[Lords] (By Order) Order for Third Reading read.
To be read the Third time on Thursday 6 July.
By Order ) (Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.)
Order for Third Reading read.
To be read the Third time on Monday 3 July at7 o'clock.
[Lords] (By Order) Order for consideration read.
To be considered on Thursday 6 July.
[Lords] (By Order) Order for consideration read.
To be further considered on Thursday 6 July.
Read the Third time, and passed.
Mr. Foulkes: That is a pathetic answer, but typical. The Minister must be aware of the economic and strategic importance of the line to Stranraer, not only for south-west Scotland but for Northern Ireland. Will he seek some assurances from British Rail that that line will continue if the ill-thought-out privatisation of British Rail goes ahead?
Column 1066carry out an assessment of the impact of rail privatisation for the following reasons: most business between Northern Ireland and Great Britain is road-based, for logistical reasons. We believe that privatisation will result in a more efficient rail system in Great Britain, thereby offering welcome choice for Northern Ireland businesses.
Mr. Clifford Forsythe: The Minister will be well aware that, even though many cars travel between Larne and Stranraer, a considerable number of foot passengers travel from Belfast to Glasgow and vice versa. They use the line that was mentioned by the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), and it is an essential line for that reason.
When the Minister consults his hon. Friends in the Scottish Office, will he also remember that the terminal facilities at Stranraer are vastly inferior to those available in Larne? Perhaps he would discuss obtaining some funds from Europe to update those facilities in Stranraer, which would help the economy of Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Mr. Moss: I am pleased to reassure the hon. Gentleman that the future of the Stranraer rail link is part of the minimum service requirement. It is included in the proposed ScotRail franchise, and that is currently out for consultation. The hon. Gentleman said that foot passengers use the ferry, but only about 1 per cent. of passengers travelling from Northern Ireland ports arrive at those ports by rail, and only about 10 per cent. of passengers travelling from Northern Ireland ports to Great Britain complete their journey by rail.
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Michael Ancram): The outlook is very encouraging. Employment and output are rising and unemployment is falling. Business confidence and investment intentions are at high levels. New opportunities are opening up for tourism and inward investment, and exports are increasing as our indigenous companies expand. With continuing peace, Northern Ireland's economic prospects are the best that they have been for a generation.
Mr. Spring: Is my hon. Friend aware that unemployment in Northern Ireland has reached its lowest levels since 1981, that manufacturing output increased by 7 per cent. last year and that exports from Northern Ireland are growing faster than the United Kingdom average? Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the announcement of the proposed £100 million investment in the Province by a major supermarket chain which will bring with it 2,000 new jobs? Finally, I suggest that much of that success is due to the wholly improved atmosphere in Northern Ireland which is due in large part to the initiatives undertaken by my right hon. and learned Friend and by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
Mr. Ancram: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for those remarks and I certainly endorse the welcome that he gave to the investment that we are now seeing. I thank him for highlighting the improvements that are occurring in the Northern Ireland economy. It is indicative of how much things have improved that not only has unemployment
Column 1067fallen to its lowest levels since 1981 but also, as of March this year, the number of those in employment has reached a record high. That figure speaks for itself. It is evident that enormous opportunities are available to the people of Northern Ireland in terms of economic growth if peace is sustained and political stability can be achieved. That is what the people of Northern Ireland are asking of their political representatives.
Mr. Beggs: Does the Minister agree that permanent peace will provide a prize in economic terms in which all law-abiding people in Northern Ireland can share? Does he accept that the new investment arising from the successful conferences held in Belfast and Washington, which were promoted by Prime Minister Major and President Clinton, will be of greatest economic benefit if the new jobs created are accessible to both sections of the community so that all can share in the prosperity that follows?
Mr. Ancram: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. It is absolutely right to underline the fact that peace is the key to future growth and prosperity in Northern Ireland. It is not just temporary peace that will achieve that outcome, but confidence that the peace is permanent. At the end of the day, that can be underlined only by the creation of political stability through political agreement.
I also endorse the hon. Gentleman's comments that inward investment, particularly as a result of the two conferences to which he referred, will bring the greatest degree of confidence to the community in Northern Ireland if the benefits of that investment are shared as widely as possible.
Mr. Peter Robinson: Does the Minister accept that the economy of Northern Ireland would be boosted considerably if Shorts, as part of the Westland team, were successful in securing the Ministry of Defence's order for attack helicopters with its Apache version? Does the Minister recognise that that would open the way for Starstreak to be used in the United States? Does he accept that the Government should push from within the Cabinet to ensure that the order goes to Westland and that Shorts benefits as a result?
Mr. Ancram: Again, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those remarks. I agree with what he has said and I assure him that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has been talking to the appropriate people in this instance, in particular Commerce Secretary Brown.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Sir Patrick Mayhew): We wish to establish beyond doubt that the permanence of peace is truly intended. Therefore, we continue to press Sinn Fein and the loyalist parties alike to address the decommissioning of arms and to continue with exploratory dialogue to that end.
Mr. Winnick: Can the Secretary of State explain what he meant in his letter last week in The Times when he said that the future prospects of Northern Ireland have already been much damaged by the quarrelling among
Column 1068Tory Members of Parliament? Is the Secretary of State satisfied that whoever happens to be elected leader of the Tory party in due course--be it in the first, second or any other ballot--will be committed fully to the peace process and to the framework document? Does he agree that the peace process is far too precious to be sacrificed through Tory quarrelling and civil war in the party ranks?
Sir Patrick Mayhew: I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman, very uncharacteristically, is engaging in party political games on a subject that is far too serious for that. Of course everybody in the present Government is fully committed to what has come to be called the peace process, and of course it is the case that instability in the position of any Prime Minister having the commitment demonstrated by my right hon. Friend has a deleterious effect. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well what I mean. If he does not, he can read my article in The Daily Telegraph today.
Rev. Ian Paisley: No doubt the Secretary of State read his own piece in The Daily Telegraph today, but did he read the report of the release of an IRA prisoner who was found guilty in Germany? Did he read the outrageous remarks made by the judge, who said that prisoner was being released although guilty because of the connotations of the peace process? The judge said also that the Roman Catholic people of Northern Ireland had a desire to bomb their way into a united Ireland and that there was never any religious or civil liberty in Northern Ireland for Roman Catholic people. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman do something to correct the German authorities about the present situation?
Sir Patrick Mayhew: It is important that the true facts about Northern Ireland, its democratic status and the applicability of the rule of law there should always be made clear at home and abroad. As to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, tempting though it is I do not believe that I should depart from my rule of not commenting on judicial decisions.
Mr. Trimble: Can the Secretary of State assure the House and the people of Northern Ireland that the peace process and political considerations will not be allowed to interfere with the normal operation of the criminal justice system--so that when, as is likely now that we have had peace for some time, witnesses are prepared to come forward and give positive identification in respect of specific criminal acts, the normal processes will be followed? If so, there would be no further repetitions of the reported incident in which a leading member of the IRA identified as the trigger man by a witness was released in breach of normal procedures, simply because the police feared that the Northern Ireland Office would be upset if a major provo were charged.
Sir Patrick Mayhew: The answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question is, of course. The remaining parts of his question proceed on a number of premises that I do not accept. The Northern Ireland prosecution system, as I recall from the many years that I had responsibility for it, is entirely independent and impartial. The Law Officers of the Crown are there to ensure that it remains so. I am certain that my hon. and learned Friends will do so.
Column 1069provisionals cannot take part in substantive talks unless there is acceptable progress on decommissioning and for his assertion that substantive talks can start without the involvement of the provisionals?
Sir Patrick Mayhew: I gave that assurance. A certain amount of turmoil resulted from a remark that I made when doorstepped a couple of days ago. I have looked at the transcript and it seems entirely orthodox, and in fact rather trite. It was put to me that Mr. McGuinness has said that there was not a snowball's chance in hell of decommissioning until a political settlement had occurred--to which I replied, if that was the case, the political talks process would continue in the absence of Sinn Fein. I cannot believe that anybody in the House wishes that I had replied otherwise.
Dr. Hendron: Does the Secretary of State agree that the peace process cannot be considered meaningfully without taking account of prisoners? I make no apology for raising this matter over and over again. Many believe, as I do, that Private Lee Clegg will be released shortly. If that happens, will the Secretary of State ensure that Patrick Kane, Sean Kelly and Michael Timmons, who did not kill anyone, will be released forthwith? While the right hon. and learned Gentleman is doing that, will he consider the question of Irish prisoners in Britain, have them returned to Northern Ireland and look with generosity at the whole question of republican and loyalist prisoners? Some of us, at least in Northern Ireland, could truly say that there but for the grace of God go I, depending on the environment at that time.
It is extremely important to note the distinction of the jurisdiction of the Secretary of State under statute in the case of a power to release upon licence someone who has been sentenced to life imprisonment, and the absence of any jurisdiction on the part of the Secretary of State to second -guess the finding of a court as to guilt or innocence.
I must not comment in response to the hon. Gentleman's question upon the other case that he mentioned, and I do not propose to do so. These matters arouse great passions and feelings and it is important that they should be dealt with in a cool and analytical way. That is not to ignore the human aspects of any of them.
Mr. Peter Bottomley: Will my right hon. and learned Friend accept an endorsement of his remarks following the death of Senator Gordon Wilson, whose contribution to an end of violence was an example to all people? Will he accept also that although there is reason to be cautiously pessimistic about the continuation of the period of no more deaths since the tragic murder of Frank Kerr of Newry, Gordon Wilson's courage in meeting the IRA, although he thought afterwards that it had been a failure, may have been one of the triggers for success?
Sir Patrick Mayhew: I endorse what my hon. Friend has said. I think that anyone who knows the family of Senator Gordon Wilson, or even of it, will wish to extend profound sympathy to his widow. He was a wonderful man. He left no avenue unexplored in a search for peace
Column 1070after having demonstrated most extraordinary human qualities following the death of his daughter in Enniskillen.
Ms Mowlam: May I, on behalf of the Opposition, pay tribute to the life and work of Gordon Wilson and offer our condolences to his wife, Jean? My hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) is not with us this afternoon because he is attending Gordon Wilson's funeral in Enniskillen on behalf of the Opposition. Does the Secretary of State agree that political progress will be achieved only through dialogue, and that it is imperative that all parties involved avoid vetoes and retain flexibility to create a climate in which progress can be made on the basis of the joint framework document?
Sir Patrick Mayhew: First, we would like to offer warmest congratulations to the hon. Lady on her marriage. It is important in politics, as in marriage, to seek consent and to try to avoid imposition. It is by that simple rubric that both in our marriage and in our politics the Government will proceed.
Mr. Robathan: The House knows how well my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and his team have done in carrying forward the peace process. However, should some or all terrorists return to violence, is my right hon. and learned Friend able to assure the House that the security forces are in a position to reinforce as necessary, that their intelligence is up to speed and that they will not be taken by surprise should there be a return to violence?
Sir Patrick Mayhew: My hon. Friend raises important questions. I can answer in the affirmative. Nothing that has been done to adjust the security response to the threat since the ceasefires is irreversible. There can be a reverse in a short number of days, and that is important. Of course we want to reach the point when, by actions as well as words, we can be confident that the permanence of peace is what is truly intended.
Sir Patrick Mayhew: It is my intention that legislation on the general lines of the Race Relations Act 1976 should be introduced in Northern Ireland. We will also be considering, in the context of the talks process, how civil, political, social and cultural rights might best be further protected.
Mr. Soley: I am grateful for that answer. May I urge on the Secretary of State that he and his Department give careful thought to the possibility of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, which could go some way to reassure all sections of the community that in the future, whatever that holds, civil and human rights will be preserved and enhanced?
Sir Patrick Mayhew: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has long taken close interest in these matters. We have said for a long time that we would be prepared to enhance protection for human rights in Northern Ireland. There is obviously a passage in each of
Column 1071the framework documents that bears upon that. If all the parties were to agree that the best means of such protection were a Bill of Rights, the Government would obviously take account of that view in the light of prevailing circumstances. At this juncture, we would not wish to rule anything out or in.
Mr. Stephen: Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the most important human right of all is the right to life? Is not it remarkable that there has been freedom for such a long time from sectarian killing and destruction in Northern Ireland, a situation that many people thought would never happen? Is not that due in large measure to the brilliant negotiating skills of our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister?
Sir Patrick Mayhew: I very warmly endorse what my hon. Friend has just said. I do not believe that any body of opinion in Northern Ireland would disagree with what he has said, both as to the Prime Minister's skill, and certainly his commitment, and as to the level of surprise that what has come about in the past 10 months has occasioned. The right to life is the most fundamental human right of all, and one must always continue to stress that, not least when discussing the activities of people who presume to impose punishment without charge, without trial and without appeal.
Mr. Maginnis: Will the Secretary of State confirm for the record that the Ulster Unionist party tabled specific and detailed proposals for a Bill of Rights at the very start of the 1992 inter-party talks and was the only party to do so, but that neither the Irish Government nor the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party showed any interest in discussing those proposals?
In the light of the decision by the IRA's northern command to embark upon what it calls "a rolling resumption" of violence, how does the Secretary of State envisage that he will be able to sustain human rights for the greater number of people in Northern Ireland?
Sir Patrick Mayhew: First, I confirm that the hon. Gentleman's party did introduce substantial proposals for a Bill of Rights. I readily acknowledge that. The question of a Bill of Rights gives rise to an interesting debate, which is not all one way but, as I said, and I now repeat, if everyone agrees upon it, that will obviously weigh heavily with the Government.
As to the hon. Gentleman's assertion, I and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office are grateful to the hon. Gentleman for meeting my right hon. Friend last night and making him aware of information that has come to him. That is the only source of such information in the Government's possession at the moment, but I simply say that if anyone in Northern Ireland has any intention to return to violence, that will meet with outrage from the people of Northern Ireland. I can assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that the security forces will take all appropriate precautions to ensure that it is thwarted.
Mr. Mallon: I associate myself with the remarks about Senator Gordon Wilson, who was a friend and a colleague and someone for whom I had enormous respect. That is also the view of my colleagues. Does the Secretary of State agree that in any society based on human rights there are two principles--one is the principle of equality before the law and the other is
Column 1072the principle that those who govern and those who are governed at all times and in all circumstances uphold the primacy of the law? Does the Secretary of State further agree that if he makes a decision in the Clegg case, an Executive decision made by a politician on the advice of civil servants, which overrules a decision of the Northern Ireland High Court, the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal and the House of Lords, that, in effect, will devalue and demean the whole process of law in Northern Ireland?
Will the Secretary of State accept from me that at this moment that would be tantamount to throwing a lighted match on to a tinder-box in Northern Ireland and, moreover, would rub salt in the wounds of those who have served long sentences according to due process, not according to Executive decision? Will the Secretary of State answer that? Does he uphold the primacy of the law and will he in this case?
Sir Patrick Mayhew: Of course I will. I have no intention of overruling, nor have I any jurisdiction to overrule, the decision of the High Court, the Court of Appeal, or the House of Lords. The hon. Gentleman is confusing that notion with the concept of the jurisdiction that Parliament has conferred upon the holder of my office--as it has conferred it on the Home Secretary in Great Britain--to deal with the question of whether a sentence for life should mean for the whole of someone's natural life or not. I imagine that there are many people in prison of whom the hon. Gentleman has some knowledge--though very little sympathy, I feel sure --whom he would not wish to see languish in prison for the rest of their natural lives simply because that is the character of the sentence that has been imposed upon them. He can be perfectly certain that any individual case that falls within my jurisdiction will be dealt with in the best way that seems to me to accord with the rule of law and the jurisdiction conferred upon me by Parliament.
At the risk of going on for too long--I hope I am not--I can say that of course we uphold the concept of equality before the law. That does not mean to say that every individual case receives equal treatment in terms of years or whatever. It means that the same considerations are applied, but does not mean that the identical result appears in every case. If that were the case, the individual circumstances would be neglected
Ms Mowlam: In view of the breadth of the issues that have been raised in the House this afternoon, and the strength of feeling about decommissioning and prisoners, would the Secretary of State give a commitment to the House to bring those matters up in his discussions with the Tanaiste tomorrow and tell the House a little more about the nature of the study group set up with Dublin following the Cannes meeting earlier in the week?
Sir Patrick Mayhew: The proceedings of intergovernmental conferences are always confidential and I think that it is right that they should remain confidential. It is very important that the two Governments, who have now established a long practice and experience of talking freely and frankly with each other, should be able to do so in circumstances of confidentiality. Most things that are relevant to the jurisdiction of each Government get discussed.
Mr. Ancram: The Government have proposed that the recurrent funding of voluntary grammar schools in Northern Ireland should in future be undertaken by the education and library boards. No change is proposed to the governance of these schools, which will remain under the sole management of their boards of governors. Representations on these proposals have been received and will now be carefully considered before any final decisions are reached.
Rev. Martin Smyth: Does the Minister accept that some people on the governing bodies of the grammar schools are concerned that the relationship that they have had with the Department may alter, especially in the light of those grammar schools which are already controlled by the boards? When a board, in the case of, for example, Wellington college, recommends a major modernisation, the Department sets it aside and cannot even yet tell us when it will get the funding to upgrade that school's premises.
Mr. Ancram: I have had representations from a number of quarters, including representatives of the Governing Bodies Association and from far further afield. I will wish to take full account of those representations including, I should add, representations from the hon. Gentleman's party, which supported the proposals. I wish to take all those representations away and give them the fullest consideration. In the proposals, we were seeking an administrative simplification of the system, not to alter any of the relationships in terms of control. Were I, following my consideration of the representations, to think that the proposals were going further than intended, I would take it into account.
Mr. Ancram: The climate for investment in Northern Ireland from overseas has been greatly enhanced by a sustained absence of violence. It is expected that a continuation of peace will result in an increased flow of inward investment.
Mr. McGrady: I thank the Minister for his reply but, in the context of his earlier reply to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Spring), is he not deeply concerned about the gross inequality in the distribution of job creation in Northern Ireland? The southern part of Northern Ireland has been neglected by inward investment projects. He will be aware that, for the years 1990 to 1995, 39 projects were created, but none in my constituency of South Down; in fact, only 3 per cent. of the inward investment visits of the past 10 years have come to South Down. Will the Minister take direct action to redress that inequality through a new inward investment strategy, allied perhaps to a decentralisation of jobs from Government Departments to the more rural areas?
Column 1074ensure that Lady Denton is made aware of his remarks. He will have heard me say that it is very much the intention of the Government to ensure that the benefits in terms of inward investment which will, we hope, flow from a sustained peace will be shared by all parts of the community in Northern Ireland. That deals with the sort of points that he raised.
Rev. William McCrea: Surely the Minister can understand the feelings of a number of hon. Members considering the inequality of the distribution of prosperity and jobs, bearing in mind the fact that very little has been directed towards the likes of Mid-Ulster. Prosperity and jobs have been directed to the Foyle constituency or to Belfast, West, to the neglect of Belfast, East and the constituency that I have the privilege to represent. Surely there should be proper equality of distribution. Bearing in mind the shots that were fired in Downpatrick last night, does the Minister agree that it is only with a clear renunciation of violence and the proper decommissioning of weapons that we shall make real progress in the Province?
Mr. Ancram: The hon. Gentleman has already heard what I had to say about the importance of peace in terms of achieving the type of inward investment that we want. I hear what he says and he has heard what I have to say about trying to ensure that the benefits of peace are enjoyed across the community. Clearly, in terms of inward investment, there has to be some recognition of the fact that those coming to invest will be attracted to certain areas. The job of the Government is to ensure that, as far as possible, the areas that require investment are given sufficient exposition to make them attractive to investors.
Mr. William Ross: Does the Minister agree that, although inward investment in the retail industry is welcome in that it increases choice, what Northern Ireland really needs is more investment in manufacturing industry? Will he therefore support the efforts made recently in Washington and at the earlier conference in Belfast to ensure a significant increase in investment in manufacturing industry, not only from the United States but from Great Britain and further afield?
Mr. Ancram: We are as aware of the importance of trying to attract manufacturing industry, with its export potential, as of the other basic industry which is clearly going to flourish--tourism. There has to be a balance to ensure that the benefits of the prosperity that can be achieved through peace are spread as widely as possible.
Mr. Spellar: Does the Minister agree that job retention and job creation are a crucial part of economic development in Northern Ireland? In that context, is he aware that the recent round of compulsory competitive tendering in the Down Lisburn health and social services trust resulted in the loss of 55 jobs and that more than 80 per cent. of those affected were women? That is a pattern repeated in trusts all over Northern Ireland and is a direct result of the Government's policies. Is the Minister aware
Column 1075that we have recently been advised that the policy appraisal and fair treatment guidelines, which are intended to ensure that departmental policies have no adverse impact on, among other things, one gender as compared to another, do not apply to market testing in the health service? Does he accept that it does not help--
Mr. Ancram: I find it difficult to relate the hon. Gentleman's question to inward investment, so I can reply only that the inward investment in health goes to patients, to ensure that they get the best care possible.
Mr. Ancram: The Government remain fully committed to supporting the development of integrated education and have recently approved proposals for a further four grant-maintained integrated schools. In addition, I have approved a proposal for an existing controlled primary school to become a controlled integrated school from next September. That brings to 28 the total number of integrated schools in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Barnes: The Minister will be aware that a survey showed that only 12 per cent. of Catholic and Protestant students at Queen's university had friends from the other community. However, the figure for Lagan college is 44 per cent. That makes a solid case for integrated education. I am pleased to hear about the measures that the Minister has mentioned, but is there not a case for turning mobile provision into permanent schools and for adding to capital investment in new schools?
Mr. Ancram rose -- [Interruption.]
Madam Speaker: Order. Before the Minister answers, may I ask that conversations be a little less noisy? [Hon. Members:-- "Hear, hear."] It is all very well to say, "Hear, hear," but you are all having very loud conversations.
Mr. Ancram: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome for Government policy. We have long recognised the important role that integrated education can play in bringing the two parts of the community together. Indeed, in the schools that I mentioned in my answer about 5,000 pupils are now involved in integrated education. At the moment, the impetus comes largely from new integrated schools being set up, but the Government want to encourage existing schools to become integrated. I was delighted to be able to announce in my answer that that had happened recently with one primary school--it is in Portaferry--and I hope that there will be many more such schools.
Column 1076says that children who attend such schools are unlikely to become involved with paramilitary organisations when they leave?
Mr. Ancram: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. There is no doubt that the more that children from both parts of the community are encouraged to get together at an early age, not only through integrated education but through other policies such as education for mutual understanding, the less likely they are in future to succumb to the sort of divisions to which their parents have succumbed.
accountability--the sooner the better. But that should take place on a basis that has first been agreed through political dialogue involving the main Northern Ireland parties.
Mr. Molyneaux rose -- [Interruption.]