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Mr. Mandelson: May be.

Mr. MacKay: No. It is "must be", I am afraid--I am quoting from the right hon. Gentleman's note--in the case of the seven Government buildings; but the European flag "may" be flown from the remaining Government buildings. Being a conspiracy theorist, I was naturally convinced that our openly Europhile Secretary of State was defying the Chancellor and the hon. Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Robinson), and was pushing his European case further. I regret to report that I was wrong, and that that is the practice throughout the United Kingdom, so the order complies with my consistent desire that Northern Ireland should be treated absolutely the same as the rest of the United Kingdom.

The Secretary of State rightly paraphrased the provisions of the order, because it would have taken rather

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a long time to go through everything. However, there is a happy ending, because the explanatory note in full states:


My advice to those who are concerned about the issue is to make sure that they have only one flagpole.

On that more light-hearted note, may I again say to the Secretary of State that we strongly support the order. We think that it makes common sense. I hope that it will take some of the sting out of the issue of flags and emblems. I also commend the order to the House.

11 pm

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North): It has been said that in the sweep of history, this is not a great issue, and I am sure that that is so. Equally, it is not a minor matter. Despite the relaxed, calm and understated way in which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made his case for the order, it is a serious matter that will cause considerable problems and for which there is a hidden agenda.

A headline in The Guardian today states:


The report continues:


An article in The Daily Telegraph today states:


I shall return to that particular spin shortly, because I do not think that it was addressed to Members of this House or to Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, but to another meeting that will take place in Belfast on Saturday. I will refer to that later.

I wish to deal with some of the points that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made. His statement said that we were treating Northern Ireland the same as the rest of the United Kingdom, but the first point to be made is that Northern Ireland is not the same as the rest of the United Kingdom. Otherwise this order would not exist. As I understand it, there is not a flags and emblems order before the Scottish Assembly, and even if it had the power to legislate on such matters, I do not imagine that there would be one before the Welsh Assembly. I also understand that the saltire, the symbol of the Scottish nation, is flown over Government buildings in Scotland and the dragon of Wales is flown over Government buildings in Wales. That immediately raises the question as to why the Irish tricolour, the symbol of the Irish nation, is not flown to represent those members of the Irish nation in Northern Ireland who would like to see it flown over their Government buildings.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McNamara: I will not give way, because there is very little time, and if I did, it might stir up other Members who might want to make observations later.

My right hon. Friend sought to pray in aid the principle of consent, but consent suggests that the parties agree. As far as I understand it, the only parties that agree to the proposal are the Administration and various types of

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Ulster Unionist, not the nationalist groups in Northern Ireland. They do not consent to the proposal. My right hon. Friend quoted the Good Friday agreement, which states:


What could do more to create division than the main symbol of one faction in Northern Ireland--albeit, at the moment, the majority faction--being flown over Government buildings on particular dates, when the flag of the other faction is not to be flown?

Mr. Wilshire: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McNamara: No, I will not. I have already said that I want to finish my points so that others can make theirs.

Paragraph 5 of the Good Friday agreement does not back up what my right hon. Friend has said. My right hon. Friend said that he discussed matters with the parties, the Assembly, the Executive and the ad hoc committee, but he did not discuss the matter with a number of organisations that might have been able to give him some other advice, such as the Equality Commission and the Human Rights Commission, which, under the legislation emanating from the Good Friday agreement, are specifically designed to deal with those particular matters. They were not consulted. I do not believe that the Civic Forum was consulted, and I have no idea whether the Irish Government were consulted, but it would be nice to know. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be able to say when he replies.

My right hon. Friend also made a great point about his role as the sovereign power, and spoke of the need, as a member of the sovereign power, to act impartially. Under the section which deals with constitutional issues, the Good Friday agreement says:


The regulations meet those criteria with regard to only one community. They do not make the point, nor do they accept--I come back to this point again--that the buildings are Government buildings of the devolved Assembly, representing both communities in Northern Ireland. If the Union flag should fly, the tricolour should also fly. If the tricolour does not fly, neither should the Union flag.

Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McNamara: I did not give way to the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), whom I regard as a friend, as I do the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik), so I shall not give way to him, either.

I come now to the spin on this matter. Why have the regulations been introduced with such enormous speed at this particular time? The answer is because the Unionist

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council is meeting next week, and this is another bone to be thrown to the Unionists to try to support the position of the First Minister. [Interruption.] The dogs are barking. My right hon. Friend is often quoted as saying that he regards the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) as indispensable. One of the things that many older politicians on all sides have said to all of us at one time or another is that the cemeteries are full of indispensable people. Therefore, we should be looking carefully at the policy that is being followed.

The First Minister is fighting hard to maintain the Good Friday agreement, to try to keep it going, to try to keep the Assembly going and to try to keep the Executive going. But for how long does one continue to make concessions on such matters, keeping the First Minister in place but unstitching the agreement?

Before the summer recess, when we were discussing the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill, which arose from the Patten report, my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Minister of State tabled an amendment on the nature of the work of the RUC and persuaded Labour Members to support it, in some cases even against their better judgment. Before we had debated that, we suddenly had an announcement from the Minister of State that the amendment was to be withdrawn. That was done to bolster the right hon. Member for Upper Bann, the leader of the Unionist party.

We can go on and on doing that. As a Unionist poet said, as long as we are paying the danegeld, we will never get rid of the Dane. If we continue to behave in that way, we will not strengthen the First Minister; we will undermine his position more and more. My advice to the Unionist council is to keep him there and to keep him under pressure, because Unionists will get concessions until the Government realise that by making those concessions, they are losing the other part of the community. I do not believe that they want to do that, any more than they want to lose the Unionist part of the community.

I shall not divide the House on the order tonight. What other colleagues do is up to them. The order is very much on the slippery slope. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) used to speak of "saving private Trimble", and that is what is happening again tonight.


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