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11 pm

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): I have only two brief points. I have a suggestion as to how the Ulster Democratic Unionist party and the Ulster Unionist party can get the Social Democratic and Labour party into the forum. I made this point in an earlier debate. If the Unionists entered, or proposed to enter, the British-Irish parliamentary body, could they not make a deal with the SDLP so that the SDLP could go to the forum and the Unionists could go to the British-Irish parliamentary body?

The British-Irish parliamentary body has nothing to do with interfering with territory and arguments of that nature; it operates in much the same way as the forum in terms of committees, and produces reports on day-to-day concerns. There must be many matters that it would be useful to discuss with the Republic of Ireland--matters that do not in any way interfere with sovereignty. The two

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separate countries would have to decide, through their own systems, the extent to which they accept any proposals.

We have Select Committees in the House, but that does not mean that, if a Select Committee produces a report, the Government have to respond to its recommendations. The British-Irish parliamentary body is a weaker link to some extent. Representatives from two different nations meet and discuss ideas. Reports are produced on valuable measures on social security and a whole host of issues that are quite enlightening to the representatives of the two nations.

There is a chance for the DUP, the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP to talk turkey and to make arrangements so that they overcome the limitations of being involved in forums and bodies in which it would be fruitful for them to be involved.

Mr. John D. Taylor: Does the hon. Gentleman not recognise that there are three strands in the present talks structure, and that strand 3 addresses the issue of relationships between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom? Therefore, to follow the line that he suggests would undermine the purpose of strand 3.

Mr. Barnes: From the talks, all sorts of things might develop about the future of Northern Ireland. It might affect whether there is to be a forum and what the arrangements are. In the end, the people of Northern Ireland will decide. In the meantime, the British-Irish parliamentary body would not interfere in any way with these matters. Its discussions are mainly about economic and social matters, the role of the European Union, funding and so on. Those are matters about which it is quite fruitful to have different viewpoints.

TDs and senators on the Irish side of the discussion are keen for Ulster Unionists to be involved, not to dominate them or to influence the decisions. They feel that a viewpoint is not being put. It is fruitful to have debate between people to sort out one's position. The Unionists could do a valuable job within the British-Irish parliamentary body.

Rev. Ian Paisley: I have carefully followed the hon. Gentleman's remarks. We are always interested to hear what he has to say in a Northern Ireland debate, because he is one of those who contributes to Northern Ireland business. He does not compare equals. The forum is a body elected by the people of Northern Ireland. It was elected to bring the talks about, as the way into the talks is by the forum. One cannot participate in the talks without being a member of the forum.

The hon. Gentleman is talking about a body of people representing two Parliaments. That raises the issue of the claims of the Irish Parliament, which was built on the 1937 constitution. That constitution states that the Irish Parliament's authority is over the whole of the island. I will not sit down with any representative who says, "I rule you anyway. You're here only on my sufferance." I do not want to sit down in such a body. If the colleagues to whom the hon. Gentleman refers really want peace, why do they not get rid of that immoral, illegal and criminal constitutional claim? We would then have the Berlin wall down.

Mr. Barnes: Many hon. Members on both sides, from Ireland and from the United Kingdom, who attend the

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British-Irish parliamentary body, would like articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution to be removed. Some of them want that to happen more quickly, and for some it is a long-term aim. Understanding would be much greater if the Ulster Unionists were involved and could put that view strongly.

I grant that these are different bodies with different arrangements, and that one has a direct democratic mandate, whereas the other is an indirect arrangement between the two Parliaments. However, given the present impasse--the Social Democratic and Labour party does not attend the forum and the Ulster Unionists and the Democratic Unionist party do not attend the body--such involvement may be fruitful, and I hope that serious thought will be given to my suggestion.

I often show my dislike of the Conservative Government and much of what they stand for, but I have great reservations about such criticism when it comes to the present team led by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I often feel that their position is somewhat undermined by other factors.

The problem of parliamentary arithmetic has had an impact on developments, although not as great as some Opposition Members believe. The Northern Ireland team have the problem of the ideological baggage that the Conservative party carries around with it. Sometimes they take up economic and social policies that are replicas of those applied to Great Britain. That undermines some of their work to establish peace and reconciliation.

I welcome the work that has come out of the framework documents and the role that the Secretary of State has played. I have encouraged that, although I have not always accepted everything. I want to associate myself with the comments that other hon. Members have made about the Secretary of State.

11.8 pm

Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr): I shall be fairly brief. I open my remarks by saying how much Conservative Members owe my right hon. and learned Friend for the way in which he has filled the difficult position of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. We have heard much about the forum, but it is a tribute to him that the forum has been established.

I also want to pay tribute to the British armed services, which have protected the people of Northern Ireland through difficult times, and have perhaps offered reassurance in times of comparative peace.

I regret that the forum is to be suspended, and I am just a little worried about what other issues in Northern Ireland are being suspended. Let me draw my right hon. and learned Friend's attention to the findings of the judicial review back in December, when the cases of my constituents Jim Fisher and Mark Wright--two Scots Guardsmen--were referred back to the life sentence prison review board. Since then, there appears to have been stagnation and inaction.

I should have liked to hear that, as well as the forum's being suspended, the process in that regard would be reversed--that there would be no suspension of the review board's examination of the position of those two guardsmen, with the possibility of a fair and just settlement in respect of their current imprisonment at an early date.

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Other soldiers who have made errors of judgment on the streets of Northern Ireland have served three and three and a half years respectively. These two soldiers have now served more than four and a half years, and every week that passes is wasted time for them and their families. I feel that those in the Northern Ireland Office, particularly the civil servants, should get a move on with the inquiry in which they have been asked to engage, make recommendations to my right hon. and learned Friend, and bring justice to the cases of Mark Wright and Jim Fisher.

11.11 pm

Ms Mowlam: With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

We have heard a number of interesting speeches. Let me make clear our hope that, when the forum resumes after the election, whichever party is in government--for the commitment to resumption has been made clear by both sides of the House--matters relevant to promoting dialogue and understanding in Northern Ireland are at the forefront of the minds of all delegates, and that all parties to the talks bring a renewed vigour and commitment to their efforts to reach agreement.

11.12 pm

Sir Patrick Mayhew: With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Let me give grateful thanks for the kind and gracious things that have been said about me, and couple with that the name of my future horse. I refer to the tribute kindly paid by the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam). I am also grateful to the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes), in particular, for mentioning the team.

I should point out that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office--who is now in his place beside me--will no longer be here, his constituency having sadly been shot from under him by the boundary commission. My right hon. Friend has greatly assisted the people of Northern Ireland. I also associate myself with what was said about the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Sir J. Molyneaux), who is an old friend as well as a very wise bird.

The key to the critical things that have been said tonight is: "There is no need to do this." Alas, I disagree: there is not only a need, but a requirement on me by law, because it appears to me--that is the language of the legislation--that the talks have been suspended. That is what it says in the Act.

I could have said that this was one of the adjournments that happen from Friday to Friday or even over the Christmas holidays, and that it was plainly not a

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suspension; but I have had to take a number of factors into account. I have had to take into account all relevant factors.

Those factors include, but are not limited to, the fact that this is a period of adjournment--so expressed, as I made clear in my opening speech--of some three months. It is intended not to see us over the period from one week to the next, or over a holiday period, but to enable us to overcome a difficulty that can now properly be described as an impasse. During that period, there will be a change of Parliament, and there will constitutionally be a change of Government, although whether there is a further Conservative Government or a Labour Government remains to be seen.

Those questions led me to conclude, after careful thought, that this was not one of those adjournments that were simply adjournments and not suspensions; this was a suspension. That being the case, it is imposed on me by law that I withdraw from effect the provisions of the Act that bring into force a forum.

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