Stratford will be considered fairly in terms of the intermediate station and we do not have to involve ourselves with a public relations company that employs a vice- chairman of the Conservative party?

Madam Deputy Speaker: I have heard no indication that a statement is to be made. No doubt the points that have been made will have been noted by those on the Government Front Bench.

7.48 pm

Mr. Mark Wolfson (Sevenoaks): I welcome the progress that has been made on the peace initiative. Many tributes have already been paid to the work of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach in achieving this stage. I add my tributes particularly to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, my constituency neighbour, for his ability and success so far. I am sure that his vision, tenacity and, on occasion, his undoubted good humour have helped to move the negotiations forward to the benefit of so many in the Province and in this country. I also pay tribute to the work of the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram).

I strongly support the Government's cautious approach. It is absolutely vital. Not all hon. Members agree with it, but the House generally supports that step-by-step approach. It would be a huge mistake if undue pressure broke that steady and careful approach. We cannot be confident that the ceasefire arrangements will hold while there is no clear way forward in terms of giving up arms and explosives. That must be the next step in the careful agenda. In balancing the discussions, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has also demonstrated his readiness to judge the IRA by its action rather than its words, and he has rightly given the clear commitment that, if the ceasefire holds, we can have exploratory talks before the year is over. That must be a correct and sensible way forward. It has been proven beyond doubt by the stage that we have reached in the peace process that the early talks and contacts with the IRA, which were widely attacked at the time and which caused Ministers to stand up to great fire both in the press and elsewhere, have paid dividends.

I was interested in the point of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott), which was that the Anglo-Irish Agreement had enabled discussions to take place between Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office and Ministers in the Irish Government. He said that that process had helped them to understand each other's point of view and, therefore, increase trust between them. That must be a sign of the way in which, as negotiations develop between the democratic parties in the Province, better working relationships can be established. Those are vital points.

I shall spend a moment or two referring to the importance of achieving greater employment prospects in the Province. Until now, there has been much discussion of the fact that many employment initiatives have been taken, and that, if only the terrorist problem no longer existed, many of the Province's unemployment problems would be solved. That will not be the case. It will take an awful lot of effort and continuous work by individual private entrepreneurs and statutory bodies to make progress. As has been mentioned, the reduced need for

Column 1076

Government spending on the security forces could result in initially higher unemployment and that will not be an encouragement to people in the Province. Therefore, it is necessary that no opportunity is lost to use Government funding and, most important, to stimulate entrepreneurial activity in the Province, in particular in small businesses.

Obviously, inward investment by large companies will continue to be an important part of achieving economic development in the Province, but, as in many instances in the United Kingdom, small businesses will generate increased activity at many levels. Increased effort in education and training will be required to equip people for such entrepreneurial work. The Government should focus strongly on activities that will generate additional work within the Province. My 10 years' experience of the Province gives me great confidence in the business acumen and ability of people there to grip a situation, to make progress and to achieve success. The people of the Province are admirable, as the way in which they have stood up to terrorist attacks from both sides of the political divide for 25 years has demonstrated. I am confident that they will bring such ability to bear in building a more vibrant and active economy and thereby will provide more job opportunities if the peace initiative holds and develops. They have great opportunities. Their history, commitment, energy and enthusiasm give me cautious confidence in the future.

7.55 pm

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West): It is almost unheard of for me to say anything good about the Government, but I must say that I warmly welcome the recent steps to further the peace process in Ireland. I recognise the important roles that the British and Irish Governments have played in that process. In order to encourage the peace process, it was very important--indeed, essential--for the British Government to respond fairly quickly and positively to the declared ceasefire by the IRA and loyalist paramilitaries. I am sure that there is wide support for the reopening of cross-border roads, the lower profile that is being adopted by the British Army, the lifting of the exclusion orders and, of course, the lifting of the ludicrous broadcasting ban. I also wish the Government every success in their efforts to enter exploratory talks with Sinn Fein by the end of the year.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), because it was largely due to his initiating the dialogue that the peace process got off the ground. He showed great courage and tenacity despite being subjected at times to a deluge of criticism and, indeed, vilification from certain hon. Members and others. I also publicly thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), who, for many years in the House and elsewhere, has consistently campaigned for peace and justice for all the people of Ireland. I trust that my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam) will continue that good work, and I congratulate her on her appointment. While I am dishing out all those compliments--

Ms Mowlam: It is very unusual.

Mr. Canavan: It is very unusual, yes.

I also give credit to the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), who has a key role to play in the peace process. I firmly believe that the Downing street

Column 1077

initiative of December 1993 would be as dead as the previous initiative of 1985 if the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley and his party had taken the same intransigent attitude as the Democratic Unionist party. I look forward to the day when the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) shows the same flexibility. Unfortunately, judging by the speech of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), that day will not come soon.

I understand people's desire--particularly the Unionists' desire--for an assembly for Northern Ireland. If that assembly becomes a reality, it must not be simply a resurrection of the old Stormont system where the winner- takes-all attitude led to widespread discrimination and denial of human rights. If an assembly is to command wide respect, it must include real power sharing and be accompanied by a cross-border institution, or institutions, with real executive powers. Previously, I have declared my belief that the partition of Ireland was a gross political blunder and a crime against the Irish people. I have also declared in the House and elsewhere my support for the peaceful reunification of Ireland, and I still see that as a legitimate democratic goal. But I am realistic enough to know --more importantly, the overwhelming majority of people in the island of Ireland are realistic enough to know this--that a united Ireland is not on the immediate agenda. However, what should be on the immediate agenda is the establishment of cross-border co-operation on such matters as trade, tourism, transport, energy sharing and a common strategy to attract inward investment. Such co-operation could be of immediate benefit to the people of Ireland, both north and south of the border. The other day, the chairman of the Northern Ireland tourist board, Mr. Hugh O'Neill, estimated that if the peace process lasts, tourism alone could generate an extra 20,000 jobs in the next five years. I therefore urge the Government to put more emphasis on the all-Ireland dimension with a view to bringing about peace and reconciliation between not only the different communities in Northern Ireland but all the people of Ireland, whether north or south of the border.

I shall finish on this note. Earlier, I was sorry to hear the hon. Member for North Down (Sir J. Kilfedder) say that he did not want to take part in the All-Ireland Forum. I put to him an alternative proposal that it is time that he and his Unionist colleagues of whatever party reconsidered the decision to boycott the British-Irish parliamentary body. It has no real executive decision-making powers, but nevertheless it is useful and valuable in terms of encouraging relations between parliamentarians in Britain and in Ireland both north and south of the border. Although it does not have any real executive power, it has some influence in that it is able to make representations to the British and Irish Governments.

Our work would be much more valuable if Unionist Members of Parliament from the various parties participated. They have nothing to lose and the people whom they represent--the Unionist community in Northern Ireland--might have something to gain. I believe that the people of Northern Ireland as a whole would have a great deal to gain if their elected representatives took part in such discussions. Surely, it is

Column 1078

only through dialogue and democratic debate that the peace process will reach fruition and all the people of Ireland, whatever their traditions, will be able to live together in peace and harmony while respecting each other's different beliefs.

8.3 pm

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): It is never easy to admit that one is wrong, but on this occasion I freely admit that my pessimism about the peace process has not been justified thus far. Indeed, I am delighted that my original doubts have not been confirmed by events. I hope and pray that the process will continue.

When one gets something wrong, it is important to understand why. On this occasion, I sense that there are two things that have prevented my misgivings from turning into reality: the active involvement of the Prime Minister, and the state of public opinion in Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister's role in the peace process has been pivotal. The Downing street declaration and the progress that has been made since are eloquent testimonies to his personal commitment to the cause, and his political courage and diplomatic skill. Whatever our personal party politics, all of us should unite in giving support and thanks to the Prime Minister for what he has done.

Another reason why I have not been proved right thus far is that public opinion has been overwhelmingly in favour of the peace process. I sense that public opinion has played a key part in producing flexibility in Dublin, establishing both ceasefires and prompting a positive response from the Unionists. The message that I get time and again is that the overwhelming majority of people of both traditions and on both sides of the border have never supported violence and, now that it has stopped, they are all determined to do everything in their power to prevent it from starting again. It is with that in mind that we should turn to the future of the peace process itself.

I sometimes worry that the peace process might be like a high-jump competition: each round sees the bar get higher, each round sees jumping it get ever harder and every high-jump competition ends when even the best fail to clear the final hurdle. I hope that it will not be like that in Northern Ireland.

While I have little doubt that the peace process will make more progress, I see two problems that may prove impossible to clear: the surrender of arms and explosives, and the premature release of terrorist prisoners both north and south of the border. As some people have said, securing the early surrender of arms and explosives is a formidable challenge. Some believe that to push too hard and too quickly for that will wreck the peace process. While I am a realist, I also believe that if we do not push hard and reasonably quickly, that will also wreck the peace process.

Despite everything that has been said today, and despite the experience of the past eight weeks, I agree with the Sinn Fein spokesman who said on Radio 4 today that there is a difference between a ceasefire and permanent peace, and one of those differences is arms and explosives. While the retention of arms and explosives does not need to be a barrier to starting exploratory talks, I at least want to make it clear that I could never vote for any settlement that was founded on the use of arms and explosives as a

Column 1079

bargaining counter or where the surrender of them was a reward for promising political structures that are acceptable to the IRA. Another difficult issue is the pressure that is building up for the premature release of terrorist prisoners. I choose my words with care, but I want to make my position crystal clear to the House. Murder is murder. It can never be an unfortunate but excusable consequence of political campaigning. I am not interested in why someone chooses to blow up an innocent child or gun down an elderly person who is enjoying a drink. Such evil acts can never be justified or excused in my book. I want my hon. Friends on the Front Bench and in the Whips Office to know that I shall never vote for any settlement that has been bought by or includes an amnesty for so-called political prisoners. I simply cannot go with that.

Despite those two grave reservations, we must press ahead with the peace process. As we do so, however, we need to be aware of two dangers--the danger of over-inflating the status of the IRA, Sinn Fein and Gerry Adams, and the danger of entering into negotiations without an objective that has been thought through clearly. First, we must not lose sight of the fact that the IRA, Sinn Fein and Gerry Adams do not speak for all nationalists. In recent general elections, Sinn Fein polled 10 per cent. in the north and 3 per cent. in the south. In the north, it is a minority within a minority; in the south, it is despised by the democratic voices of legitimate nationalism. The second danger is that of sitting down with Sinn Fein without knowing exactly what we are trying to achieve. Sinn Fein knows exactly what it wants--a united Ireland--but do we know what we want? Negotiating with nothing more than a commitment to even-handed neutrality may not represent a clear enough objective. If the objective is not clear, the chance of the other side's getting its own way will be maximised. That worries me.

I applaud the progress made so far; I hope and pray that it will continue. I believe, however, that the House must not allow itself to be carried away by euphoria. I have no doubt that all hon. Members, and all those outside the House, want peace and a just settlement. This individual Member of Parliament, however, does not consider the retention of arms and explosives and the release of evil murderers to be the path to peace and a just settlement; I see both as an abject surrender to terrorism. I plead with the Government to avoid that at all costs. I have no doubt that, if they do, permanent peace will be possible; but I fear that, if they do not, I may be proved right after all.

8.11 pm

Dr. Joe Hendron (Belfast, West): I congratulate the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam) on her new position as shadow Secretary of State, and thank the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) for the outstanding work that he has done for so many years. I also thank his colleagues, the hon. Members for Wigan (Mr. Stott) and for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien), for their great work. I am delighted to say that, since the announcement of the IRA ceasefire and the subsequent announcement of a loyalist ceasefire, the atmosphere on the streets of Belfast--and, indeed, throughout Northern Ireland--has been transformed. More people are returning to city-centre stores, families are more relaxed and parents

Column 1080

are worrying less about the whereabouts of their teenage children. Young people, especially young adults, are now enjoying life: fear, apprehension and confrontation are no longer part of their daily lives. After 25 years of violence, murder and intimidation all around them, they are experiencing a peace and tranquillity that is entirely new to them.

I pay tribute to those who have worked so hard for the peace process, although much work remains to be done. Two priests from Clonard monastery have done a great deal of work, and I am sure that their names will be well known in years to come; indeed, many of those present this evening will know who they are. The Rev. Roy Magee also played a significant role. The Prime Minister, helped by the Secretary of State and his colleagues, put Northern Ireland at the top of his agenda; we are very grateful to him for that. I was in the Europa hotel when he made his speech last week, and the points that he made then were well taken.

The Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, and the Tanaiste, Dick Spring, continue to play their part to the full. I emphasised the part played by the Prime Minister because he faced considerable political risk. Both Prime Ministers showed courage in developing and signing the Downing street declaration, which I see as the political bible for the future of the island of Ireland. I also pay tribute to the leadership shown by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), who has also incurred considerable risk.

I believe, however, that the central part in the peace process has been played by my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), without whom we would not have secured the Downing street declaration. History will record his noble and persistent efforts on behalf of all the people of the island of Ireland--especially, of course, those of Northern Ireland.

Reconciliation between our two communities must now be the top priority. Inward investment in deprived areas such as west and north Belfast to alleviate their massive unemployment is essential. The unemployment rate in my constituency is 35 per cent.--the highest constituency rate in the United Kingdom. At least 60 per cent. of the west Belfast unemployed population are long-term unemployed: that is, they have been out of work for more than a year.

When I visited the United States recently, I spoke to numerous top industrialists in New York and elsewhere. Many would be keen to come to Northern Ireland to get into the European market, but the Republic's 10 per cent. corporate tax rate makes that territory more attractive. Will the Government seriously consider encouraging the European Union, for a limited period--say 10 years--to provide the necessary derogations to enable the Government to apply a 10 per cent. corporation tax rate to new internationally mobile manufacturing projects locating in Northern Ireland? That would provide a level playing field for inward investment in the whole island.

The university of Ulster has proposed a fifth campus in the Springvale area. I strongly support that proposal, because I believe that a campus straddling the Unionist and nationalist parts of west Belfast could do nothing but good. Such a campus should conform to the highest standards of academic excellence, and, I hope, attract students from all over Northern Ireland--and, indeed, internationally. It should also have a close liaison with the Royal Victoria hospital, one of the finest hospitals in these islands.

Column 1081

People will say that we should draw a line under the past. I go along with that to some extent, but I also think of the thousands who have died, and the many hundreds who have died through violence in my constituency: most of them were murdered, and many were my friends. I do not think that people have suffered so much in any part of the island of Ireland, or Britain. I cannot tell others to draw a line under the past, or to forgive; forgiveness is personal, and it is up to those people themselves.

Nevertheless, we must look ahead. We hope that the two Governments will produce the framework document very soon, and I trust that its main points will be based on the principles of the Downing street declaration. A great responsibility rests on all of us to seize the present opportunity to work for a lasting peace in Ireland. 8.17 pm

Mr. Henry Bellingham (Norfolk, North-West): Let me contribute to the wave of congratulations, and congratulate the very brave hon. Member for Belfast, West (Dr. Hendron) on the role that he has played. I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, whose caution has been vindicated: had he not been cautious, the possibility of the paramilitaries announcing a ceasefire would have been very slim.

I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and, indeed, the Taoiseach. His acceptance, particularly in view of his membership of Fianna Fail, that change in Northern Ireland is possible only with the consent of the majority cuts across 70 years of cultural denial in his party. He has achieved something that Sean Lemass, Jack Lynch and Charlie Haughey never achieved.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), I have felt pessimistic at times. It is easy to wake up one morning and ask oneself what is actually in it for the IRA. The IRA has not renounced violence or given up any arms; Gerry Adams and his cohorts have paraded across media studios in the United States, building up propaganda credibility. Gerry Adams can make demands and, if he does not get what he wants, it will be easy for him to say that it is not his fault but that it is entirely the fault of the British Government. Back to violence he will then go, and back with him will go a great deal of extra money and credibility to boot.

On the other hand, during my recent visits to the Province, some of which have been paid in my capacity as a member of the British-Irish parliamentary body, I have detected a real determination among people throughout the island of Ireland to secure peace. That is why every single effort has to be made and why we must go that extra inch to try to achieve peace.

Probably no Conservative Member has as much of a vested interest in Ireland as me. I was brought up in Ireland, I have relations there and I am a sleeping partner in a business in Dublin. I have every interest in being able to go to Ireland without fearing for my own security. Yes, we have to go that extra inch and the prize is well worth having, but it cannot be peace at any price. That theme has run through the speeches of many Conservative Members.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne, I believe that some concessions will be demanded of us that we will not even begin to consider, and I share my hon.

Column 1082

Friend's view on prisoners. Obviously I respect the great experience and wisdom of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott), but many of my constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Moss), whom I congratulate on his recent appointment, have fresh in their minds the IRA break-out from Whitemoor prison, which is in my hon. Friend's constituency. We also remember the violence that was shown against very brave prison officers. Many of my constituents would not accept any abnormal treatment for those prisoners, who have been sentenced for the most heinous of crimes.

I find it difficult to follow the logic of my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris), who tried to draw a distinction between defensive and offensive weapons. I do not think that one can draw that distinction. Does he mean that the Light Barrett sniper rifle is offensive, whereas the Armalite is defensive? I think that that makes no sense at all.

I feel strongly that before we can move forward from the framework document to a proper discussion involving all parties there must be a settlement of the arms situation. Arms have to be handed over by all sides, and there can be no compromise on that.

There can also be no compromise on the prevention of terrorism Act, on which, in some ways, I was surprised by the remarks of the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), because we have to carry with us the people of this country as well.

On the positive side, I welcome the statement that the Prime Minister made in Belfast the other day. At the previous meeting of the British-Irish parliamentary body, we discussed cross-border roads. It was interesting to hear the views of TDs who represent border constituencies, who said that the IRA is winning a great deal of local propaganda by lobbying to get those roads opened. They have now been opened, and I welcome that.

I was interested to hear what the hon. Member for Hammersmith said about the Gaelic Athletics Association. I think that it was Ernest Blyth, the Finance Minister of the first Government of the Irish Free State, who understood the deep significance of Gaelic football to the nationalist sporting psyche. He said at the time that the free state had to try to bring the Unionist population on board, which meant that the RUC and British soldiers should be allowed into GAA grounds, that the tricolour should not fly and that they should not play on Sunday. Some of that is obviously out of date, but I believe that the Government must carefully consider ensuring that those athletics grounds are returned to athletics use as soon as possible, especially the ground at Crossmaglen. That point was emphasised to me by a number of my friends from the Dail who are on the parliamentary body.

On the economic front, I am optimistic. When the barrier to economic activity comes down, cross-border trade will increase. Artificial barriers to entrepreneurial activity on both sides of the border will come down, and activity will increase. There will be a breaking down of some of the cultural and political divides, which will be extremely healthy. We will then have an even closer economic union between the two countries and everyone to whom I have spoken would welcome that with open arms.

Column 1083

We must abide by the wishes of the majority in Ulster. I feel strongly that peace must not be bought at the price of their future and security. If they wish to leave the Union, that is entirely up to them, but, so long as they decide to remain in it, I will remain committed to their wishes and we must show that we have a commitment to them. We must remain persuaders of their opinions, just as I remain a persuader of my own constituents. In the meantime, I am becoming more optimistic and--like everyone in the House--I hope and pray that it will all work out.

8.25 pm

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone): When I spoke during the debate on the defence estimates on 18 October, I dealt with the need that the IRA had for a ceasefire in the wake of the Downing street declaration when the IRA's political justification--even in its own terms-- was seen to be non-existent, and when it was seen that the United Kingdom and Irish Republic recognised the right of Northern Ireland alone to decide how it should be governed.

It slowly became apparent that those who used violence either had no mandate or, in the case of the IRA--which one must assume judges itself on an all-Ireland basis--represented fewer than 5 per cent. of the people on the island. The philosophy of Mao Tse Tung that power comes through the barrel of a rifle was the most powerful veto of the democratic process.

People tell us that the IRA has for some time been engaged in a debate as to whether it should cease violence and move into the political mode. One must recognise that this argument is taking place not for any moral reason but because the IRA believes that after 25 years it is moving farther away from achieving a united Ireland through using violence--and that more people throughout the United Kingdom are losing sympathy for it--than if it pursued its objective through political means.

The great problem about spending 25 years using violence to try to achieve one's end is that one detaches oneself from reality. The IRA somehow believed that if it offered to stop killing, people would consider that to be an act of courage; that there would be a great outpouring of sympathy and that it would be handed over--against the democratic wishes of the people of Northern Ireland--the route towards a united Ireland.

That is not going to happen. We must decide not how we drag the IRA forward --that is something that it will decide--but how we can place road blocks behind it so that it will not regress. We have been helped in that respect by the fact that all parties in this House have been discreet in the way in which they have looked at the problem as it evolves from day to day. They have recognised that we cannot tie ourselves to specific words, although in the beginning it was perhaps natural that we should tie ourselves to words such as "permanent". My right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) was, I believe, the first to point out that actions speak louder than words, and that we must do that which is necessary to ensure that the IRA is not allowed to slip back into the violence mode.

The Prime Minister has been justified in accepting the evidence of almost eight weeks of ceasefire as justification for holding out some hope to the IRA--not

Column 1084

hope that it will achieve its all-Ireland objective but hope that it can free the people of Northern Ireland from the violence to which it has subjected them for 25 years.

The Forum for Peace and Reconciliation is to sit in Dublin from tomorrow onwards. Some people have asked why the Unionists are not participating in that forum. I do not need to be reconciled with anyone. I am reconciled with all those who follow and participate in the democratic process, as are my colleagues and the entire party to which I belong. We are reconciled. We have been at peace for 25 years when other people have been indulging in violence.

If the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation is to be anything--I use that term in the best sense--the pan-nationalist membership of that forum must work to convince the IRA that it represents a minority of a minority and that it has a long way to come if it is to move from the side of the spectrum that deals with violence to the other side, which deals with the democratic process. It must learn that it cannot, for example, keep guns under the table or behind chairs when it moves into that process. If people wonder why we as a party continue to emphasise the need for total disarmament, the decommissioning of weapons and explosives and the verification of that process, I hope that I have given them some idea why. I hope that I have given them some idea why the IRA must make a tangible movement in that direction before it can hope to benefit and before the community can hope to benefit from any talks that take place. I concede that the forum has that job to do. If it does that job successfully, there will be reciprocal action from the loyalist paramilitaries. They have already said that they want future battles to be political battles. Implicit in that statement is an offer to give up their arms and explosives. I now turn to those who have placed themselves between the community and the terrorists for the past 25 years. I refer specifically to the soldiers who come from Great Britain and who do their duties in Northern Ireland from the various barracks throughout the Province. At present, there is pressure to have those people removed from the streets. Let us be frank. We all want to see soldiers off our streets. We are not suggesting that if there is peace, they should be there. But in this period of limbo between a ceasefire and permanent and enduring peace, we shall keep those soldiers in Northern Ireland. I ask the Minister to reassure me that those young men, most of them between 18 and 25, will not be confined, day in and day out and night in and night out, to barracks. That is a recipe for disaster. They are active and energetic young men, and must be cared for. I do not want a gesture to be made to the community that victimises those who have given so much to the people of Northern Ireland.

As I said in the previous debate in which I spoke, this party is committed to peace. It is committed to helping everyone, including former terrorists, to move across the spectrum to the peace process. I hope that that offer of help, that gesture that we have made to people--

Next Section

  Home Page