Previous SectionIndexHome Page

13 Nov 2002 : Column 40—continued

Jon Trickett (Hemsworth): I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. I have the same problem. He and I represent coalfield communities in Yorkshire. Does he agree that the decision to privatise National Coal Board colliery houses was disastrous? Does he also agree that one of the main problems in such communities is the effect of private landlords not paying enough attention to the sort of tenants who have been located there?

Mr. Barron: That is exactly the problem. There are examples of local authorities taking action against bad tenants on such estates, as the Queen's Speech highlighted. I am pleased that they do that, but those people have to live somewhere. They cannot simply be moved round and round. A major problem in areas such as mine is the inheritance of housing stock, the vast majority of which is pre-war, that is no longer in public hands. It is not easy for individuals who have bought such houses to do anything about their repair. The alternative is, of course, private landlords. However, most of them want to put up rents and do little else to the properties.

We have the added problem of abandoned properties. People live in fear of an estate in my constituency. A house that becomes empty soon attracts vandals and people towards whom some of the words in the Queen's Speech are directed. People are scared to death that the houses will be set on fire. Members of the Fire Brigades Union are on one specific estate at least once a week to

13 Nov 2002 : Column 41

put out fires in properties. If any of us lived next door to an empty property that was targeted by such antisocial behaviour, we would want more than Bills in Parliament to deal with the matter.

I often have to persuade people not to take the law into their own hands and ensure that they contact the police. Some have little faith that anything will happen if they do that. I do not blame South Yorkshire police. Major problems need to be tackled on estates that have the history of those in my constituency, and that have been systematically abandoned.

To the Government's credit, they set up some pilot schemes on abandoned estates two years ago. One in north Rotherham, not in my constituency, is up and running. However, we do not need pilot schemes; we know what is wrong. We need resources and the political direction to do something on the estates.

Another estate in my constituency is not as bad as others with regard to fire hazards and so on. A capital programme of approximately #900,000 has begun there to repair 29 homes that Rotherham borough council owns. Sadly, about 34 homes on the same estate are not owned by the council, and not a penny will be spent on them. I have argued with my council and written to Ministers about the matter. It is bad public investment to put thousands of pounds into council houses when neighbouring properties are abandoned or run down, and the people who live in them cannot afford repairs. We must tackle such matters quickly.

Community care delayed discharge is another important subject in the Queen's Speech. We all know about the national health service's problems, especially bed blocking. However, we must be careful when we consider the best way in which to discharge the responsibility of getting people out of hospital and into different forms of care as soon as possible. I stress to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that, for many years, Rotherham has had a good track record on social services such as looking after people in the community, especially elderly people.

It was therefore not difficult for Rotherham borough council and the local health service to work together on joint packages for good partnerships to enable social services and the primary care trust to work together more closely. Many services that are designed to prevent inappropriate admission to hospital and facilitate early discharge have been developed through the partnership approach. The partnerships made a good response to the consultation document, which was discussed in several partnership arenas in Rotherham. The resulting firm consensus was that a system of penalising local councils for circumstances that are frequently beyond their control would have a detrimental effect on current and future partnerships.

We are considering an important but fragile subject for legislation. We all accept that there is a possibility of jeopardising partnerships such as those in Rotherham if we get into a position whereby people blame one another for patients not being discharged. My local authority is especially worried about the penalties that a Bill may contain for cases when patients do not come out of hospital in the set time scales.

A safe and speedy hospital discharge depends on the availability of a range of community-based services and appropriately qualified and skilled staff to provide them.

13 Nov 2002 : Column 42

We know that there is a national shortage of qualified social work staff. We know that there is a national shortage of nurses. There is also a national shortage of therapists, who are important in providing care in the community. It is important that when the proposed legislation goes through the House—I am not making a bid to be a member of the Standing Committee—we get it right. The partnership with the health service, social services and Rotherham borough council should be replicated in many other parts of the country, if it has not been replicated already.

Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush): My right hon. Friend is making an important point that certainly affects Ealing and Hammersmith. Most of us would support ideas that move things forward, if necessary through financial penalty. It is crucial to ensure that a local authority has the facilities to make the necessary provision, and that includes places in homes. He is making an important point that the Government need to address.

Mr. Barron: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Government should be aware that if they introduce a system that makes it impossible for discharge to take place within the time frame that has been referred to in consultations, and penalises people for situations not of their making, they will disrupt what has been working in Rotherham for a number of years. It seems that we would be going backwards and not forwards.

I am pleased once again to be involved in a Queen's Speech debate with a Labour Government in office. I am pleased also with the massive improvement that has been seen in my constituency over the years. We have agreed a private finance initiative of about #52 million to knock down schools that have been around since the turn of the last century and to replace them. I live about 500 yd from my old school and I look forward to it coming down and a new school being built on the site. Without a Labour Government, that would not have been possible. However, there is a long way to go before we can say that the breeding grounds of crime and antisocial behaviour have been removed. We must keep up the good work for many years to come.

4.52 pm

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim): I associate myself and my colleagues with the remarks made about former Members of this place. I have been a Member for more than 30 years. I knew the two Members particularly well and I think that the tributes were well paid, and I think that all who knew them would like to pay their tributes—[Interruption.] When the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) left his place, I thought that he wanted me to give way to him. I do not think that I would have done so.

I shall mention the entertaining—if I might use the word—words of the proposer and seconder. I have heard many of these debates in my time, but I think that the contributions of the proposer and seconder on this occasion were extra special. I think of the background of both Members.

Unfortunately, as a representative for Northern Ireland, I have a sober picture to put to the House. Men who risked their lives during the entire terrorist

13 Nov 2002 : Column 43

campaign—I refer to prison officers—are now engaged in a constant protest because documents concerning themselves, their wives, their families, the numbers of their cars and their associates are in the possession of IRA-Sinn Fein. They have been stolen from Government offices. Many of these men have not yet been informed of what documents the Government now have knowledge of that are in the possession of IRA-Sinn Fein. When a deputation from my party met the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, he had to admit that he was not a position as yet to give the deputation the number of documents involved because the full scale of this thievery from Government offices is not yet known.

Dr. Julian Lewis: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point and I wonder whether he can throw some light on a point that has puzzled me since the first break-in at Castlereagh. Surely sensitive documents should be cleared from desks and locked in safes, whether in police headquarters or a Minister's office. Then, even if those places were infiltrated, the documents would have been put away safely at the end of the day.

Rev. Ian Paisley: The people who had access to the offices were not properly vetted and were part of the spy ring. In an amazing development the night before last, the assistant Chief Constable for the new Police Service of Northern Ireland said that he wanted to announce that the police had cracked the greatest spy ring that had ever tried to gain intelligence in the United Kingdom. He told us the number of documents that had been stolen and then he made such an amazing statement that I nearly fell off my chair. He said that he had no evidence that the documents that had been stolen would ever be made use of in terrorist campaigns. That suggests to me that there is a plan afoot, on the part of the Government, to get IRA-Sinn Fein back to the table without dealing with the problem of their possession of arms.

The leader of the SDLP, Mr. Durkan, said at his annual general meeting and rally that the Prime Minister had asked him to join in removing IRA-Sinn Fein representatives from the Northern Ireland Executive, but that he would not agree to their removal. However, the Prime Minister has not said that he did not say that. The Prime Minister should know that the people of Northern Ireland believe what Mr. Durkan said. He was convinced that IRA-Sinn Fein were involved in that conspiracy.

The situation in Northern Ireland is serious. When the Prime Minister came to Northern Ireland he praised the integrity of Mr. Adams and Mr. McGuinness. I do not know why he did that. He spoke of some Xmalignant whisperers", but he could not have meant me, because I never whisper—as the House knows. When I spoke with the Prime Minister a few days ago, I said, XDon't tell me, Prime Minister, that you were not referring to the people who support me and who are opposed to any terrorist organisation, be it loyalist or IRA-Sinn Fein, being in office in any Government of Northern Ireland."

The assistant Chief Constable, Alan McQuillan said that the greatest spy ring ever had been broken. I would not like to say what that has cost the Government or

13 Nov 2002 : Column 44

how many people have been taken away from other security duties to take part in those operations. However, now we are told that we do not need to worry because there is no evidence that the information that is in the hands of terrorists will be used by them. Anybody who has come through the catastrophe of these last years will know exactly what the men involved were after and what they were doing. One need only enter the areas where they have mafia power and see what they do to their own co-religionists to know what they would do if they were let loose on the whole of Northern Ireland.

Today, we have had the Queen's Speech, but I wonder why it was not mentioned that the Northern Ireland Office has just announced that it has called a round-table conference next week—with Sinn Fein-IRA having a representative there—to discuss the situation, under the presidency of the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Foreign Secretary of the south of Ireland. So we shall have at the table those who are accused of this spying; some of their organisation's members are charged with it. We are to consider also the matter concerning Castlereagh, for Mr. McQuillan has made it clear—there is no doubt about it—that IRA-Sinn Fein were responsible for breaking into that police station and that papers have been issued to bring back from the United States of America a man who is wanted in respect of some of those cases.

Next week there will be a meeting which people can attend even if members of their organisation go to Colombia, although we were told that they went there on holiday. We were told by the leaders of the IRA that they did not even know those men, but now they all know them and the leaders of IRA-Sinn Fein have been out in Colombia to help them with their legal matters. How did they come to know those men so quickly? Do hon. Members go on holiday on forged passports? Is that how hon. Members take their holidays? It is dangerous enough travelling on our own passports, so travelling on a forged passport, as those men did, shows the extent of the matter. Car bombs similar to those that have gone off in Northern Ireland have started to go off in Colombia since the visit of those men.

So all these things are mounting up, yet those people are to be credibly accepted as negotiating partners again, despite all that background. Surely the time has come for them to be told. When the Prime Minister was in Belfast, he told them that they had to make a decision—I wonder what he is saying now—but today the Government have made a decision to bring those people back to the negotiating table.

My party will not be at that table, because we will not be sitting down with those who are responsible for what they have done. Nor will I associate myself with those who are putting the wives and families of the men who look after our prisons through terrible agony and trauma. Those women are demented. One has said, XMy friend's husband has been told he is on the list. My husband has asked whether he is on the list, and the Northern Ireland Office says it doesn't know." So we have a double jeopardy: it is not right that those who give their lives to preserve peace in society should have to go through this, or that those who have done all that should be taken by the hand and told that they should have a say in negotiations on the future of our Province.

13 Nov 2002 : Column 45

The fact of the matter is that the Queen's Speech has only a few lines about what is happening in Northern Ireland. Interestingly, it says:

None of us on the Unionist side, including colleagues in the official Unionist party, understands what that is about. We were told that there were places on the Policing Board for our parties and that if we did not join by a certain day, we would never be allowed to enjoy those places until there were elections in Northern Ireland—we would forfeit our position. We said, XWell, if we join the board, will you bring IRA-Sinn Fein in by the back door?" In fairness to the man who was then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, he said, XCertainly not. You either come in now or you don't come in." I know that he said the same to the Official Unionist leader and those with him.

We were told that no changes would be made to the board until a new election had been held, but extreme action is apparently being taken now. It seems that even the report that set up the present police structures will be changed. Throughout Northern Ireland, all we hear is, XWe must get Sinn Fein on the police board", but that will not be possible if the commitment made to the Unionists is kept. They went on to the board on condition that IRA-Sinn Fein would not be represented on it until after the election.

Policing in Northern Ireland has been radically changed, as everyone knows. What are those changes? The last time I spoke to the Prime Minister, I said, XMr. Durkan has announced that he knows what the changes are. I am a Member of the British House of Commons, which he is not, but I do not know what they are."

What are these changes? What is this legislation? We were told that an agreement was made at Weston Park. What was that agreement? The leader of the official Unionists told us that the meeting at Weston Park was called for one purpose alone: to discuss and settle decommissioning. Evidently, however, decommissioning had very little to do with any of the debates in Weston Park, but changes in the police had something to do with them. What are these changes? Is this another coin to buy off IRA-Sinn Fein? That is what is worrying the people of Northern Ireland.

The Belfast agreement has failed. It was bound to fail. It was supposed to have been built on the foundation that only those who had forsworn violence and given up their weapons could take part in the government of Northern Ireland or in negotiations to set up a legitimate Government of Northern Ireland; but that, as we know, is not what it was built on.

This matter will keep arising unless the Government face the fact that the obligations of even the Belfast agreement in regard to terrorists must be dealt with. There is no place in any Government, in the United Kingdom or anywhere else, for those who command terrorist support and use that support for their own ends.

The House should look seriously at the situation of Northern Ireland. It should consider, in particular, the fact that many of those who manned our jails were slaughtered by the IRA, as were many of their children. A number had to move house after the Castlereagh

13 Nov 2002 : Column 46

break-in, and millions of pounds had to be spent to shift them from their homes. If those who are now in control have to be moved, the money will run into many more millions. The former Secretary of State told us that a vast sum had been paid on the last occasion.

Surely the time has come for us to call a stop to this once and for all, and to say that only those who do not have armed gangs behind them to conduct night parades should be able to negotiate the future of Northern Ireland. During the day they are politicians; at night the gun comes out, and we see the tragedy.

When we had good security in Northern Ireland because of the troubles, there was less Xpetty crime", as it has been called—although no crime is really petty. Now we are seeing rape on our streets, the mugging of old people and the beating up of children. People are being nailed to gates and crucified. All that is happening because we have failed to deal with the root of the matter: the gunmen who can get concessions as a result of the pressure and blackmail that they can exert on those in power.

Next Section

IndexHome Page