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5.50 pm

Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East and Washington, West): I am pleased to be able to speak on the first day of the debate on the Queen's Speech. It is the first time that I have spoken as a Government Back Bencher, and it is somewhat daunting not to be provided with a mountain of comforting briefing, with lines to take and rebuttals of criticisms that might be made during my remarks. I very much welcome the opportunity to put a few comments on the record. I assure the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) that I am certainly one of those Back Benchers who is interested in further reform of our procedures and effective scrutiny of legislation in the House.

We have already heard a number of powerful speeches, and I especially shared the general enthusiasm for the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy), who vividly reminded us what a privilege it is to be here to represent constituents and to voice the concerns of the electors who sent us to the House. He made a tremendous speech that will remain with many of us for a long time.

Of course I share also the general enthusiasm of Labour Members for the party's very convincing election victory and the fact that it is able to embark on a full second term in government. We have looked forward to that for a long time, and, given the priorities announced in the Queen's Speech I am sure that we will use the time wisely, to the benefit of the people of this country. The Queen's Speech will enable us to build on some of the first-term achievements that are to the Government's credit and to

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work towards our priorities, particularly the great improvements in public services that are necessary. Those priorities are shared by Labour Members, obviously, and more widely in the Chamber. Education, health, transport and welfare reform are certainly dear to my heart.

I was glad that the Queen's Speech places a continuing emphasis on the importance of our international commitments, and I am pleased that we will be proceeding with the International Development Bill. I greatly welcome the fact that we will introduce an export control Bill, because export control is an important part of responsibility in international relations. I am also pleased about the strong commitment to European involvement and, in particular, to enlargement of the European Union. Although the heady days of the fall of the Berlin wall were a long time ago, the possibility of building a new, durable relationship with countries from which we were previously irrevocably divided by the iron curtain is very exciting. So far, it does not seem to have grabbed the attention of our electors, but I hope that the Government will campaign enthusiastically for enlargement in the coming months and years.

I am pleased that the Queen's Speech includes a continuing commitment to constitutional reform. I refer in particular to reform of the House of Lords and to improving women's representation in political and public life. I welcome the commitment to the devolution process. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) reminded us that devolution is important not only in Scotland and Wales but in Northern Ireland. I agree with him that devolution ensures representation of different elements of the community in Northern Ireland, and I am very much in favour of that.

I want to say a few words about devolution as it relates to England. I speak from the viewpoint of my constituency and my part of England. I welcome the fact that enshrined in the manifesto on which my hon. Friends and I fought the election is an on-going commitment to make provision for directly elected regional government in regions where people support the idea in a referendum. I welcome also the fact that the manifesto for my part of the country, which was launched by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Durham (Ms Armstrong), now the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, said that proposals for consultation on regional government would be made early in this Parliament. I hope and expect that that will be the case.

I shall set out briefly why I believe that devolution is important, but first I want to make it clear that I do not believe that it is a theoretical issue of interest only to politicians. It has practical meaning for our fellow citizens. Regional systems elsewhere have been responsible for economic success. That is why I am glad that the Government created the regional development agencies in their first term and stressed the economic development aspects of the process. It is important that regions are able to bring together their economic forces, recognise their strengths and tackle their weaknesses.

The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire talked at length about agriculture, which, given his constituency, is not surprising. I feel strongly that it is important for agriculture to be seen as part and parcel of the rural economy. We must also consider what agriculture can contribute to the regional economy. The present departmental structure will highlight

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agriculture and other economic sectors and enable us to look positively at their potential, as will increasing devolution.

Devolution will help to give the regions a powerful voice. We have an asymmetric arrangement in Parliament and Government, and the north-east of England sometimes looks enviously at the political weight that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have. England has a large population, and the regions need to increase their voice in government so that when policies are formulated and funding is discussed their interests are taken into account. When European policies are formulated, we should consider them not only as they promote the interests of the United Kingdom as a whole but as they affect its different parts.

Regional government would give people a sense of ownership of existing regional bodies. People often talk as if we did not have a regional tier, but of course we have the Government offices of the regions and many other regional bodies. Often, however, public involvement in the regions in those bodies is quite slight. I would like there to be an increased sense of ownership in the regions, and believe that regional government is one way of achieving that.

Many of us who have campaigned on the issue for a considerable time have become very used to the objection, "People in pubs and clubs are not talking about it." It is true that if I go into a pub or club in Gateshead, I am not usually first asked about the matter. However, certainly in my part of the world, people feel that central Government have often been remote and that our system could be reformed in order to give the regions a bigger say and a feeling of greater involvement.

Perhaps such reform would also help to tackle the concerns rightly voiced by Members of all parties about the participation rate in elections and the level of turnout. I certainly did not agree with the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), who seemed to think that the problem was simply one with which the Government must deal. All of us as politicians like people to vote, and therefore we all have an interest in considering how to increase voter participation as much as possible.

Regional government would be good not just for areas such as mine, where there is a strong sense of identity, but simply because the matter is not only about identity; it is about good governance and making decisions at the appropriate levels.

Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East): Is my right hon. Friend aware that when companies are deciding whether to invest in Milton Keynes, we are competing with those from Barcelona and Stuttgart, and that both those cities have regional governments backing them up? We do not have that advantage in the south-east of England.

Joyce Quin: I accept that. The point has often been made to me that in some parts of the country there is not a strong sense of identity. The south-east is often mentioned, and so is the east midlands, yet I have noticed that Derby, Nottingham and Leicester have come together greatly in economic development. There is real interest in the south-east, too, in how to approach such issues in a joined-up, regional way. My hon. Friend's point is valid.

It is important for us to take into account the issue of devolution. This Government have already shown by their policies that they are firmly regionally focused. Many in

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my part of the country feel strongly about the issue. Progress can be made in a way that can provide benefits not only to people in my part of the country but across the United Kingdom as a whole.

6.2 pm

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim): I should like first to take up some points made by the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), who, unfortunately, is not in the Chamber at the moment. He made some matters clear to the House from his point of view, and they are alarming to the Unionists of Northern Ireland. The fact that he did so was definitely a kite-flying exercise; we can expect that the matters to which he referred will be part of a new deal that is about to be brokered in Northern Ireland: coming at this time, I look at them very suspiciously.

The House should remember that, today, schoolchildren in the Ardoyne area were attacked by republicans. I understand that rioting is still going on. It was a vicious attack on schoolchildren who were trying to get to the place where they should be taught. Let no one think that repetition of the words "peace process" means that there is peace.

The right hon. Gentleman said that Unionists had "irretrievably hooked" themselves to decommissioning. I should like to examine that statement. The promise was made to the people of Northern Ireland that there would be decommissioning, but it has not been honoured or kept. Consideration of the implementation of that promise has been put away. Dates have been set; they have not been honoured. More dates have been set, and they have not been honoured. Still more dates have been set, but not honoured.

It is not the Unionists who hooked themselves to decommissioning. We did so because of a promise made by this Government, which the Prime Minister, in order to push through the referendum, was prepared to write on a wall in Northern Ireland. He said, "Except that this happens; nothing else will happen. You are going to receive decommissioning." We have not received decommissioning.

If the right hon. Member for Hartlepool thinks that the people of Northern Ireland will be satisfied with gentlemen from time to time inspecting some carefully marked out places in the south of Ireland--which are under the supreme control of the IRA high command and enjoy all the immunity that would be given in the Republic to the property of another state--and then reporting that all is well, he is living in cuckoo land. The people of Northern Ireland are not bluffed or fooled by such visits. They are not fooled by the bunkers either. The IRA has no intention of decommissioning at this time.

When the leader of IRA-Sinn Fein came out of Downing street the other day, what did he say? He did not say that before 1 July we could have decommissioning. He said that he did not think that there would be any decommissioning before 1 July. He is better able to report on the matter because, as a member of the IRA authority and its governing army council, he knows exactly what is taking place.

It is a very serious matter for Governments to make promises. I heard the Prime Minister say from the Dispatch Box today that one should not make promises that one cannot keep. We in Northern Ireland have seen promise after promise made and promise after promise

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broken. When the right hon. Member for Hartlepool suggests, as he has today that there are now matters on which more concessions could be made and that there could be more encouragement of the IRA, he is really telling us that this Government's only policy is one of concession and of not facing up to the reality.

It is of course very easy for the right hon. Gentleman to stand in this House and brand all those who will not vote for his policies as extremists. I smiled when he referred to the Sunningdale agreement and some other matters. I remind him that, at the time of that agreement, all the Unionist parties were united. He would not suggest in a speech today that they were all extremists. They united to resist an attempt to fly in the face of democracy.

If it is extreme to say that those who are responsible for the most atrocious murders and, shockingly, have even mutilated the bodies of those whom they have murdered, should do their time in prison and pay their debt to society, I am glad to be an extremist. They should do their time and pay their price to society. I have stood in homes where the coffin could not be opened and the bereaved could not look on the mutilated corpse. The persons responsible for that are on the streets--free men in Ulster today. If it is extremism to denounce that, then many people are extremists. If Parliament made a law that enabled such a thing to happen in Wales, Scotland, or any part of England, there would be an outcry, but it has happened in the part of the United Kingdom that I represent.

If it is extreme to say that the police who were recruited from both sides of the religious divide and who stood the hottest fire in the days when the Provisional IRA was at its murderous work, should not be at the negotiating table and that their standing and future should not be negotiated by the men who killed them and left their children orphans, then I am an extremist. If it is extreme to say that the matter of the police should not be negotiated by any terrorist and that no terrorist has a right to be at the table to negotiate the future of the police force, then there are many people who are extremists.

Recently, one IRA leader made the amazing statement that, unless they were given an undertaking that the police in Northern Ireland would never be allowed to have baton rounds in their possession, they would never co-operate with the police. The demands get larger and more aggressive as the concessions become greater, and surrender is the order of the day as far as the Labour Government are concerned.

Is it extreme to say that security should not be relaxed in Northern Ireland? The right hon. Member for Hartlepool suggested that security should be relaxed in--of all places--Armagh, where Protestant genocide has taken place. An elder of my Church was taken from his home in Armagh; a bag was put over his head and he was hauled out by IRA men. For hours he was held at gunpoint and he, his wife and his children were threatened. I sat with that man and his family and I realised to what depths they had been taken at the hands of those murderers. Yet, now we are told that security concessions might be made in the Armagh area.

On the doorsteps and in all our canvassing, we were told that people are concerned about the fact that the criminal elements let loose in our Province are now

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engaging in all sorts of criminal acts. We have muggings and burglaries and there has been a decrease in security generally throughout Northern Ireland. When I asked the police superintendent in one area of my North Antrim constituency, "What is your problem, sir?" he answered "My problem is that I am 40 policemen short and I will not get those men until the new regime comes in and men are trained to take their place, so I'll not have them for six to nine months." A police officer in another part of my constituency told me, "I am 30 men short." Those who represent Northern Ireland constituencies have heard the same from their local police. It is unfair to make the police the target of attack and say that we must change things to please those who seek their destruction.

What sort of a country is it when those who walk to a place of worship on or around 12 July are not allowed to return from the church in which they worshipped because of an IRA threat? It was an IRA threat: Mr. Adams himself said, on Radio Telefis Eireann, "We have worked for years to get these roads blocked--do you think we're now going to run away and let people walk down these roads?" What sort of a country is it when a person is branded as extreme for saying that those people should be able to walk back from their place of worship?

Those are matters that should concern the House, because a central element of Government policy--I have been told this by the Prime Minister and by all the Northern Ireland Ministers--is that any settlement must have the support, not only of the majority of people living in Northern Ireland, but of a majority within both sections of the Northern Ireland community. They tell us that they are bound to that rule, but they are not--I wish that they were so bound, because if they were, they would now have to admit that the majority of the Unionist population does not support the agreement. One has only to look at the figures to see that. I am glad that those journalists in Northern Ireland who are no supporters of my opposition to the agreement or that of others admit that at the general election the majority of Unionists voted against the agreement.

Let us look at the figures taking into account the votes for official Unionist candidates who may or may not have been anti-agreement. If we add those votes, we see how big the majority was. At least 60 per cent. of Unionist people have said that they are not in agreement. I accept that every nationalist vote in the election was cast for pro-agreement candidates--there is no doubt about that; but one could not say that the majority of Unionist votes were cast for pro-agreement candidates. The Democratic Unionist party achieved a total of 181,999 votes across 14 constituencies. We directly contested 13 constituencies with the Ulster Unionist party: in those seats, we got five Members of Parliament elected to the UUP's four; we finished ahead of the UUP in eight constituencies and behind in five; and the DUP got 166,450 votes to the UUP's 146,538.

Those are the election figures--let no one try to put a spin on them. Today, a majority of the Unionist community in Northern Ireland say that they are not going to wear the agreement. We are saying that the Government must keep to their word about having to have the support of a majority of both communities. We do not dispute that they have the support of a majority of the nationalist community, but they certainly do not have the support of a majority of the Unionist community. They must renegotiate and go back to the drawing board.

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The agreement itself mentioned a review, so why can we not have such a review of the agreement? If the shoe were on the other foot--if those objecting were nationalists and Roman Catholics--the Government would hasten to negotiate with them; but because those who are objecting are Unionists and Protestants, they are not to have their democratic rights.

If the House thinks that elections can take place in Northern Ireland and the results can be forgotten, it will plough on regardless. In that event, the House will reap what it has sown, and the reaping will be serious. Those who have voted and exercised their franchise are the people who have supported the forces of law and order. By serving in the security forces, they have given their sons to be murdered, as well as their daughters. They have given their husbands and wives to be murdered. I salute my Roman Catholic fellow countrymen who have joined the police and the Army in serious circumstances. I know what happens when the lad who is in the Army or in the police wants to see his parents. There is a family in my constituency where the father and the mother have to fly to London to meet their son, who is in the Royal Ulster Constabulary. That is an indictment of any society that claims to be democratic, but that is what is happening in Northern Ireland.

The issue should rest with the Government. They should return to the drawing board, accept the facts of life in Northern Ireland and seek to find a way whereby a majority of Unionists and a majority of nationalists can agree. That was the original basis of the agreement.

We need a devolved assembly in Northern Ireland, but it must be democratic, fair and accountable. If we do not have fairness, democracy or accountability, we do not have the basis for good government.

No self-respecting democrat is prepared to negotiate the future of his country with the representatives of terrorism, who may say that they have a mandate. On that basis, every murderer who has a mandate should be free. However, he is not free. The murderer has to pay the price for his crime or law-breaking. In any democratic society there is no place for representatives of terrorism to be involved in negotiations and to have their way. However, on every occasion they increase their demands.

The right hon. Member for Hartlepool took the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill through the House. Having taken its place on the statute book, the representatives of the SDLP and Sinn Fein say that the Act must be changed. They say, "If it isn't changed, we shan't have anything to do with the police." As I have said, the Bill was taken through the House. There were arguments and votes and in the end the measure was accepted by the House. However, we are told that Mr. Adams and the Social Democratic and Labour party spokesman say that they will not accept it and that it must be changed. I think that the right hon. Member for Hartlepool hinted that he felt that it should not be changed until it had first been put into operation. I have set out what is happening in my country.

The decommissioning of terrorist weapons must take place. What is the position if we are in negotiations, as the Government are, and they are told, "If you don't do what we want you to do, we can always go back"? That is what a member of the Stormont Assembly, a Sinn Feiner, told us some time ago. He said, "We shall go back to what we are best at doing." If that is not blackmail, I do not know what it would be.

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Any relationship with the Republic of Ireland should be fully accountable to the Assembly. There is trouble in the Garvaghy road and there is a gentleman from South Africa who is supposed to be a mediator. I think they call him Mr. Curran. He admitted that there was no doubt that the southern Government was pouring many thousands of pounds into the Garvaghy estate. A so-called friendly Government are pouring many thousands of pounds into an estate. That goes to the very heart of the question of civil liberty and religious freedom. At a meeting of officials and others, Mr. Curran made that statement. Admittedly, it was confirmed by a member of the present Government. It is true that the southern Ireland Government are feeding money into the estate.

The Democratic Unionist party believes that something should be done quickly to restore the morale and effectiveness of the RUC. My party and I oppose the idea that in future all recruitment should be guided by a sectarian recruitment policy. Religion and not ability will lead to a place within the force, and I do not accept that for a minute. That is not the way to recruit police. Everyone must be equal under the law and equally subject to it. We must strive for genuine equality, including equality of funding and provision for Unionist areas.

The result of a recent poll in Northern Ireland--it was not given the same publicity as other polls--showed that more than 50 per cent. of Protestants in Northern Ireland recognise that they are unfairly treated under the present system and that there is favour of treatment for Roman Catholics under the present system. If that is so, the House needs to face its responsibility.

The veto in any democracy is the ballot box. The people should have their say. The people of Northern Ireland spoke at the general election, as they spoke at the European elections about two years ago. I was told at that time, "We are not even looking at those votes. We are not even thinking that those votes have anything to do with the situation." When a Government cease to have respect for the ballot box, no one can give them the respect that he should be able to give them in a democracy.

These are matters that many hon. Members do not want to hear. There are a few lines about Northern Ireland in the Queen's Speech. The Leader of the Opposition mentioned Northern Ireland but the Prime Minister did not mention it at all. There was not a line in the right hon. Gentleman's speech about it. However, I am talking about serious matters. If we look to a happier future for Northern Ireland, we need to apply ourselves urgently to these matters and ensure that we establish a foundation to which the majority on both sides in Northern Ireland can agree.

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