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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is going wide of the subject of the Grand Committee. It would help our procedures if he could get back to the matter in question.

Rev. Ian Paisley: In closing my remarks on that subject, I simply state that my party will not be at any such talks. Let me make it clear to the House and to the world; we will not be sitting down with those who have guns in their hands and are committing crime in the Province.

We are going to have this Grand Committee, and I wonder why it is not in the pattern of the other two Grand Committees for other parts of the United Kingdom. I want to know why a majority of Ulster Members cannot be on the Committee. Will the Whips whip their parties to reject what the Ulster Unionists, the Democratic Unionists, the SDLP and other representatives of Northern Ireland agree on together? The Whips will always have the power to destroy any agreement that the Committee arrives at.

The Grand Committee should be representative. I do not look forward to the Secretary of State presiding in Belfast and making it a press conference, as has happened

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in Scotland, as the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) said--even if it is the hon. Member for Redcar. It is interesting that the proposed 20-minute rule--20 minutes for the Government and 20 minutes for the other leaders--has been forgotten, so that Government members of the Committee can go on and on and then have their press conference afterwards. [Interruption.]

This is the last night of debate on Northern Ireland, and at five minutes to 9 the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) wants to shut us up. Is that what he will do when he comes to Northern Ireland? The Northern Ireland people will teach him a lesson. We need to have our say; we sat here all day, and the business did not proceed according to the Order Paper; other hon. Members went on and on, yet when I speak for 10 minutes I am effectively asked to sit down. I will not be put down.

All I want to say at the end of this debate--we have two others coming--is that it is a pity that the House did not frame the Committee as the other Grand Committees were framed; at least then we would have had a chance to make it work better for the people of Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, as it will be a Committee of the House, Northern Ireland Members will do their best to get the best out of it for the people we represent.

My deputy, my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), offered the Secretary of State good wishes for the life that he was going to. I do not know whether he was proposing a life in time or a life in eternity, but I remember an old Scottish minister who never wished his congregation a happy new year, but always a happy eternity. I wish the present Secretary of State a happy eternity.

8.56 pm

Mr. Thomas McAvoy (Glasgow, Rutherglen): The Secretary of State made great play of the word "equivalent" in his opening statement, comparing the Scottish Grand Committee with the proposed rules for the Northern Ireland Grand Committee. His equivalence did not stretch to the Tory party conference last year, when the Secretary of State for Scotland had the St. Andrew's flag on the stage and joined hands with the Secretary of State for Wales with the Welsh flag, and a glaring absentee was the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, so I can see where the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) is coming from when he challenges the Secretary of State's Unionism.

The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) made the point, rightly I think, that many people, if not the majority, will regard the Northern Ireland Grand Committee as a good debating forum for people debating issues in Northern Ireland, because we all know that Northern Ireland affairs are not given enough time on the Floor of the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) mentioned the equivalent Scottish Grand Committee. He was absolutely right about how that Committee has been abused. The Secretary of State for Scotland said at the time of that Committee's inception that there would be plenty of time for Back Benchers to have their say, but we have ended up with a situation in which the Secretary of State and other Ministers at the Scottish Office hog the time. We came to an agreement that there would be 20 minutes for the Front Benches,

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but at the most recent meeting the Secretary of State blatantly ignored it, despite my repeated request that he honour the convention.

Northern Ireland Members should be careful: if by some fluke the Conservatives win the general election, they could use and abuse the Northern Ireland Grand Committee as they have abused the Scottish Grand Committee. If we win the election, my hon. Friends on the Front Bench will never be guilty of such an abuse.

Rev. Martin Smyth: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman made that qualification. Does he accept that Northern Ireland Members might not be prepared to accept the Secretary of State behaving like that? They have already shown that they can handle themselves as a minority group in the House.

Mr. McAvoy: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. Scottish Members are not exactly the most docile, either. I assure him that it is difficult to follow the rules of the House. The Scottish Grand Committee has had the rolling travelling show of press conferences and stunt spending announcements by the Scottish Office. Those would have happened anyway, but they were packaged for announcement in the Committee. Northern Ireland Members should not expect too much from the changed Northern Ireland Grand Committee. It will have powers not of decision, but only of dealing with Adjournment votes.

It is disgraceful that, at the tail end of this Parliament, rushed proposals have been put before the House. My hon. Friends the Members for South Down (Mr. McGrady) and for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) talked about a Unionist pay-off. I would not use such language, but our Unionist colleagues should take account of the fact that, thanks to the cack-handedness of the Government, there is a perception that deals have been made.

I support the statement of my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam), who said that Labour will reconsider the proposals. The hon. Member for Belfast, East declared that tonight's decision should be game, set and match and that nothing should be re-examined. I do not agree. It is reasonable to look at Northern Ireland from a fresh Labour Government point of view and see how the Committee would be set in place with other arrangements. There is a place for the Committee, which can be a good debating chamber if it is used properly. If the Conservatives get in again, that will not happen.

I welcome the proposal to re-examine the workings of the Northern Ireland Grand Committee. I assure all Northern Ireland Members that the Labour party will approach it with the benefit of our experience in the Scottish Grand Committee. When Northern Ireland Members say that they would not allow it to be abused, I assure them that Scottish Labour Members would not stand for any abuse either. However, I certainly do not expect any abuse from my hon. Friends.

9.1 pm

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): There is one thing about which I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), and it may be the only thing: it is wrong to introduce this measure at the end of 18 years of Conservative

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government. However, it is wrong because it should have been introduced long ago. The democratic deficit in Northern Ireland is the big argument for the measure.

In the last Parliament, we had a three-hour Order in Council debate on the equivalent for Northern Ireland of the Education Reform Act 1988. It had 187 clauses and schedules and had to be debated in 180 minutes. It was not a repeat of the legislation for Britain because education in Northern Ireland differs in some characteristics from education in Britain. In the interests of the people of Northern Ireland, it should have had the fullest possible discussion. That democratic deficit is the reason for a Grand Committee, irrespective of arguments about the details.

There are bad arguments and bad reasons for establishing such bodies. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North pushed the negative aspects and suggested why it was in some people's interest to put them forward. However, the democratic argument gives good, strong and solid reasons for adopting the measure. Everyone who votes for the measure will not vote for a good and solid reason. People will have their own agenda, their own position and their own interests. However, as democrats we should be concerned to establish the right type of arrangements.

The Government's failure to establish a Northern Ireland Select Committee was rectified only recently. It seems to me that a Select Committee should be attached to each Department of state. It was disgraceful that there was no Select Committee for Northern Ireland. The Select Committee is separate from considerations about talks, the future of Northern Ireland and constitutional change. It deals with the current position and bread-and-butter policy issues for the people of Northern Ireland. All the bodies that have been established in connection with Northern Ireland should operate.

The Northern Ireland Select Committee deals not with constitutional matters, security or wider matters but with social and economic affairs. Although alterations could be made in its operation, the Northern Ireland Grand Committee should continue to sit. The Northern Ireland forum has passed resolutions that I see as progressive, but to which Ulster Unionists on both sides of the House have not always adhered in debates in the Chamber. The forum has passed grand resolutions on setting up a commission on disability, water privatisation and other matters. I only wish that the Social Democratic and Labour party and Sinn Fein would involve themselves in discussions in the forum, so that their influence could come out.

Then there is another body. The British-Irish parliamentary body deals with a host of bread-and-butter issues. It produces reports. It does not interfere with the sovereignty of the Republic of Ireland or the United Kingdom. The separate Administrations have to decide how to respond to its proposals. It is a valuable body; it allows the sharing of ideas and helps developments to take place. Unfortunately, there are vacancies for Unionists on the parliamentary body. Unionists should be involved in that body, as the nationalist and Republican community should be involved in the Northern Ireland forum.

The Select Committee, the Grand Committee, the forum and the British-Irish parliamentary body provide valuable cross-fertilisation of ideas. To say that they are just talking shops does not decry their position. What is required is discussion of matters of daily concern in

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people's lives and the sharing of experiences. People find sometimes that they have far more in common than things that come between them.

I have been impressed in the House by how often, on Northern Ireland issues in the Grand Committee and elsewhere, the divisions on constitutional and security issues just disappear and there is considerable cross-party unity. For example, in the debates on student loans, speeches were made by Northern Ireland Members on both sides of the House which set out a position that could almost have been Labour's position. The same position ran across the political spectrum within Northern Ireland on that issue.

The opportunity for people to meet and discuss matters and for some to hop from one body to another, carry their own ideas across and influence matters, and to learn from the procedures of those bodies is invaluable. I am not against our looking again at the arrangements, but I am against our destroying the principles of the bodies that have been established unless something entirely different comes out of the talks which could then lead to an adjustment and a different framework.

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