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6.55 p.m.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, I imagine that every former Minister making his or her first speech from the Back Benches must feel a degree of sadness. Mine has been much leavened by hearing the maiden speeches of my noble friend Lord Mayhew and the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I hope that the noble Lord will participate in many future Northern Ireland debates. Brilliant though the speech of my noble friend Lord Mayhew was, how much more interesting would it have been had he been able to include parts which can never be made public.

I congratulate my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition on calling the debate. I have never before seen such an illustrious list of speakers on a Northern Ireland issue or such a full House, although it is not such a capacity audience as Scottish devolution attracts. Were the noble Lord, Lord Williams, to walk into the Chamber, he would be somewhat surprised by the number of people here. I should like to take the opportunity to express my gratitude to him and to the noble Lord, Lord Holme, for the courtesy that they always showed to me and the Government while I was in office.

It may be appropriate for me to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cooke. He is one of Northern Ireland's businessmen. He is one of those responsible for the growth of the Northern Ireland economy and the happy situation which the Government inherited. How much better could the position be were there to be a termination of violence.

When I looked at the list of speakers for the debate, I assumed that everyone would talk about politics. That is important, but it is long term. In the meantime, the majority of people get up every morning and get on with their lives. They should not be neglected while the talks continue. The confidence building must include them. They must have the confidence that their children will continue to have a good education and that they and their families will be well served by Northern Ireland's good health service.

That confidence must currently be in doubt after the announcement made with so much vigour of the extra £300 million going to the NHS. That is not that much money for the health service. The result is that £17 million will go to Scotland while only £5 million is going to Northern Ireland, where it is acknowledged that the people's health is unfortunately worse than anywhere else in the UK. There are many battles to be fought there.

Many people are in work. There are more people in work than ever before. That is good news. Unemployment continues to fall. I ask the Minister to look at how many prospective jobs are tied up in the planning process, to recognise that a second ceasefire cannot be as trusted as the first, and that the need to find inward investment is imperative for the majority of people living in Northern Ireland.

If we stay out of the European single currency, or continue to confuse people about our position, Northern Ireland will be one of the earliest and worst sufferers. It is very easy for inward investors, looking at the North,

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to go South. Large amounts of money and attractive tax incentives are offered. Despite that, the people who have been working in the North have attracted inward investment. I ask the Government, please, not to make it more difficult for them. Northern Ireland is a gateway to Europe, but it has to be a continuous path. With 1.6 million people, no one can live on a domestic market; exports are lifeblood. A strong pound will stop the flow, however competitive the companies--and I assure your Lordships that they are.

I note increasing conversation about cross-border executive agencies and I ask for the Minister's views on the current situation. Does he really believe that they are of economic benefit? Are they not another political sop? Why put costs and bureaucracy on to something which already occurs? It has been made to happen by the people. The trade unions have worked cross-border for many years. The CBI works shoulder to shoulder on many occasions with its southern counterpart. The Ulster Farmers' Union works with its colleagues in the South. Young people easily cross the border at weekends and voluntary bodies work together. It is important that those activities are not slowed down by the bureaucracy and the establishment of bodies which, as I see it, will produce no benefit.

Is it not time that costs and bureaucracy were examined? The Government have found out the hard way--though we could have shared the knowledge with them--that there is never enough money to do all that needs to be done. Why does Northern Ireland need more bodies and more officials than Greater Manchester? The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, questioned that in a previous debate. Also, what is the situation as regards public appointments? Is it changing and are we bringing forward more people? Of course we all support Nolan and Peach, but women, young people and minority representatives need nurturing and they are, not surprisingly, nervous when often the independent member of a panel is a former civil servant and the line of appeal is to the Permanent Secretary. We need to see increased representation of all parts of the community at all levels. Sometimes we ask the impossible; we ask people to be responsible without giving them responsibility.

There are many success stories in the Northern Ireland economy, all based on the excellent workforce and particularly highlighted by reinvestment. However, they receive little coverage. That is why I criticise the visit of the Prime Minister to Northern Ireland. Once again we saw world-wide coverage of heightened tempers and clashes, which fortunately are not the norm and hopefully not the future. And I must disagree with the Northern Ireland Office spokesmen who apparently said that the Northern Ireland Office does not see the Connswater visit as a PR disaster. One must have sympathy with the Secretary of State, who works so tirelessly for peace in the Province, if that is the support she is receiving. One must feel sympathy, too, as regards the internal leaks she has suffered and even more sympathy following the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, which send a chill to the stomach.

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Too often Northern Ireland argues for special treatment and sectors of Whitehall fail to distinguish between GB and UK. As the talks continue, important as they are, it must be remembered that the Province is part of the United Kingdom and, more importantly, it is one of the outstanding parts.

7.4 p.m.

Lord Desai: My Lords, I rise to speak in the debate precisely because I have never been involved in any Northern Ireland business, nor have I ever lived there. It is important that the debate on Northern Ireland does not become restricted only to people who speak on the subject. As was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Denton, we should not go with the GB/UK divide but take the view that the Northern Ireland question is important to us all and that if we have a view we should express it.

I am grateful to the noble Viscount for introducing the debate. It has also been an occasion of two very good maiden speeches, in addition to many others. I echo what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew. I have been to Northern Ireland many times and have pleasant memories of working with both universities in Belfast. On every occasion I have had a good time. The people are good and friendly; they are also most worried that the mainland will forget them. They want us to discuss the problems as often as we can, because one of the worst things would be that they were forgotten. That was the feeling some years ago and now there is no such danger because a process is in place.

I do not wish to make a long speech because I want to leave time for other Members. One of the most difficult problems in Northern Ireland--as it is in Kashmir, Cyprus or Palestine--is that history is the enemy of the future. As soon as you go there you are classified by your religion and your origins. I first went there 27 years ago and it was a happy occasion because I was about to be offered a professorship at the University of Ulster. I put it to the vice-chancellor that I had just come out of LSE student troubles with my name emblazoned across many newspapers for revolutionary activities and asked whether I would settle down or get into trouble. He was Australian. He said, "No, not at all. I always use a simple rule. Whenever I give a party I invite equal numbers of Catholics and Protestants, except that with the Protestants you must be very careful to balance the Presbyterians and Anglicans". At that point I decide that I should not go there, which was a mistake.

I wish to urge on my noble friend Lord Dubs, who knows my views, a belief that we have not used sufficiently in this battle the non-Christian population of the United Kingdom. There are people who are neither Catholics nor Protestants, but who know a great deal about peace and reconciliation. They have different histories of quarrels and battles and have learnt different lessons. It is time that we took advantage of the Jews, the Moslems, the Hindus and the Buddhists. After all, if we are to be a multi-racial society we should exploit the advantage which that gives in relation to this difficult problem.

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7.8 p.m.

Lord McConnell: My Lords, in this timed debate I wish to deal only with two issues. The first is the illogical nature of the way in which Northern Ireland is being governed. We have a list of civil servants from the Irish Republic stationed in Belfast who should be acting impartially. However, Articles 2 and 3 of their constitution dictate that they should take us over. It is hard for anyone to be impartial when he has territorial ambitions over the part of the world in respect of which he is supposed to be impartial. Now we have the latest statement from Mr. Andrews, the Foreign Secretary of the Irish Republic. He was recently reported to have said:

    "As the negotiations progress we will discuss proposals for change in the Irish constitution as a part both of balanced constitutional change"--
whatever that means--

    "and of an overall agreement".
In other words, they are once again putting off facing up to the question of acknowledging British territory to which they are not entitled and which is in contravention of the rules of the European Community where it is laid down that one country in the European Union is not allowed to seek to take over part of the territory of any other country. But that does not seem to worry them in the slightest.

It is difficult to know, even if they do declare that they will do away with that part of the constitution, how long that is likely to last because early on, after the 1920 Act, a boundary commission was established. There was a leak of the report to the effect that Northern Ireland was to be given part of east Donegal and part of north Monaghan. They immediately rushed across to London and the tripartite agreement of 1925 was entered into in which the Irish Free State, as it was then, acknowledged British sovereignty over the six counties of Northern Ireland. They even went as far as taking the matter to Geneva and having it registered as an international treaty. A few years later they produced a constitution and completely disregarded their obligations under that agreement.

At Sunningdale, once again, they recognised our existence but that has not lasted very long. So what confidence can we have in them if they say once again that they are prepared to recognise us?

Also, a great deal of harm has been done as a result of the notorious Anglo-Irish Agreement, for which the present Government bear no blame. As I have said already, we have Republican civil servants in Belfast. Apparently, their document security is very poor because documents are being leaked all over the place. One of the latest leaks published in the newspapers was in relation to a senior civil servant going to see Mrs. Rogers, a prominent member of the SDLP with a list, described as the six-monthly list, of public appointments to ask who she wished to have appointed. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Denton, that those bodies should be even-handed and should represent all sections of the community. To take the list to one party only and ask it who it wishes to have appointed is not the way to achieve evenhandedness. That destroys

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completely any possible confidence that there can be in that administration. It is so completely unfair to have those secret negotiations, about which we find out what is going on from time to time only because there is a leak. It is about time that they were above board and that the minutes were published of discussions between the Northern Ireland civil servants and those people from the Irish Republic; otherwise, secrecy in what is supposed to be a democracy leads only to ill will and difficulties of all kinds.

In fact, the same Mr. Andrews, talking about another document that was leaked to a newspaper, which apparently refused to publish it, said:

    "If the Anglo-Irish documents had been published they would have endangered lives".
It makes one wonder what was in them if that is how he sums up the matter. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, referred to that perverted idea of political crimes. It is a fairly degraded sense of politics to describe as a political crime a horrible murder whereby a young man had his throat cut because he had on the wrong football jersey.

Therefore, let us try to have some agreement between the law-abiding people of Northern Ireland and forget about trying to placate terrorists and people who never will be placated. They will only want more. I believe that it is time that we had a more realistic approach to the governing of Northern Ireland.

7.16 p.m.

Lord Monson: My Lords, may I first take a moment to commend the two quite outstanding maiden speeches that we heard this evening. Next, I should like to try to reinforce a couple of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord McConnell.

From time to time, one sees the Guardian or, occasionally, the Independent reporting with weary exasperation that unionists are complaining yet again about Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution, as if taking offence at Articles 2 and 3 is yet another eccentricity peculiar to those tiresome unionists. In reality, every thinking individual in England, Scotland and Wales ought also to voice their distaste with the irredentist and therefore hostile claims contained in those articles. But most fail to do so for one of two reasons. If they are well to the left of the political spectrum, they instinctively and automatically take the line, "British patriotism is bad; all other patriotism is good", as they always do.

In contrast, the moderate left, the centre and the right hold fast to the unspoken establishment convention that Irish governments, uniquely among all the governments of Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa, should be virtually immune from criticism. I suspect that that is largely because the establishment subconsciously regards the Irish as prickly, touchy, volatile adolescents who are ready to explode at the slightest provocation and who must therefore be treated with kid gloves.

The Irish have little respect for that approach but being only human, they naturally take full advantage of it. I contend that the Irish of today are overwhelmingly mature, responsible adults, fully capable of taking

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criticism on the chin when it is justified, as it certainly is in this case. Yes, the Irish Constitution has been in existence for 60 years and Articles 2 and 3 could perhaps be tolerated reluctantly so long as there was not the slightest attempt to assert those claims in practice.

But the deplorable Anglo-Irish agreement of 1985, much regretted in retrospect by our then Prime Minister, as I understand it, changed everything. The moment the Republic was granted powers over the north, those articles should have been revoked or at least drastically altered. They should not be used cynically as a bargaining counter in the present negotiations and it should not be left to the main unionist party to say as much.

Very commendably, the Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, said in a speech on 16th May at the Royal Ulster Agricultural Show that it would be a helpful confidence-building measure if the Irish Constitution could be changed in advance of any settlement, to which one can only add, "Hear, hear". That message should be hammered home time and time again by the Government and, indeed, by Opposition Spokesmen.

That brings us to another aspect of the principle of consent. Up until the early 1980s, I think that it is fair to say that British Government policy, irrespective of which political party was in power, was broadly to try to foster an Ulster identity, an Ulster patriotism, if you like, based on the fact that Ulster Protestants differ quite a lot from Protestants in Scotland and the north of England and that Ulster Catholics differ quite a lot from Catholics in the south of Ireland. That may have been an uphill task but it was certainly not an ignoble strategy, far from it. The policy was reversed almost overnight in the early 1980s for reasons one can only guess. "There are two totally different cultural identities and two totally different cultural allegiances" became the buzz phrase followed by, "and never the twain shall meet".

Ignoring totally the existence of the party of the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice-the Alliance Party--all Roman Catholics were deemed to be automatically anti-British, Gaelic speaking and fervent republicans who dream day and night of a united Ireland and, with rather more accuracy, all Protestants were deemed to be unionists, English speaking, pro-monarchy, and so on. Politics now became a matter of an elaborate checks and balances, designed to give each supposed cultural group equal validity and respect. Those who wished to destroy the state, provided that they did so peacefully, were deemed to be every bit as admirable as those who wished to preserve it. Total impartiality was the order of the day and Ministers of the Crown were actively discouraged from openly supporting the union.

By way of compensation, it seemed to be generally agreed that no constitutional change should take place without substantial support from each community. However, that safeguard has frequently been undermined by fudging--whether deliberate or accidental I really do not know. The requirement for the consent of "the" majority is often replaced by the

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requirement for the consent of "a" majority. The substitution of the indefinite for the definite article makes all the difference in the world.

Let us suppose that as a result of a few more IRA bombs in the City of London and elsewhere on the mainland--thus utilising part of the vast stockpile of weapons and ammunition given to the IRA by Colonel Gaddafi--massive pressure was brought to bear on the British Government to accept a settlement which was almost wholly favourable to nationalist aspirations and which, moreover, gave the Irish Government vastly more powers than they already possess. The unionist parties would resist to the utmost but the Government would almost certainly insist on a referendum--a referendum in which, for example, 98 per cent. of nationalists might vote in favour of an agreement, while only 13 per cent. of unionists would do so--mainly business people, perhaps sick and tired of their businesses being bombed or burnt to the ground and prepared to sacrifice their principles for a quiet life. That voting pattern could theoretically produce a tiny overall majority of 50.1 per cent. or 50.2 per cent. in favour of drastic constitutional change. That would happen against the passionate opposition of seven out of eight unionists. Such a situation would be neither fair nor conducive to peace whether in the short or long term.

Can we be assured, first, that any referendum results will be announced on a constituency-by-constituency basis so that any one-sided voting pattern such as the one that I described will become clear and be capable of being acted upon? Secondly, can we be assured that any referendum will be merely advisory and not binding upon the Government?

7.24 p.m.

Lord Fitt: My Lords, I shall only take a few minutes with what I have to say. I had intended to speak at greater length but, unfortunately, I had other commitments this evening. In the four minutes that are at my disposal I should like to say that the situation in Northern Ireland now--that is, all the turmoil, the fears and suspicions that are raised--is all about legislation which was introduced by the Tory government. I have in mind the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the framework document and the Anglo-Irish Declaration. So one cannot claim from the Government side of the House that it was all one way or the other.

I have sat in both Houses since 1966 debating Northern Ireland. Therefore, I hope that I shall be regarded as non-partisan--that is, being neither on the Conservative nor on the Labour side. My main interest has always been Northern Ireland. I believe that I am the only Member present in the Chamber this evening who took part in the Sunningdale agreement negotiated under the Conservative government of the time. I said then just after it, I say it now and, indeed, I will say it tomorrow: the best and most hopeful agreement that ever came to the Northern Ireland conflict was the Sunningdale agreement, especially Article 1 which dealt with the internal situation.

I have always believed--and will continue to believe--that the internal solution between unionists and nationalists, Catholics and Protestants, in Northern

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Ireland was achievable. It was the second strand which made provision for relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic. The power-sharing executive of Northern Ireland, which I believe was one of the most hopeful and constructive political movements ever, was all brought crashing to an end because of Article 2; namely, what they now call "strand 2". I can only live in hope--and I stand here in the depths of despair--because I believe that there are awful similarities with the situation at present. I believe that strand 2 will perish again as it did in 1974. Awful nationalistic pressures will be applied to force the Northern Ireland people into constructing some sort of agreement between north and south which will be entirely unacceptable to them.

I see that I have only one minute left to speak. Perhaps I may make a plea to the originator of the debate and to my noble friend to take something out of the Northern Ireland vocabulary: "confidence-building measures". In the vocabulary of the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland, the phrase "confidence-building measures" means transferring murderers and prisoners from one gaol in Britain to another place and letting them out. They say that all that is done in the name of building confidence in those people who are now taking part in the Northern Ireland political process. They may be giving confidence to those people who have killed and murdered over the years, but they are certainly not giving confidence to the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland.

Because of a construed or mis-construed policy under the Conservative Government, people who had been killing and murdering over many years were brought in and are now going into the Stormont talks. They have been seen walking in and out of No. 10 Downing Street under both governments. I urge the present Government and those who have initiated tonight's debate to take into account the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland--that is, both Catholics and Protestants--who feel sickened to the stomach at seeing people who have been guilty of murder now going into talks, allegedly to instil confidence into the political process of Northern Ireland. I hope that the Government will take that fact into consideration.

7.28 p.m.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, perhaps I may begin by saying what a great and unexpected pleasure it is to find myself following the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, and to see him back in his place well restored and in characteristically vigorous voice. Although the noble Lord's warnings are gloomy ones, we all recognise his experience and respect it. Indeed, we would do well to heed what he has said.

I should also like to thank the noble Viscount for introducing tonight's debate and for having the idea that we should spend substantial time in this House discussing the situation in Northern Ireland. The quality of tonight's contributions is sufficient evidence of the wisdom of that course. With that acute historical sense of his, the noble Viscount led us down some fascinating byways. However, I was slightly puzzled as to why he wanted to remind us of the heavy price that poor Mr. Lloyd George had to pay for relying on the

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Conservative Party, but no doubt he had his reasons for talking about that. He also at one point wished the Government well. I absolutely accept his sincerity, as I know what a pillar of a cross-party approach he has been, but the terms in which he wished the Government well made me think for their sake that I hope he never wishes them ill.

As several speakers have mentioned, we have heard two absolutely outstanding maiden speeches this evening. The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, showed the characteristic generosity of spirit and integrity of approach which made him such an outstanding Secretary of State and which I am sure will make him a great contributor to your Lordships' House. I say to my old friend David Alton that I remember the Edge Hill by-election as if it were yesterday, although he does not look a day older. It is extremely good to see him in this House. He brought to his speech that passion and commitment which all who know and respect him expect of him. I hope that we shall hear from him often in your Lordships' House .

There have been many outstanding speeches this evening but I wish to dwell for a moment on that of the noble Baroness, Lady Denton, with whom I have had the pleasure of working from these Benches for some years. She is right to remind us that under all the political froth and the deeply felt history there is an important reality in Northern Ireland which is to improve the strength of the Northern Ireland economy and to make it less dependent and less suckling on the teat of Government. It needs to be made more entrepreneurial to attract more inward investment into Northern Ireland. Her efforts in that respect will bear fruit over a long time. As the Government pursue--as they have to--their political agenda, I hope that they do not lose sight of that equally important economic development agenda to which the noble Baroness made such a notable contribution.

It is difficult to obtain from such a varied debate a clear sense of themes. However, I believe that three "Cs" have preoccupied us this evening: the first is consent; the second is compromise and the third is confidence building. Those three items have featured in many of your Lordships' speeches. On the matter of consent I venture one or two thoughts of my own. One meaning of consent that we are in danger of losing is the crucial and, in the United Kingdom, unique notion that we are saying to the people of Northern Ireland that they have self-determination and that it is up to them to determine their future. This has been the rock on which the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Downing Street Declaration and the Framework Document have been built.

When we talk of consent let us remember that it is ultimately the consent of the people of Northern Ireland. I am extremely sceptical that it is possible to have consent which includes all the parties to the talks. Is it possible to imagine that there is a version of the future of the Province to which both Gerry Adams and Dr. Paisley sign up? That is not easy to imagine. In fact if we had such a formula, by definition it would be superficial and meaningless and without content. Therefore the crucial point about the consent formula is

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one that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, identified in a Starred Question which the noble Viscount asked in this House last week; namely, that consent does not have to embrace all the parties to the talks. When the noble Lord replies to the debate, I should be grateful if he could reiterate that crucial point. He mentioned it the other day but it cannot be too clearly established in the Province and in the wider world, not least in the United States. It is extremely important that in any agreement we get the main constitutional Unionist and Nationalist traditions. That is the crucial point of consent. Everything beyond that is a bonus. However, in straining for the bonus, let us not lose sight of the main prize.

A point on which I strongly agree with the noble Viscount is the rules for referendums. It is no longer good enough to treat referendums as an ad hoc administrative measure. A commission was set up by the constitution unit on which the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, and I served, together with Mr John Whittingdale from the Conservative Party, in which it was suggested that there should be rules for referendums. It is desirable that there should be such rules in the public interest, including, crucially, rules on the question of representation of contrary views on the main issue.

I turn to the question of compromise. The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, has just mentioned power sharing. That absolutely depends on compromise. I know that in some circles compromise is a dirty word but these talks will go nowhere unless the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP come to them with the intention to compromise; in other words, to abandon previous fixed positions and move towards each other in such a way that it is possible to share power and possible at long weary last for the two main traditions to confront the fact that they have to share the same geographical space and co-exist successfully. I believe that demands a move from the questions of process--which have endlessly preoccupied the early skirmishing of the talks--to questions of substance. Your Lordships have referred several times to what is the nature of the all-Ireland element--the so-called Strand 2. There must be room for compromise and movement on that. It is unwise to make over-ambitious plans for the nature of the all-Ireland body. As several noble Lords have said, that may become an impediment to a sensible agreement. I am not saying that there should not be institutions and methods of co-operating within the island of Ireland--of course there should--but to place too much weight on the bridge of this small vessel may sink it.

I now turn to the question of confidence building. It is absolutely essential that confidence building measures are addressed to the people of Northern Ireland and not exclusively to the more extreme representatives of the former--we hope they are former--military wings of the two sides in the conflict. I believe that the confidence of the people of Northern Ireland has been severely dented. Confidence building measures are the key requirement now. The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, was quite right to refer to administrative progress. That must be possible. I am extremely sceptical of the doctrine which has held us up for so long; namely, that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Most

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people would recognise that that no longer serves any commercial or political negotiations. One builds incrementally on progress. However, it is extremely difficult to do that if all the pieces are held up in the air until the last possible moment.

Finally, on the matter of confidence building, it would be helpful if the new Irish Foreign Minister, Mr. Andrews, whom we welcome back to that position, were to clarify in a helpful way the circumstances in which Articles 2 and 3 will be laid on the table, as they must if these negotiations are to be successful beyond the table. I hope that the Government keep their nerve and keep their eye on what matters, which is a strong relationship between London and Dublin and a growing accommodation between those who are capable of agreeing, rather than the will-o'-the-wisp of unanimity. Then we shall be justified in being slightly more optimistic than the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, allowed himself to be.

7.40 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs): My Lords, perhaps I may begin by thanking those who have made such valuable and important contributions to this debate. I am conscious that in this House there is a wealth of experience and knowledge of Northern Ireland, much of which was assembled this evening.

I was particularly pleased to hear the excellent maiden speeches by both noble Lords whom I knew well when I was with them in the other place. I am well aware that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has an enormous level of commitment to a number of important causes. I look forward to hearing more from him as the years go by. As regards the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, we jousted occasionally in the other place. I know what an enormous contribution the noble Lord made towards Northern Ireland and I shall refer to it shortly.

I am most grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, for providing the House and myself with an opportunity to expand on some of the key issues and on some of the positive things that have happened over the past six months. Let us remember that the IRA cease-fire has been renewed; and the Loyalist cease-fire has remained in place. For the people of Northern Ireland that is already a tangible benefit. It is beginning to change their lives, and that is surely important.

The stage was set, in many respects, by the previous Government, and by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, in particular. When in Opposition we gave the previous Government our support through our agreed bilateral approach and we are grateful for support in the same manner now.

But of course peace and prosperity are interlinked, as the noble Baroness, Lady Denton, mentioned in her important contribution. The Secretary of State and her ministerial team are working hard on both fronts. The Northern Ireland economic indicators are presently very positive. It is worth reminding the House of some of the key figures. Employment levels, with over 585,000 persons in employment in June 1997, are the highest on record. Unemployment at 7.7 per cent. of the

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workforce (in September 1997) is at its lowest level for 17 years. Over the year manufacturing output has increased by 4.7 per cent. Manufacturing exports, at £3.1 billion (1995-96), represent an 18 per cent. annual growth rate. During the financial year 1996-97 Northern Ireland attracted 11 new inward investments and 24 existing overseas companies announced expansion--representing investment of £190 million and 4,641 jobs promoted. The figures are technical; but to the people of Northern Ireland they represent jobs and hope.

The efforts of the people of Northern Ireland have been the key to generating these successes. With long-term stability, their efforts will generate even greater rewards. It is our aim to do all that we possibly can to make that possible.

A number of specific questions were asked during the debate, including questions about the talks. It is a great achievement to have reached the present stage of the talks. We now have an inclusive process in which all strands of opinion in Northern Ireland are participating or entitled to take part. Since 7th October they have been addressing the key issues relevant to a future settlement. They are doing so in a constructive and businesslike way.

It has taken courage and vision to get us there. We have seen those qualities from political leaders in Northern Ireland. They are the qualities conspicuously shown by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, and his colleagues in the far-sighted policies that they have pursued in recent years with our support.

The talks give an opportunity to bring about peace and stability with the promise of a happier and more prosperous future for all sections of the community in Northern Ireland. We firmly believe that a settlement can be achieved within the target that we have set of concluding by next May. We in this Government are all determined to see that the moment is seized. We shall do everything in our power to facilitate progress in the talks. It is, however, the participants as a whole who must find a settlement. The critical hurdle is the reaching of agreement among the parties.

We shall submit any outcome to a referendum. We are acutely conscious of the democratic deficit in Northern Ireland to which the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, drew attention. No one believes that direct rule is a satisfactory form of government. As in the rest of the UK, we are committed to increasing accountability in government; and as we move towards devolved structures in Scotland and Wales, the current system of administration in Northern Ireland appears all the more starkly inappropriate. Finding arrangements by which elected representatives in Northern Ireland can administer affairs there is one of the key challenges that will face the talks.

I now turn to some of the specific points raised. There were many, and I shall try to do justice to them; however, noble Lords will understand that the time constraint means that I shall have to give fairly cursory answers.

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I shall deal first with the question of prisoners. I assure the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, that there are no political prisoners in the United Kingdom. Those who commit acts of terrorism are lawfully convicted and sentenced under the criminal law. They neither deserve, nor are they accorded, any special status.

As regards the issue of Jason Campbell, in his application for transfer, Jason Campbell claimed family ties in Northern Ireland. On subsequent investigation it was discovered that those family ties did not exist and the transfer was accordingly refused. That was a correct decision. The purposes of transfer are to assist prisoners to retain links with their families, wherever those prisoners are and from whichever part of the United Kingdom they come, and to prepare prisoners for release.

The noble Viscount asked about communication between the Government and the Loyalist parties in relation to the application for transfer by Jason Campbell. As was widely reported, Jason Campbell's name was included in a list passed to the Government by a representative of the PUP. That was the extent of any communication. There was no discussion or negotiation.

I now turn to the question of consent raised by many noble Lords. The Government are pursuing and want to achieve the widest measure of agreement to, and full-hearted endorsement of, a settlement. There must, as a minimum, be sufficient consensus achieved in the talks that they have the support of parties representing a majority of each of the two traditions in Northern Ireland. That outcome would then be put to a referendum. We would not take any outcome forward without the support in that referendum of the majority of people voting in Northern Ireland. That is the clear policy, as I said in answer to a Question last week. It remains the answer today. And of course the final outcome would have to pass through Parliament.

Perhaps I may refer to another point made in the opening speech. It is vital that talks take place in an atmosphere of peace, free from all threats of violence. Sinn Fein have signed up to the Mitchell principles, which commit them to exclusively peaceful methods and to abide by the terms of any agreement. We shall hold Sinn Fein to that commitment.

The noble Viscount asked another question about a referendum. If I understood him correctly, he suggested that there should be the same rules for referenda in all parts of the United Kingdom--Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Is that in fact the Opposition's policy? We shall address the precise way in which the referendum is to be held nearer the time when the talks have made some progress. It is too early yet to enter into such specific points.

My noble friend Lord Merlyn-Rees made a number of important points based on his great experience of Northern Ireland. I take one particular theme; namely, that we must choose our words very carefully. Even though it is possible to speak in generalisations and make statements here in this House, in Northern Ireland we must expect those words to be scrutinised in

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meticulous detail. That is why it is important to be absolutely careful that the words we use are exactly the words that we mean to use and no other.

I turn to the very interesting contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew. He drew attention to the increasing role of women in community activities in Northern Ireland. Over the past few months I have seen that particular phenomenon at first hand. While I am on the subject, perhaps I may pay tribute to the excellent work carried out by Lady Mayhew in encouraging such activities. I have heard it said in Northern Ireland, in relation to the time when the noble Lord was Secretary of State there, that people were getting two Secretaries of State for the price of one.

It is a regret that women are under-represented in political life in Northern Ireland, although we now have the welcome participation of the Women's Coalition in the talks. I should like to see a wider representation of women in political affairs in Northern Ireland at every level. Indeed, I should like to see a wider representation of women in all activities in Northern Ireland. I hope that over the fullness of time we shall get nearer to achieving that outcome.

The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, paid tribute to the security forces, and I fully endorse that tribute. I believe that the police, the RUC and the Army have played a valiant and difficult role over many years and it is right that their steadfastness and dedication should be fully appreciated and respected by this House.

A number of speakers referred to punishment attacks. I take this opportunity to condemn absolutely what are called punishment beatings and shootings. They are outrageous and cannot be justified in any civilised society. The RUC remains the only legitimate law enforcement agency in Northern Ireland and no group or individual has the right to take the law into his or her own hands by meting out these barbaric assaults. There have been 45 punishment beatings and shootings since the cease-fire on 20th July: far too many. Every one of those is to be condemned, although the figure is lower than it has been. I should like to see every one of them stopped, there should be no punishment beatings or shootings.

The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, talked, as did many others, about confidence-building measures. He emphasised the importance of the Government doing what is right rather than seeking a balance between giving concessions to Nationalists and Unionists. The noble Lord is absolutely correct, the role of government is to govern fairly and see that we can win the trust and confidence of all the people. It is vitally important that confidence building is seen as something of importance to all parts of the community in Northern Ireland. It would be wrong to think of it in terms of a shopping list put forward by one side to the exclusion of another. The Government want to win the trust and confidence of all parts of the community in Northern Ireland by clearly being seen to be fair and even-handed to everyone. I believe that that is what we have been.

A question was asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Park, about what would happen if the IRA ceasefire were to break down. As I said earlier, Sinn

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Fein are committed; they are in the talks because they have given an undertaking, through the unequivocal restoration of the ceasefire. They have signed up to the Mitchell principles of democracy and non-violence and we expect Sinn Fein and the IRA to honour those undertakings. If the undertakings are dishonoured, then they cannot remain in the talks.

The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, made a number of important points in his speech from his wealth of experience in Northern Ireland. He talked about the leaks that had emanated partly from Dublin. This Government deplore leaks as such. They are not helpful and can only serve to undermine trust. We have an extremely good working relationship with the Irish Government and are absolutely confident that the leaks will not affect that good relationship. However, I shall pass on to my colleagues the noble Lord's fears about the contents of the papers which were referred to. The matter of the leaks themselves is for the Irish Government to investigate and I understand that they have instigated a criminal investigation. It is therefore not appropriate for me to speak any further.

Another point made concerns the secretariat at Maryfield. I hope that if the noble Lord has any information to support his accusations, he will pass them on to me as soon as possible. I hope that he will write either to me or to the Secretary of State or even the Prime Minister, so that we may assess the implications. The secretariat at Maryfield exists to exchange information. Some of it is sensitive and necessarily so in our joint attempts to resist terrorist crime. There is a good record of exchanges, despite the recent leaks, and we have no reason to believe that the channel has been compromised.

I believe that there are too many misconceptions circulating about the intergovernmental conference, the secretariat of the Anglo-Irish intergovernmental conference at Maryfield. I am certain that it does not have the malign characteristics which some speeches tonight suggested. There are many instances of good co-operation--for example, on security--between the two governments through the secretariat. I hope that we can demystify the secretariat, as it were, and therefore alleviate the fears that apparently surround its work. It is, of course, open for the talks process to propose new approaches in Anglo-Irish relations and we shall look forward to the discussions.

The noble Lord, Lord Cooke of Islandreagh, also talked about the role of the Irish Government and referred to appointments being made, as did some other Members of the House. It is certainly open to the Irish Government to determine how to identify candidates whom they wish to put forward for consideration for appointments. It is also open to anyone to put themselves or any other person forward as candidates for public appointments. Let me emphasise that public appointments in Northern Ireland, as with everywhere else in the United Kingdom, are made on merit. There is no question of Irish officials overruling our own officials on the matter. The Nolan principles apply and we are meticulously careful in how we select appointments. I know that, when appointments have come to me, on occasions the Irish Government have

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put forward names and I have treated those names on their merits, not because of the source from which they came.

The noble Baroness, Lady Denton, made a number of comments about the National Health Service. We have increased the amount of money going to the health service, both nationally and to Northern Ireland. The additional £5 million funding which she spoke of was Northern Ireland's proportionate share of the additional £300 million made available across the whole of the UK. However, in addition to that, my honourable colleague Tony Worthington, the Minister, also announced a further £7 million for 1997-98, to tackle pressures in relation to waiting lists and community care. We will continue to pursue our reform agenda on this. I have already referred to the economic issues and I agree with the noble Baroness on how important they are.

As regards Articles 2 and 3, I understand that following the morning session of talks on Monday, Mr. Andrews, the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, indicated that as the negotiations progressed the Irish Government would discuss proposals for a change in the Irish constitution as part of balanced constitutional change and overall agreement. There is a willingness there to which I pay tribute.

I am running out of time and am conscious that there are a number of specific issues with which I should have liked to have dealt. However, in conclusion, I repeat that the Government remain fully committed to the principle of consent, in the terms in which I described it today and last week. Any change in the status of Northern Ireland will only come about with the consent of the majority of the people there.

As I said in this House last week, what we seek from the talks is a comprehensive settlement which secures consensus among the parties, can be endorsed by the people of Northern Ireland in a referendum and is approved by Parliament. That is our policy and I look forward to a positive outcome of the talks.

7.59 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have made so many distinguished contributions to our debate. I am especially grateful, though not surprised by it, for the generous and comprehensive way in which the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, answered the debate.

On the question of holding referendums and the mechanisms for doing so, I was grateful for the interest expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham. I can assure the Minister that, heartened by the noble Lord's interest, we shall return to the subject in greater detail. I hope that he will be able to help us in that regard.

Let me just add how extremely pleased I was to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, particularly as one who voted against the Anglo-Irish Agreement in another place. His intervention made it perfectly clear that the habit of intervening occasionally in the gap is well justified in your Lordships' House. I was also delighted to hear the two most distinguished maiden speeches, one from my noble friend Lord Mayhew and the other from

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the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I do not have the time to praise either of those speeches in the way that they deserve. I simply say to my noble friend Lord Mayhew that I personally have been extraordinarily grateful to him for his tolerance of me as a colleague during some years in the last Government. He knows how grateful I ought to be for that.

The only question that I ask the noble Lord, Lord Alton, is whether he is not betraying his Liberal principles, or at least his Liberal origins. I always thought that the greatest living son of Liverpool was Tommie Smith.

I have come to the end of my allotted time. I am grateful to all those who took part in this debate. With your Lordships' permission, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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