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6. Mr. Wilkinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what representations he has received from Sinn Fein relating to an IRA ceasefire. [7320]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Sir Patrick Mayhew): None.

Mr. Wilkinson: I am grateful for that brief reply.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend make it absolutely clear to his Irish Government counterpart that there will be no question of an early admission of Sinn Fein to the political talks on the future of Northern Ireland, but that Sinn Fein must demonstrate over a considerable period, by forswearing violence as an instrument to secure its political objectives and stopping political beatings and intimidation, that it is a genuinely democratic party? Will he further make it clear that, if Sinn Fein is incapable of doing that, the talks will move on swiftly without it?

Sir Patrick Mayhew: The talks will in any event proceed, I earnestly hope, with the nine out of 10 parties elected to the process that are already conducting them. It is the wish of the Government, and indeed of the Irish Government, that it should be 10 out of 10, but not on any terms. If Sinn Fein wants to join the talks, it must

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come in on the same terms as anyone else: there must be an unequivocal ceasefire and it must show, in the terms of the ground rules for the talks, that it is exclusively committed to peaceful methods and abides by democratic methods. The Prime Minister dealt with that very clearly in his recent statement and at the meeting with Mr. Bruton, the Irish Taoiseach.

Mr. Trimble: Can the Secretary of State confirm that the security forces in Northern Ireland have succeeded in the past day or two in foiling yet another major terrorist atrocity and that, in the past few weeks, there have been several occasions on which the IRA has attempted to mount major terrorist attacks? Does he agree that those actions are a more reliable guide to the intentions of Sinn Fein-IRA than the rumours of a ceasefire that some people in the House and, more significantly, in Dublin have allowed to delude them? Does he further agree that it is a shame that so much time has been wasted in recent months in pursuit of that will-o'-the-wisp, with the result that the opportunity that existed three months ago has now been squandered?

Sir Patrick Mayhew: I regretfully endorse what the hon. Gentleman says. There have been a number of attacks or attempted attacks recently. Only last night at Duncairn gardens in Belfast, a call was made to the Samaritans using an IRA code word quite patently intended to set up an ambush for security forces. A wheelie bin with nearly 1 kg of Semtex in it was then discovered, which could have done immense damage.

Previously, vehicles were found laden with explosives at Drumadd, and other attempts were forestalled. I pay tribute to the efforts of the security forces in that regard. It is of great interest to the people of Northern Ireland to conjecture how that sort of behaviour is compatible with the language of peace and democracy that the IRA and those who speak for it espouse.

Sir John Cope: Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, whatever Sinn Fein-IRA may say or do about a ceasefire, anyone in this country, in the Republic, or elsewhere, who is inclined to think that it might have changed its nature, would do well to study the words of Mr. Sean O'Callaghan, an extremely brave man whom some of us had the opportunity to meet here yesterday?

Sir Patrick Mayhew: I believe that those words, coming from that source, have had great influence. It is abundantly clear that there is a great gap between the conduct of the IRA as exemplified in what we were discussing a few minutes ago and what is necessary to enable Sinn Fein to enter the talks. It has to show that it is firmly committed to peace and to the democratic process. That is the policy of the Irish Government as well as the British Government, and it must be the policy of all people of sense.

Mr. McGrady: Given the earlier responses, does the Secretary of State still agree that the most urgent need in Northern Ireland is for a permanent peace? Is he aware of the grave misgivings and deep disappointment felt by the people in Northern Ireland who are genuinely striving for peace about the action of the Prime Minister in the House two weeks ago, when he apparently unilaterally broke off, as it were, the negotiations that were in train through

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my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume)? Will he ask the Prime Minister urgently to re-establish the dialogue so that we in Northern Ireland, who are suffering the violence, can hope for an early, permanent and provable peace?

Sir Patrick Mayhew: Of course everyone wants peace in Northern Ireland, but peace has to be peace on democratic terms and in fulfilment of democratic principles. The people of Northern Ireland, and the people of the country as a whole, are not prepared to meet the blackmailing demands of terrorists to secure an absence of violence.

On the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, there have been no negotiations involving the British Government. I do not really understand his language about the Prime Minister acting unilaterally. My right hon. Friend expressed the policy of the Government of which he is the head; he was entitled to do that and he did it very valuably.

Mr. Robathan: I am much encouraged by what my right hon. and learned Friend has said. Will he examine the motivation of the IRA and Sinn Fein in their alleged desire for peace? Many hon. Members believe that their desire for peace is a sham and a means of gaining electoral advantage and support at the expense of the party of the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady). Mr. Adams and his cohorts regard the peace process solely as a way to extend their war by other means.

Sir Patrick Mayhew: Only the IRA knows its true intention; only Sinn Fein and its leaders know their intention. The rest of us have to act on outward and visible signs of their intention. The outward and visible signs that I and other hon. Members have mentioned are incompatible with a desire for peace. That is why both the British and Irish Governments are insisting that, after the first requirement of an unequivocal declaration of a ceasefire in unequivocal words, there has to be time in which we can judge actions against words.

Ms Mowlam: We join the Secretary of State in condemning those responsible for placing the mortar discovered this morning at the Girdwood barracks, and for other recent finds, and congratulate the RUC on its work. Do not such finds reinforce the need for weapons held by paramilitary organisations to be decommissioned? Will the Secretary of State therefore join in welcoming once again the involvement of George Mitchell in assessing the views of the parties and the two Governments on decommissioning and in urging all parties to work constructively with Senator Mitchell so that talks can move swiftly forward and we can at long last make a start on full political negotiations.

Sir Patrick Mayhew: I am grateful for the hon. Lady's comments at the outset. I gladly endorse what she said about Senator Mitchell and his contribution, which is very distinguished and extremely helpful. Of course we want all illegally held arms to be got rid of. I would like to express my pleasure at the fact that the Irish Government have introduced their own Decommissioning Bill and have given every indication that it will be enacted very quickly. If I may again cite Mr. Bruton's language, in a democracy, violence and politics do not match. But it is

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the true intention of people who claim a place at the table that has to be discerned. They have to show what that is by their actions as well as their words.

Mr. Wilshire: With punishment beatings, targeting, re-arming and recruiting continuing, and with a former member of the IRA saying that helping Sinn Fein-IRA masquerade as a democratic party can only lead to civil war, is not it time to stop falling over backwards to try to get Sinn Fein-IRA into all-party talks and to crack down on evil murderers in the proper way?

Sir Patrick Mayhew: I am not falling over backwards or forwards, nor am I helping Sinn Fein to masquerade in any way. I seek to enable a process for which people have voted to come fully into effect. It is therefore important that the Government should make it plain that if Sinn Fein complies with the requirements imposed by both Governments on all other democratic parties, it will not be excluded from those talks. The question is: when will Sinn Fein be prepared so to demonstrate its commitment to those principles? It is important that it should do so; if it does not, the blame will lie with it and no one else.

Budget (Health Boards)

8. Mr. Robert Ainsworth: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what estimate he has made of the effects of the Budget on the services provided by the health boards. [7323]

Mr. Moss: In 1997-98, £1.642 billion will be available for health and social services--a 1.5 per cent. real-terms increase.

Mr. Ainsworth: The Minister will surely know that the deep cuts that have been made this year are having a considerable effect, with the consequent postponement of 6,000 operations and 55,000 outpatient appointments. Surely he should accept that, contrary to what he has just said, the Budget provides no real increases for next year. The consequence of those cuts will therefore be carried forward and exacerbated, and the inevitable effect will be longer waiting lists next year.

Mr. Moss: I reiterate that this year's increase is a 1.5 per cent. real-terms increase--double the rate of last year's increase. We shall also be finding in-year money this year to help with elective surgery cases. We hope that next year--once I have discussed the matter with the boards and trusts--there will be no further cuts in the health and social services of Northern Ireland.

Rev. Martin Smyth: We welcome that promise and look forward to seeing it fulfilled. Does the Minister share my concern that beds are being blocked because hospitals are keeping patients who could be released into residential and nursing homes--at far less cost to the Treasury--in order to hold that money in their own units? Does he also share my concern that the Ulster hospital says that it will be unable to pay salaries from January, that the Royal Victoria hospital has stopped elective surgery for neurosurgical cases, and that there are tremendous cries for aid in other parts of the Province?

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Mr. Moss: I accept the hon. Gentleman's point about bed blocking, and I shall make an announcement about statutory provision in residential homes very soon. I repeat that in-year money from the Eastern board will be made available to assist with elective surgery cases, particularly at the Royal Victoria and Ulster hospitals.

Mr. Dowd: Will the Minister confirm that his use of the phrase "real-terms increase" does not relate to NHS inflation--it refers to the standard rate of inflation? Will he also confirm that the settlement that has been announced will do nothing to prevent further cuts in the acute sector in Northern Ireland next year? Many hospitals in Northern Ireland have been closed for elective surgery for all but the patients of fundholding general practitioners. Will he further confirm to the House, as he did to me in writing, that Northern Ireland will not receive anything from the alleged year-on-year increases in NHS spending that the Secretary of State for Health and the Prime Minister, misleadingly, make so much of?

Mr. Moss: As the hon. Gentleman is aware, funding for the health service in Northern Ireland is arranged separately from that for the health service in England and Wales. I repeat: this year we have a real-terms increase of 1.5 per cent. The increase in the family health service alone is 8 per cent., and that includes increases in the general practitioner service and allows for a considerable increase in the drugs budget. We are bearing down on that budget and I hope to release savings in the next year that can be ploughed back into other health services.

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