§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Sir Patrick Mayhew)
I beg to move,That the draft Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order 1995, which was laid before this House on 12th June, be approved.If schedule 1 of the Northern Ireland Act 1974 were not renewed, direct rule would come to an end, resuscitation being possible only by means of a further Westminster statute. What has to be acknowledged, with regret, in this debate as in its precursor on each of the occasions when I have had responsibility, is that the temporary provisions of the Northern Ireland Act 1974 again need to be renewed. Direct rule from Westminster is still needed and the principal reason is that an insufficiently broad basis of agreement as yet exists for any system of larger local accountability.
It is not for want of encouragement or for want of trying. It is worth taking a little of the House's time to look at what we see as an encouragement and at the efforts that have been made. The obvious starting point is this time last year. In that debate I said:I have faith in a better future for Northern Ireland."—[Official Report, 30 June 1994; Vol. 245, c. 963.]I pointed to the Downing street declaration, then some six months old, and said that it represented a new context for political progress. It had contributed to rational grounds for hope that, through consent and democracy, a settlement would be reached.
Looking back to the period from 31 August 1993 to the end of June 1994—that is to say, before the IRA ceasefire—87 people lost their lives in Northern Ireland because of the security situation. In the same period ending a few days ago, the total is only three—one of whom, Constable Seymour, died from head injuries caused by the IRA as long ago as 1973. Every such death is a tragedy, with on-going miseries whenever it occurred, in whatever circumstances. That is in every way true of the deaths of young Karen Reilly and Martin Peak in September 1990, who are in our minds this week.
That ceasefire and the loyalist one which followed it were as welcome as they were overdue. For my part I give great credit to all—and I mean all—who influenced the declaration of the ceasefires. I acknowledge the contribution of all who have been prepared to take risks to bring violence to an end. Most particularly, I identify and pay tribute especially to the security forces, whose staunch courage and professionalism has attracted such admiration. In that context, I should like to congratulate the Royal Ulster Constabulary on the professional manner in which they have responded to the disgraceful disturbances and violence of the past few days in Belfast, Londonderry and elsewhere. These have been orchestrated by those keen to confront and discredit the police and they have been deeply unjust to the people.
The ceasefires and the absence of terrorist attacks have enabled the Government and the security forces to respond to an improved security situation. Much has been done and much more can be done, given the right circumstances. More than 1,000 soldiers have been withdrawn from the Province. Nearly 100 border road 470 have been opened. Army patrols in support of the police are now the exception. Exclusion orders and broadcasting restrictions have been lifted.
We are also, with the RUC and the Police Authority, looking ahead to the future of policing in Northern Ireland. The RUC is making the transition from a force primarily concerned with countering terrorism to one dealing mainly with the everyday concerns of the ordinary community. Much work is in progress, with the public being consulted as never before.
The Government place an even greater emphasis on community relations work to help heal the divisions between the main sections of the community and to create a more stable and united society for the future. The evidence is that positive changes are taking place in the relationships between the main traditions in Northern Ireland, but real and lasting change takes time.
I can also report briefly and happily on the economy. I shall be brief because many right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak. A strong economy with plenty of jobs is, of course, a great support for stability. There is much good news. Employment in the year to March 1995 rose by 2.1 per cent.—four times the Great Britain rate. At 565,000, it is the highest March figure on record. In the year to May 1995 unemployment fell by more than 10 per cent. It is now 11.7 per cent., which is still much too high, but it is the lowest since September 1981, almost 14 years ago. Particularly welcome is the fall over the last year of almost 5,000 in the number of long-term unemployed. We shall be working hard to bring the figures down still further.
Manufacturing output is growing strongly, with an increase in 1994 of 6.8 per cent. Some of this growth occurred in the period before the ceasefires. In the current year, however, with the prospects of a sustained peace continuing to improve, we hope that we shall do better still. The consensus among local economic commentators is that this year Northern Ireland will be able to build further on recent successes. Local surveys of business opinion suggest continuing high levels of business confidence and strong positive investment intentions.
There has also been good news in the Fair Employment Commission's latest annual monitoring report, summarising the religious composition of the Province's work force, which shows a significant increase of 2.3 percentage points in the Catholic share of the monitored work force between 1990 and 1994.
The Prime Minister's conference in Belfast last December greatly enhanced Northern Ireland's profile as an attractive investment location for companies from the United States, Great Britain, Europe and the far east.
Then in Washington in May there was the US President's White House conference for trade and investment, which was also a resounding success. The conference focused on trade and investment in Northern Ireland and the six border counties of the Republic of Ireland, and attracted an attendance of approximately 1,300 people. Of these, 600 were business people—350 US-based and 250 from Europe, predominantly Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. We are enormously grateful to the President for this initiative, and for the follow-up which his Administration is pursuing.
Turning to political policy, this time last year I reported that we were in discussion with the Irish Government. We had the aim of achieving a shared understanding between 471 us of the elements of a political settlement which in our view was most likely to command widespread support across the community in Northern Ireland. We did that because we were asked to do so.
After considerable hard work on all sides, and lengthy negotiation, on 22 February my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister launched in Belfast the document, "A Framework for Accountable Government in Northern Ireland" and, together with the Taoiseach, "A New Framework for Agreement". Taken together, the two documents outline what a political settlement in Northern Ireland might look like.
Many things have been said about those documents, but I should like to emphasise once again what they are not. First, the documents are not a blueprint; the ideas are not set in concrete and the proposals will not be imposed without the consent both of the Northern Ireland parties and of the Northern Ireland people. They do not affect Northern Ireland's constitutional guarantee; they do not contain any proposals for joint authority and there is no slippery slope to a united Ireland. They are ideas for discussion and negotiation. They represent the best ideas of the two Governments.
The House is familiar enough by now with the documents' character and contents. Both Governments believe that they have fulfilled a useful purpose, but as Mr. Bruton said at their launch in Belfast,If people have better ideas—and we hope you have—let us hear them".Meanwhile we both stand by them and we believe that they have already encouraged much fresh thinking by the parties about the issues central to a settlement. Progress towards a settlement will come only by talking.
Shortly before Easter I invited the leaders of the Ulster Unionist party, the Social Democratic and Labour party, the Ulster Democratic Unionist party and the Alliance party to a series of separate bilateral meetings to discuss the issues on which agreement must be reached if there is to be a widely acceptable settlement. To date, I have had very useful and productive discussions with the UUP and the Alliance party, and we hope and plan to hold more. I very much hope that the other two Northern Ireland parties which I have invited will take part in the discussions.
The context for negotiation has been transformed by the two terrorist ceasefires, and I know from talking to people in Northern Ireland that everyone wants peace. They see that the way forward can be found only through talking, by discussion and by negotiation.
With Sinn Fein, the Popular Unionist party and the Ulster Democratic party, the Government have sought to consolidate the situation created by the two ceasefires of 31 August and 13 October 1994 by entering into exploratory dialogue with them. The dialogues began on 9 and 15 December respectively. The objective was and remains to exchange views on how those parties would be able, over a period, to play the same part as the main constitutional parties in the public life of Northern Ireland, and to examine the practical consequences of the ending of violence.
There have now been 12 meetings of exploratory dialogue with the loyalist parties, covering a range of subjects including prisons, political development, decommissioning of arms, policing-criminal justice issues and the economic-social problems of disadvantaged areas. 472 Given the progress made in the earlier exchanges with officials, it was decided that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), would join the dialogue at the eighth meeting on 22 March. As for exploratory dialogue with Sinn Fein, there have now been seven meetings, two of which have been attended by my hon. Friend. Discussions have taken place on a broad agenda, including the decommissioning of illegal arms.
Progress on the decommissioning of illegally held arms is needed to help to demonstrate the parties' commitment to exclusively peaceful methods. Serious and constructive discussion of this issue has taken place with the PUP and the UDP. The Government have made clear their belief that substantial progress on decommissioning will be necessary before any party that is closely associated with paramilitaries can expect to participate in inclusive talks.
More than nine months have now elapsed since the IRA ceasefire and eight months since its loyalist counterpart.
§ Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)
The Secretary of State has been talking about the exploratory talks between a Minister, officials and paramilitaries and the possibility of moving to what he calls inclusive talks. Given the disturbances that have occurred in Northern Ireland over the past 48 hours and given the clear involvement in fermenting those disturbances of Sinn Fein, can that party still be regarded as having any commitment to peaceful methods? Is it still appropriate for officials or Ministers to continue talking to Sinn Fein when Sinn Fein is clearly involved in violence?
§ Sir Patrick Mayhew
As I have already said, the disturbances to which the hon. Gentleman refers were clearly orchestrated. That has been made clear by the assistant chief constable, Mr. Stewart, in a public statement a day or so ago. In that statement he said that local members of Sinn Fein were present and prominent, I think, on a number of occasions. We want to see a good deal more of what has happened and why it happened. I am reluctant to break off conversations with any party for the reasons that I have given this evening. Any participation by the central direction of a political party in such events certainly precludes that party from claiming that it is wholly committed to a peaceful means of dealing with political disputes. There can be no question about that.
Yet the guns and explosives have not yet been decommissioned even though more than nine months have elapsed since the IRA ceasefire and eight months since its loyalist counterpart. The latent threat of violence accordingly remains. Decommissioning is not an arbitrary new hurdle created by the Government to block progress with Sinn Fein and the loyalists. Nor is it tantamount to surrender by the paramilitaries. Nor do we have pre-conceived notions about how decommissioning takes place, provided that it happens and is verifiable.
We are in no doubt that decommissioning is a difficult issue. Equally we are in no doubt that it needs to be resolved if we are to move forward. The phrase which I think expresses best the new opportunities which decommissioning could bring about is "parallel progress". I shall explain what I mean by that. The ending of paramilitary violence has created an environment allowing commanders on the ground to make operational 473 decisions about the level of military deployment. In all these matters I have been guided by the professional advice of the chief constable, Sir Hugh Annesley.
Equally, however, nothing by way of troop reductions, for example, has occurred which cannot be taken further. Parallel progress in that direction and in other areas can and will be occasioned by events which establish that risk to the public has been further reduced. If I may distort Newton's third law of motion, every action has an equal and parallel reaction.
We have within view talks in which all sides can take part, provided they are wholly committed to democratic methods. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister remains fully committed to the peace process and is determined that it shall properly be seen through to a successful conclusion. But peace can only be built on trust, and trust can never sit alongside the loaded gun pointed at its head.
§ Sir Patrick Mayhew
I will finish now, if I may.
I conclude by saying to the House that the Government will continue to do all in their power to build on the advances of the past two years. Meanwhile, the Government will also continue, through direct rule, to work for a just, peaceful and prosperous society in which both sides of the community can by consent come to exercise greater control over their affairs. I commend the order to the House.
§ Ms Marjorie Mowlam (Redcar)
I apologise to the Secretary of State for missing his opening couple of sentences. I welcome him and his team in its entirety, back after the events of the past 48 hours. I hope that now that we have some political stability at Westminster, we can move things forward.
In the past six months I have met a number of local councillors, business leaders, trade unionists and community and voluntary groups across Northern Ireland to discuss how economic policy can be made more responsive to local need. The ideas and enthusiasm generated in the present window of opportunity, with US and European assistance, are very impressive.
However, the common concern of all parties is their lack of ability to influence decision making. For example, was anybody listening to the people of Limavady, Strabane and Derry who wanted urgent improvements to the A5, especially to the bottlenecks at Toome and Dungiven; or to the thousands of people who raised money for a scanner for South Tyrone hospital. who want to use that scanner in their own hospital; or to folk in Moyle who want to have the planning powers to accommodate both the wishes of local farmers and the environmental needs of an area of outstanding natural beauty?
Everyone would be happier if such decisions were taken closer to the people whose lives are affected through devolved government. Short of improving the transparency and accountability of the 96 quangos in Northern Ireland, meaningful change can come about only 474 in the context of an agreed and balanced constitutional settlement and new political structures such as those outlined—
§ Ms Mowlam
Yes, there are certainly more than 96 quangos. I was dealing with those directly related to local authority matters such as health and education and which, if local democracy were working, would be affected by local accountability.
Whether we are dealing with those 96 or others, there can be meaningful change and genuine accountability only if there is a change towards a balanced constitutional settlement and new political structures are put in place, such as those suggested in the framework documents, whether within Northern Ireland, between the North and the South, or between Westminster and Dublin.
We regret that we are having this debate again this year. We hope that the momentum in the peace process will be maintained and that significant progress can be made so that it will not be necessary—or there will be new legislation—next year.
The Secretary of State outlined a number of the changes that have occurred in the past 10 months and the considerable progress made towards peace and reconciliation since the ceasefires last autumn. He is right. It is sad and instructive to mark the changes that have been achieved by comparing this July with the same month in previous years.
This July will, we hope, be a quiet one. Last July, seven people were killed; in 1993, one person—Kevin Pullin—was killed by a sniper; in 1992, five people were killed; in 1991, three were killed; and, as many hon. Members will remember, nine people died in July 1990, including Ian Gow, a former Member of the House. Our horror at this history of violence and killing must not prevent any of us from exercising imagination and thinking clearly about the future.
This debate concerns the Secretary of State's stewardship in Northern Ireland. It is difficult to evaluate as the debate is always held at the end of the year and there are few yardsticks to go by. As the next year is crucial, I think that it would help the debate if we put down some markers that are important for us to consider in the progress that we hope will be made in the year ahead.
As the Secretary of State said, the momentum of political progress must be maintained. The issue of decommissioning has to be tackled in such a manner that it is not a surrender but a clear statement that progress is made in the process of decommissioning paramilitary arms. Consideration should be given by the new—or newish—joint committee to the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) that a third party should oversee and verify the decommissioning process.
In the coming year, we want to see progress made on anti-terrorist legislation. This year, the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act were again renewed in full without an independent review for which we and many others called. We hope that Ministers will respond with careful planning and preparation for new UK-wide legislation, which is 475 essential if we are to be properly equipped to respond to the changing circumstances in Northern Ireland and to combat the changing nature of terrorism world wide.
There are other difficult and delicate matters that must he on the political agenda for discussion, including the question of prisoners and parity of esteem. We want prison policy—including, as we have said, the transfer of prisoners closer to their families—to be considered. Each case must be dealt with on its own merits within the rule of law. There can be no bargaining or equating the cases of different prisoners. The law must be fair to all people and implemented equally. At the very least, those cases which should be considered now are those subject to persistent dispute.
I deal again with more mundane political matters. We should like a halt to the accelerating process of compulsory competitive tendering and privatisation of public services in Northern Ireland so that, when the new settlement is agreed and, we hope, a new Assembly established, there are at least some services left for people to manage.
The disaster of water privatisation should not be inflicted on the people of Northern Ireland. In a recent survey, 90 per cent. of respondents said that they were opposed to it. The Government should rule it out completely in the next year.
§ Ms Mowlam
The Government have already done so in respect of legislation for the first term, if I can earwig on the Secretary of State's whisper, but that commitment has not been given for the duration of this Parliament. We should welcome such a commitment this evening.
We want a change of direction and a new economic strategy that includes measures more specific than those presently on offer to help small businesses; we want a unified framework for skills and training, incentives for businesses to take on the long-term unemployed—I know that there is a pilot project at the moment but projects need to be directed more specifically at the one in five people who are still long-term unemployed—and other more innovative approaches such as the improvement of nursery care.
We want significant progress in reducing the appalling level of unemployment, which is still officially around 12 per cent. I acknowledge the progress that the Secretary of State outlined, but a fifth of the unemployed in Northern Ireland have been unemployed for five years or more. Action has to be taken to bring them back into training and employment because the effects of such high unemployment are economically disastrous and socially damaging.
We should also like action to target social need and to tackle the relative deprivation of specific areas and pockets within parts of Northern Ireland. Measures to deal with unemployment must be accompanied by enforced employment legislation.
The people of Northern Ireland cannot be dictated to and will reject any attempts to impose a settlement, and rightly so. Agreement is the only basis on which the people of both communities can proceed towards a new settlement for Northern Ireland.
Like the Downing street declaration, the joint framework document maintains that it is for the people of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts 476 respectively, to exercise their right to self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, north and south.
I have tried to be brief and shall not make a closing speech tonight, as I know that many hon. Members representing Northern Ireland want to speak. I pay tribute to the security forces, the police and the many public servants who during the past year are adapting well to the changing circumstances. I thank them. I would also ask them to continue to show that commitment and determination to change in the year ahead—a time when flexibility and lateral thinking will be crucial for everybody involved.
The months ahead present many difficult and delicate decisions. We have seen an example of that over the past couple of days in the case of Private Clegg—a decision that I welcome because he should not stay in prison a day longer than is necessary. It is also important, however, that decisions taken clearly show the impartiality and the rule of law and that they are based on the rule of law on a case-by-case basis.
What is needed now is a policy of restraint by all parties, not only to keep the peace process moving forward but to help economic progress too, and to build on the two ceasefires from last autumn.
I hope that, as the peace process evolves, more progress can be made in improving the day-to-day quality of people's lives by continuing to remove some of the security apparatus, to which the Secretary of State referred tonight, such as the watchtower on the Rosemount estate in Derry. There must be an attempt to draw a line over the past and to move forward to achieve stability and to make sensible and rational decisions.
§ Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)
Does the hon. Lady agree that the watchtowers have improved the quality of life for many people, because by keeping a watch on terrorists they have kept people alive? Therefore, why should they be removed?
§ Ms Mowlam
I agree that when there was violence on the streets the quality of people's lives was improved considerably by the watchtowers, because, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, people remained alive. We have had ceasefires since the autumn of last year. I did not put a time scale on it, but asked whether in the year ahead the Secretary of State could bear them in mind for the simple reason that, if the peace holds and there is no violence on the streets, the watchtowers make a difference to the quality of life. Both the hon. Gentleman and I do not live within 20 yds of one, and we do not have to live with them watching us in our kitchens day-by-day. Our quality of life may be okay, but for the people who live close to them it is not.
I am not asking for a blanket removal of the watchtowers or for a time scale to be attached. All I am saying is that the quality of those people's lives should be taken into account, because they are being affected. We would be negating the impact on their lives if we denied that this evening.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
Further to that point, is the hon. Lady aware of what is happening in Northern Ireland at the present time? Is she aware that almost £6 million-worth of damage has been done in the city of Belfast and elsewhere? Is she aware that last night a property worth almost £1 million was gutted by fire, by 477 IRA attackers? Is she in reality when she talks about the peace that is going on? The peace is not going on. How can she say that there is a perceived peace when violent people are on the streets? I am sure that she listened on Tuesday to what the Prime Minister said when he underscored the fact that the IRA and Sinn Fein were at the heart of this. The Prime Minister himself said that in the House.
§ Ms Mowlam
I listened, not only to what the Prime Minister said, but to the comments that the Secretary of State made about the present situation and the assumptions that he is working on. I am well aware of what is happening on the ground; I have spent the past two days in Belfast and Newry, so I have direct day-to-day experience of what is happening. I know only too well of the impact on the communities and the effect of the economic policies, which all of us have been trying to encourage to get a quality of life and jobs for people that would make a difference to their lives. The bread van that was burnt out in west Belfast was new and belonged to an expanding small business. That business had just begun to turn the corner from the difficulty, which small businesses have, of growing from two to three people. The effort was being made. We are only too well aware of the disastrous impact that the events of the past couple of days have had on many people, but the situation has calmed down, and perhaps, if we can keep things moving, progress can be made. As I said to the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross), we are not asking for that progress immediately; I am merely saying that I want certain issues to be on the agenda, so that when we are having the same debate here in a year's time we can look back to the markers that I have put down tonight.
§ Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)
We can all talk about watchtowers, releases from prison and all sorts of issues. As the hon. Lady is putting down markers for the coming year and, as it were, wrapping up the previous year, will she tell us—in political terms—the one thing that she would have done differently from the Government in that year?
§ Ms Mowlam
I cannot thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, for the simple reason that I have made it clear on numerous occasions that I will not draw a clear distinction between us and the Government in relation to the peace process and the negotiations that he, and we, are conducting with all parties. On other occasions, I have made clear distinctions between the parties in regard to policies relating to, for instance, the economy.
I am avoiding the question because if I said, "If I had acted differently from the Secretary of State, this would have been the outcome", it might please the hon. Gentleman who asked the question but it would not please others. I would merely be opening the door for others to say, "So you think that the Opposition would do better. Let us wait for instability in the Government to start again in four months' time. Let us wait for a general election; then we will do better."
In view of the disturbances of the past 48 hours, the worst thing that could happen to the peace process now would be prevarication and procrastination by any hon. Members present, or any of the parties not represented here tonight, because they believed that delay would 478 secure them a better deal. I will not answer the question for that reason, and I have no difficulty in saying so to the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon).
As I have said, my hon. Friends the Members for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) and for Warley, West (Mr. Spellar) and I will continue to approach the current peace process in a bipartisan manner. We shall continue to play our part; but we, and every other hon. Member, can do so only with the support and encouragement of people in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)
As you have been kind enough to call me early in the debate, Madam Deputy Speaker, let me take the opportunity to congratulate and welcome the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney). My hon. Friends and I look forward to his contribution if he catches your eye, as I trust that he will. On 30 June last year, in another debate on the extension of the Northern Ireland Act 1974, the Secretary of State told us:we are currently working … on a framework document.He added:let me address fears about what is spoken of as 'joint authority'".It was feared, he said, that the two Governmentswould jointly run the affairs of Northern Ireland over the heads of the people.He concluded:There is no truth in that at all."—[Official Report, 30 June 1994; Vol. 245, c. 960.]I did not and do not wish to imply that the Secretary of State was less than honest, but after 25 years in this place I do not underestimate the duplicity of those in certain Departments whose mission in life is to find a form of words. That blessed phrase "find a form of words" has plagued us at every meeting that we have had to discuss the way forward in Northern Ireland. I sometimes wonder whether those people are descended from ancestors in "Alice in Wonderland".
It was with such unworthy suspicions in my mind that, several minutes later in that debate—not several months later—I delivered the Ulster Unionist answer to those words of the Secretary of State. I said:We would add merely that that joint authority, however it is disguised, amounts to a change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland."—[Official Report, 30 June 1994; Vol. 245, c. 972.]That remains the position of my party. We have not changed and we shall not change.
It was for that reason, therefore, that, in the succeeding months of last year, we warned the Government that the required support, to use their words, of the Unionist community for a framework document would not be forthcoming. Now the Government must think again. Now that all the high wire acts of two decades have failed, they could, with great advantage, go back to basics, to coin a phrase.
In December 1976, in the week-long debate on the constitution of the United Kingdom and on what was known roughly as the Kilbrandon report, I suggested, as a first step, the decentralisation of powers away from the gentlemen in Whitehall who are reputed "to always know best". I think that I am on all fours with the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam), who was good in the first part 479 of her reference on restoring accountable democracy to Northern Ireland. She rather spoilt it by getting into the "nothing agreed until everything is agreed" package, but I forgive her that. I think that we will convert her eventually.
That plea of mine way back in 1976 led to the formulation of section 22 of the 1979 manifesto, on which the Thatcher Government were elected. I shall quote from that manifesto—I am a student of these things. It says:We will seek to establish one or more elected regional councils with a wide range of powers over local services.As I played some little part in tendering advice from time to time during the drafting proceedings before the manifesto was put to the shadow Cabinet in 1978, I know exactly what was in the mind of the then Leader of the Opposition, soon to become Prime Minister. For elected regional councils, one would read an elected assembly—that is what it was all about—and the wide range of powers over local services did not mean just powers to local government; it meant clearly—and I know this for a fact and one of the draftswomen is still fortunately alive and can confirm this—administrative powers to administer the law as made by this sovereign Parliament of the UK. It meant delivering a service, the sort of service that all of us in this Chamber deliver. When we open that untidy bundle of mail every morning, we discover that 95 per cent. of our constituents' problems can be redressed by administrative and not legislative action, so it was prudent at that time, and still is prudent, to start at that level, and then to see what can be built on and what is necessary thereafter.
That pledge was ditched by the new Government within six months. As the then Prime Minister explained, and I am not looking at my memoirs here, when I asked why they did not proceed with a proposal on which they were elected, "Jim, because it was not enough", but I never knew for whom it was not enough. I can assume only that it was Dublin and Washington, with a bit of the European Community—sorry, I am not politically correct; it should be the European Union, I suppose—thrown in.
The partners in the reversal of that election pledge were utterly blind to the simple fact that, in aiming too high too soon, they were dividing and not drawing together the Northern Ireland parties, then at variance at the turn of that decade—1980. Fifteen years on, a different mood prevails. There has developed a willingness to sink differences and to work together in practical ways on issues of real benefit. In local government, there is a tendency to put the interest of local communities before party advantage and, yes, sometimes even before the consideration of mayoral chains. What a sacrifice that entails.
Belfast city council has elected a Unionist lord mayor and a Nationalist deputy lord mayor. Those developments are possible because of the growing self-confidence within the ranks of what I have termed "the greater number." I have to be generous and readily forgive the infringement of my copyright to that title. I welcome all those recruits after all the lonely years when I sat alone on that little rock proclaiming that message and began to assert that we in the Ulster Unionist party have a responsibility to represent and protect the interests of that greater number consisting of Protestants, Roman Catholics and those of no religion at all who, admittedly with varying degrees of enthusiasm, simply want to remain within the United Kingdom.
480 You and I, Madam Deputy Speaker, and all our colleagues in the House have a still wider responsibility which springs from the fact that on the day that we were elected we took upon ourselves a duty to improve the lot of even those who do not share our attachment to the United Kingdom. We are responsible for looking after, representing and protecting the interests of those who vote for us, those who vote against us and those who do not bother to vote at all.
I am optimistic about the future. By the time we come to this debate next year, or perhaps before that, we shall have recovered from the unease caused by what I would call the remaining capacity of terrorists to resume their campaign at the flick of a switch. Unease has been increased by what I can only call the devilish wording of the framework document. I hope that both of those will be erased in a year's time and that that war of nerves will be over. I hope that at that time our people will recognise the extent of the efforts of those who set out to destroy their morale and will step into the future with self confidence restored.
The Secretary of State touched on the possibility of Sinn Fein eventually emerging at the end of all these rather tortuous talks as a bona fide democratic party. He will remember his right hon. Friend the Father of the House, the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir. E. Heath) addressing to him the proposition and painting the picture that would confront us all when that day came. I have rather facetiously rehearsed them to the amusement of certain audiences. Let us suppose that the day will come when the Secretary of State is able to say, "Yes Gerry, you have decommissioned all your weapons, you have surrendered all your Semtex, and you have refrained from all the other sordid acts of violence." As we sit here, the IRA and other terrorist movements are engaging in such acts.
The Secretary of State will say, "You are now one of us, you are now clear. Sinn Fein can now become a democratic party and you stand for election." What is Mr. Adams's response? "Big deal. Secretary of State, I, Gerry Adams, was elected to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. I did not represent, but I was there nominally as a Member for five years. I have councillors in practically every one of the district councils in Northern Ireland. Is that all that we are to get?"
That was the question posed by the Father of the House, and it has been put to me in recent days by hon. Members in all parts of the House. I am putting it as a challenge, not only to the Secretary of State because it is a challenge to us all. That will be the testing time, the crunch issue. What could a Conservative or Labour Government give in addition to that which is given to the rest of us who represent democratic parties?
There has been a recons tructed Government, and the Secretary of State was today confirmed in office, on which he is to be congratulated. As I seldom watch the news I am not certain about the status of his colleagues, but I take that for granted. They must set about, or at least make a start, on the restoration of accountable democracy, probably at a modest level to begin with.
I am not ruling out more powers at a later stage. They must begin at a practical level at which there will be a role for all who are democratically elected and who are bona fide democrats. I do not rule out new methods of employing the talents and involving Northern Ireland Members of both Houses of Parliament.
481 As we debate here this evening, we cannot and dare not ignore the deep unease and frustration which grips the entire Northern Ireland community. It is slowly diminishing, but we have to work very hard to remove it in its entirety. The Government were elected to provide reassurance, confidence and sound administration for the whole of the United Kingdom and, with their authority restored yesterday—if we are to believe the news industry, which up to 5 o'clock yesterday was determined to destroy this Administration—they now have a bounden duty to remove all that uncertainty, and remove it now.
§ Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke)
I hope that the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) will forgive me if I do not take up the points that he has just made. I think brevity is commendable, and I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will comment as appropriate on the right hon. Gentleman's points. I shall make three points as I know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that other hon. Members wish to catch your eye.
The first point is with regard to the substantive business. Quite obviously, the order must be approved by the House. It would be utterly irresponsible not to do so and there is no sane alternative course of action. The Government of the Province would be plunged into chaos were the House to do anything other.
§ Mr. Hunter
I shall not give way because I believe, Madam Deputy Speaker, that many other hon. Members wish to catch your eye. I shall proceed with great alacrity.
I make the point again that I believe that it would be quite ridiculous to do anything other than approve the order. I appreciate the fact that hon. Members, perhaps especially those from Northern Ireland, will wish to take this opportunity to make wider and different points. I also acknowledge the fact that very many of us look forward to the time when the order can be consigned to history. We are not at that point yet and obviously the order must be approved.
My second point arises from the opening comments of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State. I hope that he appreciates the depth and strength of support throughout the country for the position that he and the Government have adopted and for his handling of his responsibilities. I see two primary reasons for that and the first takes me back to the debate of last year. I quote from Hansard, following the precedent set by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley, and refer to my right hon. and learned Friend's speech of 30 June, in which he said:the future of Northern Ireland lies in the hands of its own people. There will be no change in its constitutional status as an integral part of the United Kingdom save in accordance with the democratic wishes of its people, and no political settlement without the participation of the main parties in arriving at it and the widespread acceptance of the people of Northern Ireland to the outcome.With regard to the north-south body, a little later in his speech, my right hon. and learned Friend said:To impose … a structure against the will of the people of Northern Ireland would be incompatible with the principle of consent."—[Official Report, 30 June 1994; Vol. 245, c. 960.]482 It-remains-the firm-opinion of many right-hon. and-hon. Members that that is the basis of our approach to this question and that is the reason for the support.
A second reason for the continuing great support of my right hon. and learned Friend is the developments of the past year. No one who follows the situation can have any illusions whatever about the fragility of the ceasefires. The events of the past 48 hours or so have underlined and demonstrated that point. We have come a long way during the past 12 months, but there are still problems. The greatest is demonstrated by the orchestration of the unrest on the streets of the past few days. We know that the paramilitaries retain their structures, and that they continue to recruit, train and target. Nevertheless, the facts that exploratory dialogue has started, and that the Government seek to move rapidly to substantive talks, are great achievements, which deservedly win support.
During the past 48 hours or so, the prisoners issue has been very much on the agenda. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State may add to his earlier comments on the subject. It remains the understanding of many of us that, although in due course this vital issue can feature on the agenda of talks, we are not yet at that stage. We must first clear the initial hurdle of the decommissioning of illegally held arms and weapons. When that has been cleared, when the paramilitaries, both loyalist and republican, have clearly committed themselves to the principle of decommissioning, when there has been agreement over the modalities of decommissioning and when there has been an acceptable start to that progress, the agenda can widen.
It is, however, quite wrong for many well-intentioned people to argue that people who, quite unlike Private Clegg, set about their business with the direct purpose of murdering and maiming should be regarded in some way as "victims" of the troubles. They are not victims of the troubles; they were the orchestrators of them. It is to prostitute both reasoning and morality to say that people who took part voluntarily in terrorist activities are in some way victims of terrorism. That is not true, and we must reassert that point.
The order must be approved. We have come a long way in 12 months, but let us have no illusions about the difficulties that face us. However, the broad strategy that the Government have followed, with exploratory dialogue continuing, one hopes, eventually to substantive dialogue, should command support.
§ Mr. Robert McCartney (North Down)
On the occasion of my maiden speech, I pay tribute to my predecessor, the late Sir James Kilfedder, a man of kindness who was without peer as a constituency Member. It was entirely in character that his maiden speech should call for the accelerated payment of pension increases for the elderly. The aged and the disadvantaged are among the many who mourn his passing.
I am honoured to be the Member of Parliament for North Down. It is perhaps the most truly representative constituency of pro-Union sentiment in Northern Ireland. Its electors span the entire social spectrum and its main town, Bangor, has been the scene of a number of major terrorist bombings. The people of North Down share an almost universal desire for peace, but in electing me, they 483 have elected someone who is an open opponent of both the joint declaration and the framework documents as workable mechanisms for achieving peace.
I am proud, however, that the people of North Down endorse an inclusive, pluralist Union, free from the failed ascendency badges of the past. I am aware that a maiden speech is not supposed to be controversial. If it provokes a degree of intellectual or other energy, it may be allowed.
§ Mr. McCartney
Well, some of us are more humble than others. This evening, the Government propose to extend—[Interruption.] I believe that I am not being offered the usual courtesies of the House.
This evening, the Government propose to extend for another year a measure that was introduced more than 20 years ago as a temporary expedient. For 21 years, Northern Ireland has been governed, in the words of the distinguished Irish historian J. C. Beckett, like a half-alien dependency in a manner that would have been objectionable in a 19th century colony.
Arbitrary unaccountable government has turned part of the United Kingdom into what can be described only as a bureaucratic paradise. In its original and temporary form, such provision was barely defensible as emergency legislation in trying circumstances, but at least then this Parliament was solely responsible for Northern Ireland's affairs. Today, that despotic unrepresentative government is shared with a foreign power, in circumstances without precedent. There is no like situation throughout Europe.
The presence of a minority seeking union with another state is by no means unique, even within the European Community, and the present arrangement is in breach of international conventions and arrangements for dealing with similar problems. In Northern Ireland, 1.6 million British citizens are being jointly administered in secret, like a mandated territory, and not one of the Ministers from either the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland enjoys the benefit of having received a single vote from any person in Northern Ireland.
It does not help to assert that the final executive decisions are taken by the British Government by right of their claim to nominal sovereignty, or that the status of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom will not change without majority consent. The truth is that the rights of each citizen in Northern Ireland are being systematically diminished by secret Executive action.
The claim that Northern Ireland is different and must be governed differently is both morally and politically repugnant, and implies the form of political apartheid once condoned in the United States and the Republic of South Africa as "equal but separate". The British citizens of Northern Ireland know that their interests will always be made subservient to those of their fellows in Great Britain who have the means to turn a Government out of office.
In Northern Ireland, the peace process is seen primarily as a mechanism for protecting Great Britain's economic interests rather than as one designed essentially to secure a democratic and permanent peace in Northern Ireland. The on-going discussions between scarcely rehabilitated—some might say dry cleaned—terrorists without any significant electoral support demonstrate the Government's true priority. Those same people are orchestrating the violence of the past few days.
484 The peace process is viewed as a disguise for marketing a political settlement acceptable to the two sovereign powers, regardless of how unpalatable it may be to the pro-Union majority. Indeed, the people of Northern Ireland believe that they, like the Czechs in 1938, are being asked to pay the price for England's peace.
The pro-Union people from both communities desperately seek and desire peace and a permanent cessation of violence, but they could have had that 25 years and 3,000 deaths ago at the price currently on offer. Peace is not to be found in the byzantine complexities of the framework document, which is designed to effect a policy, not to achieve a peace. Its clearly recognisable bias in favour of the single solution of Irish unity makes it patently unworkable.
Peace, I believe, can be found in the policy that I have entered this House to advocate. It is to be found in a cross-community, pro-Union majority which eschews sectarian triumphalism and embraces the principle of pluralism and socio-economic politics. It has a voice that is pro-Union, rather than Unionist, and advocates a cause that deserves to be heard. It spans both communities, and commands an expanding centre which can isolate the extremes of both terror and violent rhetoric. It redefines the Union in a way that includes everyone and excludes no one. It offers subscription to a political identity without the sacrifice of ethnic pride and cultural heritage.
The bipartisan agreement between the Government and the Opposition has, paradoxically, not helped the cause of peace. It has been said that when this House is in tumult and filled with dissent, the real business of the people is receiving its attention, but that when this House is in pious and self-congratulatory agreement, the cause of liberty is often not well served. Those oppressed by the Government rightly rely on the Opposition to protect their rights and redress their grievances. When such help is not to be found, both freedom and justice suffer. Did I not, however, believe in the essential fairness of the British people as reflected in their representatives in this House, I should not have come here in the first place.
The declared policy of the Government is to preserve the Union, but in reality they offer—in the opinion of many—a policy of covert institutional coercion into a united Ireland. The policy is designed to buy off terrorists who retain the means of damaging the British economy. It has been said that the discussions should continue between the Government and the representatives of Sinn Fein, who everyone knows are nothing more than the political front or aspect of a violent Provisional IRA.
In this, as in many other matters, the British Government would perform the role of honest broker—some might say judge. But how can a judge deal with a situation impartially when he himself has an interest? The interests of the British Government are not, and never have been, entirely congruent with the interests of the British citizens of Northern Ireland. The policy is pursued against the will of a peaceful majority and of an entire community disgusted by the elevation of terrorist supporters to the role of statesmen.
If there is one allegation or complaint made by the ordinary and decent people of Northern Ireland, it is an expression of disgust at seeing men and women, their hands still stained with the blood of innocents, being given an honoured place in discussions with representatives of Her Majesty's Government. There 485 seems to be no position that the Government say that they will defend to the end that the same Government do not retreat from within a matter of weeks.
One of the more novel aspects of political life in Northern Ireland is the remarkable semantic athleticism displayed by members of the Government team. Parallel progress is one term which I heard this evening for the first time. I add it to parity of esteem and a working assumption of permanence. All those terms are difficult to understand.
Parallel progress presumably means that there will be some equal movement in tandem by both sides to the argument. We have heard of troop withdrawals, roads being opened and observation posts being dismantled. Where is the parallel progress and balance being displayed by those terrorist organisations with whom the Government would seek to negotiate? They continue to train, to observe and monitor the whereabouts, the goings, the to-ings and fro-ings, of members of the security forces. They continue to test even more wicked and awful weapons of destruction.
I am so recently elevated from the ranks of the governed—not to the ranks of those who govern, but to the ranks of those who observe that process a little more closely—as to be able to make some comment of, I believe, an objective kind upon what ordinary people think. The ordinary people of Northern Ireland do not, I venture to say, see matters relating to the peace process with quite the optimism of Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
I should like to say something finally about the declared policy of new Labour, which is said to be unity by consent. I pose the Opposition this question: would they be equally dedicated to union by widespread consensus if that can be patently demonstrated? For my part, I believe that new Labour could be so persuaded, because I believe it to be a party of principle rather than expedience. [Interruption.] Yes, it is a party of principle because experience teaches those who live in Northern Ireland that the Labour party in office has given greater support to the maintenance of the Union than Her Majesty's Government of the Conservative party. That Government have been loyally followed through the Lobby over a lengthy period by my currently estranged colleagues of the Ulster Unionist party while the people of Northern Ireland have witnessed what they believe to be an on-going weakening of their constitutional position.
The cause of democracy demands an end to secret government and requires the restoration of an accountable Administration, reflecting the will of the overwhelming majority of those representative of the entire community in Northern Ireland.
§ 10.7 pm
§ Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)
It is not merely the exercise of the conventions of the House that encourages me to congratulate the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney) on his thoughtful and challenging address. He is, after all, my Member of Parliament as a resident of North Down, at least until the boundary revisions take place.
§ Mr. Robinson
The right hon. Gentleman no doubt hopes to be my Member of Parliament after the next election.
The hon. Member for North Down gave us a brief analysis of events in Northern Ireland, one with which I concur. That will not be a shock to the Secretary of State. I believe that the hon. Gentleman will make a valuable contribution to debates within the House. Many of us, having had a trailer this evening as he skirted the bounds of parliamentary convention, will look forward to the occasions when he can take the handbrake off and let loose in the House. My colleagues and I look forward to working closely with him in the years ahead. I believe that we can do so for the benefit of Ulster and its people and for the benefit of the Union that we cherish.
On the one hand, the debate this evening appears to be something of a ritual and, on the other hand, it could be said to be something of a fraud. The Secretary of State said that it was the renewal of direct rule. Those of us who live in Northern Ireland know that we do not have direct rule in Northern Ireland; it is anything but direct. The Secretary of State might be able to make that remark technically and legally, but everyone knows that he is almost the servant of Dublin. He can take no major decision without going, cap in hand, to seek the permission of the Dublin Government.
If that were not bad enough, the Secretary of State now finds himself further confined by having to take decisions within the parameters of Irish Republican Army acceptability. When the Government take decisions for domestic reasons that depart from that yardstick, they are quickly brought back into line by IRA-orchestrated violence. Some of us will hold our breath in the next few weeks as we wait to see what sops will be offered to Republicans in order to balance—if that is a fair description—the release of Lee Clegg.
The Government have followed a Republican agenda. They have done so from 8 December 1980 when the former Prime Minister signed the Dublin communique, which put the totality of relationships within these islands on the table for discussion, and they have continued with the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, the Downing street declaration and now the framework document. The framework document, signed with the approval of John Bruton, sets up an all-Ireland body with a single purpose: to grow and grow until it exercises executive authority over the whole island of Ireland. Tory Members should blush when they reflect on how their party in government has betrayed the Unionists of Ulster.
After 25 years of terrorism, we are being induced to believe that the disease of terrorism has been cured because, by concession and capitulation, a means of achieving some moments of respite from the pain has been discovered. There is no inherent peace in such a process. It is a surrender package, varnished with a specious and a deceitful gloss. It contains nothing that answers its appearance. Behind the facade of continuing peace, Unionists are invited to yield and to relinquish their rights and liberties. Peace is offered on IRA terms and those who are not disposed to embrace it are branded as warmongers, wreckers and spoilers.
Meanwhile, the Provisional IRA continues to target and to train. It keeps its organisation intact while it stockpiles and develops new weapons. The IRA tells us that there is not—to quote one of its leading spokesmen 487 —a "snowball's chance in hell" of its handing over its weapons. During Prime Minister's Questions, the Prime Minister told us:Prominent members of Sinn Fein were present at a number of those events. They are far from the only violent demonstrations organised by Sinn Fein in recent months. I think that everyone in Northern Ireland is aware of that fact".—[Official Report, 4 July 1995; Vol. 263, c. 140.]Everyone in Northern Ireland is indeed aware of that fact, but the Government have made a working assumption that the IRA has ended its violent campaign permanently. I asked the Secretary of State when he made his statement whether he would review his position in the event of violence and he said that he would do that. I hope that in his concluding remarks he will let us know what revision he has made of the IRA's permanent peace.
Meanwhile, the guiltless victims of IRA terrorism are despised and forgotten while their murderous oppressors are elevated and rewarded. Is it any wonder that we see around us in Northern Ireland a demoralised and alienated Unionist community that has been systematically and intentionally marginalised? Terrorists are promoted and, immune to the consequences of their actions, the Government pander to the tormentors of the community. They leave in their wake a community without faith in the political process, without trust in those who govern them, without belief that democratic methods can redress their grievances and, worst of all, without hope.
Under the cover of the renewal tonight, the Government, along with their Dublin partners, continue to pursue their all-Ireland programme. The Government raise a smokescreen to mask the betrayal by promising that their intentions will be subject to democratic consent. They do that by means of what the Prime Minister described as a triple-lock mechanism. I recall that the first of those mechanisms was that the agreement of political parties in Northern Ireland was required for the framework document proposal.
As 13 of the 17 hon. Members representing Northern Ireland oppose that framework document, as do the two main Unionist parties representing the majority of people in Northern Ireland, does not the Secretary of State accept that there is not and will not be widespread acceptance of the framework proposals and, therefore, if the triple lock is to be applied and not to be considered a sham, the framework document should be ceremoniously shredded?
I believe that the Government have no intention of applying the triple lock or of giving the people of Northern Ireland the opportunity to give or withhold their consent. The Government will learn that the principle of consent is not a device of political convenience to be offered and then denied. The principle of consent is more than a legal right. It is more than a political doctrine; it is a practical requirement. Without consent, Ulster cannot be governed and if the Government move to execute the framework programme the people of Northern Ireland will withdraw that consent.
If, however, the Government wish to operate democratic principles in Northern Ireland and accept that consent does not exist for their framework proposals, they will find Unionists willing to work with them and co-operate in seeking arrangements that are capable of winning widespread power in the Province.
My colleagues and I have already submitted to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State an alternative talks process and alternative proposals for the 488 constitutional future of Northern Ireland. We are keen to talk to the Government about those proposals. We will not, however, enter into talks based on the rejected framework process, but if the Secretary of State seeks to engage us in those proposals which are workable and can receive the consent of a widespread section of our community, we are certainly willing to engage him in dialogue.
I conclude for the sake of saving time, as other hon. Members wish to speak. The Government's present policy and their policies over all the years were based on the false assumption that there would inevitably be a united Ireland. I do not know whether they were convinced because of demographic changes or because they believed that the political argument had swung in that direction, but there is no inevitability about a united Ireland.
The strength of argument in Northern Ireland shows a growing support for the Union and a more inclusive support for it. There is nothing new about the concept of an inclusive Union; that was the concept of Carson to which every traditional Unionist should be adhering. I believe that the overwhelming majority of the people—Protestant and Roman Catholic—will continue to support the Union. Instead of basing their policies on the false assumption that the Union is to be overthrown and a united Ireland is inevitable, the Government should build policies based on the firm conviction that the Union will remain and determine how best Northern Ireland should be governed within that Union.
§ Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)
It has been a rather uneasy House tonight for an Irish nationalist representative. Four elements of unionism have been heard—
§ Mr. Mallon
We have heard not only the various strands of unionism which claim to represent all the people of the north of Ireland but the strand that emanates from the Government Front Bench. It has been an interesting pot pourri, and I have been trying to work out where all these strands of unionism coalesce. Of course they do not—for a very simple reason. There is no such thing as undiluted unionism, any more than there is such a thing as unadulterated nationalism. Tonight we have heard various attempts to define a form of unionism that best describes the mood and thoughts of the ordinary people of the north of Ireland.
The ordinary people of the north of Ireland think many things. They have many philosophies and many objectives, and they have a very sensitive approach to the political process. But the one thing of which they are sure is that the most valuable part of their lives now is the peace that is on them. The most valuable part of their lives, based on that peace, is the principle of consent which, for the first time, has been accepted on the island of Ireland by every political party, by the Irish Government, by the British Government, by all the nationalist parties in the north of Ireland and by the Republic of Ireland. I do not yet speak for Sinn Fein's position, because it has not yet defined it in this regard.
489 If I may make so bold, I would point out what ordinary unionists and ordinary nationalists are thinking about at the moment. First, they are thinking about the absence of violence and killing; that is precious and it must be defended by us all. Secondly, they are thinking about the principle of consent which the British Government, along with the Irish Government, have written into the entire political equation: into the Anglo-Irish agreement, the joint declaration and the joint framework document. So the precious element of consent, which is the very contradiction of violence, is built into those three documents—which are opposed, we are told, by all elements of political unionism. One wonders who is reading unionism aright.
I offer my congratulations to the new Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney). I apologise for my little sedentary intrusion into his speech, but I do not think that it will be the last. I wish him well in this House, and I have no doubt that he will add to my confusion as to what real unionists in the north of Ireland think and want.
§ Sir Patrick Mayhew
We have had a characteristically lively debate. A good many vintage vehicles have been brought out of the garage and, with more or less noisy exhausts, have contributed to an enjoyable concours d'élégance.
I congratulate the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney) on his election. His majority might have been a little less if the Conservative candidate had not rejected my offer to canvass for him. He began with a gracious tribute to his predecessor, Sir James Kilfedder, which all who are present in the Chamber will have appreciated. He has a great example to follow. Sir James was, as the hon. Gentleman said, a most remarkably dedicated constituency Member. I think that all of us will wish to try to attend his memorial service, which takes place in the Palace tomorrow.
I thought that the hon. Gentleman might have been a little light. He took that approach in extolling the virtues of his new constituency, as is the custom. I can put things right. I was in the hon. Gentleman's constituency not very long ago, in Bangor. After an enjoyable visit to the council, I walked about with the mayor, Mr. Roy Bradford. It took me an hour and a quarter to travel 150 yd, so eager were the hon. Gentleman's new constituents to shake my hand, wish me well and urge me to keep up the good work.
§ Sir Patrick Mayhew
No. I have heard the hon. Gentleman.
490 I thank the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam) for her welcome to me. As for the status of the team, it is well established and all its members are back. We all think ourselves very fortunate.
I also thank the hon. Member for Redcar for the way in which she has responded to the Government's approach and the responsibilities of Opposition in the context of security in Northern Ireland. I hope that it will not do her a lot of damage if I say that I regard her attitude as highly responsible. I acknowledge that the hon. Lady is a doughty opponent on other matters of policy where she regards it as entirely right and proper to depart from the view that the Government are taking. That is an entirely proper line to take.
We have said that in the lifetime of this Parliament we shall not proceed with the privatisation of water supply, not least because of the extremely Byzantine problems that are to be found in charging arrangements. We need not take further time about that.
The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) is well known for not going overboard in responding to immediate changes. He is fairly canny, as most people would acknowledge with admiration. The right hon. Gentleman might have acknowledged that some 10 months have passed in which there has been an enormous reduction of terrorist violence. He might have acknowledged also that the economy has taken a pretty substantial turn for the better, that unemployment is falling fast and that employment is rising. I felt that he approached what he had to say in a negative way to which we are not accustomed. I am grateful, however, that he said that, looking to the future, he was optimistic. He was right to say that. I hope that the hon. Member for North Down will come also to share the optimism that—
§ It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Order [19 December].
§ Question agreed to.