[Lords] ( By Order ) Order for consideration, as amended, read.
To be considered on Thursday 23 February.
By Order ) Order for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Thursday 23 February.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Sir Patrick Mayhew): I hope that the Government's sustained efforts to encourage all-party talks on a comprehensive political settlement will continue to be supported in all parts of the House.
Mr. Field: My right hon. and learned Friend will recall the murder of the Isle of Wight's previous Governor, Lord Louis Mountbatten, so he knows that Conservative Members understand the pain of Ulster. Does he agree that, in the interests of the peace process, when the joint framework document is published all hon. Members should take a considered view of the overall package and not seize on certain elements of it? Will it not be in the best interests of all people in Northern Ireland if all hon. Members who represent parties in Northern Ireland take part in discussions on the contents of the peace document, for surely this is a unique opportunity to give lasting peace a chance?
Sir Patrick Mayhew: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We all recall the horrific act of terrorism with which his constituency is associated, as he said. It was reflective of the many, many hundreds that have afflicted the people of Northern Ireland. I agree with the approach which my hon. Friend helpfully suggests to the publication of the joint framework document, if that is agreed, as I hope it will be. I am grateful for my hon. Friend's suggestion.
Mr. Molyneaux: Is not the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) unduly optimistic in assuming that Ministers will admit Northern Ireland representatives to any meaningful role in consultation or pay the slightest heed to what they say? Does the Secretary of State accept
Column 1114that it is highly dangerous falsely to allege divisions within parties, although that is not unusual in this House and in other quarters? Is it not even more dangerous to pursue the course of threatening to call the bluff of Northern Ireland elected representatives, a tactic that has failed so miserably and so disastrously in the past?
Sir Patrick Mayhew: On consultation, as the two Governments seek to use the document to offer a shared understanding of a possible outcome to the talks process, which would be consistent with the joint declaration, obviously-- [Interruption.]
Madam Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field), who asked the substantive question, has left the Chamber. Perhaps his colleagues would let him know my view on such matters. I am sorry to interrupt the Secretary of State. Please continue.
Sir Patrick Mayhew: We have therefore wanted to learn the viewpoints of all parties, including, naturally, the party led by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux). We had reason to believe that we were confident that we knew the views of the Ulster Unionist party, to which we naturally attach importance. It is a question not of calling anybody's bluff but of inviting all the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland to consider the issues that will be addressed in the joint framework document, and to address them together, whether bilaterally or around the table, in a way that was done fruitfully in 1992, and in a way that offered the opportunity--which was taken--for individual parties to table their own papers, whether on position or policy, which were used to great effect.
Rev. William McCrea: As the question relates to the peace process, will the Secretary of State tell us exactly what peace process we are actually referring to and talking about? Recently, the Prime Minister spoke to the people of the United Kingdom and of Northern Ireland. He said that, for the past five months, the people of Northern Ireland had been living without fear. Does the Secretary of State believe that that is factually correct? During those months, people have been murdered, bodies of young and old have been seriously brutalised by iron bars and clubs with nails, families have been, and are being, removed from their homes in my constituency because of continued intimidation and threat by the IRA, businesses have been bombed, not one pound of Semtex has been surrendered by the IRA, not one AK47 has been given up by the IRA and not one member of the IRA has renounced violence. Surely this is a tactical process rather than a peace process.
Sir Patrick Mayhew: I suggest that the people whom the hon. Gentleman represents, among the people of Northern Ireland as a whole, reflect on the contrast in their lives between the time before the ceasefires were announced--or whatever one likes to call them--and the past five months. I acknowledge that acts of terrorism have continued; the murder of Mr. Frank Kerr in Newry was a particularly brutal example. I acknowledge that so-called punishment beatings have continued, which are no less political in their purpose than what went before.
However, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was surely alluding to the comparison between life in Northern Ireland before the ceasefires and life after. I stand to be corrected, but I am sure that, by the peace process, most
Column 1115people in Northern Ireland are referring to a process of political discussion which builds on the existing peace and which will create the stability for which that Province has yearned for so long. I believe that that is a real prospect.
Dr. Hendron: Does the Secretary of State agree that he can help hon. Members to assist the peace process by insisting that the framework document and the Government's own document on strand 1 are published together? Will he tell hon. Members that both documents should be considered together, not separately?
Sir Patrick Mayhew: Whether it is called the peace process or not, it will certainly assist people to realise that the Government are to be relied on when they say that neither of the documents is intended to be imposed. Neither document is intended as a blueprint. The documents are intended as aids to discussion and negotiation, which is what we hope will ensue.
Mr. Hunter: To further hon. Members' understanding of the peace process, will my right hon. and learned Friend return to his words a few moments ago? Are we to understand that the framework document is by no means a draft treaty, and is certainly not an exclusive blueprint, but is intended to promote genuine consultation, and that any constitutional party of Northern Ireland is at liberty to produce any alternative suggestion during bilateral talks with the Government?
Sir Patrick Mayhew: I am happy to confirm that and it cannot be said too frequently. I have already indicated that, during the last talks process, papers were produced by all sides, including the British Government, who played an important part in achieving the contingent agreement which was reached, particularly on strand 1. At the last Northern Ireland Question Time on 19 January, I told my hon. Friend something to the effect that we want to use that document to help get the parties back around the table again--not to make them conform to anything but simply to discuss the issues addressed in that paper. That remains the position. I hope that that will happen and, when it does, I look forward to papers being produced again by all parties.
Ms Mowlam: At this time of delicate discussions with Dublin, is the Secretary of State aware of the House's disappointment that there will not be a statement today on the appalling behaviour of so-called football fans- -they were masquerading as that, but were really fascists--in Dublin? Will he join me in condemning their actions? Will he guarantee to the House that he will not jeopardise progress towards a balanced constitutional settlement for Northern Ireland by allowing any party to enter into pre- emptive negotiations?
Column 1116and everyone in the country. I have seen and read of what happened with utter disgust and I feel a sense of personal shame that it was done by people associated with my own country. For that reason, I do not mind saying that, at the next opportunity, I shall offer expressions personally not only of shame but of apology. As for the second matter, I think that we want to get to publication of this document as soon as possible.
2. Mr. Jacques Arnold: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if it remains Government policy to support the integrity of the United Kingdom based upon the consent of the inhabitants of each of its component parts.
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Michael Ancram): Yes. We wholeheartedly support the Union in its present form. As far as Northern Ireland is concerned, it is, in fact and in law, an integral part of the United Kingdom, and the Government welcome and will support that position so long as it remains the wish of a greater number of the people of Northern Ireland.
Mr. Arnold: Will my hon. Friend reiterate the fact that, whereas the people of Northern Ireland will have the final say in all this through the referendum, the Conservative and Unionist party feels that membership of the United Kingdom by Northern Ireland is of immense value and that the United Kingdom is of greater value than the mere sum of its four parts?
Mr. Ancram: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. I would go further and say that the strongest cement that holds the United Kingdom together is the consent of the majority of the people of each of its component parts, which is something of which we are very much aware.
Mr. Beggs: Does the Minister agree that, if there is to be acceptance of stated Government policy on the United Kingdom, however neutral on Northern Ireland, there has to be confidence in the integrity of those who speak for the Government? Can he give us one valid reason why we as Ulster Unionists should not question his integrity, that of the Secretary of State and even that of the Prime Minister, in that we feel that we have been not only deceived but betrayed? Does the Minister not understand the depth of Unionist frustration and understand that we perceive that there has been capitulation to pan-nationalism and IRA thugs who threaten to use their guns and Semtex again if their will is not expressed in the Government document?
Mr. Ancram: I can only state regret at the hon. Gentleman's original remarks about the integrity of myself and that of my right hon. and hon. Friends. I hope that, in due course, he will reconsider his remarks, especially when the joint framework document is published and he is able to see what is in it in relation to the various consultations that have taken place in the past 12 months with, among others, members of his party, the Ulster Unionist party, who were sent to speak to me about the parameters that I should take into account in terms of these negotiations.
On the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I would again ask him to wait to see the joint framework document. If it is to succeed as an aid to negotiation and
Column 1117as a means of bringing parties back into discussion, obviously it has to be balanced. I hope that when the hon. Gentleman sees it, he will accept that it is.
Mr. Hayes: Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Downing Street declaration, with all its constitutional implications, still stands? Does he agree that the long-suffering people of Northern Ireland deserve a just, genuine and lasting peace and that they will not want to put up with party political shenanigans? Does he further agree that the final arbiters of any framework document will be the people themselves, and no one else?
Mr. Ancram: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for recalling to the House the Downing Street declaration, because it was a statement of principles. The key principles enunciated in it were those of democracy and consent. Hon. Members will once again, I believe, see when the joint framework document is published, if that is what happens, that it, too, is based on the essential principles of democracy and consent.
Mr. Stott: The Minister will be aware that when the joint framework document is eventually published as a basis for discussion and negotiation, it will be welcomed by almost everyone in the House. Given the fact that the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam), have backed the triple-lock process wholly and fully, should not the ordinary people of Northern Ireland expect and demand their elected representatives to engage in meaningful and constructive dialogue with the Government about the future governance of Northern Ireland?
Mr. Ancram: The House will have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said. I believe that all the parties from Northern Ireland in the House have very strong and genuine arguments to make and very strong and genuine positions to state. I hope that they will take the opportunity of stating those within the context that the joint framework document will make possible, by opening up a situation where negotiations, discussion and dialogue may again take place.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Malcolm Moss): As the then Minister of State made clear to theHouse in April 1993, privatisation of water and sewerage services will not be possible in the lifetime of this Parliament. The Government intend in the interim to establish the Department of the Environment's water executive as a next steps agency by April 1996.
Mr. O'Brien: Does the Minister accept that if there is one issue which brings together all the elected members of Northern Ireland, either in this House or in local government, and the peoples of Northern Ireland, it is opposition to the privatisation of water services in Northern Ireland? Does he accept that the people of Northern Ireland, who enjoy the opportunity to pay their water charges with their general rate, will oppose any
Column 1118changes from such a procedure? Does he also accept that many people in Northern Ireland, especially those on low incomes, benefit greatly from assistance with their water charges through the general rate refund and that to take that away from them would be a crime? Will he forget all ideas about privatisation of water services in Northern Ireland and leave them as they are so that people may continue to enjoy that service?
Mr. Moss: I reiterate what I said a moment ago. There are no proposals to privatise the water services in the lifetime of this Parliament. Ministers have already had discussions with, and received correspondence from, locally elected representatives and others, and the Government are aware of the strong feelings and concerns on the issue. Although I welcome views from interested parties, the Government believe that privatisation will bring benefits to Northern Ireland, as it has done elsewhere.
Mr. A. Cecil Walker: Is the Minister aware of reports that grazing animals are being allowed access to the periphery areas of reservoirs, thereby causing a risk of pollution? Will the Minister confirm that the filtration processes are working efficiently?
Mr. Moss: I am happy to confirm that filtration processes are working efficiently. The straying of animals into the water executive's area has not been brought to my attention, but if the hon. Gentleman would care to write to me, I shall look into it in detail.
Mr. Spellar: Why does the Minister feel it necessary to impose yet another quango on Northern Ireland, which already has 160 with which to deal? Why is he still placing uncertainty over the future of the water industry, even after the next general election? Why does he not accept that water privatisation has proved intensely unpopular in England and Wales and proposals for it are proving unpopular in Scotland?
Does the Minister also accept that water metering is encountering intense public resistance? Will he give a commitment that that will not be the way in which he tries to charge for water in Northern Ireland and that, in fact, he will stick to a system of property rating, which is far more acceptable and collectable and far better for the health of the people of Northern Ireland? Why does he not depart from dogma and bring some common sense to the issue?
Mr. Moss: On the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, experience has shown that agencies enable a better and much more customer- focused service to be provided. They enjoy certain financial and management freedoms which allow them to focus on achieving a more appropriate and cost -effective delivery of service.
On metering, a number of options for reform of the charging regime for water and sewerage services are being considered. Although the Department of the Environment will continue to meter non-domestic supplies, there are no plans to introduce routine metering for domestic properties in Northern Ireland.
Column 1119the progress made towards the publication of a framework document and of the Government's proposals for the internal administration of Northern Ireland.
8. Mr. Skinner: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what further discussions he has had with representatives of political parties regarding the framework document; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Ancram: We hope to publish the joint framework document and the Government's proposals for the internal administration of Northern Ireland as soon as possible. In the course of discussions with the main constitutional parties in Northern Ireland, I have discussed the principles that we would expect to underpin a settlement relating to all three sets of relationships.
Mr. Beith: Will the Minister state the process by which these documents will fall to be considered by the Northern Ireland political parties? Would it not be hard for people in Great Britain to understand if any of Northern Ireland's political leaders declined to take part in the process of discussion and denied the people of Northern Ireland the opportunity to vote for or against a considered set of proposals?
Mr. Ancram: Having heard what the right hon. Gentleman said, I should remind him that any referendum would be not on a set of proposals produced by the two Governments but on the outcome of discussions that take place on the basis, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State said, of the joint framework document and other views expressed by other interested parties. Obviously, the process after publication will have to be considered in the light of circumstances. We have made it clear that the document will be published along with the Government's proposals for discussion on internal institutions within Northern Ireland. The proposals will be public and we hope that, first, all concerned will study them with great care and attention to see precisely what is in them. I hope that we can then begin discussions on the basis of those proposals and, as I have said, possibly on the basis of other positions that may become available at the time.
In the first place, there may be bilateral discussions; but, at the end of the day, discussions must be around a table, because the whole purpose of the process is to try to come to an agreement between the parties which can then be put to the people of Northern Ireland in a referendum.
Column 1120Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)--Nos. 4 and 8--which relate to the framework document.
Mr. Skinner: Is the Minister aware that if ever there was a need for the framework document and a peaceful Irish solution, it was best exemplified by the horrific events at Lansdowne Road last night? Does he also agree that, for the matter to be resolved in the long term, we shall need a Government with a large majority and not a Government who have to depend on temporary pacts and alliances, with support being withdrawn week by week? Long-term resolution of the problem will probably need a Labour Government with a new idea.
Mr. Ancram: I can only say that, in the light of the present situation, with the future of Northern Ireland very much at the centre of what we should be considering, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's remarks are exactly constructive or helpful.
Mr. Barry Porter: Although I am very willing to wait for the publication of that document, it is important to point out to my hon. Friend that that which has seeped out so far, whether intentionally or unintentionally, has given some Conservative Members room for concern. If, indeed, that which has seeped out is what will be in that document, it may well be that some Members who would describe themselves as Unionists will take a less than sanguine view of the contents.
Mr. Ancram: May I advise my hon. Friend, as I have advised others, that I think that it is important to wait to see precisely what is in the joint framework document, if a joint framework document is agreed? Equally, I would ask him to wait to look at precisely what is in the Government's own proposals on internal institutions to see whether they match the criteria that he would seek for such institutions.
As part of the consultations that I have held with all the parties, I was seeking out the parameters in which I believed that we could find a basis for discussion and negotiation, and there were certain very firm criteria which had to be met: first, that no joint authority of Dublin and the United Kingdom Government was involved; secondly, that there was no joint sovereignty; and, thirdly, that there was no slippery slope in anything that was proposed. I believe that, when my hon. Friend sees the proposals, he will agree that we are firmly within those criteria.
Mr. William Ross: Why, whenever Ministers speak of the framework document and the peace process, do they roll the two together? It is an absolutely fundamental error to talk about two separate things as though they were one and the same. In so doing, they leave themselves open to pressure from the IRA under the threat of resumed violence if they do not give the IRA what it wants.
Column 1121that inference from anything that I have said in answer to this question. What I was saying, which is very important, is that the joint framework document is two legs of a three- legged stool. The third leg of that stool is the Government's proposals for the internal arrangements within Northern Ireland. It is very important that that package is looked at as a whole. I hope that Unionist Members, who have always struck me as people of great reason--I believe that to be the case--will do that.
Mr. Mallon: As we await the framework document, is it not informative to remind ourselves of what Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher and John Major have in common? They have all gone ahead of the Unionists, they say; they have all sold out Unionism, they say; and they have all tried to create a united Ireland against the wishes of the people of the north of Ireland, would that it were so. Will the Minister confirm that underlying the framework document will be the principle of consent, that consent by definition requires agreement and that agreement by definition threatens no one except those who get undue pleasure out of threatening and being threatened?
Mr. Ancram: I personally do not think that the process in which we are engaged is to be assisted by anybody threatening anybody else. The process, as the hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out, is based on consent, and consent requires agreement; but in order to achieve agreement, there has to be dialogue. The purpose of the joint framework document and the document being put forward by the Government on internal arrangements within Northern Ireland has one central purpose: to get the parties back talking to each other again, as the people of Northern Ireland are constantly demanding that the Governments and their elected representatives should do.
Mr. Riddick: Has not the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) actually said that he does not expect to live in a united Ireland in his lifetime? Does my right hon. and learned Friend think that Ulster Unionists should take some reassurance from the fact that the Conservative party, more than the other two main political parties, is the party of the Union, and that Conservative Members will simply not countenance a united Ireland or all-Ireland bodies coming into place unless it is quite clear that a majority of the people in Northern Ireland themselves actually approve that?
Sir Patrick Mayhew: Of course that is so, and my hon. Friend and his colleagues will not be put to that test for the very reason that my hon. Friend the Minister of State has just explained: that the heart, core and centre of what the framework document, if agreed, will propose is consent and agreement. The constitutional guarantee of the future status of Northern Ireland is long-standing, and
Column 1122it will be compatible with anything that the British Government are prepared to propose in the joint framework document.
Mr. Maginnis: Will the Secretary of State tell us frankly and clearly where the Government's working assumption that the IRA is in a permanent ceasefire now stands? Is not it true that dozens of young men have been beaten to a pulp by IRA punishment squads and that 39 families have had to be removed from their homes in the past few months under the Government's special purchase of evacuated dwellings scheme? Does not the IRA delegation--or, as those involved call themselves, the Sinn Fein delegation--which comes to Stormont from time to time refuse to speak on behalf of the IRA, and say that it has nothing to do with the IRA? Is not it true that those involved refuse to talk about the decommissioning of weapons? How long will the Secretary of State head up this charade that is supposed to be a peace process?
Sir Patrick Mayhew: There are a number of issues in that question. The first part related to the working assumption, which the Prime Minister announced in October and which the Government were prepared to make: that the ceasefire was intended to be for good. That assumption depends on what is done and on what is not done. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to point to activities which, as I said to the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) a minute ago, are no less political in their intention than what went before the ceasefire. Those activities put a strain on that working assumption. I hope and believe that it is the intention that there shall not be a reversion to violent means of securing political objectives, but we cannot know whether that is the intention. Only those involved can know whether that is their intention. The rest of us have to rely on what is done and what is not done.
On the exploratory dialogue, most people think that it is better that people should talk and that the parties previously associated with paramilitaries should be exploring the Government's position. Unless they know and fully understand the Government's position, there is a danger that, in that curious world, they could act on a misapprehension. I understand the hon. Gentleman's scepticism, and I know that he has expressed it frequently. Although I see the grounds for it, I do not propose at the moment to give way to it.
Mr. Peter Bottomley: Has not national backing from successive Governments and the determination not to have the United Kingdom destroyed by the bombs and bullets of the IRA and not to be pushed off course by the turning of women into widows and children into orphans helped to start the peace process? More controversially, might not extreme and fearful Unionism do more to undermine support for the Government's policy than some of the work of the provisional IRA over the years?
Sir Patrick Mayhew: I thought that this question was going to be helpful. I do not want in any way to suggest that I underestimate the grounds for fear that people on whatever side of the political equation in Northern Ireland have. The history of Northern Ireland provides a ready explanation for the fears, anxieties and suspicions that abound. Of course the unknown is more capable of producing those things than what is known, and that is why I, along with most people in Northern Ireland, look
Column 1123forward very much to having the document published. The sole purpose of the document is to suggest a possible outcome to the resumed talks process, and we shall invite people to come back together to discuss the issues that it addresses. I hope and believe that that will occur.
Ms Mowlam: Does the Secretary of State agree that the nature of the questions in the House today suggests that there is a need for the speedy publication of the framework document as soon as possible, and that the clear hope of most hon. Members is that everyone will consider the package on the table and make a judgment on all parts of it? I simply add that obviously that is our focus, and understandably the focus of the Government at the moment, but there is growing anxiety on the Opposition Benches that the parallel process to the unfolding framework document is the need for economic regeneration. In meeting after meeting that I have had in Northern Ireland, people have been seriously worried that the Government lack any clear strategic plan about the way in which additional funding for Northern Ireland will be spent to help the process.
Sir Patrick Mayhew: I think that I have said enough about the joint framework document to be excused from dealing with it once again. I do not find the depression that the hon. Lady apparently meets in her welcome visits to the Province. I find people rejoicing in the fact that unemployment is decreasing on a steadily established trend of more than 1,000 a month. We have better figures now for employment and unemployment than we have had for the past 13 years. I invite the hon. Lady to cheer up.
Mr.Ancram: My ministerial colleagues and I have frequent contact with representatives of the press and broadcasting organisations at all levels in Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Their questions are wide ranging and cover all aspects of Northern Ireland affairs, including the "peace process". There will be facilities for the media to study the joint framework document if and when it is published, along with our proposals for discussion on internal institutions in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Dykes: I strongly welcome the Government's determination not to be thrown off course or scared by extreme views and mischief making. Does my hon. Friend have any more information on the recent mischievous press leaks, in The Times and other newspapers, about the draft proposal?
Mr. Ancram: An official inquiry into the leak is under way, headed by a senior Northern Ireland Office official. It would be inappropriate for me to speculate, pending the outcome of that investigation. I think, however, that it is important, during the process of seeking a settlement to the problems of Northern Ireland, that the media play their part by keeping the public fully informed of what is happening.
Column 1124should, through a Government official, advise a journalist or an editor that their policy is to face down the Unionists? Will the same assiduousness be shown in tracing that official as, apparently, has been shown in tracing those who leaked to The Times ?
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Sir John Wheeler): The majority of trials on indictment in Northern Ireland are already conducted before a jury. As we have made clear in the past, when violence ends, the emergency legislation--which includes provision for non-jury trials--will have served its purpose. As lasting peace becomes firmly established in Northern Ireland, normality can return.
Mr. Corbyn: Does the Minister agree that now is the time to repeal the emergency legislation and give the right to a jury trial to everyone in Northern Ireland--a right that has been denied to them for nearly 15 years or more? Does he agree that it is a fundamental right of all citizens that they should have an opportunity, if they are indicted on a serious charge, to appear before a jury, not before the fundamentally unfair system of a judge sitting with no jury and making decisions?