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Column 470have been opened. Army patrols in support of the police are now the exception. Exclusion orders and broadcasting restrictions have been lifted.
We are also, with the RUC and the Police Authority, looking ahead to the future of policing in Northern Ireland. The RUC is making the transition from a force primarily concerned with countering terrorism to one dealing mainly with the everyday concerns of the ordinary community. Much work is in progress, with the public being consulted as never before.
The Government place an even greater emphasis on community relations work to help heal the divisions between the main sections of the community and to create a more stable and united society for the future. The evidence is that positive changes are taking place in the relationships between the main traditions in Northern Ireland, but real and lasting change takes time.
I can also report briefly and happily on the economy. I shall be brief because many right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak. A strong economy with plenty of jobs is, of course, a great support for stability. There is much good news. Employment in the year to March 1995 rose by 2.1 per cent.- -four times the Great Britain rate. At 565, 000, it is the highest March figure on record. In the year to May 1995 unemployment fell by more than 10 per cent. It is now 11.7 per cent., which is still much too high, but it is the lowest since September 1981, almost 14 years ago. Particularly welcome is the fall over the last year of almost 5,000 in the number of long-term unemployed. We shall be working hard to bring the figures down still further.
Manufacturing output is growing strongly, with an increase in 1994 of 6.8 per cent. Some of this growth occurred in the period before the ceasefires. In the current year, however, with the prospects of a sustained peace continuing to improve, we hope that we shall do better still. The consensus among local economic commentators is that this year Northern Ireland will be able to build further on recent successes. Local surveys of business opinion suggest continuing high levels of business confidence and strong positive investment intentions.
There has also been good news in the Fair Employment Commission's latest annual monitoring report, summarising the religious composition of the Province's work force, which shows a significant increase of 2.3 percentage points in the Catholic share of the monitored work force between 1990 and 1994.
The Prime Minister's conference in Belfast last December greatly enhanced Northern Ireland's profile as an attractive investment location for companies from the United States, Great Britain, Europe and the far east.
Then in Washington in May there was the US President's White House conference for trade and investment, which was also a resounding success. The conference focused on trade and investment in Northern Ireland and the six border counties of the Republic of Ireland, and attracted an attendance of approximately 1,300 people. Of these, 600 were business people--350 US- based and 250 from Europe, predominantly Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. We are enormously grateful to the President for this initiative, and for the follow-up which his Administration is pursuing.
Turning to political policy, this time last year I reported that we were in discussion with the Irish Government. We had the aim of achieving a shared understanding between
Column 471us of the elements of a political settlement which in our view was most likely to command widespread support across the community in Northern Ireland. We did that because we were asked to do so. After considerable hard work on all sides, and lengthy negotiation, on 22 February my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister launched in Belfast the document, "A Framework for Accountable Government in Northern Ireland" and, together with the Taoiseach, "A New Framework for Agreement". Taken together, the two documents outline what a political settlement in Northern Ireland might look like. Many things have been said about those documents, but I should like to emphasise once again what they are not. First, the documents are not a blueprint; the ideas are not set in concrete and the proposals will not be imposed without the consent both of the Northern Ireland parties and of the Northern Ireland people. They do not affect Northern Ireland's constitutional guarantee; they do not contain any proposals for joint authority and there is no slippery slope to a united Ireland. They are ideas for discussion and negotiation. They represent the best ideas of the two Governments.
The House is familiar enough by now with the documents' character and contents. Both Governments believe that they have fulfilled a useful purpose, but as Mr. Bruton said at their launch in Belfast, "If people have better ideas--and we hope you have--let us hear them".
Meanwhile we both stand by them and we believe that they have already encouraged much fresh thinking by the parties about the issues central to a settlement. Progress towards a settlement will come only by talking.
Shortly before Easter I invited the leaders of the Ulster Unionist party, the Social Democratic and Labour party, the Ulster Democratic Unionist party and the Alliance party to a series of separate bilateral meetings to discuss the issues on which agreement must be reached if there is to be a widely acceptable settlement. To date, I have had very useful and productive discussions with the UUP and the Alliance party, and we hope and plan to hold more. I very much hope that the other two Northern Ireland parties which I have invited will take part in the discussions .
The context for negotiation has been transformed by the two terrorist ceasefires, and I know from talking to people in Northern Ireland that everyone wants peace. They see that the way forward can be found only through talking, by discussion and by negotiation. With Sinn Fein, the Popular Unionist party and the Ulster Democratic party, the Government have sought to consolidate the situation created by the two ceasefires of 31 August and 13 October 1994 by entering into exploratory dialogue with them. The dialogues began on 9 and 15 December respectively. The objective was and remains to exchange views on how those parties would be able, over a period, to play the same part as the main constitutional parties in the public life of Northern Ireland, and to examine the practical consequences of the ending of violence.
There have now been 12 meetings of exploratory dialogue with the loyalist parties, covering a range of subjects including prisons, political development, decommissioning of arms, policing-criminal justice issues and the economic-social problems of disadvantaged areas.
Column 472Given the progress made in the earlier exchanges with officials, it was decided that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), would join the dialogue at the eighth meeting on 22 March. As for exploratory dialogue with Sinn Fein, there have now been seven meetings, two of which have been attended by my hon. Friend. Discussions have taken place on a broad agenda, including the decommissioning of illegal arms.
Progress on the decommissioning of illegally held arms is needed to help to demonstrate the parties' commitment to exclusively peaceful methods. Serious and constructive discussion of this issue has taken place with the PUP and the UDP. The Government have made clear their belief that substantial progress on decommissioning will be necessary before any party that is closely associated with paramilitaries can expect to participate in inclusive talks.
More than nine months have now elapsed since the IRA ceasefire and eight months since its loyalist counterpart.
Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann): The Secretary of State has been talking about the exploratory talks between a Minister, officials and paramilitaries and the possibility of moving to what he calls inclusive talks. Given the disturbances that have occurred in Northern Ireland over the past 48 hours and given the clear involvement in fermenting those disturbances of Sinn Fein, can that party still be regarded as having any commitment to peaceful methods? Is it still appropriate for officials or Ministers to continue talking to Sinn Fein when Sinn Fein is clearly involved in violence?
Sir Patrick Mayhew: As I have already said, the disturbances to which the hon. Gentleman refers were clearly orchestrated. That has been made clear by the assistant chief constable, Mr. Stewart, in a public statement a day or so ago. In that statement he said that local members of Sinn Fein were present and prominent, I think, on a number of occasions. We want to see a good deal more of what has happened and why it happened. I am reluctant to break off conversations with any party for the reasons that I have given this evening. Any participation by the central direction of a political party in such events certainly precludes that party from claiming that it is wholly committed to a peaceful means of dealing with political disputes. There can be no question about that.
Yet the guns and explosives have not yet been decommissioned even though more than nine months have elapsed since the IRA ceasefire and eight months since its loyalist counterpart. The latent threat of violence accordingly remains. Decommissioning is not an arbitrary new hurdle created by the Government to block progress with Sinn Fein and the loyalists. Nor is it tantamount to surrender by the paramilitaries. Nor do we have pre-conceived notions about how decommissioning takes place, provided that it happens and is verifiable.
We are in no doubt that decommissioning is a difficult issue. Equally we are in no doubt that it needs to be resolved if we are to move forward. The phrase which I think expresses best the new opportunities which decommissioning could bring about is "parallel progress". I shall explain what I mean by that. The ending of paramilitary violence has created an environment allowing commanders on the ground to make operational
Column 473decisions about the level of military deployment. In all these matters I have been guided by the professional advice of the chief constable, Sir Hugh Annesley.
Equally, however, nothing by way of troop reductions, for example, has occurred which cannot be taken further. Parallel progress in that direction and in other areas can and will be occasioned by events which establish that risk to the public has been further reduced. If I may distort Newton's third law of motion, every action has an equal and parallel reaction.
We have within view talks in which all sides can take part, provided they are wholly committed to democratic methods. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister remains fully committed to the peace process and is determined that it shall properly be seen through to a successful conclusion. But peace can only be built on trust, and trust can never sit alongside the loaded gun pointed at its head. Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow) rose --
I conclude by saying to the House that the Government will continue to do all in their power to build on the advances of the past two years. Meanwhile, the Government will also continue, through direct rule, to work for a just, peaceful and prosperous society in which both sides of the community can by consent come to exercise greater control over their affairs. I commend the order to the House. 9.16 pm
Ms Marjorie Mowlam (Redcar): I apologise to the Secretary of State for missing his opening couple of sentences. I welcome him and his team in its entirety, back after the events of the past 48 hours. I hope that now that we have some political stability at Westminster, we can move things forward.
In the past six months I have met a number of local councillors, business leaders, trade unionists and community and voluntary groups across Northern Ireland to discuss how economic policy can be made more responsive to local need. The ideas and enthusiasm generated in the present window of opportunity, with US and European assistance, are very impressive.
However, the common concern of all parties is their lack of ability to influence decision making. For example, was anybody listening to the people of Limavady, Strabane and Derry who wanted urgent improvements to the A5, especially to the bottlenecks at Toome and Dungiven; or to the thousands of people who raised money for a scanner for South Tyrone hospital, who want to use that scanner in their own hospital; or to folk in Moyle who want to have the planning powers to accommodate both the wishes of local farmers and the environmental needs of an area of outstanding natural beauty? Everyone would be happier if such decisions were taken closer to the people whose lives are affected through devolved government. Short of improving the transparency and accountability of the 96 quangos in Northern Ireland, meaningful change can come about only
Column 474in the context of an agreed and balanced constitutional settlement and new political structures such as those outlined--
Ms Mowlam: Yes, there are certainly more than 96 quangos. I was dealing with those directly related to local authority matters such as health and education and which, if local democracy were working, would be affected by local accountability.
Whether we are dealing with those 96 or others, there can be meaningful change and genuine accountability only if there is a change towards a balanced constitutional settlement and new political structures are put in place, such as those suggested in the framework documents, whether within Northern Ireland, between the North and the South, or between Westminster and Dublin.
We regret that we are having this debate again this year. We hope that the momentum in the peace process will be maintained and that significant progress can be made so that it will not be necessary--or there will be new legislation--next year.
The Secretary of State outlined a number of the changes that have occurred in the past 10 months and the considerable progress made towards peace and reconciliation since the ceasefires last autumn. He is right. It is sad and instructive to mark the changes that have been achieved by comparing this July with the same month in previous years.
This July will, we hope, be a quiet one. Last July, seven people were killed; in 1993, one person--Kevin Pullin--was killed by a sniper; in 1992, five people were killed; in 1991, three were killed; and, as many hon. Members will remember, nine people died in July 1990, including Ian Gow, a former Member of the House. Our horror at this history of violence and killing must not prevent any of us from exercising imagination and thinking clearly about the future. This debate concerns the Secretary of State's stewardship in Northern Ireland. It is difficult to evaluate as the debate is always held at the end of the year and there are few yardsticks to go by. As the next year is crucial, I think that it would help the debate if we put down some markers that are important for us to consider in the progress that we hope will be made in the year ahead.
As the Secretary of State said, the momentum of political progress must be maintained. The issue of decommissioning has to be tackled in such a manner that it is not a surrender but a clear statement that progress is made in the process of decommissioning paramilitary arms. Consideration should be given by the new--or newish--joint committee to the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) that a third party should oversee and verify the decommissioning process.
In the coming year, we want to see progress made on anti-terrorist legislation. This year, the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act were again renewed in full without an independent review for which we and many others called. We hope that Ministers will respond with careful planning and preparation for new UK- wide legislation, which is
Column 475essential if we are to be properly equipped to respond to the changing circumstances in Northern Ireland and to combat the changing nature of terrorism world wide.
There are other difficult and delicate matters that must be on the political agenda for discussion, including the question of prisoners and parity of esteem. We want prison policy--including, as we have said, the transfer of prisoners closer to their families--to be considered. Each case must be dealt with on its own merits within the rule of law. There can be no bargaining or equating the cases of different prisoners. The law must be fair to all people and implemented equally. At the very least, those cases which should be considered now are those subject to persistent dispute.
I deal again with more mundane political matters. We should like a halt to the accelerating process of compulsory competitive tendering and privatisation of public services in Northern Ireland so that, when the new settlement is agreed and, we hope, a new Assembly established, there are at least some services left for people to manage.
The disaster of water privatisation should not be inflicted on the people of Northern Ireland. In a recent survey, 90 per cent. of respondents said that they were opposed to it. The Government should rule it out completely in the next year.
Ms Mowlam: The Government have already done so in respect of legislation for the first term, if I can earwig on the Secretary of State's whisper, but that commitment has not been given for the duration of this Parliament. We should welcome such a commitment this evening.
We want a change of direction and a new economic strategy that includes measures more specific than those presently on offer to help small businesses; we want a unified framework for skills and training, incentives for businesses to take on the long-term unemployed--I know that there is a pilot project at the moment but projects need to be directed more specifically at the one in five people who are still long-term unemployed-- and other more innovative approaches such as the improvement of nursery care.
We want significant progress in reducing the appalling level of unemployment, which is still officially around 12 per cent. I acknowledge the progress that the Secretary of State outlined, but a fifth of the unemployed in Northern Ireland have been unemployed for five years or more. Action has to be taken to bring them back into training and employment because the effects of such high unemployment are economically disastrous and socially damaging.
We should also like action to target social need and to tackle the relative deprivation of specific areas and pockets within parts of Northern Ireland. Measures to deal with unemployment must be accompanied by enforced employment legislation.
The people of Northern Ireland cannot be dictated to and will reject any attempts to impose a settlement, and rightly so. Agreement is the only basis on which the people of both communities can proceed towards a new settlement for Northern Ireland.
Like the Downing street declaration, the joint framework document maintains that it is for the people of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts
Column 476respectively, to exercise their right to self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, north and south. I have tried to be brief and shall not make a closing speech tonight, as I know that many hon. Members representing Northern Ireland want to speak. I pay tribute to the security forces, the police and the many public servants who during the past year are adapting well to the changing circumstances. I thank them. I would also ask them to continue to show that commitment and determination to change in the year ahead--a time when flexibility and lateral thinking will be crucial for everybody involved.
The months ahead present many difficult and delicate decisions. We have seen an example of that over the past couple of days in the case of Private Clegg--a decision that I welcome because he should not stay in prison a day longer than is necessary. It is also important, however, that decisions taken clearly show the impartiality and the rule of law and that they are based on the rule of law on a case-by-case basis.
What is needed now is a policy of restraint by all parties, not only to keep the peace process moving forward but to help economic progress too, and to build on the two ceasefires from last autumn. I hope that, as the peace process evolves, more progress can be made in improving the day-to- day quality of people's lives by continuing to remove some of the security apparatus, to which the Secretary of State referred tonight, such as the watchtower on the Rosemount estate in Derry. There must be an attempt to draw a line over the past and to move forward to achieve stability and to make sensible and rational decisions.
Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East): Does the hon. Lady agree that the watchtowers have improved the quality of life for many people, because by keeping a watch on terrorists they have kept people alive? Therefore, why should they be removed?
Ms Mowlam: I agree that when there was violence on the streets the quality of people's lives was improved considerably by the watchtowers, because, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, people remained alive. We have had ceasefires since the autumn of last year. I did not put a time scale on it, but asked whether in the year ahead the Secretary of State could bear them in mind for the simple reason that, if the peace holds and there is no violence on the streets, the watchtowers make a difference to the quality of life. Both the hon. Gentleman and I do not live within 20 yds of one, and we do not have to live with them watching us in our kitchens day-by- day. Our quality of life may be okay, but for the people who live close to them it is not.
I am not asking for a blanket removal of the watchtowers or for a time scale to be attached. All I am saying is that the quality of those people's lives should be taken into account, because they are being affected. We would be negating the impact on their lives if we denied that this evening.
Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North): Further to that point, is the hon. Lady aware of what is happening in Northern Ireland at the present time? Is she aware that almost £6 million-worth of damage has been done in the city of Belfast and elsewhere? Is she aware that last night a property worth almost £1 million was gutted by fire, by
Column 477IRA attackers? Is she in reality when she talks about the peace that is going on? The peace is not going on. How can she say that there is a perceived peace when violent people are on the streets? I am sure that she listened on Tuesday to what the Prime Minister said when he underscored the fact that the IRA and Sinn Fein were at the heart of this. The Prime Minister himself said that in the House.
Ms Mowlam: I listened, not only to what the Prime Minister said, but to the comments that the Secretary of State made about the present situation and the assumptions that he is working on. I am well aware of what is happening on the ground; I have spent the past two days in Belfast and Newry, so I have direct day-to-day experience of what is happening. I know only too well of the impact on the communities and the effect of the economic policies, which all of us have been trying to encourage to get a quality of life and jobs for people that would make a difference to their lives. The bread van that was burnt out in west Belfast was new and belonged to an expanding small business. That business had just begun to turn the corner from the difficulty, which small businesses have, of growing from two to three people. The effort was being made. We are only too well aware of the disastrous impact that the events of the past couple of days have had on many people, but the situation has calmed down, and perhaps, if we can keep things moving, progress can be made. As I said to the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross), we are not asking for that progress immediately; I am merely saying that I want certain issues to be on the agenda, so that when we are having the same debate here in a year's time we can look back to the markers that I have put down tonight.
Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh): We can all talk about watchtowers, releases from prison and all sorts of issues. As the hon. Lady is putting down markers for the coming year and, as it were, wrapping up the previous year, will she tell us--in political terms--the one thing that she would have done differently from the Government in that year?
Ms Mowlam: I cannot thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, for the simple reason that I have made it clear on numerous occasions that I will not draw a clear distinction between us and the Government in relation to the peace process and the negotiations that he, and we, are conducting with all parties. On other occasions, I have made clear distinctions between the parties in regard to policies relating to, for instance, the economy.
I am avoiding the question because if I said, "If I had acted differently from the Secretary of State, this would have been the outcome", it might please the hon. Gentleman who asked the question but it would not please others. I would merely be opening the door for others to say, "So you think that the Opposition would do better. Let us wait for instability in the Government to start again in four months' time. Let us wait for a general election; then we will do better."
In view of the disturbances of the past 48 hours, the worst thing that could happen to the peace process now would be prevarication and procrastination by any hon. Members present, or any of the parties not represented here tonight, because they believed that delay would
Column 478secure them a better deal. I will not answer the question for that reason, and I have no difficulty in saying so to the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon).
As I have said, my hon. Friends the Members for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) and for Warley, West (Mr. Spellar) and I will continue to approach the current peace process in a bipartisan manner. We shall continue to play our part; but we, and every other hon. Member, can do so only with the support and encouragement of people in Northern Ireland.
Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley): As you have been kind enough to call me early in the debate, Madam Deputy Speaker, let me take the opportunity to congratulate and welcome the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney). My hon. Friends and I look forward to his contribution if he catches your eye, as I trust that he will. On 30 June last year, in another debate on the extension of the Northern Ireland Act 1974, the Secretary of State told us: "we are currently working . . . on a framework document." He added:
"let me address fears about what is spoken of as `joint authority'".
It was feared, he said, that the two Governments
"would jointly run the affairs of Northern Ireland over the heads of the people."
"There is no truth in that at all."--[ Official Report , 30 June 1994; Vol. 245, c. 960.]
I did not and do not wish to imply that the Secretary of State was less than honest, but after 25 years in this place I do not underestimate the duplicity of those in certain Departments whose mission in life is to find a form of words. That blessed phrase "find a form of words" has plagued us at every meeting that we have had to discuss the way forward in Northern Ireland. I sometimes wonder whether those people are descended from ancestors in "Alice in Wonderland".
It was with such unworthy suspicions in my mind that, several minutes later in that debate--not several months later--I delivered the Ulster Unionist answer to those words of the Secretary of State. I said:
"We would add merely that that joint authority, however it is disguised, amounts to a change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland."-- [ Official Report , 30 June 1994; Vol. 245,c. 972.]
That remains the position of my party. We have not changed and we shall not change.
It was for that reason, therefore, that, in the succeeding months of last year, we warned the Government that the required support, to use their words, of the Unionist community for a framework document would not be forthcoming. Now the Government must think again. Now that all the high wire acts of two decades have failed, they could, with great advantage, go back to basics, to coin a phrase. In December 1976, in the week-long debate on the constitution of the United Kingdom and on what was known roughly as the Kilbrandon report, I suggested, as a first step, the decentralisation of powers away from the gentlemen in Whitehall who are reputed "to always know best". I think that I am on all fours with the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam), who was good in the first part
Column 479of her reference on restoring accountable democracy to Northern Ireland. She rather spoilt it by getting into the "nothing agreed until everything is agreed" package, but I forgive her that. I think that we will convert her eventually.
That plea of mine way back in 1976 led to the formulation of section 22 of the 1979 manifesto, on which the Thatcher Government were elected. I shall quote from that manifesto--I am a student of these things. It says:
"We will seek to establish one or more elected regional councils with a wide range of powers over local services."
As I played some little part in tendering advice from time to time during the drafting proceedings before the manifesto was put to the shadow Cabinet in 1978, I know exactly what was in the mind of the then Leader of the Opposition, soon to become Prime Minister. For elected regional councils, one would read an elected assembly--that is what it was all about--and the wide range of powers over local services did not mean just powers to local government; it meant clearly--and I know this for a fact and one of the draftswomen is still fortunately alive and can confirm this--administrative powers to administer the law as made by this sovereign Parliament of the UK. It meant delivering a service, the sort of service that all of us in this Chamber deliver. When we open that untidy bundle of mail every morning, we discover that 95 per cent. of our constituents' problems can be redressed by administrative and not legislative action, so it was prudent at that time, and still is prudent, to start at that level, and then to see what can be built on and what is necessary thereafter.
That pledge was ditched by the new Government within six months. As the then Prime Minister explained, and I am not looking at my memoirs here, when I asked why they did not proceed with a proposal on which they were elected, "Jim, because it was not enough", but I never knew for whom it was not enough. I can assume only that it was Dublin and Washington, with a bit of the European Community--sorry, I am not politically correct; it should be the European Union, I suppose--thrown in.
The partners in the reversal of that election pledge were utterly blind to the simple fact that, in aiming too high too soon, they were dividing and not drawing together the Northern Ireland parties, then at variance at the turn of that decade--1980. Fifteen years on, a different mood prevails. There has developed a willingness to sink differences and to work together in practical ways on issues of real benefit. In local government, there is a tendency to put the interest of local communities before party advantage and, yes, sometimes even before the consideration of mayoral chains. What a sacrifice that entails.
Belfast city council has elected a Unionist lord mayor and a Nationalist deputy lord mayor. Those developments are possible because of the growing self-confidence within the ranks of what I have termed "the greater number." I have to be generous and readily forgive the infringement of my copyright to that title. I welcome all those recruits after all the lonely years when I sat alone on that little rock proclaiming that message and began to assert that we in the Ulster Unionist party have a responsibility to represent and protect the interests of that greater number consisting of Protestants, Roman Catholics and those of no religion at all who, admittedly with varying degrees of enthusiasm, simply want to remain within the United Kingdom.
Column 480You and I, Madam Deputy Speaker, and all our colleagues in the House have a still wider responsibility which springs from the fact that on the day that we were elected we took upon ourselves a duty to improve the lot of even those who do not share our attachment to the United Kingdom. We are responsible for looking after, representing and protecting the interests of those who vote for us, those who vote against us and those who do not bother to vote at all.
I am optimistic about the future. By the time we come to this debate next year, or perhaps before that, we shall have recovered from the unease caused by what I would call the remaining capacity of terrorists to resume their campaign at the flick of a switch. Unease has been increased by what I can only call the devilish wording of the framework document. I hope that both of those will be erased in a year's time and that that war of nerves will be over. I hope that at that time our people will recognise the extent of the efforts of those who set out to destroy their morale and will step into the future with self confidence restored.
The Secretary of State touched on the possibility of Sinn Fein eventually emerging at the end of all these rather tortuous talks as a bona fide democratic party. He will remember his right hon. Friend the Father of the House, the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir. E. Heath) addressing to him the proposition and painting the picture that would confront us all when that day came. I have rather facetiously rehearsed them to the amusement of certain audiences. Let us suppose that the day will come when the Secretary of State is able to say, "Yes Gerry, you have decommissioned all your weapons, you have surrendered all your Semtex, and you have refrained from all the other sordid acts of violence." As we sit here, the IRA and other terrorist movements are engaging in such acts.
The Secretary of State will say, "You are now one of us, you are now clear. Sinn Fein can now become a democratic party and you stand for election." What is Mr. Adams's response? "Big deal. Secretary of State, I, Gerry Adams, was elected to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. I did not represent, but I was there nominally as a Member for five years. I have councillors in practically every one of the district councils in Northern Ireland. Is that all that we are to get?"
That was the question posed by the Father of the House, and it has been put to me in recent days by hon. Members in all parts of the House. I am putting it as a challenge, not only to the Secretary of State because it is a challenge to us all. That will be the testing time, the crunch issue. What could a Conservative or Labour Government give in addition to that which is given to the rest of us who represent democratic parties?
There has been a reconstructed Government, and the Secretary of State was today confirmed in office, on which he is to be congratulated. As I seldom watch the news I am not certain about the status of his colleagues, but I take that for granted. They must set about, or at least make a start, on the restoration of accountable democracy, probably at a modest level to begin with.
I am not ruling out more powers at a later stage. They must begin at a practical level at which there will be a role for all who are democratically elected and who are bona fide democrats. I do not rule out new methods of employing the talents and involving Northern Ireland Members of both Houses of Parliament.
Column 481As we debate here this evening, we cannot and dare not ignore the deep unease and frustration which grips the entire Northern Ireland community. It is slowly diminishing, but we have to work very hard to remove it in its entirety. The Government were elected to provide reassurance, confidence and sound administration for the whole of the United Kingdom and, with their authority restored yesterday--if we are to believe the news industry, which up to 5 o'clock yesterday was determined to destroy this Administration--they now have a bounden duty to remove all that uncertainty, and remove it now.
Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke): I hope that the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) will forgive me if I do not take up the points that he has just made. I think brevity is commendable, and I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will comment as appropriate on the right hon. Gentleman's points. I shall make three points as I know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that other hon. Members wish to catch your eye.
The first point is with regard to the substantive business. Quite obviously, the order must be approved by the House. It would be utterly irresponsible not to do so and there is no sane alternative course of action. The Government of the Province would be plunged into chaos were the House to do anything other.
I make the point again that I believe that it would be quite ridiculous to do anything other than approve the order. I appreciate the fact that hon. Members, perhaps especially those from Northern Ireland, will wish to take this opportunity to make wider and different points. I also acknowledge the fact that very many of us look forward to the time when the order can be consigned to history. We are not at that point yet and obviously the order must be approved.
My second point arises from the opening comments of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State. I hope that he appreciates the depth and strength of support throughout the country for the position that he and the Government have adopted and for his handling of his responsibilities. I see two primary reasons for that and the first takes me back to the debate of last year. I quote from Hansard , following the precedent set by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley, and refer to my right hon. and learned Friend's speech of 30 June, in which he said:
"the future of Northern Ireland lies in the hands of its own people. There will be no change in its constitutional status as an integral part of the United Kingdom save in accordance with the democratic wishes of its people, and no political settlement without the participation of the main parties in arriving at it and the widespread acceptance of the people of Northern Ireland to the outcome."
With regard to the north-south body, a little later in his speech, my right hon. and learned Friend said:
"To impose . . . a structure against the will of the people of Northern Ireland would be incompatible with the principle of consent."--[ Official Report , 30 June 1994; Vol. 245, c. 960.]