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12.20 p.m.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, this debate is taking place in a somewhat more constructive atmosphere than one might have perhaps expected only 48 hours or so ago. I welcome that. The moral of this--it is something worth repeating over and over again--is that the two governments, Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the Irish Republic, simply have to stick together. If they do not, they are all too likely to hang separately. When they agree, it is possible to make progress; when they diverge, everything falls back.

I therefore welcome the timetable recently announced. I welcome the absence of general preconditions for negotiations. I welcome the electoral element, provided this does not exclude the very small parties entirely from negotiations. I welcome also the possibility of referenda, but it is quite essential that there should be separate and distinct referenda in Northern Ireland and in the Republic. If perhaps a third referendum might be desired in Britain, well so be it. The six principles so clearly set out in the Mitchell Report would, I suggest, provide an excellent basis for the question to be put in simultaneous referenda.

In view of the timetable already agreed by the two governments, it seems reasonable to ask that those who organise traditional marches in Northern Ireland should consider whether perhaps the right to life and limb is not more important than the freedom to march and demonstrate. Such a request would come well from the leadership of the constitutional parties, from employers, from trade unions and from Churches; in short from all who have worked so hard and for so long to bring about a state of peace. Perhaps it may become possible to

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postpone all marches for a period of, let us say, one year, thus reducing tension and providing space for serious negotiations aimed at a lasting political solution.

It may be known that since 1979 I have taken a deep personal interest in the subject of prisoners, including those prisoners whose motivation has arisen from political violence and conflict. I therefore urge both governments to co-ordinate and harmonise their approach to such offenders. Those in prison and former prisoners made a significant contribution to the achievement of the 1994 ceasefires together with civilian intermediaries, several of whom from both traditions I am honoured to know as friends. They have helped to minimise the adverse consequences of the recent partial breakdown of the ceasefires. I therefore appeal to both governments to be as imaginative and as constructive as humanly possible in their approach not only to politically motivated prisoners but also to the probably larger numbers of paramilitary activists now at liberty.

These people need new lives in the context of an eventual agreed political settlement. They need to know that resettlement will be available to them, perhaps sometimes in a new country and under a new identity. Every possible measure should be taken to prevent paramilitaries drifting into organised crime and in particular into illegal drug trafficking. Planning and action are needed now and not only after a long period--perhaps two or three years--of political negotiations. Fortunately, we have a range of voluntary organisations in Northern Ireland with expertise in employment and in the resettlement of former paramilitaries. I have therefore put down Questions for Written Answer and I ask Her Majesty's Government to treat them with the seriousness and urgency that I think they deserve. Should Ministers wish to take me into their confidence, I hope they will do so.

I come now to Action for Community Employment, ACE, which has already been mentioned by two previous speakers. Since I have already written a three-page letter to the noble Baroness the Minister, to which she has not yet had time to reply, I shall not go into great detail. Suffice it to say that ACE provides a very valuable employment and training service for young people and older unemployed people in Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State may perhaps have been justified in imposing a 25 per cent. cut in the circumstances of last December. He was certainly wrong in my view in doing so without previous consultation with the voluntary sector. I say that because NGOs provide most, if not all, the employment and training. They also use ACE workers to deliver much needed services to the poorest, most deprived and most handicapped residents, often in inner city areas and large post-war housing estates. Much cross-community work is done by ACE workers and remains vitally necessary in today's situation.

In the circumstances of today, so different in many ways from those of December, the cuts are unwise and ill timed. Nevertheless, I congratulate the noble Baroness the Minister on having already rescued £2.5 million or perhaps £3 million out of the original

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£12.5 million reduction. I urge her to still greater efforts. I suggest that no ACE workers should have to be laid off before they finish their year's period of employment. The urban and rural priority areas where poverty, unemployment and deprivation are concentrated should be fully protected from the impact of cuts. ACE core workers should be kept on and, if necessary, redistributed to the areas of greatest need. That, in my view, is a minimum rescue package, but I trust very much that the programme as a whole will be reconsidered and if possible saved.

12.28 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I begin by apologising most deeply to the Minister and to the House for my late arrival. I miscalculated and I am extremely sorry, the more so because I missed what I know must have been a deeply interesting speech. I hope that she and the House will forgive me if, not having heard it, I put a foot wrong.

I intervene in the debate in any case with some diffidence since I am no economist but I have read with care the debates on the appropriation order in another place and the first report of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on employment creation in Northern Ireland. I have been deeply impressed not only by the amazing courage, resilience and determination of the people of Northern Ireland but also by the range of initiatives undertaken by the Government to promote the economy, provide more employment and stimulate inward investment as well as supporting such different organisations as ACE, the IDB and LEDU.

My reason for speaking now is political and social. The recurring theme in the Northern Ireland Committee's report--and I should like to say how greatly I welcome the creation of that committee and its own imaginative agenda of travel; for instance, to the Far East, which has had the happy effect of promoting Northern Ireland as a place for investment--is that there would have been a much higher level of inward investment in the past two decades but for what it delicately describes as,

    "the off-putting effect of the violence and the related political difficulties".

Elsewhere it describes the effect of the violence on the political life of the Province as severe. It goes on to estimate that as many as 46,000 manufacturing jobs were not created in the 1970s, early 1980s, directly as a result of Northern Ireland's difficulty in attracting inward investment.

Before making my main point, which is directly related to the issue of the breakdown in the ceasefire (which I have to say few would call partial), its impact, and what might be done about it, I should like, while paying tribute to the generous regime of government assistance and the help given in marketing abroad--not least by my noble friend the Minister and her energetic and splendid efforts--to urge that a special further commitment should be made to support schemes to train the many--too many--young people leaving school with no qualifications. The various community

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employment schemes which suffered the cuts were bringing hope to the young leaving school in areas where there is no employment; and to young people who have in any case little or nothing to offer in skills to a prospective employer.

I understand that £2 million will now be put back, but this, I imagine, scarcely equates with the 25 per cent. cut suffered by these programmes and others designed to help the unemployed to re-enter employment. I also urge, at any rate for the next appropriations round, far more support for the Industrial Research and Technology Unit. Northern Ireland needs to be enabled to play its part in new research, innovation in industry and new ideas in a fast-moving industrial world.

As Principal of Somerville I had occasion to know many excellent young women who were a credit to the very high academic quality of Northern Ireland's schools. I believe that we now need to see a similar effort put into vocational and technical education and training so that Northern Ireland's labour force will be ready to respond effectively and fast when inward investment brings new industrial and technical challenges--challenges which Shorts are already meeting; but that is only one part of the industrial sector.

However, what I wanted to say in the context of this debate is that the economic regeneration of the Province through inward investment and through first-class training programmes for the future workforce, is a very important and effective battlefield on which we should be fighting the IRA. In the other place, the Minister of State having said that,

    "Any increase in the Northern Ireland [Office] security budget as a result of the breakdown of the ceasefire will inevitably have repercussions for other important economic and social programmes".--[Official Report, Commons, 19/2/96; col. 145.]
added that the blame lay fair and square with those who had returned to violence. He hoped that the people of Northern Ireland, in all parts of the community, would be fully aware that that is the price of the decision by the IRA to return to violence.

I urge the Government in the strongest terms to make clear to the widest possible audience, but especially in the US, precisely what inward investment has been jeopardised, if not lost, by the return to violence, and what energetic and wide-ranging measures have been, and are, being undertaken to ensure that Northern Ireland will have a well-trained and skilled labour force, which is only waiting for the opportunity to work.

Who has put that wantonly at risk?--the IRA. We should then go on--I know that this means spending more money, but it must still be infinitely less costly than the need to return to a very expensive military and security apparatus geared to resist indiscriminate and permanent violence--to announce further investment by us in our own country. It would surely send a signal to the people of Northern Ireland that we believe in their ability to develop and thrive, and that we do not intend to be driven off course in a part of the UK by the reversion to violence.

Since prosperity in Northern Ireland inevitably spills over into the South, such initiatives could only be welcome in Dublin, too. Let us tell President Clinton

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that his best contribution to peace in Northern Ireland and the breaking of the power of the IRA would be to bring about some serious US investment there, or to reinstate investment now in the balance, rather than to contemplate convivial drinks with Gerry Adams on St. Patrick's Day. He might also be asked to establish the truth or otherwise of Gerry Adams' claim that Sinn Fein has been raising funds in the United States for the economy. I should be very interested to know whether that is the drug economy.

The IRA can scarcely be said to be in touch with the people of Northern Ireland, of all communities, in that it has failed to recognise the deep resentment felt against those who have destroyed their hopes and plans for employment and prosperity. It is not just the absence of terror that the people of Northern Ireland have welcomed--after all Gerry Adams reminded them last year that the IRA had not gone away; people are regularly and brutally beaten and intimidated and still no one knows where the IRA have buried those they have murdered--because terror has never actually gone away. What people mind just as much, I suspect, is that the prospect of work, prosperity and being able to plan has been wantonly and arrogantly snatched away.

So I appeal to my noble friend the Minister, who has so tirelessly and successfully promoted the economic and other interests of Northern Ireland, and hope that she will be able to urge on the Government the idea that whatever happens to the peace process in the coming months, and given that so far the IRA remains intransigent, there is everything to be said for putting our bets on the economic horse. The odds may be long, but I do not think we could lose by taking the battle against the IRA onto ground where they cannot compete and have been shown to bear the whole blame for any loss in confidence by investors. The latest news suggests that the IRA remains long on arrogance and very short on plain commonsense.

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