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House of Commons

Thursday 16 March 1995

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]


City of Westminster Bill

[Lords] ( By Order ) Order for consideration, as amended, read.

To be considered on Thursday 23 March.

Queen Mary and Westfield College Bill (

By Order ) Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 23 March.

Oral Answers to Questions


Peace Process

1. Mr. Soley: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the peace process in Northern Ireland.

2. Mr. Austin-Walker: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the current progress of the peace process.

10. Mr. Hain: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about recent progress in the peace negotiations.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Sir Patrick Mayhew): Representatives of the Government continue exploratory dialogue with Sinn Fein and the loyalist parties. We have made clear the need for constructive discussion on the decommissioning of arms and for the parties to join in an exploration of the ways by which this can be most effectively achieved.

Mr. Soley: Given the considerable achievement by everyone, including the Government, of keeping the peace process moving, can we make sure that we do not get bogged down on the arms issue, which could be part of the normal negotiating procedure? I think that the Secretary of State will find considerable support in all parts of the House if he proceeds in that way although he might not find support for it when he picks up a British or American newspaper.

Sir Patrick Mayhew: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he said at the outset, but it is important for substantial progress to be made on the issue of decommissioning arms before parties can enter discussions with the Government on political matters. I agree very much with what was said yesterday in Congress by Mr. Holbrooke, the Assistant Secretary with

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responsibility for European and Canadian affairs, who said that decommissioning should begin now and should not wait until the end of negotiations.

Mr. Austin-Walker: Does the Secretary of State recognise that, for the progress of the peace process to continue, it will be necessary to maintain the confidence of the nationalist community? Does he not recognise that the Royal Ulster Constabulary is seen by many in that community as a sectarian force, and does he not think that some offer of reform and restructuring might assist in ending the log jam in the present negotiations and discussions?

Sir Patrick Mayhew: First, I wish to pay a tribute to the RUC, whose steadfastness has done a great deal to lead to the ceasefires some seven and a half and six months ago respectively. Secondly, the RUC is well aware of the need to acquire, retain and enhance confidence right through the community, including the nationalist community. In that it is having considerable success now that it does not have to spend time in anti- terrorist operations to the extent that it used to. Thirdly, questions of restructuring the RUC are way beyond the mark. The RUC and the police authority together are sensibly engaged on examining the way in which the transition to more peaceful circumstances may be managed.

Mr. Hain: May I wish the Secretary of State a happy St. Patrick's day tomorrow? Opposition Members are united in supporting his determination to progress the peace talks. I wish that that were true of all his hon. Friends. I urge him to resist the determination of those weary old warhorses who have signed early-day motion 803 to keep Sinn Fein from the negotiating table. They seem obsessed with that. It is vital to get Sinn Fein, along with all other parties to the dispute, around the negotiating table as soon as possible so as to maintain the momentum.

Sir Patrick Mayhew: The hon. Gentleman began very well with his question, for which I thank him, but it deteriorated fairly soon afterwards. I do not recognise his description of any of my hon. Friends. All hon. Members, my hon. Friends included, wish to see the process of talks towards an overall political settlement resume and succeed. The hon. Gentleman said that Sinn Fein should be part. If it can show itself to be like any constitutional party and no longer inextricably linked with or connected to a paramilitary organisation, that will become possible as far as the Government are concerned. But if peace has come for good, why can it not give the assurances for which we have asked and which I have communicated to all hon. Members in a letter which I wrote this week?

Sir James Kilfedder: Is it not sickening that the head of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, should describe himself as a "man of peace", unless of course he is referring to the fact that his terrorist organisation has been responsible for sending countless men, women and children to the peace of the grave? Despite the ballyhoo in Washington, may I urge all constitutional politicians in Northern Ireland in the meantime to engage in meaningful dialogue either on the framework document, or on any other document that may be produced for those talks?

Sir Patrick Mayhew: My hon. Friend has drawn attention to words that, along with many others from that quarter, a large number of people throughout the United

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Kingdom and more widely find hard to take. On the second part of his question, I warmly agree that it is of the highest importance for constitutional parties to engage in discussion of those issues, which must inherently be interwoven in any final accommodation or settlement. I hope that that will come about. I believe that it will.

Rev. William McCrea: Bearing in mind the long list of Government concessions already given and pocketed by the IRA terrorists, will the Secretary of State inform the House of any further concessions outstanding or intended to be granted in the foreseeable future? Does not he understand the frustration and anger in the community at such rewards being given to unrepentant IRA murderers, and the insult that that causes to law-abiding citizens in the community?

Sir Patrick Mayhew: Since I do not recognise that any concessions-- let alone rewards--have been made to the IRA, it follows that I cannot give notice of any further ones. There will not be. Peace-loving constitutional people in Northern Ireland and more widely have deep hostility to those who claim that they are committed to peace and democratic methods, and who cannot and refuse to give the assurances that the Government have asked for: that they are prepared to deal seriously and constructively with the question of getting rid of the arsenal of arms they have, which is appropriate only to an army, and not appropriate to people who are concerned with peace.

Mr. Temple-Morris: Can my right hon. and learned hon. Friend confirm, as he made clear in his recent Washington statement, that, in the policy and principle of progressive disarmament, we have the best hope of delivering all parties into substantive talks, and that only those talks in that circumstance can deliver peace?

Sir Patrick Mayhew: I am very glad to reiterate to my hon. Friend what I have said time and again, as has the Prime Minister--that constitutional parties and politicians cannot be expected to sit down and discuss the future structures of Northern Ireland with people who, by implication, reserve for themselves the right to go back to the use of arms, which they have used with such devastating and evil effect over so many years.

Mr. Maginnis: Since Martin McGuinness, who leads the Sinn Fein delegation to the exploratory talks, and Gerry Adams, who now rubs shoulders with President Clinton, were both flown to the Whitelaw Cheyne walk talks in 1972, has the Secretary of State any intelligence that he can share with us as to when those two individuals cut their links with the IRA and became democrats? We would all be interested to know that. Since the Prime Minister suggested on 16 January that the IRA and Sinn Fein were two separate organisations, and the Secretary of State told us on 7 March that they were still inextricably linked, did the Prime Minister ignore intelligence that was available to him at the time, or does the Secretary of State have new intelligence that he can share with us? We would appreciate some elucidation on that issue.

Sir Patrick Mayhew: Over many a long month and year my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, myself and the hon. Gentleman have acknowledged and asserted that Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA are inextricably linked, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, they are separate

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organisations, linked inextricably as they are. The hon. Gentleman knows very well the capacity in which Mr. McGuinness and Mr. Adams came to London when they met the noble Lord Whitelaw, and he is perfectly entitled to make that point. However, what I have to do and what I have to urge others to do is to look forward and encourage those who now claim to be politicians who are committed to peaceful ways of resolving political disputes and issues. We must encourage them to demonstrate that, because only they know their true intentions. We have to go by objective outward and visible signs, and it is those for which we are calling.

Mr. Mallon: Does the Secretary of State agree that it would be unwise to overlook the fact that the vast majority of the nationalist community have been involved in a peace process over the past 25 years, and that during that peace process over those long, difficult and dangerous years, that large section of the nationalist community kept alive their faith in the political process?

Does the Secretary of State further agree that, when we reach a stage, as we should very soon, where, in effect, the political process supersedes the peace process, we can start to do what we all set out to do--to create a solution to a very serious problem? Does the Secretary of State agree that the longer a peace process is seen to operate in isolation from a political process, the more difficult it will be to solve the problems that we have to solve?

Sir Patrick Mayhew: I readily give the hon. Gentleman the assurance for which he asked at the beginning of his question--that the overwhelming majority of the nationalist community were wholly committed to peaceful ways of dealing with political matters and condemned with disgust the violence that was perpetrated in the name of their cause. That is absolutely true. That is expressed in the enormous majority of nationalists in a recent poll--over 90 per cent.--who called upon the IRA to surrender their arms.

We all want to see--we believe that it is the only effective means of achieving stability in Northern Ireland--a process by which constitutional politicians sit down and discuss the issues and reach agreements about them. That is the way forward and I believe, therefore, that it is much more propitious for that that peace should be established. That is the way in which they are linked as the hon. Gentleman said.

Ms Mowlam: I am sure that the Secretary of State is aware that the Opposition want progress to be made on the decommissioning of arms, but we do not want that issue to become a stumbling block in the peace process because the talks are crucial to keeping the momentum going. In that light, will he clarify to the House some of the statements that he made in answer to earlier questions? He has asked for "visible signs" and for "clear and constructive assurances". Can the Secretary of State be more specific about what he was referring to? At one point he referred to decommissioning beginning now. It might be helpful if he could clarify whether that is a precursor to dialogue between Ministers and Sinn Fein.

Sir Patrick Mayhew: I was saying that it is only the IRA and Sinn Fein who know what their true intentions are. The rest of us listen to their words, but we have to make up our own minds as rational human beings by reference to what they say, what they do and, more aptly, by what they do not do. That is what I meant. I drew

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attention to what was said by Mr. Holbrooke on the Hill yesterday to show how important it was that decommissioning should commence. I made clear in the letter that I sent to all hon. Members the other day what was necessary for exploratory talks. I said: "Before Ministers will participate there must first be a clear and reliable assurance from Sinn Fein that constructive discussion--particularly in achieving substantial progress on decommissioning arms--would be facilitated and accelerated by Ministers joining the dialogue."

In other words, there is no magic formula which is the one and only one which can possibly be espoused. Another way of putting it would be to say that they have got to assure us of serious and substantive talks designed to lead to concrete steps on the decommissioning of arms and explosives. You know it when you see it; let us not get tied down to a legalistic approach to something that is very simple and easily understood.

Private Lee Clegg

3. Mr. Sutcliffe: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what progress he has made in discussing the release on licence of Private Lee Clegg.

Sir Patrick Mayhew: Private Clegg was informed last week that his case will be referred to the life sentence review board for consideration at its meeting on 6 June.

Mr. Sutcliffe: The case was reviewed on 20 January, so why was it so long--until last Monday--before we found out that it is to be reviewed again in June? The life sentence review board met in February and is to meet again in April, but we are told that Private Clegg will have to wait until June. Is it not the Secretary of State who takes the final decision on the recommendations? When will he be in a position to announce Clegg's release in view of the weight of evidence that proves that Clegg was not responsible for what took place?

Sir Patrick Mayhew: I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's concern and I wrote a letter to him that he should have received yesterday or today. In line with normal procedures, Private Clegg's case has been reviewed with a view to determining when it should be considered by the life sentence review board, the body which advises the Secretary of State on the release of life sentence prisoners. The question of eligibility for release on life licence is, rightly, always considered with great care and in great detail. I am satisfied that 6 June is the appropriate date for consideration of the case by the board.

Mr. Brazier: Further to the previous question, may I urge my right hon. and learned Friend to include in the review of such cases, with which he is assisting my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, the fundamental question whether it is possible in principle for a criminal offence of any sort to occur during a volley of shots, the first of which-- indeed, all but one of which--was deemed to be legal, given that under British law one has to have a guilty intent to be guilty of a crime of this kind?

Sir Patrick Mayhew: Again, I know of my hon. Friend's close interest in these matters. He will know the terms in which my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary announced the review of the law of

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murder. My hon. Friend rightly draws attention to the central feature of the criminal mind, known to lawyers as the mens rea, and I do not doubt that such matters will be under consideration.

Framework Documents

4. Mr. Riddick: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the response in Northern Ireland to the framework documents.

9. Mr. Harry Greenway: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many representations and of what general nature he has received following publication of the framework documents; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Michael Ancram): "Frameworks for the Future" was published on 22 February. It is too early to make a full assessment of the response in Northern Ireland, and many people and organisations are still studying these complex documents before responding. So far the Northern Ireland Office has received 147 letters of varied content from members of the public and from Members of Parliament.

Mr. Riddick: Does my hon. Friend agree that the reaction from the parties in Northern Ireland suggests that the nationalists feel that their views are well represented in the framework document? Has not the time therefore come to provide some cheer and comfort to the Unionists? To that end, will he continue to place great emphasis on the need to decommission IRA arms and assure the House that he will consider fully and favourably the proposals contained in the Unionist parties' own documents?

Mr. Ancram: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He raises a number of issues. On his final point, we have made it clear that we shall consider and discuss any documents put on the table for discussion about the future of Northern Ireland which address the issues. It is important to recognise that there are a number of interlocking issues across a number of different relationships that we have discussed many times in the House which must be addressed if we are to find a solution to the problems of Northern Ireland. Any suggestions that address those issues--wherever they come from--which are capable of securing agreement are matters that we would certainly wish to discuss with the parties. I give that assurance again.

As for the decommissioning of arms, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has this afternoon already clarified the Government's position. I merely add that it is a matter of fact that if we are talking about sitting round a table to come to an agreement on a settlement for Northern Ireland and the parties round it are asked to join parties such as Sinn Fein, they will not do so unless they are satisfied that there has been a sufficient decommissioning of arms by the paramilitaries for all parties to be present on the same basis.

Mr. Greenway: What time scale does my hon. Friend have in mind for talks on the framework documents? Is he aware of the intense interest of the people of this country in the resolution of the problem,

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and especially in a fair and proper decommissioning of arms, without which they see any negotiations as completely unfair and improper?

Mr. Ancram: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I cannot add to what I have already said about the decommissioning of arms. The Government have no set deadlines or timetable. The purpose of the framework documents, in which there has been enormous interest within Northern Ireland, was to assist and promote discussion and negotiation involving the parties. About 120,000 copies have so far been issued within Northern Ireland. There is much discussion and debate taking place on what is within the documents and on others' ideas about the issues. The debate is constructive and healthy. We hope that it will lead in a reasonably short time to the parties coming together and looking for a constructive way forward.

Rev. Martin Smyth: Does the Minister accept that, after the initial euphoric response from specially briefed industrialists and the media, the general reaction has been one of dismay and disappointment, despite Government-inspired media hype that elderly politicians were out of touch with the electorate? Will he recognise now that many young people are saying that it is the "You've been framed" document?

Mr. Ancram: I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman. I find that many people, and especially the young, are saying that it is time for political representatives to talk about the issues. The purpose of the framework documents was to assist in that process.

I have read with great interest some of the reactions of other parties within Northern Ireland. I have discovered such levels of misunderstanding of what is within the framework documents in some of the responses that I would welcome a chance to get alongside the hon. Gentleman, for example, to go through the documents line by line to explain to him the Government's intention.

Mr. Murphy: The Minister will confirm that the framework documents make much of European links. Does he agree that an essential part of the process of peace and reconciliation will be the financial help that will come from the European Union? Will he give the House and the people of Northern Ireland an assurance that the European level will be truly additional to and over and above the Northern Ireland budget, and that the Treasury will not use the extra cash to reduce its spending plans for Northern Ireland?

Mr. Ancram: I am not certain whether this arises directly from the framework documents. The documents make it clear that a north-south body would be able to advise the two Governments on matters of common European interest affecting the whole of the island of Ireland. It would possibly manage certain programmes that are already cross-border within Northern Ireland, such as Intereg. Effectively, all representations to Europe would be through the two sovereign Governments. Any moneys forthcoming would be subject to the usual treatment unless the Governments agreed otherwise.

Prison Visits

5. Mr. A. Cecil Walker: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to how many visits per 28 days Northern Ireland families of prisoners are entitled; for

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what reason there is a difference between this figure and the entitlement of families in the rest of the United Kingdom; and when he plans to change their entitlement.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Sir John Wheeler): It is our intention to introduce a second paid visit every four weeks in Northern Ireland, in line with the change introduced in Great Britain last year.

Mr. Walker: I thank the Minister for removing that disparity. What are the travel and administration costs of the financially-assisted visits for prisoners in Northern Ireland in relation to Northern Ireland prison rule No. 65?

Sir John Wheeler: I am not able to give the hon. Gentleman the precise figures in the detail that he may seek. I will ensure that he has that information. However, the proposals have a cost to the taxpayer which must be accommodated within the budget of the prison service in Northern Ireland.

Criminal Justice System

6. Mr. Mullin: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what plans he has for reforming the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement.

Sir John Wheeler: We have put forward a range of measures in recent years to improve the working of the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland. They include the Criminal Appeal Bill, introduced last month, establishing in Northern Ireland and England and Wales the criminal cases review commission. Other measures are in preparation.

Mr. Mullin: Would it be too much to ask that the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 be applied to all cases in Northern Ireland? In particular, is it not about time, in the light of all the other changes taking place in the Province, that interrogations in police custody were tape-recorded? Did the Minister read the remarks of the judge in the Ballymurphy case the other day which ended after 138 days? The judge said that, had audio recording been available, the case could have been dealt with in six days. Is it not about time that that state of affairs was dealt with?

Sir John Wheeler: I am well aware of the proposals to include video and tape recording of all interviews in police custody in Northern Ireland. Those matters are kept under regular review in the light of the changing security circumstances. I shall continue to be advised by the Chief Constable as to the need to retain the existing arrangements, which I hope may well change in the near future.

Mr. Hayes: Does my right hon. Friend agree that there has been much talk about changes in the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland? There is a great deal of sympathy for Private Clegg and his family. However, the fundamental difference between us and the men of terror is that we believe in, and live by, the rule of law. Any departure from the rule of law, by anyone, would be a departure from the peace process.

Sir John Wheeler: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. He speaks well in favour of the rule of law. The plain truth is that it is the terrorist gangs who depart from the rule of law. It is the terrorist gangs who

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want to remove people from Northern Ireland who do not fit with their specifications, and it is the terrorist gangs who hold arms and engage in armed robberies. That is what this House roundly condemns.

Mr. Trimble: I welcome the Minister's reference to the Criminal Appeal Bill. Does he agree that that demonstrates the ease by which legislation for Northern Ireland can proceed upon proper grounds, and will he recommend that to his colleagues on either side of him? With regard to the future of the criminal justice system, will the Minister give an assurance that there will be no question of a precipitate rundown of the Diplock court system while we still have so many unsolved terrorist cases and so many terrorists who have not yet been made amenable? Will he also support the representations that we have made that there should be consideration, together with the Home Office, about what permanent anti- terrorist legislation the United Kingdom will need?

Sir John Wheeler: The answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question is that, of course, I understand why he makes that point. When it is possible and appropriate to include Northern Ireland considerations and issues in legislation originating from England and Wales, that will be done. As for the operation of the Diplock courts, they operate having regard to the circumstances that prevail in Northern Ireland. If it is the case--as it is--that people are still intimidated and could not sit as jurors or give evidence as witnesses other than through the protection of the existing legal measures, those measures must be sustained.

Framework Documents

7. Mr. McFall: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what plans he has to consult (a) community groups, (b) churches and (c) other public institutions on the framework documents.

Mr. Ancram: Copies of "Frameworks for the Future" have been made widely available within Northern Ireland. The Government have encouraged all those who read it to consider the proposals it contains and to let us and the political parties know their views.

Mr. McFall: What legislative powers does the Minister envisage will be devolved to a Northern Ireland Assembly? How does he see the relationship between that body and the 26 district councils in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Ancram: If the hon. Gentleman reads the first part of the framework documents he will see the Government's proposals set out, including proposals that legislative powers over matters regarded as transferred, or as essentially transferable, in 1973, be given to an assembly. Obviously the relationship between that assembly and local authorities will be a matter for discussion when the framework documents are being considered, but it would also be a matter for consideration by the assembly itself, once it was set up.

Mr. Wilkinson: Will my hon. Friend consult the European Foundation as to the merits of allowing a north-south body to be the interlocutory mechanism for dialogue with the European Union on the disbursement of funds relating to the northern part of Ireland? Will he consider the precedent that such a devolved body could

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pose for other parts of the kingdom in their relations with Brussels were devolution to extend ultimately to Scotland?

Mr. Ancram: I am interested in my hon. Friend's question and will certainly wish to consider some of the nuances of it, but I am can tell him now that as regards its European representations, any assembly set up within Northern Ireland would have to operate, as does any other part of the United Kingdom, through the sovereign Government of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Molyneaux: The Minister was kind enough to tell us earlier of the vast volume of copies of the framework documents circulated throughout Northern Ireland. Would that be approximately on a par with the circulars that we receive from the Inland Revenue, and would the response be roughly equivalent? Will the Minister press on with the consultations and talks with other parties, as we have done, for the simple reason that, apart from the initial response of what one might call the hired hacks, those who have carefully read the document have concluded that it is divisive and fatally flawed? At the end of all those consultations, will he consider producing another consultative paper--an outline paper on which there could be widespread agreement?

Mr. Ancram: I listened with interest to the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, and I have not yet come across a case of citizens going out voluntarily to collect the forms that he mentioned, or ringing to ask for those forms to be sent to them, as has happened with the framework documents. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman welcomes, as I do, the fact that within Northern Ireland, which is a mature democracy, there has been great interest in the documents so that people can inform themselves about what is being proposed and can play a part in advising their political representatives on the line that they might take in negotiations. As for the talks, I repeat that the important thing is that the issues identified within the framework documents as those that have to be dealt with be discussed. We do not claim a monopoly of wisdom either in the British Government or in the Dublin Government. We simply say that in the documents we have identified the issues and have suggested ways in which they could be resolved. If anybody else comes forward with other ways that could secure the necessary measure of agreement we would welcome that as part of the discussion. I shall certainly be pleased to meet any party at any time to take the discussion forward.

Mr. Beith: To what extent has the Minister ascertained the views of the political representatives of the loyalist paramilitaries on their willingness to take part in discussions on the document and to assist that process by participating in the decommissioning of arms?

Mr. Ancram: I must first say that I have not been in direct communication with the representatives of the loyalist paramilitaries, any more than I have been involved in the exploratory discussions with Sinn Fein. The same criteria would apply in that case as apply to Sinn Fein. It is our understanding from statements that have been made that representatives of the loyalists are keen to enter discussions and that, although they may have reservations about certain parts of the framework documents, they are prepared to enter discussions on the

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basis of the documents. Again, I welcome discussion from whatever quarter it comes, so long as the criteria for becoming involved in discussions, in terms of the decommissioning of arms, have been met.

Mr. Dykes: I thank the Minister of State for the many initiatives that he has taken since the documents were published. Does he not agree that, far from being divisive, they are an excellent basis on which to take the discussions forward, through whatever mechanism and whatever medium, and that, closely and on a continuing basis, the English majority are watching to ensure that all Unionist politicians rise to the moderate opportunity presented?

Mr. Ancram: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I find it difficult to understand how a document that is based on the consent and agreement of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland can be divisive; after all, if we believe in democracy, the consent of the majority and the agreement of the political parties within that part of the United Kingdom must be at the very foundation and roots of democracy.

Ms Mowlam: We welcome the consultations on the framework document, and wish the Government well. What message has the Minister for the many groups--trade unions, businesses and parts of the voluntary sector--whose members I have consulted in the past couple of weeks? They are frustrated not only by the lack of any clear economic strategy for the use of the money that is available from both the public purse and international funds, but by the lack of accountability and transparency in relation to how the money is currently allocated.

Mr. Ancram: I find the hon. Lady's question very surprising. As she knows, we are consulting various parties about how moneys can be spent. We are trying to encourage inward investment into Northern Ireland, to provide jobs and prosperity for its people. We are keen to ensure that whatever dividend results from the cessation of violence and, I hope, the permanent establishment of peace is shared as widely as possible, and that no part of the Northern Ireland community feels that it has not gained advantage from it. The most important element in any future prosperity for Northern Ireland, however, must be political development. The question concentrates on that, and I would welcome the views of trade unions, Churches and business organisations, from whichever quarter they may come.

Investment Forum

8. Mr. Beggs: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what positive responses to date have resulted from the Investment Forum held in Belfast last year.

Mr. Ancram: We are pursuing 17 potential inward investment projects as a direct result of the forum. There are other spin-offs: for example, our overseas sales teams have seen a significant surge of interest in Northern Ireland as an investment location.

Mr. Beggs: I thank the Minister for his reply, and congratulate all who have been involved in the Investment

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Forum. I also send good wishes to those who will be involved in similar activities in the United States later this year.

Does the Minister consider that Northern Ireland Members of Parliament can reasonably expect opportunities to meet those who visit their constituencies with a view to investment? Will he encourage Industrial Development Board officials to involve Northern Ireland Members of Parliament more in future than has been customary in the past, and allow them to engage in consultation with such groups on the clear understanding that consultation is confidential?

Mr. Ancram: I shall certainly pass on what the hon. Gentleman has said to my noble Friend Lady Denton. He rightly said that any such contact would have to be on a confidential basis. As he will realise, there is considerable competition for the projects that I mentioned in my original answer to go elsewhere, and it would not be clever of us to try to conduct such negotiations in public.

Mr. Alexander: Is my hon. Friend aware of the wide interest created in Northern Ireland by the forum, which was held under the auspices of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister himself? Is he further aware--as I am sure he must be--of the enormous export opportunities that it has generated, and will he assure the House that the momentum will be continued, because of its great importance?

Mr. Ancram: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has made an important point. The Investment Forum was very much the start of the process, not the end. The Industrial Development Board in Northern Ireland is working hard to carry forward the initiatives that were begun in the forum. It is interesting to note that calls to the IDB in London have doubled since 31 August, when the ceasefire was announced.

Mr. Spellar: Does the Minister accept that, although new investment is welcome, existing businesses must also thrive if the peace dividend is not to be perceived as a peace deficit? In particular, will he assure us that every effort is being made to ensure a steady progress of orders at Harland and Wolff? What is being done to obtain the order for a floating production oil system for that yard?

Mr. Ancram: If I may, I shall pass that last question on to my noble Friend Lady Denton and ask her to provide an answer to the hon. Gentleman. It is absolutely clear to those of us who work within Northern Ireland that peace of itself is not enough to bring the incentives for inward investment and exports of the sort to which the hon. Gentleman refers. Political development is needed to underpin the incentives for investment. That is why we put so much store by the political process. That is the only way in which confidence will be created in a stable future of Northern Ireland which will bring the benefits to which the hon. Gentleman has referred.

Illegal Weapons

11. Mr. Robathan: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what progress has been made on the recovery and destruction of illegal weapons in the Province.

Sir John Wheeler: Since the announcement of the ceasefires, up to 5 March 39 weapons, just fewer than

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2,300 rounds of ammunition and almost 600 lb of explosives have been recovered. Substantial progress on decommissioning paramilitary arms is needed to move the political process forward. We continue to pursue decommissioning of illegally held arms during the exploratory dialogue with Sinn Fein and loyalist paramilitaries.

Mr. Robathan: I welcome that response from my hon. Friend. Will he reassure the House that the security forces will continue actively to search for illegal weapons? Does he agree that the most positive contribution that could be made by President Clinton and the glittering guest list at last night's Sinn Fein dinner in New York would be for them to press Gerry Adams and to explain to him that there could no further progress towards a peaceful settlement in Northern Ireland unless substantial progress was made on handing in illegally held weapons?

Sir John Wheeler: I can assure my hon. Friend and the House that the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the security forces will continue to pursue all illegal acts in Northern Ireland and, in particular, to search out the stocks of weapons and explosives that still exist. On his latter point, I should simply say that Provisional Sinn Fein should act. It is actions that count, not words.



Q1. Mr. David Shaw: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 16 March.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major): This morning, I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

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